A small landlocked country wedged between India and Tibet, Bhutan is nevertheless an important destination in the world map drawing tourists from all over the world. Tourists flock to this picturesque land nestled within the Himalayas both to admire its spectacular beauty as well as to gain a better understanding of its amazing culture. For a country that boasts of a population of only 700.000, Bhutan is home to more than 40 monasteries offering unparalleled insight into Buddhism and the culture and traditions of this Land of the Dragons.
Bhutan is one country which has managed to create a wonderful balance of tradition with modernity. Modern gadgets walk in hand with traditional arts and crafts like thangka painting and archery. Here you will see traditional festivals celebrated with as much vigor and enthusiasm as contemporary events like a rock concert.
A visit to the Monasteries of Bhutan is a surreal experience in itself, the all-pervading chants create a blissful envelope that make all the troubles of the world seem like a thing of the past.
Taktsang Monastery-The most famous monastery and the cultural icon of Bhutan is the Taktsang Monastery located in Paro. Not only does the monastery hold great religious significance, (Guru Padmasambhava is said to have meditated there for three months), it is also a must visit for its remote and unique location. Hanging from a cliff located 3000 feet above the Paro valley, the only way to reach the monastery is to hike up the mountain trail. In fact if you happen to look up at the monastery from Paro valley below, the monastery seems completely isolated and inaccessible perched as it is at the edge of the cliff. Also called the Tigers Nest because of the popular local belief that Guru Padmasambhava flew to the site on the back of a tigress, the monastery offers a truly stunning panoramic vista of the Himalayan range and the Paro valley below. There are three roads leading to the Taktsang Monastery, each more picturesque than the other, the fact that one of them is aptly named the Hundred Thousand Fairies should give you an idea of the beauty that lies all the way to the top of Taktsang Monastery.
Tongsa Monastery- Referred to as the Door to Heaven, the Tongsa Monastery offers both an absolutely stunning view and a beautiful peek into Buddhist life. The largest dzong fortress in Bhutan, it is located right above the Mandge Chu. The sheer beauty of its location has often led tourists to describe it as “the most spectacularly sited dzong in Bhutan with a sheer drop to the south that often disappears into cloud and mist”.
Chang Gankha Monastery – The oldest temple in Thimpu, Chang Gankha Monastery was built by the Lama Phajo Drukgom Zhigpo. The main attraction is the statue of Chenrizig: an 11-headed, thousand-armed manifestation of Avolokitesawara.
You should also make it a point to visit Punakha Dzong, undoubtedly the most beautiful dzong in the entire country of Bhutan and the second dzong to be built in the country. The dzongs were originally built to serve as a protective fortress and as such were always located at the confluence of a river or atop a hill to provide a commanding view of the surrounding. Punakha dzong is no exception. The festival of Demoche takes place at Punakha Dzong every year and draws people from all over the country to participate in it.
The list of monasteries to visit is large, but if you have limited time on your hands, ensure that you cover the above mentioned Monasteries to gain a better understanding of the culture and traditions of this quaint country.