One of the main attractions to Bhutan are the many fortresses (Dzong), temples (Lhakhang), and monasteries. Lhakhang means temple, and Dzong means fortress.
Thimphu is the capital of Bhutan. Almost 1/3 of the population of Bhutan lives in Thimphu. There is a lot of construction in and around Thimphu, it is expanding rapidly.
There are a lot of temples and fortresses in the Thimphu area. Changangkha Lhakhang, build in 1622, is the oldest temple in the valley. Tashichho Dzong, a fortress built in 1641, is now the seat of the government. Near it is the palace of the king. It is a small, unpretentious building. The kings of Bhutan live very modestly.
I also visited the Zilikha Nunnery. Apparently there are quite a few nunneries in Bhutan.
One very visible landmark is the Memorial Chorten, built in 1974 to honor the third king of Bhutan, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (1928-1972)
One of the most impressive pieces of architecture is the huge Buddha statue on the mountain over Thimphu. It is 51.5 m (169.0 ft) high, made of bronze and gilded. It is supposedly the highest statue of a sitting Buddha.
Near Pajo, south of Punakha, is a small village, and close by the Temple of the Divine Madman, also called Temple of Fertility, Chimi Lhakhang. Drukpa Kunley, also known as the Divine Madman came from Tibet in the late 15th century. Legend has it that he was quite excessive with wine and women, but also with praying. He also was a renowned poet. He founded the Chimi Lhakhang in 1499. Most houses in the area are decorated with phallus symbols as a dedication to the Divine Madman Drukpa Kunley.
Punakha was the old capital of Bhutan till 1955. The Punakha Dzong is a fortress that was used in defense against Tibet. It was build in 1637. Now, half of the fortress is for the government, the other half is a monastery. The first king of Bhutan was crowned here, the fifth king was married here recently in 2011.
Near Punakha is a Stupa that is dedicated to Nepal. It is very similar in shape (but not in size) to the great Stupa in Kathmandu.
North of Paro is the Takstang (Tiger's Lair) Monastery. This iconic monastery is built into a 900 m (2,950 ft) high cliff. It is a spectacular sight, a must-see, even though it is somewhat difficult to reach.
A little further up the valley is the ruin of Drukgyal Dzong, a fortress and Buddhist monastery. Unfortunately, I was not aware of how important it is, so I didn't walk there. I just looked at it from the distance.
Lines with colored prayer flags are everywhere. The colors of the flags are white, yellow, green, red, and blue. The prayer flags are for good luck, prosperity, and happiness. Around all the temples and monasteries are small and large prayer drums. People rotate the drums as part of their worship. The large prayer drums have a bell that rings on every rotation. On many of the small mountain streams they build small buildings that contain a large prayer drum that is driven by the water. These prayer drums continuously sound their bells, day and night.
On many of the hills you can see clusters of large white flags. People put up 108 white flags to honor their deceased relatives. 108 is a sacred number in Buddhism. Sometimes they put 108 small clay pagodas in rock caves, again in order to honor the dead.
View of Thimphu. (861k) Welcome sign on the way into Thimphu. (968k) Main square in Thimphu. (799k) Prayer drums in the main square in Thimphu. (914k) There was quite a bit of construction going on in Thimphu. (899k) Small monastery in a mountain valley. (733k) Houses in typical Bhutanese style with white flags, honoring the deceased. (999k) House in typical Bhutanese style. (1260k) House in typical Bhutanese style. (1087k) The ruin of Drukgyal Dzong, a fortress and Buddhist monastery. (970k) Village near the Chimi Lhakhang. (868k) House near Chimi Lhakhang. Most houses in this area are decorated with phallus pictures. (1006k) House near Chimi Lhakhang. (735k) House in Thimphu. (713k) Decorated wood trim on a house. (860k) Decorated wood trim on a house in Thimphu. (968k) Decorated wood trim on a house in Thimphu. (933k) House of poorer farmers. (977k) Bridge in Thimphu. (1253k) Bridge over a mountain stream near Thimphu. (1092k)
Miscellaneous religious buildings
Prayer flags on the Dochula Pass. These lines with prayer flags were everywhere. (1271k) Close-up of one of the prayer flags. (967k) Small clay pagodas, dedicated to a deceased. (985k) White flags, dedicated to a deceased. (934k) Small shrine in a field near Chimi Lhakhang. (702k) Small pagoda next to the road from Thimphu to Punakha. (1101k) Water driven prayer drum, sending out a rhythmic ding ... ding ... ding. (993k) View of Paro Rinphung Dzong from the plane on short final, just before landing. (800k) Paro Rinphung Dzong. (875k) Nalanda Buddhist Institute, high above the valley on the way down from the Dochula Pass to Chimi Lhakhang. (950k) Close-up of the Nalanda Buddhist Institute. (998k) Semtokha Dzong near Thimphu (from 1629). (926k) Stupa dedicated to Nepal. It is very similar in shape (although not in size) to the large stupa in Kathmandu. (1123k) 108 stupas on the summit of Dochula Pass. They were erected in 2003 in memory of soldiers that were killed in fights with Indian rebels. In the background you can see the High Himalayas. (934k) Temple on the Dochula Pass. (927k) Votive burner on the Dochula Pass. (965k) Inside the Zilikha Nunnery. (825k) Small prayer drums in the Changangkha Lhakhang. (888k) Large, man-size prayer drums in the Changangkha Lhakhang. (678k) The bell that rings for each revolution of the prayer drum. (684k) Tashichho Dzong in Thimphu, now the seat of the government. (1175k) The palace of the royal couple. They live quite modestly. (1229k)
View of the Memorial Chorten. (728k) View of the Memorial Chorten. (721k) Close-up view of the Memorial Chorten. (972k) Part of the Memorial Chorten. (747k) Statue in front of the Memorial Chorten. (862k) Large prayer drums at the Memorial Chorten. (844k) Worshiper at the Memorial Chorten. (932k)
Temple of Fertility, Chimi Lhakhang
View of Chimi Lhakhang. (965k) Chimi Lhakhang. (809k) Chimi Lhakhang. (881k) Large prayer drum with attending monk at Chimi Lhakhang. (862k) Roof decoration at Chimi Lhakhang. (532k) Bamboo poles. These are used to hold the white flags that are dedicated to the deceased. (1212k)
Buddha statue over Thimphu
View of the Buddha statue from across the valley. You can visualize the size. (688k) View of the Buddha statue from across the valley. (692k) Sitting Buddha statue with the Bhumisparsha Mudra. (669k) Close-up of the Buddha statue with the Bhumisparsha Mudra. (676k) The alms bowl in the Buddha's left hand. (598k) The Thunderbolt, symbol of male power. (690k) The beautiful head of the statue. (635k)
Overview of Punakha Dzong from across the river. On the left is the bridge that you use to get to the fortress. (863k) Closer view of Punakha Dzong. (912k) Monk walking over the bridge to Punakha Dzong. (683k) Entrance stairs of Punakha Dzong. (953k) Interior court yard of Punakha Dzong. (900k) Building in Punakha Dzong. (703k) Building in Punakha Dzong. (871k) Tallest building in Punakha Dzong. (884k) Painted and carved wood construction in Punakha Dzong. (934k) Closeup of the painted and carved wood construction in Punakha Dzong. (876k) Building in Punakha Dzong. (758k) Painted and carved wood construction in Punakha Dzong. (852k) Shrine in Punakha Dzong. (811k) Monks in Punakha Dzong. (638k) Wall decoration in Punakha Dzong showing a musician. (817k) Wall decoration in Punakha Dzong showing a Zodiac Calendar. (961k) Wheel of Life. (1042k) Top part of the Wheel of Life with depiction of heaven. (959k) Bottom part of the Wheel of Life with depiction of hell. (1065k) Four animals working together for the common good. (884k) Elements of longevity. (941k) Titan. (1016k)
Takstang (Tiger's Lair) Monastery.
The horse that would carry my up most of the way to the monastery. (1051k) My guide leading the horse. (1007k) Horses returning from the top. (1205k) Some people walked up the mountain. It is tough going. (775k) The monks carry supplies to the monastery. (753k) They try to keep the area clean. (1060k) Horses carrying goods to the cafeteria. (834k) Water driven prayer drums on the mountain. (1280k) View of Takstang on the sheer, vertical cliff. (1164k) Stairs to the monastery. (1399k) This is a small temple where some of the hermits lived. (1057k) Takstang. (1139k) Takstang. (894k) Takstang. (913k) Takstang. (872k) Takstang. (937k) View of the valley below Takstang with rice terraces. (878k)