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Dzongs (Fortress) in Bhutan

Dzongs(fortresses) in Bhutan are built not only for preventing invaders but also are sites of religious significance. They were generally constructed without an architectural plan, they are magnificient structures and worth seeing.

After the great Lama Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, each fortress based on auspicious occasion and vision. They are constructed strategically as defensive fortress. They were generally built on hills. In case they were constructed on the side of a valley wall, a smaller fortress or watchtower was built to guard the main fortress from forces of intruding enemy. The fortress in Bhutan were built as a part of network to defend the kingdom against frequent invasions by Tibetans especially in the 17th century.

Dzongs also serve as the ceter of military, administrative, religious and social functions of the distinct as well as site of an annual tsechu or other religious festival.

There are six prominent dzongs(fortress) in Bhutan, which may be visited by all tourist. They are Paro Dzong, Thimpu Dzong, Jakar Dzong, Punakha Dzong, Trangsa Dzong and Wangchue Dzong.

Paro Dzongs

its original full name is Ringpung Dzong, which means ‘the fortress of the heap of jewels’. It was built in 1644 under the order of Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal.

The decedents of the eminent Phajo Drugom Zhigpo, the founder of Drukpa Kagyup School in Bhutan were the two brothers- Gyelchok and Gyelzom.

While Gyelzom established the Gangtakha Monastery, his brother Gyelchock went to Tibet to study theology. When Gyelchock returned back from Tibet he was avoided by the Bhutanese and condemned by his othe brother because he was regarded as a beggar. Consequently he moved to Humrelkha, which adopted its name from the guardian deity Paro, Humrel Gyalpo. There Gyelchock built the famous five storied tower which is prominently called the Paro Dzong. It is widely believed that the base of cliff on which the fortress was built, is the La Tsho(soul lake) of the deity Jag Wag Nep.

Gyelchock, better known as ‘The Lord of Humrel’, relinquished his fort to Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in 1644.

The Paro Dzong was almost burnt in an accidental fire in 1906*. The Thongdrol a 20X20 meter-wide Thangka, could only be salvaged. It is displayed annually during Paro Tshechu which is celebrated from the 9th till the 15th of the second month of the traditional Bhutanese calendar (usually in March or April of the Gregorian calendar)

There are fourteen shrines and chapels in the fortress. On the hill above the Paro fortress is a seven storied watch tower fortress, called Ta Dzong built in 1649. It was converted into The National Museum of Bhutan in 1968.

There is also a traditional cantilever bridge. The fortress is the administrative seat of district of Paro.
*It was restored and constructed by Zhabdrung Nawang and KarmaRigzin Nyingpo, the reincarnation of Terteon Sangy lingpa.

Thimpu Dzong

Thimpu Dzong is the largest fortress in Bhutan. It is not the original fortress because it was rebuilt many time. It is also known as Traschicho or Trasi Chhoe Dzong, ‘fortress of glorious religion’. It is north of the city on the west bank of Wangchu(Thimpu) river.1216

In 1216 Lama Gyalwa Lhanangpa built Dho-Nge Dzong(Blue Stone Dzong) on the hill above Thimpu. But Lama Phajo Drukgorn Shigpo, harbringer of the Drukpa Kagyu lineage to Bhutan, captured the Dzong a few years later. However his descendants crushed by Zhabdrung in 1641 and the fortress was renamed as Trashi Chhoe Dzong(Fortress of the Glorious Religion). He made provisions to accommodate both monks and civil officials in the Dzong. But it was too small for them therefore he built another Dzong, know as lower Dzong for the civil officials and the original Dzong remained with monks.

The Dzong was enlarged by the 4th Desi Tenzin Rabgye in 1694. But it caught fire in 1698 and was restored. The 13th Desi Chogyal Sherab wangchuk again enlarged th Dzong in 1747. The original Dzong was destroyed in fire in 1771 and was vacated in favour of lower of lower Dzong and subsequently expanded. It also got damaged in fire in 1866 and twice since then. The five-storey fortress was damaged in the earthquake in 1897 and rebuilt in 1902.

King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk moved the capital to Thimpu in 1962. Thereafter he launched a five-year plan to completely renovate and enlarge the Dzong. Under supervision of of Zopen Parpa Yodsel, renovation work was undertaken. The enlargement of the Dzong was executed in traditional Bhutanese style; without any plan and nails.

The Dzong was consecrated by Je Khempo Thri Zur Thinley and Dorji Lopen Nyizer Tulku on the earth Bird Year in 1969.

There is a traditional cantilever bridge below the Dzong. Formerly the National Assembly met within the Dzong. Now, it homes the secretariat, throne room, and the office of king of Bhutan. The summer residence of the Je Khanpo and the Central Monastic Body are accommodated in the

Jakar Dzong

Jakar is situated in the spacious Chumkhar or Choekor Valley surrounded by tree covered mountains. It is considered as one of the most beautiful in all Bhutan and it is commonly referred to as “Little Switzerland”*. Jakar is known as stronghold of Vajrayan Buddhism, especially the Nyingma tradition. There are many monasteries and sacred sites.

Jakar Yugyal Dzong, commonly known as Jakar Dzong, is located on a ridge above the Jakar village of a population of around 5,000. The jakar Dzong means the “Fortress of White Bird”. It is believed that a white bird, the king of geese encircled overhead before sitting over the top of hill when Lamas and elders were considering moving a foot which was situated at the eastern side of the Bhumtang Valley.

There are different accounts of the origin of the Jakar Dzong. According to one account. Lam Ngagi Wang Chuk(1517-1554) who came to Bhutan to spread the teaching of the Drukpa Kagyopa order, originally built the Jakar Dzong. There is another story that it was originally constructed in 1667. However, it was rebuilt after it was immensely damaged in an earthquake in 1897. It is one of the largest impressing dzongs in Bhutan. It is the seat of administrative and monastic offices for Bhumthang district.

There is a Wangdiecholing Palace which was built in 1857 and served as the principal summer residence of the first and the second king of Bhutan. It is not an impressive structure and lacks major salient features of a palace. Now it is unoccupied and may be visited conveniently.

There are some sacred sites such as, Kurje Lhakhang, Zangtopelri Khakhang and Jambey Lhakhang (monasteries).

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