If you ever do visit Bhutan, make it a point to travel to Trongsa, simply because the region is the vanguard of the warriors.
The town of Trongsa in central Bhutan is also the capital of the district that goes by the same name. The name Trongsa in Dzongkha translates to ‘new village’ and that’s a little odd because the town and the region is significantly old (the first temple there was built in 1543 by Ngagi Wangchuck who was the great-grandfather of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal – the unifier of Bhutan). But, despite the argument about how new or old the region is, you should visit simply because Trongsa is rich in history, it has the most spectacularly sited dzong in Bhutan, and the first two Kings of the Wangchuck dynasty ruled the Kingdom from there.
Tradition still dictates, even today, that the Crown Prince serve as Trongsa Penlop (governor) before acceding to the throne.
Places of interest in and around Trongsa:
1. Chendbji Chorten
After about a four-hour drive from Wangduephodrang is Chendbji Chorten, inspired by the Swayambhunath temple in Kathmandu. Lama Shida from Tibet built it in the 18th century. Legend goes that it was built to cover the remains of an evil spirit that was subdued at that spot.
2. Trongsa Dzong
Like almost all towns in the Kingdom, this Dzong architecture dominates the entire Trongsa horizon dwarfing the surrounding buildings. Built in 1648, it was the seat of power over central and eastern Bhutan. Both the first and second King ruled the country from this ancient seat.
Protected from invaders by an impenetrable valley, Trongsa Dzong is an impregnable fortress. The Dzong itself is a labyrinth of temples, corridors and offices holding court over the local community. It is built on many levels into the side of the hill and can be seen from every approach to Trongsa heralding its strength as a defensive stronghold.
3. Ta Dzong
Chogyal Minjur Tempa built the Ta Dzong, a cylindrical stone structure rising five storeys, in 1652, a task entrusted to him by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. After more than 350 years, it has been resurrected into a classy museum that represents a tasteful blend of tradition and modernity. There are 224 items on display from statues and scrolls to paintings, artifacts and religious objects.
The Ta Dzong is a living museum and the main lhakhang in the Utse is dedicated to the Maitreya Buddha. The tower has always been a place of retreat and there are hermits in practice, including two yogis, who are in life long meditation. The Ta Dzong is the only structure that has been restored specifically to tribute the Wangchuck dynasty as Bhutan recently celebrated the centenary of the Monarchy.
Excursion around Trongsa
1. Kuenga Rabten
The 23km drive from Trongsa to Kuenga Rabten takes about an hour and passes through open countryside, high above a river gorge. Kuenga Rabten was the winter palace of the second King and is now looked after by the National Commission for Cultural Affairs. The building has a superb woodwork and decorations. At present, part of the palace is used as a library. The top floor has an alter room with statues of Shakyamuni, Zhabdrung and Guru Rimpoche. From the palace, one can take a hike up to the road and further along the village to a nunnery. The duration of the hike is about 25 minutes with a gradual ascent. There are about 80 nuns residing at the nunnery. This pleasant excursion from Trongsa offers further insights into the early days of Bhutan’s monarch.
2. Semji Village – Trongsa
This ancient village is about 7km away from Trongsa and ideal for bird watching. Weather permitting, hiking through the dense forest provides ample opportunity to see various species of birds. At Semji, one can visit the village and subsequently continue hiking downhill till the highway. The whole hiking trip takes approximately 4-5 hours.