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  • Bhutan’s scenic monasteries

    Taktsang Monastery, photo by taxidesign on Flickr

    Bhutan is a tiny patch of land lodged between Tibet and India, two nations that get significantly more international attention, and lots more tourists too. But Bhutan has its fair share of enthusiast despite not being part of the mainstream resort circuit.

    For a backpacker or an indie traveler, Bhutan is a treasure trove of natural beauty and cultural experiences, and one of the last remaining places in Asia that can truly be called unspoiled.

    One might say that Bhutan is poor, but in a country where they actually have something called an indicator of Gross National Happiness it is easy to find things that are more important than luxurious hotels and resorts. Discover the beauty of Bhutanese culture and nature by visiting some of Bhutan’s scenic monasteries.

    Taktsang Monastery

    The famous Tiger’s Nest monastery is one of the national icons of Bhutan, as well as one of the most important Buddhist sites in Asia. The monastery if perched on cliffs in the beautiful Paro Valley, and it was built in the 18th century.

    Since the structure is built into the cliffs face 10,000 feet over the valley, it seems very inaccessible, but there are several paths leading up to it, one of which crosses the scenic Hundred Thousand Fairies Plateau. It takes a bit of effort to reach the monastery, but the reward is worth it.

    Chagri Monastery

    Chimi Lhakhang, photo by Olivier Lejade on Flickr

    The 17th century Chagri Monastery was founded by Ngawang Namgyal, the Buddhist lama who unified Bhutan. It was built in the lush Timphu valley, not far from Timphu, the Bhutanese capital.

    Today, the monastery is a famous retreat and center for learning, and its stone and timber architecture is very pretty. Like with most sights in Bhutan, you have to work a bit to reach it – it takes an hour’s hike from the road to get to the top of the hill on which Chagri is perched.

    Dechen Phodrang Monastery, Timphu

    Dechen Phodrang is a monastic school with almost five hundred student monks studying between its walls, and for a school it is the picture of perfection! The monastery is not only lovely on the outside, but on the inside as well: it is home to countless priceless Buddhist artifacts, including some 12th century paintings and a statue of Ngawang Namgyal, the famous Buddhist lama.

    Gangteng Monastery

    Painting in Gangteng Monastery, photo by Zachary Collier on Flickr

    Gangteng Monasteryin central Bhutan is the most important seat of Nyingmapa school of Buddhism. The monastery and the village surrounding it are famously picturesque, and known for the black-necked cranes who roost in the area in winter, and circle the monastery three times upon arrival. The monastery was recently restored and is more resplendent than ever.

    Chimi Lhakhang Monastery

    Chimi Lhakhang is probably the strangest monastery in Bhutan from an outsider’s point of view, and not at all what most travelers would expect from a Buddhist monastery.

    It was established on a site blessed by the Mad Saint, Drukpa Kunley, a 15th century monk who was known for his unconventional teaching methods and for introducing phallus symbols on paintings and carvings as a protection against the evil eye. One of the most famous traditions of the monastery is hitting pilgrims on the head with a wooden phallus.

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