Eastern Bhutan

Eastern Bhutan

For far too long the eastern part of the country had remained uncharted and unfamiliar. But it holds a world of unexplored trekking, historical and cultural escapades, great scenery, textiles highlights and natural wonders. This unique destination was offered only to adventurous tourists, who liked to experience the simple and basic accommodation, tented or farmhouse stays. The districts of Mongar, Lhuntse, Tashi Yangtse, Trashigang and Samdrup Jongkhar are included in this least visited eastern circuit.

Mongar

After a seemingly endless twists and turns over the passes, you finally arrive at Mongar which is a welcome respite. The tourist hotel has a lawn and balcony where travelers can take a well-earned break. The town is small with a sprinkling of shops but growing at a steady pace.

The Kurichu hydroelectric project and a new road that will connect with the south eastern district of Samdrup Jongkhar will have a immense bearing on the dzongkhag’s economic development. Built on the side of a hill, Mongar lies at a strategic point between the far east and central Bhutan.

Mongar Dzong
Although built in the 1930s, it was constructed in the same way as the 17th century dzongs, without nails. However, over years improvements were incorporated to meet the changing demands of time but without compromising the tradition. A visit to Mongar Dzong shows one how traditional Bhutanese architecture has continued to thrive through the centuries. The present dzong is new compared to others in the kingdom.

Zhongar Dzong
The ruins of Zhongar Dzong are visible as we pass through Thruethangbi village on the East-West highway. Covering a total area of about eight acres, it once represented the power house of eastern Bhutan. For many years the ruins has lain as a forbidden and spirit-infested area. The locals are very superstitious and an atmosphere of fear looms in the vicinity of the ruins. It is a place where myths and history intermingle.

Lhuentse

Lhuentse, 77 km from Mongar, is one of the most isolated districts in Bhutan. The landscape is spectacular, with stark cliff s towering above river gorges and dense coniferous forests. The region is famous for its weavers and their distinctive textiles are generally considered to be the best in the country. The Kurtoe region of Lhuentse is the ancestral home of the monarchy.

Lhundrub Rinchhentse Dzong
The construction of the Dzong is surrounded in legends, one of which is associated with subjugation of evil spirits that inhabited the entire area. The Dzong has two divisions known as Dzong Thogma and Dzong Wogma. The Thogma or the upper part belongs exclusively to the monk body, while the district administration occupies the Wogma, the lower part. The dzong set gracefully atop a hill commands a splendid view over the surrounding area.

Trashigang

Trashigang lies in the far east of Bhutan, and is the country’s largest district. Trashigang town, on the hillside above Gamri Chhu (river), was once the centre for a busy trade with Tibet. Today it is the junction of the east-west highway, with road connections to Samdrup Jongkhar and then onto the Indian state of Assam. This town is also the principle market place for the semi-nomadic people of Merak and Sakteng.

Trashigang Dzong
It is said that when the Tibetan troops descended from the Muktangkhar mountains on the other side of Trashigang Dzong and saw it below them and they were reported to have said: “Trashigang Dzong is not a sky Dzong but a ground Dzong.” But when they reached the bank of Dangmechu and looked up and saw the impenetrable dzong aloft, they agreed that it was really a “sky Dzong” after all, and fled.

The dzong was constructed to serve as a centre to consolidate ‘indomitable power’ over the whole of eastern region, according to the prophecy of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. It was built in 1659 and named Trashigang Dzong (fortress on the auspicious hill). The dzong withstood several invasions from Tibetan invaders.

Gom Kora
Sitting on a small alluvial plateau overlooking the river, the temple of Gom Kora is 24 km away from Trashigang. Surrounded by rice fields and clumps of bananas, it looks like an oasis in an arid landscape. It is one of the famous places where Guru Rinpoche meditated in order to subdue a demon which dwelt in a huge black rock. Gom Kora festival is held every year in spring when the whole eastern region comes alive with a spirit of festivity. People from as far away as Tawang come to witness the festival.

Trashiyangtse

Trashiyangtse is a rapidly growing town. Situated in a small river valley, it is a lovely spot from which to take walks in the surrounding countryside. It was once a subdivision of Trashigang district. The dzong was rebuilt in the late 1990s it was given the status of district. Trashiyangtse is famous for its wooden containers and bowls. The Institute of Zorig Chusum, where students study the 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan, is worth a visit.

Trashiyangtse Dzong

It is believed that Yangtse was one of the six dzongs constructed by the 3rd Desi, Chhogyal Minjur Tempa (temporal ruler under Shabdrung’s regime). The dzong is a three-storied structure. More than half of the top floor is Chuchizhey Lhakhang. The ground floors were used as stores, offices and at the present monks reside there. During the Dungkhag (sub-divisional) administration, the first floor was used as offices and now monks and teachers reside there. On the second floor, there is Chuchizhey Lhakhang, Goenkhang and Torzheng room, where the monks make torma during rituals and ceremonies.

Accessible by road and only four kilometres away from the main town, some believe that it was Gongkar Gyalpo, son of Lhasey Tshangma who built the dzong but the Tibetan invasion made the people of Donglum flee and the dzong fell into ruins. Historically, it was Tertoen Pema Lingpa who originally built the Dzong in the 14th century and named it Trashi Yangtse Dzong.

Chorten Kora
This dazzling white stupa is situated on the riverbank below the town. Constructed in 1740 by Lama Ngawang Loday, it was built in the same style as Boudhanath Stupa in Nepal, with eyes painted at the four cardinal points. During the second month of the lunar calendar, there is an interesting celebration here, known as ‘Kora,’ which actually means circumambulation. Legend has it that the main relic of this monument is the body of a young girl from across the border. Hence, many people from Tawang (India) come to participate in the Chorten Kora festival.

The story may be apocryphal but it is believed that Lama Ngawang has carved the image of Boudanath on a thick radish stem. By the time he arrived in Bhutan, the radish had shriveled up. That is why, it is believed, Chorten Kora is smaller in size than Boudanath.

Bomdeling
A pleasant walk of about three hours from Chorten Kora, Bomdeling is an annual migration place for black-necked cranes, which fly over from nearby Tibet to roost in winter months. Fascinating places to camp out, this will also enable you to have more time to explore the area. Today Bomdelling has been turned into a nature conservation sanctuary.

Samdrup Jongkhar

The road from Trashigang to Samdrup Jongkhar, completed in the mid-1960s, enables the eastern half of the country to access and benefit from trade with the south across the Indian border. Across the river from the town, you can still see the remnants of the old trading post popularly known as Godama, where Bhutanese traded goods with the Indians in exchange for essentials such as salt and cotton clothes.

In terms of sightseeing, there is little to see in this are other than the busy market which straddles the border. Samdrup Jongkhar is a convenient exit town for tourists who have arranged visits to the neighbouring Indian states of Assam, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Nagaland.


Testimonials Sometimes a packaged holiday comes so much with a predefined set of takeaways, but The Destination Bhutan offered so much freedom of choice that it did not feel like a packaged holiday at all.


KH Zaman
Buffalo, New York



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