Bhutan :#2 Paro : Drugyel Dzong

Our time in Paro at the start of our Bhutanese journey, was for just one day.  We made the most of it by driving up the Paro Valley to Drukyl Dzong, a ruined fortress built of rock and mud. Although a ruin since it was largely destored by fire in 1951, the Dzong is still impressive and, as an important part of Bhutanese history, it’s well worth the visit.

P1250297 Map of Paro

P1250297 Map of Paro

Before we go on, a little history of Bhutan may help in understanding this small country.  Bhutan is a largely Buddhist country and the Paro map shows several Monasteries and Dzongs in this area.  One of the first of Bhutan’s Buddhist monasteries was built here in the Paro Valley at Kyichu (just north-west of Tshongdi) in the 7th Century by a Tibetan king, Songstan Gampo, who reigned from 627 to 649.  From then until the early 17th Century, Bhutan was really just a group of warring fiefdoms, each with their own lord and sub sect of Buddhist monks.  The country was eventually unified by a Tibetan lama and military leader, Shadbrung Ngawang Namgyal, who had fled from Tibet because of religious persecution.  In order to repel any Tibetan armies, he built several fortresses, one of them being Drugyel Dzong built in 1649 on a pass between Paro and the Tibetan border.  When the Shadbrung died in 1651, his death was kept a secret for 51 years in an effort to try to keep the peace in the country.  That didn’t work and the country lapsed back into internal conflict.  It wasn’t until the the mid 1880s, after a civil war between the rival valleys of Paro and Tongsa (in Central Bhutan), that peace was restored under Ugyen Wangchuck.  In 1907, he was unanimously chosen as the hereditary King of Bhutan by an assembly of leading monks, families and officials.  Thus began the Kingdom of Bhutan under the reign of the Wangchuck family which continues to this day.  Interestingly, the current King, 33 year old Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, carries one of the names of that first unifier of the country, Shadbrung Ngawang Namgyal.


Trevor's Camera shot

David with the boys:  Photo Courtesy Trevor

Namgyal’s fortress of Drugyel Dzong was to be our destination for the afternoon.  However, on the drive up towards the dzong,  our Toyota Coaster had a flat tyre, so a couple of us abandoned the vehicle and began walking up the road; the driver would pick us up again when the bus caught up to us.  Our timing was perfect.  It was right at the end of the school day, so we were quickly joined by four boys walking home from school. They were two sets of brothers; one set were the comics (boys will be boys), the other two boys were more serious. Dressed in traditional Gho and long socks, their ages ranged between 7 and 11.  When asked what they had learnt that day, they said they had played a game!  We knew, though, that all lessons are conducted in English with the exception of lessons in Dzonkha, the country’s official language.  So we knew we should be able to have a conversation  with the boys.


Photo courtesy Trevor

Trevor with the boys

And we were right.  They were wonderful to chat with.  We could easily understand them and vice versa.  They wanted to know where we were from, what our father’s, mother’s, grandfather’s and grandmother’s names were etc.  When we asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, they knew; a policeman, an engineer, a doctor and a monk.  Their fathers were both drivers; one a bus driver and the other drove taxis.  This interlude was just another of those wonderful moments that unexpectedly occur when travelling, and when they do occur, they add so much to the experience of visiting foreign places.  But they just won’t occur if you ‘only sit and wait in the bus’!


P1000232  ©  DY  of jtdytravels

P1000232 © DY of jtdytravels

After chatting to the boys, we went further on up the road, crossing a small stream bedecked with colourful prayer flags.  These are the usual size prayer flags put up by ordinary people to send their prayers wafting off in the breeze.


P1000237  ©  Dy  of  jtdytravels

P1000237 © DY of jtdytravels

Looking up the hill in front of us we saw the Drukgyel Dzong, sitting high on a ridge.  Considered to be the most famous archaeological site in Bhutan, Drukgyel Dzong was built in 1649 to control the route between Bhutan and Tibet.  This fortress was never breached by an enemy.  Its important role in the defense of the region only ceased in 1951 when it was partially destroyed by fire.


P1000245  ©  Dy  of  jtdytravels

P1000245 © DY of jtdytravels

As usual on a walk, I was on the look out for wild flowers.

This one is Parochetus communis.


P1000253  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000253 © DY of jtdytravels

This delicate pink flower growing by the side of the road is, perhaps a daphne. The Bhutanese make their traditional paper from the bark of a daphne plant.


P1000246  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000246 © DY of jtdytravels

Once we arrived at the dzong, we could see just how much damage the fire had done.  Most of the timber features had been burned out.  However, much of the stone and rammed earth wall structure still stands giving some idea of the way in which the fortress was built around central quadrangles.


P1000247  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000247 © DY of jtdytravels

Although Drukgyl Dzong is said to have had the best and finest armory in the country, there were other ways used to beat the enemy.  One story goes that an attacking Tibetan army was once made welcome in the Dzong and treated as guests. They were even invited to a feast.  But, as the Tibetans began to relax and enjoy themselves, their faces and then their bodies began to swell.  The wily Bhutanese had decorated the guests’ tents with branches from a particularly poisonous tree.  The end for the Tibetan army was swift and sure at the hands of the Bhutanese.


P1000248  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000248 © DY of jtdytravels

Even now, the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong continue to be protected and revered by the Bhutanese as an important monument linking them with victories over several attempted invasions by forces from Tibet and Mongolia.

Drukgyel Dzong was only ever a defense fortress unlike the other regional Dzongs which even today serve a three fold purpose: as a strategic fortress and also as a court for the unique Bhutanese dual government system which consists of Buddhist Monks, who deal with religious affairs, and government officials who deal with regional temporal affairs.


P1000249  ©  DY  of  jtdtravels

P1000249 © DY of jtdtravels

From the walls of the Dzong we could look way down into a valley of terraced fields.  Agriculture is the main livelihood of more than 80% of Bhutan’s population.  Farming consists mainly of subsistence farming and animal husbandry with farmers producing rice, cardamom, chillies, dairy products from both yaks and cows, buckwheat, barley, some root crops, apples, citrus and some maize.


P1000251  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000251 © DY of jtdytravels

It was interesting to watch a group of people harvesting the rice.


P1000254  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000254 © DY of jtdytravels

Inside the compound of the ruined Dzong;  Anaphalis margaritacea, Pearly Everlasting.


P1000257  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000257 © DY of jtdytravels

This plant formed an usual head of pale pink flowers.


P1000258  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000258 © DY of jtdytravels

And as always, in such places, there will always be members of the daisy family.


P1000261  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000261 © DY of jtdytravels

The construction method of stones and rammed mud still stands testament to its strength after all these years.


P1000264  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000264 © DY of jtdytravels

The massive stone masonry walls rise high above a steep slope of the hill.  They entirely enclose the inner space of the Dzong.  Since the hill rises steeply on three sides, the Dzong is accessible only from one side and thus had only a single entrance heavily guarded by troops in three towers.  It’s said that secret tunnels provided protected passages for the fetching of water from the river below the hill.  These were also used to secretly send troops out during time of war.


P1000243  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000243 © DY of jtdytravels

More prayer flags – always a colourful scene.


P1000265  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000265 © DY of jtdytravels

On the way back to Paro we passed through this village.


P1000274  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000274 © DY of jtdytravels

 A delightful couple of Bhutanese girls.


P1000278  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000278 © DY of jtdytravels

A view of Paro’s Rinpung Dzong, a large Buddhist monastery and fortress that houses the district Monastic Body and the government administrative offices of Paro Dzongkhag.


P1000279  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000279 © DY of jtdytravels

Coming back down into Paro, we looked down on newer buildings with tin roofs.  In the past, tin roofs had to be covered with wooden shingles or stone slabs. This isn’t required now.  The tin roofs are certainly not as picturesque as the traditional housing.


P1000280  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000280 © DY of jtdytravels

In such a mountainous country, every arable piece of land is used to produce food.


P1000284  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000284 © DY of jtdytravels

This view over Paro is dominated by that runway; we were back where we had begun.

We stayed just one night in Paro but would be back at the end of our Bhutan journey.

Our destination next day was to Punakha, north east of Paro.

More of that anon.


All Photography Copyright ©  David Young of  jtdytravels

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