Everybody’s heard of Taktshang at one point or the other in their life; it’s so popular after all. But it’s not the only temple built on a cliff. In fact, it’s quite a common location for temples to be built in Bhutan. And there are multiple such temples in Paro itself. Two such places: Kila and Dzongdrakha monasteries, can be visited easily in a day’s time and is even perfect for people who do not want to walk. Located along the route to Chelela, both places are accessible by motor road.
Kila goenpa, the temple seen on the way to Chelela
The drive towards Chelela is a beautiful drive along meandering roads through the forest. About 9 kms before reaching Chelela, there’s a junction on the right side of the road that leads to the Kila goenpa nunnery. The drive from the junction till the parking is about 15 minutes on a rough but well-maintained road and the temple is only about a 5 minute walk away from here. Some people choose to hike to the place from the junction and it’s about an hour to reach the temple. There’s an alternate route: one can drive till Chelela and hike downwards to the goenpa but it’s easier to just drive till there instead.
The temple is popularly referred to as Chelela goenpa. It was founded by Drupthob Chogyal Norbu as a meditation center. Later, after being destroyed by fire, it was rebuilt by Sherub Gyeltshen. Kila goenpa has several small temples and retreat huts built into a cliffside at an altitude of about 3500 metres above sea level. It is said to be the oldest nunnery in the country and is thus taken care of by nuns. There are several nuns who live in spiritual retreat, meditating at the place and maintaining strict self-isolation. So, when visiting the place, one should avoid making ruckus in and around the meditation areas.
There are two temples at the place: one with Chag tong chen tong (Thousand-armed and thousand-eyed Avalokitesvara) said to be wish-fulfilling as the main relic; and the lower temple dedicated to Drolma (Tara). The upper temple has smooth, polished wooden floors that are so shiny that you can almost see your reflection in them. There’s a small courtyard beside the lower temple and a kitchen at the side. From here, one can enjoy panoramic views of Paro valley and can also spot Mount Jomolhari and Jichu Drakey on clear days.
While coming out of the temple, you can see three chortens above the parking area. It’s only a few minutes walk from the monastery to reach here and is a good viewpoint for taking photos from.
Dzongdrakha Monastery, the temple overlooking Bondey valley
A few minutes drive after the airport viewpoint along the route to Chelela, there is a signboard showing the direction towards Dzongdrakha Monastery. There are two roads: the upper one leading till the gate of the first temple and the other leading to a parking just below the main temple. The roads aren’t pitched but aren’t bad either.
Dzongdrakha consists of a string of four temples and a large Chorten built on a cliff side. The temples are each dedicated to a specific deity.
The first temple near the parking
Private temple taken care of by the descendants of the founder of Dzongdrakha (Gönpo Dorji)
It houses the future Buddha, Jowo Jampa (Maitreya)
There is an orange tree in front of the temple that is said to bear fruit throughout the year
Houses the goddess of longevity, one of five sisters, Chodpan Drinzangma
There is a belief that if one visits the religious sites of all five Tsheringma sisters in a day, then he/she will obtain the blessings of wealth and good fortune. Of the five, the eldest sister is the one in Dzongdrakha, so the journey has to be started from here.
The other ones are located in Gangtey temple, Drangje goenpa, Tengchen goenpa and Ramna in Shari respectively. While visiting the places, it is customary to sing and dance as offerings to the goddesses.
Local parents who give birth to a son visit here to receive name and blessings from the temple
It is the main temple and is dedicated to Guru Rinpoche
The main relics here include the Guru Tsokhor Sum (Guru and his two consorts – Yeshey Tshogyal and Mendarawa), Guru Tshen-gye (eight manifestations of Guru) and a statue of Drubchen (Mahasiddha) Gönpo Dorje. It is said that the statues spoke during rabney (consecration ceremony) and is hence considered a very auspicious site.
Behind the Guru Lhakhang, is a hidden chorten that is enclosed to allegedly prevent it from flying away. Known as the Guelshel Karmoi Chorten, it is believed to be a wish-fulfilling stupa and is open for public viewing during festivals only.
Legend of the hidden chorten
In the 12th century, a Buddhist practitioner Gönpo Dorje came to Bhutan from Tibet and stayed in Bondey where he saw a strange fire burning on the cliff above. While visiting the destined place, the local deity Damchen Dolay received him in the form of a female goat and offered a few drops of milk on a rock. Gönpo Dorje then inscribed the mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum” on the rock; later, a chorten was constructed with it as a relic (thus referred to as Om Mani Chorten). It can currently be seen in the village below the temples.
Gönpo Dorje went further up and while meditating there discovered a glass chorten the size of an arrow and 3 relics of Sangay Yoesung shaped like 3 eggs. Of the 3, 1 each were taken to the realm of Gods and the realm of the Nagas. The remaining relic along with the glass chorten were placed as relics inside the hidden chorten. The top part (Chusum Khorlo) of the chorten is said to be part of the structure built to house the relic in the Gods’ realm; and the two lower Bangrims are said to be part of the one built in the Nagas’ realm. It is said that the chorten moves during auspicious days which led to it being enclosed.
The last temple and the smallest one
It has Drolma (Tara) as the main statue.
From Dzongdrakha, you can get splendid views of the paddy fields in the valley below. If one decides to hike to the place, it’s about a half an hour walk till the temple. There is a due throe (cremation site) about 15 minutes walk up from Dzongdrakha. It is believed that visiting such blessed cremation sites while alive will suffice as funeral rites after one’s death.
Besides the auspiciousness of the two places, the stunning views and the peaceful ambience makes a trip to these two locations well worth your time. Moreover, they are very easy to reach as well.