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The spectacular Wangdue monastery
Soon after taking a taxi from Metshina and cruising along the river Punak Tsang, the dramatic Wangdue Phodrang Monastery came into view, draped along the end of a ridge above the river. A police and immigration check-post scanned our Special Areas Permit and let us cross the river and ascend to the little town of Wangdue (pronounced as Wangdi – वांग्डी). Just like Punakha-Khuruthang, they are building a ‘new Wangdue’ town, complete with impersonal grid like structure on an arid plateau next to the river. In our taxi was a little boy suffering from acute food poisoning and the taxi dropped him to a government hospital in the new town.
The monastery was founded in 1638 and sits atop a high ridge between the Punak Tsang Chhu and the Dang Chhu (chhu=river). The site offers a commanding view of the flat region below. Wangdi was the secondary capital of Bhutan centuries ago. The dzong’s position gave it a control of the routes between western and eastern Bhutan.
The dzong has a complex shape and follows 3 separate narrow structures that follow the contours of the hill. It looks very interesting and intriguing especially because lot of the monastery is still unrestored after a fire and earthquake.
There is only one entrance marked by the tall darchen (prayer pole) as seen in the picture and a large prayer wheel. Cacti were planted on the hill slopes to discourage invaders from climbing the slopes. There are two docheys (courtyards) and one utse (tower). Walking along the walls and peering through arrow slits into the valley is definitely recommended.
Factual information: Wangdue Phodrang dzong is located about 21 km from Punakha or 75 km from Thimphu. There are buses from Thimphu at 8:00 and 14:00, but shared taxis run all day. I took the Thimphu-Punakha-Wangdue-Thimphu route and it was very good. There is no particular reason to stay here overnight unless you are visiting the autumn Tsechu festival. There are couple of local eating places around the bus stand serving thupka, momo and also north Indian fare like aaloo paratha and daal.
The main temple features depictions of past, present and future Buddhas. There were several students studying there and their chanting reverberating in the large assembly hall felt very exotic.