Bhutan’s monasteries offer an indescribably spiritual experience for anyone in search of inner peace. Boasting beautiful architecture and serene environments, their allure alone makes visiting them worth your while.
Paro Taktsang monastery, perched precariously atop a cliffside in Paro, Bhutan is one of the country’s most beloved sights – an evocative site that has come to represent Bhutan itself.
Chimi Lhakhang monastery, dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kunley and known for its fertility blessings, has long been considered an attraction among Bhutanese and foreign tourists seeking divine intervention to help conceive. According to local belief, childless couples visiting Chimi Lhakhang will soon conceive by getting hit in the head with a wooden-and-bone phallus, rolling dice, and choosing an auspicious name for their unborn offspring. As such, its popularity makes this monastery an increasingly popular stop among both groups seeking divine assistance in order to achieve pregnancy. It attracts both Bhutanese as well as foreign tourists seeking divine support in their hopes of conception.
Chimi Lhakhang was established by Ngawang Choegyel, the 14th Drukpa hierarch, on a round hillock near Lobesa Village in Punakha District in 1499 and blessed by Drukpa Kunley (known as “Divine Madman”) who used humor and songs to dramatize Buddhist teachings while shocking prudish clergy with his extravagant behavior.
He was also passionate about women, wine and dance – something which sent shockwaves through orthodox monks with his sexually explicit poems and songs. Additionally he served as a social critic by challenging established order hypocrisy while showing how celibacy wasn’t necessary for spiritual enlightenment.
Chimi Lhakhang became known as the Fertility Temple due to the Divine Madman, who often appeared in form of a wandering man with a phallus who would strike it upon women, children and infertile couples in order to grant them his blessing for conception. For this reason Chimi Lhakhang became synonymous with fertility.
Kunley brought an original 10-inch wooden phallus back from Tibet for use at this temple and shrine, still used today to strike visitors, particularly childless women, when entering. It represents his belief that anyone can achieve anything as long as they overcome fears and inhibitions to do so.
Visits to this monastery offer a unique journey as you travel through a small village adorned with brightly painted paintings of phalluses adorning heritage-style houses – not only hanging on walls and roofs, but even for sale as souvenirs! Additionally, many shops sell phallus-related memorabilia.
Jambey Lhakhang, one of Bhutan’s most beloved monasteries, features impressive legends and valuable artifacts. Established by Bhutan’s first King in 1887, it features Buddha Maitreya as its titular statue while it houses over one hundred Kalachakra statues built by him to house more than just worshipers!
This monastery is home to 108 chortens (stupas), creating an intricate three-dimensional mandala similar to Samye Monastery in Tibet. According to legend, Guru Padmasambhava meditated here when first arriving to Bhutan for the first time – leaving an imprint of his body imbedded on a rock inside this temple as proof.
Visitors to the temple will also witness very old religious paintings on its walls, said to have been painted by Terton Pema Lingpa – an incarnation of Padmasambhava who painted them originally back in 1501 and have never since been touched up or altered in any way.
Jambey Lhakhang’s greatest attraction is its iconic “Dus Kyi Khorlo,” or great wheel of life, which has long drawn visitors. As an emblematic representation of God’s omnipresence and knowledge, the great wheel has captured many travelers over time. Additionally, there are historical relics from different eras within Bhutanese history located within this monastery as well as in its immediate surroundings.
Each October, Jambey Lhakhang Drup monastery hosts one of Bhutan’s biggest festivals: Jambey Lhakhang Drup. This festival honors Guru Padmasambhava as founder of Buddhism in Bhutan; other highlights of the event are Mewang fire ceremony associated with fertility rites and Tercham dance performance at midnight.
Kurjey Lhakhang is one of Bhutan’s most revered monasteries, named for the body (kur) imprint of Guru Padmasambhava that was found preserved within one of its three temples. Also regarded as an entranceway into Tibet, devotees come here year-round.
The monastery consists of three temples surrounded by a wall featuring 108 Chortens. Guru Lhakhang was constructed in 1652 on the spot where Guru meditated during his eighth-century retreats. Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck, 13th Trongsa Penlop in 1900 built another one while Ashi Kezang Choden Wangchuck (Queen Mother of Bhutan) funded construction of yet a third temple that was built during her rule – sponsored by Ashi Kezang Choden Wangchuck during her Queen Motherly visits.
Kurjey Lhakhang boasts three temples and a cypress tree which many believe grew from Guru Padmasambhava’s walking stick and now serves as Bhutan’s protective deity. People believe that his spirit still inhabits this space and they often sense his presence upon entering its complex.
Kurjey Lhakhang offers many activities for visitors to enjoy, including visiting the cave where Guru Padmasambhava left his body imprint, as well as worshipping its sacred thongdrel, unfurled during a festival at the monastery and believed to cleanse you of any sins committed during its unfurling ceremony.
At an impressive elevation of 3,600m, the monastery stands as an exceptional display of Bhutanese architecture with a spectacular gold pinnacle at its summit. Additionally, this site houses an expansive library with ancient books as well as private chapels for prayer services as well as hosting the annual Jampa Lhakhang Festival.
At Kurjey Lhakhang’s festival, pilgrims perform dances taught by Guru Rinpoche and engage in different forms of meditation taught by him. Additionally, there is an unfurling ceremony at the end of this celebration where large Buddha statues and thangkas can be seen being displayed – this makes a wonderful opportunity to experience Bhutanese culture at its best!
Kyichu Lhakhang is one of Bhutan’s oldest and holiest temples, revered by Tibetan Buddhists who consider it an essential pilgrimage destination. Historians and art connoisseurs alike will find Kyichu Lhakhang to be a magnificent find – historians will appreciate its rare historical value while art enthusiasts adore its sublime design.
This monastery’s most eye-catching feature is its elegant temple gate. Set amidst wild flowers and set against a breathtaking mountain backdrop, its solemn atmosphere adds further beauty. Stepping inside, you’re welcomed by a temple hall featuring Buddha in lotus position; walls decorated with mythological creatures; paintings depicting eight Bodhisattvas; while its main sanctum boasts an image from 7th Century carving.
Kyichu was constructed by Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century in response to a legend surrounding a giant demonness who roamed across Tibet and the Himalayas at that time, thus prompting him to construct 108 temples overnight across his kingdom and pin down her left foot – Kyichu being one of these 108.
Peaceful surroundings where elderly people can be seen walking around the temple spinning prayer wheels and two orange trees which provide year-round fruit, two orange trees that bear fruits year-round and an inner courtyard featuring Gesar of Ling’s painting as an acclaimed warrior and epic poem writer from Tibet is something you cannot miss when visiting Bhutan. Truly magnificent! A must see!
Apart from Jowo Lhakhang, an additional temple called Guru Lhakhang was added in the 20th century by Queen Mother Ashi Kesang Choden under her sponsorship. Additionally, there is also a shrine with an original statue of Jowo Jamba from the 7th century and another hall featuring Chenrezig with 11 heads and 1,000 arms as a statue.