Over a 600-year-old Iron Bridge to Tachog Lhakhang in Paro

posted in: Asia, Bhutan, Culture, Heritage | 22

The first thing that people consider doing in Paro is to scale the famous Tiger’s Nest Monastery. In fact, that remains the most popular among the things to do in Paro. However, like most other places, there are a few other gems in this city. Some of them are hidden while others exist in plain sight but tend to be overlooked. Thanks to our guide, we discovered one. An elusive monastery called Tachog Lhakhang and a timeless old iron bridge to reach it. The best part of this discovery was that the obvious temple was not the destination. In fact, it was the journey – which though incomplete,  made this Paro attraction special.

Tachog Lhakhang in Paro

Tachog Lhakhang falls en route to Thimphu. Right next to the Paro Chhu or the Paro river, nestled at the foothills of those gorgeous hills, the temple monastery might seem quite innocuous. Away from the main road, it seems as if you will have to cross the river and the ravine to reach it. Stop there and peek a little to notice a very ancient bridge. That my friend is where you need to follow me. You don’t need a whole day or half a day to include this in your places to visit in Paro. Just a brief halt and a quarter of an hour – you will be thrilled that you made this stop at the Tachog Lhakhang.

History of Tachog Lhakhang & the mysterious bridge

Paro Chhu River in Bhutan

There have been many wonderous bridges across the world – some of them really ancient. A few of them awe you with their spectacular masonry, some tug your heart with their tales and then there are a few that will make your jaws drop for their magical construction. Take, for example, the Chaksam bridge. Initially built in Tibet, but now in present-day Arunachal Pradesh – Tawang area to be precise, the bridge across the river Yarlung Tsangpo river. It is the longest unsuspended bridge in the world and was built in the 1430s by an ingenious architect – Thangtong Gyalpo. The gentleman may not be popular in the tourist tales but interestingly, he is central to our tale of Tachog Lhakhang.

The 600-year-old Bridge connecting to Tachog Lhakhang

This Tibetan genius traveled across Tibet and Bhutan to construct over 55 Iron bridges, in an effort to connect the pilgrims to their monastic destinations. One of these bridges was the Tachog Lhakhang bridge. While he was meditating by the river, he had a dream of a wild horse crossing over the Paro Chhu. That inspired him to build an iron bridge and a temple across the river. While he is credited for having built the bridge, it is said that his son was the one who built the temple. The name “Tachog Lhakhang” means the “Temple of the hill of the excellent horse”. The temple itself is run by the descendants of this clever architect and requires special permission from the monks to visit it.

Discovering the 600-year-old Iron Bridge

Typically, you expect the temple over the bridge in a story and maybe, if I were allowed to go into the place, it might have been so. However, in this case, it is all about the bridge over the temple for it was really intriguing.  From afar, it did not look like much but the closer I got, the more amazed I was. For one, there is zero structure supporting it. The ancient iron parts definitely gave it a feeling of having seen over 6 centuries of flowing water. My guess is that it decided to dip in and flow with it in 1969. 😉

The ancient Iron Bridge

It was in that year – 1969 that the Paro river decided to flood and carry the bridge with it. The rickety parts of the bridge gave way and swam with the water to a distance. Luckily a royal expedition post the flood managed to gather a lot of these and the whole legacy of Thangtong Gyalpo was reconstructed to its present state.

Ít would have been an adventure to cross the river on the bridge. Imagine all the swaying and dangling over the adrenaline filled stream below. Unfortunately, it was padlocked when I visited and I could not use it. Does that mean that I did not get to the other side? Nah! I did.

Exploring the Watchtowers of Tachog Lhakhang

The heritage Iron Bridge between two towers

Technically, these are not watchtowers but for its similarity and lack of better description, I would like to call them that. The first one with the entry to the Iron Bridge was closed. However, getting to the other one was not difficult for next to the ancient bridge, is a modern one. That one has a solid wooden ground to walk on. That is how I crossed over to the other side 😉

The more recent bridge by the ancient one
The ancient doors of the tower

The tower at the other end of the ancient bridge was luckily open for us to explore. It looked deserted and old and that honestly, piqued my interest the most. However, it was only the door frames, the ancient locks and rusted iron chains that belied the age of this tower. Within the tower, the smell of fresh paint told me that it was recently renovated.

The painted ceiling of the tower
Central painting is that of Thangtong Gyalpo

The ground floor was devoid of any finery. However, a short flight to the next floor showcased a mini shrine. The walls were adorned by paintings of prominent Buddhist figures – the central one being that of the architect – Thantong Gyalpo. The ceilings had a pleasing image of the Buddhist chakras while the pretty windows opened to the flowing river and the ancient iron bridge. Remember not to disturb the Tsa-Tsas or the Buddhist capsules by the window for they are kept by the people praying for the souls of the departed.

Tsa-tsa are quite an interesting concept. These capsules are found by water sources, mountain passes, temples etc. Buddhists believe that leaving them at these places brings peace to the departed soul. My first encounter with them was at the Swayambhunath temple in Nepal and from then on, at every possible Buddhist destination including the Chele La Pass of Bhutan. Take a peek at what they mean as you tour these places virtually.

Prayer wheels & some quiet time

Prayer Wheels by the iron bridge along with the cave in the background

There was nothing else to see except for this set of prayer wheels set outside the same tower. It is from here that the trail to the mystical Tachog Lhakhang starts. Only the devoid Buddhists are allowed there and hence, I chose to stay back and admire the landscape. It was this serene time that drew attention to small things like – a small cave behind the prayer wheels.

The lucky Buddhist devotees who are allowed in Tachog Lhakhang
Prayer flags along the bridge
Prayer stones piled by the bank near Tachog Lhakhang

And then, the little piles of stones left behind by a believer of good luck. I sat down by the bank enjoying the fluttering prayer flags along the bridges – both modern and ancient. Even left behind my own pile of stones with the hope that Good vibes follow me.

I agree that I never got to the temple and that made my journey unfinished. And I never did cross the Iron bridge. That definitely left things incomplete. However, I still feel satisfied. Maybe, some stops are just meant to give you that contentment. You guys should also, try this little therapeutic break when in Bhutan. Just remember to stop by the Tachog Lhakhang on your way to Thimphu. Believe me, it is worth your time to add this to your list of Paro attractions.

Tachog Lhakhang

How to get to Paro?

  • Paro is the main airport in Bhutan. If you are flying into the country, then you will land here and start your Bhutan tour from here.
  • Even if you arrive by road, Paro is unmissable in your things to do in Bhutan. You will visit it when getting in from Phuentsholing or from Thimphu.
  • The Tachog Temple is located between Isuna Village and Chhuzom along the Paro-Thimphu highway. Your driver is likely to know of this place.

Where to stay in Paro?

  • Paro being a major city has plenty of stay options. From elaborate resorts to budget rooms, you will be able to find a good Paro hotel based on your need.
  • I stayed at the Golden Roots Resorts & Spa in Paro, which I booked through one of the online hotel websites. The stay was quite comfortable but the location quite away from the main town center. The rooms had a very nice heating system. Also, the food options were limited and left us quite unsatisfied. We had to visit the main town for our meals.

Travel Tips

  • Though there is no official timing for the bridge or the temple, it is best to visit it during daylight.
  • The Tachog Lhakhang is out of bounds in most cases. However, you can check with your guide and see if you can visit it.
  • There is a small hiking trail that takes you around the temple. If you have the time, you can get to it for some lovely views.
  • If the ancient bridge is open, you can walk on the same. It is quite an adventure. However, do not swing on it.
  • There are no restaurants nearby.
  • A public restroom is available by the highway.
  • On how to get to Bhutan, what to do, where to go – you need to go to this post on travel guide to Bhutan

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