Temples in Bhutan are known as Lhakhangs while monasteries are known as Gompas or Goenpas. They are found everywhere in the country, from every valley to every village to almost every mountain. They serve as the religious centers, as the venue for social and cultural functions and events and as a place for employment for laymen who work as help, artisans and agricultural laborers. Lhakhangs or temples in Bhutan can be a part of a dzong or a monastery as the main and central building or can be a separate building by itself. Some of the most sacred Bhutanese temples are situated outside the boundaries of dzongs and monasteries.
1.Taktsang Monastery , Paro valley
Taktsang monastery is one of the most famous monasteries in Bhutan. The white building with gold plated dome, colorful flags, golden prayer wheels, and a cave temple mesmerizes every tourist and devotee. Situated at an altitude of 3120 meters in upper Paro valley, this serene abode of guru Rinpoche was demolished in fire and re-constructed in 1998. You can trek up to the monastery to enjoy the breath taking view of the surrounding valley or relish sumptuous Bhutanese food at Taktsang café.
2.Kyichu Lhakhang Monastery, Paro valley
With lofty sculptures of Guru Rinpoche and Red Kurkulla, temple of Guru Lhakhang and chorten with ashes of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Kyichu Lhakhang Monastery is another popular religious structure in Paro after Taktsang. Local people, especially elderly pilgrims are seen spinning the prayer wheels, encircling the stupa. Most of these monasteries resemble Buddhist Monasteries in India.
3. Rimpung Dzong Monastery, Paro valley
Locally translated as ‘fortress on a heaped jewels’, Rimpung Dzong Monastery, perched on a hill slope is surely worth a visit. This Bhutan Monastery is also the administrative headquarter of Paro. The towering walls, marvelous wall paintings, and 14 shrines and chapels are some fascinating elements here. Just outside this beautiful abode, one can also see another fortress called Ta Dzong, which houses the National Museum of Bhutan.
4. Cheri Monastery, Thimphu
Cheri Monastery can be reached by an hour-long trek up the Dodena Hill. Constructed in 1620 by Ngwang Namgyal, this monastery is now a chief learning and retreat hub of southern Drukpa descent. The trek up to Cheri Monastery is fascinating through lush green pine and rhododendron forests. The monastery building, encircled by bright prayer flags swinging in air, serene prayer room and temple with Buddhist paintings not only make it one of the popular tourist places in Bhutan, but also the finest.
5.Tango Monastery, Thimphu
Built on the meditation cave of Ngawang Namgyal, this Tango Monastery was named after a horse-head shaped rock found inside the cave itself. Built in 13th century, it is one of the chief Buddhism educational institutes in Bhutan. Visit this monastery to see 6 temples namely Trulku Lhakhang, Choeku Lhakhang, Guru Lhakhang, Longku Lhakhang, Gonkhang, and Namsey Lhakhang in the same premises. Trulku Lhakhang is the main temple which has stunning gold and copper statute of Buddha. If you plan to visit Tango Monastery in August and September; mark the dates of ‘Yarney’- the summer retreat festival, celebrated with great pomp and grandeur.
6. Memorial Chorten ,Thimphu
Popular as Memorial Stupa and Thimpu Chorten, this holy abode consists of golden spires, bells, assembly halls, paintings, and a famous photograph of Druk Gyalpo in ceremonial attire. Unlike other monasteries of Bhutan, Memorial chorten does not enshrine human residues. The beautiful garden surrounding the stupa, the gate with slate carvings, statues, and murals appeal to every traveler.
7. Kurjey Lhakhang Monastery, Bumthang
Kurjey Lhakhang is one of the most ancient monasteries of Bhutan. It is believed that Guru Rinpoche left his body print in the cave temples of the monastery. This is also the resting place of first three kings of Bhutan. A tall cypress tree is located beside the main temple which is assumed to be the walking stick of Guru Rinpoche.
8. Tamshing Lhakhang, Bumthang
The place of Buddhist sacred mask dances and Tsechus festival, Tamshing Lhakhang is another monastery in Bhutan. This monastery is visited by numerous locals and devotees to perform religious ceremonies and prayers. This is one of the few monasteries of Bhutan preserving the teachings of Pema Lingpa.
9. Punakha Dzong monastery, Punakha
As the second Buddhist monastery in Bhutan, Punakha Dzong is the present winter house of Dratshang – the head monk. The monastery boasts of sanctified remnants of Drukpa period, Ngawang Namgyal, and Terton Pema Lingpa. The sparkling white stupa, Bodhi tree, chapel for queen of Nagas, and the hundred pillar assembly hall are other elements of charm in the monastery.
10. Jambay Lhakhang Monastery, Bumthang
One of the 108 temples built by Songstan Gampo – the mighty Tibetan King, Jambay Lhakhang Monastery pulls thousands of tourists during its grand long annual festival of mid-night sacred naked dances. Situated on the borderland of Tibet, Jambay Lhakhang is a vintage Bhutan monastery, comprising of murals, wall paintings and small temples.
11. Gangtey monastery, Wangdiphodrang
As an important lineage of Pema Lengpa, this Gangteng Monastery belongs to the Nyingmapa school of Buddhism. Gangteng Monastery is one of the must see tourist places in Bhutan, that comprises of colourful temples, 11 faced Avalokitesvara Lhakhang, Shedra’s Assembly Hall, and an exclusive collection of weapons and armory.
12. Dochula Pass
At just 30km (18 mi) from Thimphu , Dochula Pass is a popular spiritual site for both locals and visitors. On a clear day, it offers a majestic 360-degree view of the Himalayan Mountains, including Bhutan’s highest peak, Gangkhar Puensum. Most pilgrims come to Dochula Pass to pay respects to the Druk Wangyal Chortens, built by the eldest Queen Mother to honour the Bhutanese soldiers who perished in the fight against Indian rebels in 2003. From above, the sight of 108 chortens perched side by side, overlooking the mountains, is pretty spectacular.
13. The Temple of devine Madman/ Chimi Lhakhang, Punakha
The Divine Madman is such a popular character in Tibetan Buddhism folklore that a temple, Chimi Lhakhang (translated to mean “Temple of the Divine Madman”) was built in his honour. The temple is believed to bless couples who seek fertility and it is frequently visited by those without children. To receive blessings, a lama places two phalluses, one wooded and the other made of bone, on the couple’s foreheads along with an archery bow that belonged to the Divine Madman himself. He then says a prayer and offers the couple a stack of names for them to randomly draw from. Their selection dictates the baby’s gender and name.
14. Tashicho Dzong, Thimphu
Blending seamlessly into the green valley surrounding it, the Tashichho Dzong is perched high above the capital city of Thimphu, in a regal and imposing kind of way. The Buddhist monastery and fortress has been the seat of the head of Bhutan’s civil government since 1952 and presently houses the throne room and offices of the king and ministries of home affairs and finance. It was also the site of the lavish coronation of the present king in 2008 and plays host of the city’s biggest annual tsechu festival. By night, the fortress is lit up in beautiful white and red lights, illuminating it in a gorgeous glow.