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Location: Eastern Bhutan, between Bumthang and Trashigang
Distance from Bumthang: 198 km (7 hrs)
Elevation: 1600m, 5,250ft
Mongar is the eastern commercial centre and lately it is prospering with industrial boom. Like other towns in the East, Mongar town is also located on the top of a hill. The prominence of the Dzong is an exhilarating vista although it is newly built to replace the old Zhongar Dzong which now stands in ruins. But the Dzong still houses the artifacts of the Zhongar Dzong.
In addition to the fascination offered by the manner and architecture of the entire section and the people, there are places of pilgrimage like the Aja Nye and the Hungja Nye, besides hundreds of lakes which are considered sacred and must-visit sites in one’s lifetime. Drametse monastery is another place of sanctity, and its splendor is entrenched with profound history and the significant accounts of the past.
Mongar Dzong was built in 1930 and its design was similar to Lamai Geonpa in Bumthang, the residence of the 1st King Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck.
This Dzong was constructed in the year as the administrative Headquarter for the District and to house the spiritual monks. The Dzong also houses the artifacts of the old Zhongar Dzong besides the other relics. The Dzong festival Tsechu is held annually in the month of November/December corresponding to 8-10th day of 10th month of Bhutanese calendar year. These dates vary from year to year according to the Buddhist calendar. Astrologers finalize these dates before the year begins.
The Yakhang Lhakhang is a privately owned monastery founded by Lama Sangdag, the 6th son of Terton Pema Lingpa. It is 20 minutes walk from the Mongar town.
The monastery stands as one of the great cultural significance as it is a repository of a full range of spiritual treasures and other sacred objects known to have discovered by Terton Pema Lingpa. As Pema Lingpa is the quintessential Bhutanese master and was completely homegrown, all his work for the benefit of beings happened here in Bhutan and he is really the epitome of Bhutan. The teachings and religious practices are maintained without decline in values and behavior in strict accordance with Peling traditions. This is the only monastery which is preserved untouched, modified in its pure tradition and culture of Buddhism in the east.
Corresponding to Trel Da Tshechu commemorating the birth anniversary of Guru Rinpoche on the 10 day of 5th Bhutanese month, the Yakgang monastery host the above Tshechu for three days. The Tshechu ( Tertoenpa Chham, naked dance similar to the festival at Jambay Lhakhang, Bumthang normally goes for three days however due to financial problem it is shortened to one day). Before the Mongar dzong was built the Yakgang Tshechu was the only Tshechu performed annually to mark the annual festival at Mongar.
Drametse monastery was founded by Ani Choten Zangmo, Pema Lingpa’s granddaughter, who fled from Bumthang to escape a proposal of marriage from the local king. She fled east and when she found a place ideally suited for meditation and practice she named it ‘Drametse’ which literally means ‘the peak where there are no enemies’. Ani Choeten Zangmo’s kudung (remains) is preserved to this day in the monastery as the most important relic. Further, Drametse was blessed by the birth of three successive incarnations of the Zhabdrung: Jigme Drakpa (1791-1830), Jigme Norbu (1831-1861), and Jigme Chogyel (1862-1904). Many religious festivals with sacred masked dances are performed every year. Out of the many masked dances, the Drametse Ngacham (Drum dance of Drametse) is the most popular and well known in the country. It is said that Lama Kunga Gyaltshen, brother of Ani Choeten Zangmo, in a visionary state reached Zangdo Pelri (the Paradise) of Guru Rinpoche where he witnessed the performance of this dance. Upon his return to the human realm, he introduced the tradition of this dance in Drametse and later it spread widely and was known as the Drametse Ngacham.
Other masked dances include the sacred dances known as the Peling Tercham or the Treasure Dances of Terton Pema Lingpa, which are only performed during these festivals. These dances include Peling Gingchen and Rujen performed during the burnt offering (Jinseg) as well as Shagpadre, Tseumara and Serdra Chham. These dances are to be viewed as a pure display of Mandalas representing particular deities or psychic forces. The function of the dance, both for the dancers and the spectators is one of liberating from ordinary thoughts and emotions. The essence of these masked dances is therefore to bring about inner realization. It is generally acknowledged that most of Tantric ritual dances locally known as Tercham performed in most of the festivals in Bhutan originated from Drametse. The sacred dances are perceived as special gift to the lay community as these dances depict the visionary experiences of profound realization by the sublime beings such as Terton Pema Lingpa. Drametse is therefore the main seat of Pema Lingpa lineage and also the religious and cultural center in eastern Bhutan
Zhongar Dzong in Mongar is visible from the Mongar-Bumthang Highway, a few kilometers from Lingmethang. It is half an hour drive from Mongar town to Shongar Dzong and about half an hour’s walk from the nearest road point. In a distance from the Dzong, the old trade route that connected the eastern and western Bhutan in olden days can be seen. Built on a low-lying hillock, the location looks like a bowl filled with milk. Thus, the Dzong came to be known as Zhongkar, (zhong-bowl, kar-white).
There are several oral accounts regarding the downfall of the glorious Dzong. According to one, after the completion of the Dzong, the king killed Zochhen Bala (the master architect) in the fear that a Dzong of equal or greater magnificence might be built. In his dying wish, Bala cursed that the Dzong be wiped out, and himself be reborn in the Dzong as a wrathful spirit. It is believed that Bala’s curse materialized leading to the ruin of the Dzong. Bala himself is believed to have been born as a huge snake in the Dzong.
Another account attributes the Dzong’s downfall to fire in the late 1880s during the tenure of an eccentric Dzongpon called Namela from Drametse. At that time, the Dzong is said to be infested by rodents and fleas that not only harmed animals, but humans too. On seeking suggestions from his attendants to rid the Dzong of rodents and fleas, they suggested burning the Dzong down. So the eccentric Dzongpon set the Dzong on fire.
The downfall of the Dzong is also attributed to an earthquake. Due to hot and humid tropical climate of the area, there were frequent outbreaks of diseases. The Dzongpon himself was said to have been contemplating abandoning the place when an earthquake struck the Dzong.
The historical Zhongar Dzong has lain in ruins for centuries. The dissonantly silent, vast four acre compound with crumbling walls has been at once awesome and scary.
The extensive ruins of the fort comprise one of the most melancholy sights in eastern Bhutan. The ruins, largely deserted are much as the destroyers left them.
Tagchu Gompa, a privately owned Lhakhang was built in 1825 by one of the disciples of Togden Shakya Shri, a renowned Lama from eastern Tibet. Zhabdung Jigme Dakpa’s mother was known to be residing here while the Zhabdung was studying at Wengkhar Monastery. Tagchu Gonpa is 2 hours walk from Themnangbi Lhakhang and 4 hours walk up from Mongar via Gangula ancient mule track.