In the northeastern corner of Bhutan lies the ancient region of Kurtoe or Lhuntse as it is known today. It is the ancestral home of our Kings and hosts several of the sacred sites of pilgrimage in the country. It is located 77km from Mongar (3 hours’ drive) and is one of the most isolated districts in Bhutan.
The landscape is spectacular with stark cliffs towering above river gorges and dense coniferous forests. The region is famous for its weavers and their distinctive textiles are generally considered to be the best in the country. Kurtoep women are especially adept at weaving a textile called Kishuthara. Eastern Bhutanese culture is distinctive in its high alcohol consumption in relation to other parts of Bhutan. Ara, the traditional alcohol of Bhutan, is most often home made from rice or maize, either fermented or distilled. It may only be legally produced and consumed privately.
Some of the attractions in the region include the Lhuntse Dzong, Khoma village (famous for weaving), Singye Dzong, the beyul Khenpajong and the Phunying Pass. The textile products of Khoma village in Lhuntse are stated to be the best in the country. The weaving handicraft looms are common sight in almost every household.
Most of Lhuntse district is part of the environmentally protected areas of Bhutan. The district contains parts of Wangchuck Centennial Park in the north, Thrumshingla National Park in the south and Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary in the east. These three parks are connected by biological corridors that crisscross the central and southern regions of the district.
Must see when in Lhuentse:
1. Lhuentse Dzong
2. Kilung Lhakhang
The tiny village of Kilung is a twenty-minute drive from the Dzong on the route towards Kurtoe Dungkhar. In the village you will come across the Kilung Lhakhang situated on a ridge overlooking the Kurichu River.
This village is inhabited by the Tshanglas who migrated and settled here during the late 1880’s.It was built on the former site of the Kilung Gyalpo, a regional chieftain. This temple houses the sacred chain mall that was once used to recapture a statue that miraculously flew away from the Lhuentse Dzong.
3. Jangchubling Dzong
This is another monastery that is definitely worth paying a visit. It was founded in the 18th century by Pekar Gyatso and until recently was under the patronage of the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorji.
The daughter of the 1st King, Ashi Wangmo lived here at the monastery as a nun. The monastery is easily accessible from a feeder road.
4. Dungkar Ngatsang
The house of Dungkar, one of the noble lineages from Kurtoe was home to the Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyal, the father of the Wangchuck dynasty.
Dungkar Naktshang, the ancient home of the Dungkar Chojie and the ancestral home of the Wangchuck Dynasty, stands amid a scenic backdrop of towering mountains overlooking the tiny Dungkar village below. There is a 40km dirt road from Lhuentse leading up to Dungkar Lhakhang. The Dungkar expedition is an exciting and magical voyage into Bhutan’s past.
5. Gangzur Village
Gangzur village is situated around 2 km from the Dzong. This village is famous for its pottery as its women folk are skilled artisans of this dying art.
The Government is now making efforts to revive it through financial support. When in Gangzur you will definitely want to witness the women displaying their skills.
6. Khoma Village
This village is located about two hours walk from the Dzong. It is a pleasant journey taking you over gentle slopes amongst pine trees.
This village is known throughout the country for its signature woven textile, the Kishuthara. The women sit in a row of makeshift textile cottage, weaving intricate designs and patterns. Picking up a Kishuthara here will be much cheaper than buying it from one of the handicraft shops in the capital.
7. Takilya – The Guru Padmasambavah Statue
The world’s largest statue Of Guru Padmasambhava, with the total height of 173 feet, stands imposingly on the Takila mountain slope, which is one of the most beautiful scenic spots in Lhuntse district, overlooking the entire valley of Tangmachu. Belonging to the Tangmuchu community, an old monastery (Lhakhang) exists at the site of Guru Statue.
It is believed that the statue was built after the sacred prophesy of the the great terton Lerab Lingpa (1856 – 1926), who prophesied that, ‘At one point of time, there will be a war of horses in Kurtoe valley. To prevent this war, a statue of Guru Nangsi Zilnoen should be built’. Similarly, the late Lama Sonam Zangpo in the 20th century, the most revered Yogi of Bhutan, emphasized that, for ensuring continued prosperity in the world in general and Bhutan in particular, a giant statue of Guru Rinpoche should be built in Takila, Lhuntse district in eastern Bhutan.
The statue is built by the late Ven. Khenpo Karpo Rinpoche who is one of the masters of the present 5th King of Bhutan.
Source: Druk Odiyana Foundation, http://www.drukodiyana.org