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Fortress on a Pile of Jewels: Paro Dzong

“The Paro valley looked like a backcloth for an Arthurian legend. The tall houses with their colourful wood-carvings round  the windows stood dramatically among the paddy-fields. It was like stumbling on Shangri La-valleys completely cut off by mountains from the teeming bazaars of India to the south and the wastes of the high plateau of Tibet to the north.”

– James Minto (1974)

Before the fortress of Paro was named as Paro Dzong, it was known by several names such as ‘Hungrel Gonsarkha’, ‘Dzong Hungrelkha’, ‘Densar Rinpung Dzong’ & ‘Druk Rinchenpung Dzong’. The name ‘Rinchenpung Dzong’ means ‘Fortress on a Pile of Jewels’.

This majestic fortress which was built after 1450s and completed by 1458 is located 4kms north from Paro Airport. Initially the five storied fortress were built by Drung Drung Gyalchog and later in the 17th Century, it was handed over to Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. In 1644, the fortress was demolished and new larger foundations of the fortress were laid under the supervision of Paro Penlop[1] La Nyingpa Tenzin Drukdra[2].

Unfortunately, between 1905 to 1906 the fortress was burned down and in 1909 restoration work was completed by Paro Penlop Dawa Penjor. In 1951, the Third King of Bhutan, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck renovated the fortress to mark the Royal Wedding of the 3rd King himself.

Fun fact: Scenes from the movie ‘Little Buddha’ written by Rudy Wurlitzer and Mark Peploe were shot at Paro Dzong.

One of the jewels in the fortress is ‘Thongdrol’[3] which is a large scale appliqué. Thongdrol was created under the instructions of 4th Druk Desi Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye and it represents the eight manifestations of Guru Rinpochoe accompanied by his two spiritual consorts and the image of Lam Ngawang Rabgye[4]. In Buddhism, it is believed that one should receive blessings from the thongdrol once in their lifetime since the thongdrol will help liberate them from the sufferings of the samsaric world.

Photo Credit: Dr. Brian Shaw, 1983

Sangay, 83 years old from Dopshari village, recalls embroidering the thongdrol and running out of brocade while doing the faces of the figures. Though the search for the brocade was carried out, all the efforts were in vain. However, the Paro Zimpon[5]-nam offered the missing barcodes for the tapestry. It is believed amongst the local community that reward was offered to the Paro Zimpon-nam in exchange for the brocade, but he denied the offer. Instead, he requested to, “Let my family be a recipient of the blessings of the monk’. Since that day a family member of Zimpon-nam has always been a recipient of red scarf officer.

The fortress on a pile of jewels has a long history that continues to be woven today. Comment below, tag us @Transbhutantrail or #transbhutantrail to share your story or picture of Paro Dzong or Paro Thongdrol.


[1] Penlop- Governor

[2] First Paro Penlop or the 2nd Druk Desi

[3] Thongdrol is large silk scroll embroidery.

[4] Lam Ngawang Rabgye is the one who did the art on the precious thongdrol.

[5] Zimpon- Chamberlain

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