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Oral accounts of Zhongar Dzong
Zhongar Dzong
The ruin of Zhongar Dzong is a familiar sight on the Thimphu-Trashigang highway between Lingmithang and Thidangbi village in Mongar. The ruin of this magnificent monument opposite the highway still imposes its presence even a few centuries after it was abandoned.

In the absence of any written record, a story about the dzong and history surrounding it can be reconstructed only through oral sources which are also scanty. The local people believe that Gyalpo Karpodhungin vited its chief architect Bala from Paro.

Evidence of his journey to Zhongar can be found in several places between Ura and Zhongar.

On reaching Saleng, Bala made a visual survey of the place. He reportedly saw a white stone bowl on a small hill and decided to build a new dzong on it. He named it Zhongkar (gzhong dkar), meaning white bowl (gzhong = bowl, dkar = white). But down the centuries, the place came to be known as Zhongar. Another source claims that when Bala neared Lingmithang, he had a vision of a hill marked by a natural rock similar to a gzhong, a wooden bowl used as an eating utensil.

The Utse of the Dzong is still intact
Mongar Fearing that the new dzong might intrude into his territory, the tsen of Golongdraksent two junior tsen to kill Bala before reaching the place. The two tsen hid in the jungle and waited for Bala. But Bala never came. They instead saw a 'wooden-cross' moving along the road. It was later found out that the 'wooden-cross' was Bala's lopen (carpenter's measuring scale). Even today it is believed that a carpenter should always carry his lopen to avoid any harm.

After arriving in Zhongar, Bala surprisingly disappeared for seven days. Later he was found in Jangdhung where he had made a model of his new dzong from artemesia stems. Bala built the dzong based on this model. It was said that there were no rough edges in the structure and not a single rock that was out of place.

The Dzong consisted of four main structures:

Dratuel Dzong (dgra btul rdzong) to the east
Chhudzong Tsenkhar (chu rdzong btsan khar) to the south
Bjachung Ta Dzong (bya chung ta rdzong) to the west
Dhumrey Sipki Dzong (ldum ras rtsig pa kyi rdzong) to the north

The Dzong's courtyard was so long that it was used as an archery range. But the king began to worry that Bala might build another dzong of greater wonder. So on the eve of Bala's journey back to Paro, the king cut off his right hand during chelchang (departure drink) arranged at Zhugthri.


The legend of the Dzong
Zhongar Dzong
In agonizing pain Bala prayed that the king must also die in pain, and that when he (Bala) was dead, he should be born as a demon (bdud)of the Dzong and surrounding lands. Local people believe that Bala was born as a giant snake which still guards the ruin of the Dzong. Later a snake started killing the king's horses. One version narrates that it was the Golongdrak tsen which killed one horse every night. The king then invited the Peseling Trulku Tenpai Gyaltshen from Bumthangto perform a religious ceremony.
The trulku stopped above Saleng and started to blow his conch, the sound of which was said to have cured one of the king's dying horses.

The trulku entered into a retreat in the citadel of Golongdrak tsen with instruction that he should not be disturbed for seven days. But the king grew suspicious of the trulku's intent and lost faith. On the sixth day he sent his chamberlain (gdzimdpon) to spy on the trulku. The chamberlain saw a gigantic snake prostrating before the trulku.

The trulku came out after the seventh day to inform that the tsen had not been completely subdued because of the king's distrust of him and the chamberlain's disturbance. The king offered a hundred cows and pasturelands around Yundhiridrang in repentance. Even today, Peseling Trulku owns the same pasturelands. The trulku then consecrated the Dzong and Kurizampa.

Prominent dzongpons

The Dzong's nangten were offered by Lama Sherab Jungney of Khengkhar, while Lama Sangay Zangpo of Kilikharmade the altar. Though the two lamas never met, statues fitted exactly into the altar. The kanjur was copied in Fire-Male-Dog-Year of 11th rabjung (sexagenary cycle) in 1646 when Ngawang Penjor was the Dzongpon. It took 108 clerks about six months to copy it. Ngedup Penjor was the master of letters or alphabets (yigdpon), while Ngawang Pekar supervised overall work.

During the rivalry between Gyalpo Karpodhung and Gyalpo Tongden of Tongfu, the former sought Trongsa Penlop's assistance. The forces of Trongsa Penlop defeated the Tongfu Gyalpo and surprisingly took control of the Zhongar Dzong and other kingdoms. It was at that time that people of neighbouring Ngatshang and Themnagbi villages migrated, fearing the new ruler, to Pema Ked (padma bkod)- a legendary hidden land (sbas yul)in south-east Tibet.

Some prominent Zhongar dzongpons after Gyalpo Karpodhung were Chaskarpa, Kologpa, Naamedla (Hap Shaw), Jampel from Dungsam, Darpoen Choki Gyeltshen, Ten Samdrup, Ngawang Penjor, Dorji Penjor, Kinzang Wangdi and Lopen Tashi.


Damaged by fire and earthquake
Zhongar Dzong
Centuries later the Dzong was damaged by a disastrous fire. Later it was destroyed by a supernatural earthquake lasting for seven days. The number seven has been considered significant in the dzong's history. First, its builder Bala took seven days to make the dzong's model out of artemesia stems. Second, Peseling Trulku meditated for seven days to subdue the Golongdrak tsen, and finally an earthquake that destroyed it lasted for seven days.

The earthquake was a blessing in disguise since most people favoured abandoning the place which was believed to be infested with demons and malaria. the zingarp sent by Trongsa Penlop to assess the damage was bribed to report falsely that the Dzong cannot be repaired. Thereafter, it was abandoned, and its functions shifted to present Mongar.

Fearing the snake

To local people the place is shrouded in fear. Stories of the presence of certain malevolent spirits and a gigantic snake guarding a treasure of gold and silver are only whispered.To most of us, the ruin is not even worth taking notice. Beyond a pile of stones and mud, it echoes past life to connect us to the future. Embedded inside is a life frozen in time, a wealth of history that can be still recounted orally by those who also heard itfrom their grandparents.

Source: Centre for Bhutan Studies


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