The town of Trongsa is at the very centre of Bhutan. This town is dominated by an elongated dzong which was built clinging to the rim of a steep valley. My guide Kado liked to refer to it as 'the teasing dzong' because although it looks to be quite close, it takes another half hour drive or two hour hike to reach it from where I took this photo:
Before we went into the dzong, we had lunch of various veggies and red rice at a restaurant along the narrow main street. From the window behind the dining table, we could look out and down towards the fortress. I could tell even before going inside that it is built on many levels in a complex arrangement of compartments.
Forgive my laziness but Wikipedia explains everything clearly enough: "Chökhor Raptentse Dzong at Trongsa which was built in 1644, used to be the seat of power of the Wangchuch dynasty before it became rulers of Bhutan in 1907. Traditionally the King first becomes the governor of Trongsa before being named Crown Prince and eventually King. Built on a mountain spur high above the gorges of the Mangde Chhu, the dzong controlled east-west trade for centuries. The only road connecting eastern and western Bhutan (the precursor to the modern Lateral Road), passed through the courtyard of the dzong. At the command of the governor the massive doors could be shut, dividing the country in two."
Something about the setting of this fortress reminds me of Harlech Castle in Wales (another dragon flag country!). Because of the Harlech similarity and the connection to the conquering rulers of Bhutan, I have this image of Tronga town being the place where brave men are born. There's no real reason for me to think this: I'm just too romantic, I suppose.
As mentioned, the main road goes right through Trongsa, so on the way back to Thimphu, we stopped to visit the very new Ta Dzong museum. 'Ta' means tower: you can see the tower located to the right above the main dzong. The clouds in that photo should show just how high up this town is and indeed, I was feeling extremely dizzy inside the museum. I was sure I was going to fall down the sleek new wooden staircases. The museum opened only a year ago and it is a collaborative project created with grants from the Austrian government plus restoration training for locals by Austrian experts. You may recall that I am a museum snob (or rather, I took Museum Studies courses in grad school) and I believe this to be a very well presented display. Since Trongsa was the base of power of the unifiers of Bhutan, a major theme of the museum is the royal dynasty. Also on show are many magnificent carvings of the Four Guardian Kings, the Eight Manifestations of Guru Rinpoche and other Buddhist iconography. This kind of artwork is preserved in dzongs across the country but this is the only chance I had to see it up close and unobscured.
Our guide inside the museum was a monk who lived at Ta Dzong. I remember the pungent taste of the holy water he offered us in the tower-top sanctuary and also his very loud and unexpected taxi whistle cell phone ringtone.
(photo taken from the top of Trongsa's Ta Dzong)