Tamchog Lhakhang at Paro

Tamchog Lhakhang is one of several temples in Paro believed to have been founded by the Tibetan polymath, Thangtong Gyalpo (1385-1464), the “King of the Empty Plain,” who is now commonly known as the “Iron Bridge Maker” for his pioneering engineering works, including chain-link suspension bridges.

A temple may not have been initially planned here; instead, it stemmed from the construction of the nearby bridge raised in 1433 under Thangtong Gyalpo’s direction. Called the Tamchog Chakzam, it was constructed of multiple lengths of iron chains secured by gatehouses at opposite banks of the Paro River. Ropes tied between the chains allowed for foot traffic in both directions. The iron used in constructing the hand-forged links was exceptionally durable, allowing the bridge to survive until 1969 when it was washed away in a flood. According to Gerner, portions of the chains were recovered and stored in a shed near the Lhakhang, where Gerner observed them in 1980 and 1992. He also notes that oral traditions assert that many other components may be found downstream, buried beneath sand and stones.

In 2005 per a directive from the King, the suspension bridge was rebuilt in a close approximation of its original form using the salvaged original chains. Unused chains from other bridges built by Thangtong Gyalpo were joined to the old links, creating a new bridge using original 550-year-old materials. For safety purposes, modern chain-link nets were placed atop the bridge path. At present, this reconstructed historical bridge stands alongside a modern cable suspension bridge built in the early 1970s to replace the original destroyed by the 1969 flood.

The Tachog Lhakhang

The Tachog (or Tamchog, Tachogang) Lhakhang is perched on an otherwise deserted hillock directly above the bridge, with fine views of the Paro River and the surrounding mountains. Reliable information on the monastery appears to be scarce, as it tends to play second fiddle to the fame of the bridge. In her book “Treasures of the Thunder Dragon,” Queen Mother Dorji Wangmo notes that there is a tradition among the people of Paro to visit both the Tachog Lhakhang and the Lhading Lhakhang in one day to cleanse the sins accrued over 300 rebirths. Since Thangtong Gyalpo’s era, the monastery has been in the hands of his descendants who currently comprise the Tachog Choeje, one of the five “noble” families of the Paro region (along with various other Choeje such as the Gongkar, Sha Radrag Go, Hungrel, and Dzong Drag). Within the walls of the Lhakhang are several paintings and altars depicting Thangtong Gyalpo, indicating the close relationship the temple maintains with the legacy of its founder. The temple is still maintained by the Chagzampa order which Thangtong Gyalpo founded.

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