Jakar Dzong

Top choice buddhist monastery in Jakar
Image by Keren Su / Getty Images

Jakar Dzong is in a picturesque location overlooking the Chokhor valley; the current structure was built in 1667. Its official name is Yuelay Namgyal Dzong, in honour of the victory over Tibetan ruler Phuntsho Namgyal's troops. An unusual feature here is that the utse (central tower) is situated on an outside wall, so there is no way to circumambulate it.

According to legend, when the lamas assembled in about 1549 to select a site for a monastery, a big white bird rose suddenly in the air and settled on a spur of a hill. This was interpreted as an important omen, and the hill was chosen as the monastery's site and for Jakar Dzong, which roughly translates as 'castle of the white bird'. The Zhabdrung's great-grandfather, Ngagi Wangchuck, founded the monastery.

The approach to the impressive dzong, which has a circumference of more than 1500m, is made on foot along a stone-paved path. The entrance leads into a narrow courtyard surrounded by administrative offices. The utse is on the east side of the courtyard, and beyond that is the monks' quarters. At the west end of the dzong is a slightly larger courtyard, also surrounded by administrative offices. Behind here is a half-round ta dzong (watchtower). A walled passage leads from the dzong down the hill to a nearby spring – a feature that ensured water could be obtained in the event of a long siege.

Even if the chapels are closed, it's a worthwhile climb for the views of the Chokhor valley from the front courtyard.