Kyichu Lhakhang

Top choice in Western Bhutan

Kyichu Lhakhang is one of Bhutan's oldest and most beautiful temples. The main chapel has roots as far back as the 7th century, with additional buildings and a golden roof added in 1839 by the penlop (governor) of Paro and the 25th Je Khenpo. Elderly pilgrims constantly shuffle around the temple spinning its many prayer wheels, making this one of the most charming spots in the Paro valley. Entry is free to foreign tourists since they are paying their daily tariff.

As you enter the intimate inner courtyard of this historic chapel, you'll see to the right of the doorway a mural of King Gesar of Ling, the popular Tibetan warrior-king, whose epic poem is said to be the world's longest.

The third king's wife, Ashi Kesang Wangchuck, sponsored the construction of the Guru Lhakhang in 1968. It contains a 5m-high statue of Guru Rinpoche and another of Kurukulla (Red Tara), holding a bow and arrow made of flowers. To the right of Guru Rinpoche is a chorten containing the ashes of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, the revered Nyingma Buddhist master and spiritual teacher of the Queen Mother, who passed away and was cremated nearby in 1991. There is a statue of him to the left, as well as some old photos of the fourth king's grandmother and the first king of Bhutan. The ornately carved wooden pillars are superb, as are the snow lions that support the flower pots.

The inner hall of the fantastically atmospheric main Jowo Lhakhang conceals the valley's greatest treasure, an original 7th-century statue of Jowo Sakyamuni, said to have been cast at the same time as the famous statue in Lhasa. In front of the statue you can see the grooves that generations of prostrators have worn into the wooden floor. King Songtsen Gampo himself lurks up in the upper left niche of the outer room. The main door is superbly gilded with images of curling dragons.

The former quarters (zimchung) of Dilgo Khyentse are in a room to the left and still hold his bed and throne.

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