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The Dzong of Zhongar

Updated: Dec 2, 2022

The bushes have turned into trees, the stone slabs have fallen, and the scattered settlement has turned into a small clustered home for new generations, but the ruins of Zhongar have seen it all.

Zhongar Dzong, Bhutan. Said Piece

The ruins of ZhongarDzong stand today on a mountain called Golanbrak, overlooking Ghalikhar valley and Thridangbi in Mongar. The ramshackle main tower of the Dzong can be seen from the Mongar-Bumthang highway between Lingmethang town and Thridangbi valley. According to the local people, the name of the Dzong is derived from the shape of Golanbrak, which looks like a bowl filled with milk. People also say that architect Bala, who was assigned to construct ZhongarDzong, found a white bowl, after which he decided to name the Dzong Zhongar literally meaning "the fortress of white bowl."

There are many orally transmitted stories revolving around the Dzong, like the bushes growing over the fallen rocks of the Dzong. SaidPiece has had the privileged opportunity to listen to one of these stories from the oldest man in the village, Tshewang Dorji. We were sitting on the porch of his house while he pointed to the ruins of the Dzong and said, "ZhongarDzong is now the home of the large angry serpent and many other dhues. The nepo is very strong, and once it catches your soul, it will not let it go easily." While he said that to me, my feelings of curiosity grew, and I imagined nepo as a big snake-like anaconda from the Hollywood movie Anaconda, directed by Luis Llosa, slithering around the ruins of Zhongar.



Then he continued. According to him, Zhongar Dzongpoen named Karpodung, who was very powerful during his time, invited a very clever and talented architect named Bala from Paro. Few other people in the village shared that the Dzongpoen was nicknamed Dzongpo Namela, literally meaning "Dzongpoen without a nose" in the local dialect, since the nose of the Dzongpoen had fallen due to severe sinusitis. Reaching the valley of Jangdung, Bala started to venture out to look for a site.


In the forest, where the Dzong now stands, it is said that he found a glimmering white bowl filled with milk, which he took as a good omen to construct a Dzong. Later, in seven days, Bala constructed the model of the Dzong with the Artemisia plant. Dzongpoen was overjoyed when one of the most beautiful Dzongs was completed, and word of the wonders and glories of Dzong began to spread. Bala was asked by Dzongpoen if he could build a more significant Dzong than Zhongar Dzong, to which he answered yes. With his answer, the Dzongpoen was deeply struck that Bala might construct Dzongs grander than Zhongar, the Dzongpoen cut off Bala’s right hand and threw it into the river below, which is known as Menchugang. Bala, the disheartened architect, cursed in agony that Dzong's glory days were over. The fire will burn it for seven days, and the earthquake will tumble it down for seven days. Bala also prayed that he would be reborn as a dhue, in the form of a giant serpent looking after the Dzong. As a result of the curse, the Dzong trembled during an earthquake and burned down for seven days, leaving us with only a glimpse of the glorious Zhongar Dzong. In the end, he said that was why I told you it was the home of an angry serpent.


Such myths and legends are now the only reason to back up the story behind the ruins of Zhongar Dzong. Not only do these stories give an account of the ruin of Zhongar, but they also exhibit the strong and rich Bhutanese oral traditions that are passed down from generation to generation and from old men like Tshewang Dorji, finally reaching you. The bushes shall grow into trees, the stone slabs shall fall, and the settlement will grow bigger and bigger, but these stories and histories shall remain for generations to come.

Have you ever felt a strange feeling of happiness and surety while visiting places about which you have heard stories? Well, then, in my next blog, SaidPiece will take you into the forest where the ruins of Zhongar stand. So, stay tuned.


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