Despite being a naturally and culturally very beautiful country, Bhutan does not yet have any UNESCO World Heritage Sites. However, eight sites appear on the ‘Tentative List’, which means that a number of criteria need to be met before they can become fully fledged World Heritage Sites. Here’s a look at these eight sites, and why they are important.
This tentative site is actually five different dzongs: Punakha Dzong, Wangdue Dzong, Paro Dzong, Trongsa Dzong and Dagana Dzong.
Dzongs are fortified buildings located at defensively strategic points that are also the seat of Buddhist schools. These five dzongs (as well as others) were built by leader Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, who holds great spiritual significance for the Bhutanese. They were built in the leader’s attempts to unify Bhutan in the 17th century. Nowadays, these five dzongs house the offices of their district authorities, as well as a number of temples. It is argued that these dzongs are significant because they reflect the dynamism of Bhutanese history and culture since its unification in the 17th century.
Ancient Ruin of Drukgyel Dzong
Drukgyel Dzong. Photo: Chuck Moravec / Flickr
The Drukgyel Dzong (the name literally meaning ‘Bhutan victory’) is located in the Paro Valley, and was built in 1649. Like the five dzongs mentioned above, it was built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. But unlike them, it was built solely for defensive purposes, and did not have any administrative or religious functions. It was built near the Tibet border, as protection against invasion. The Drukgyel Dzong was destroyed by fire in 1951, but it still remains an important heritage site because of its strategic importance in the defense of the region.
Sacred Sites Associated with Phajo Drugom Zhigpo and his Descendants
The 16 sites that comprise this listing are connected to Phajo Drugom Zhigpo, who introduced the Drukpa-Kagyud Buddhist tradition to Bhutan from Tibet. These places were blessed by him, or were centres of the Buddhist school established by him. They played strategic roles in the unification of Bhutan in the 17th century. Included are four dzongs, four cliffs, four meditation caves, and five regional centres of clans connected to Phajo Drugom Zhigpo’s descendants.
Tamzhing Monastery in Bumthang District was the principal seat of Pema Lingpa, an important figure in Tantric Buddhism. It was built in 1501 and is especially noteworthy for its murals and for the dances that are performed here during Bhutanese festivals (tsechu). It remains a working monastery, with many monks who have come from Tibet.
Royal Manas National Park
Located in the Eastern Himalaya and the southern-central part of Bhutan, the Royal Manas National Park is a biodiversity ‘hot spot’. To its south, in India, is the Manas Tiger Reserve, which is already a World Heritage Site. It’s also surrounded by other important parks, including Jigme Singye Wangchuk National Park, Phipsoo Wildlife Sanctuary, Khaling Wildlife Sanctuary, and the Thrumshingla National Park. It has been a wildlife sanctuary since 1966, and before that it was a game sanctuary. It contains tropical and sub-tropical ecosystems, and is home to many wildlife species, such as Royal Bengal Tigers, Indian Rhinoceros, Pygmy hogs, Asian elephants, Asiatic water buffalo and more.
Jigme Dorji National Park
Located in north-western Bhutan, the Jigme Dorji National Park is the second-largest national preserve in the country. It’s been a wildlife preserve since 1974, and then became a national park. It’s home to many species of endangered flora and fauna, including tigers, snow leopards, Asiatic wild dogs, and Himalayan musk deer. A semi-nomadic community called the Layap also live in the park.
Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary
In north-eastern Bhutan, the Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary borders both Tibet and India. It’s an important habitat for important habitat for the vulnerable black-necked crane, and is also home to a number of villages, including yak herders and traditional artisans.
Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary
This national park is located in eastern Bhutan, in a very remote part of the country with little development, and where the people are semi-nomadic. The park is known as the ‘Paradise of Rhododendrons’ because it houses 35 species of the beautiful pink, red, white, and purple flower.
Top image: Esin Üstün/Flickr