About this Blog: Your bags are packed, itinerary is planned, and you are all set to explore the mystical land of thunder dragons. All you need now is a sneak-peek into the currency of Bhutan and into the history of Bhutan Dzongs.
Official Currency of Bhutan – Ngultrum
Ngultrum is the official currency of Bhutan. It is used for all trades at both local and professional levels. The currency code is BTN and the code is Nu.
BTN 1, BTN 5, BTN 10, BTN 20, BTN 50, BTN 100, BTN 500, and BTN 1000 are the acceptable currency notes in Bhutan. These notes have Bhutanese culture imprinted on them. The front side of a currency note mostly has the picture of a Bhutanese King. The back side of a currency note contains the picture of a dzong. Dzong is a distinctive type of fortress architecture found mainly in Bhutan and Tibet.
Currency exchange and costs in Bhutan
Being closely related to India, Indian currency INR is widely accepted in Bhutan. (1 INR = 1 BTN). Read this Lonely Planet Article for complete details.
History of Dzongs of Bhutan
Dzong in English translates to “castle-monastery”. Dzong architecture is massive in style with towering exterior walls surrounding a complex of courtyards, temples, administrative offices, and monks’ accommodation.
Dzongs serve as the religious, military, administrative, and social centers of their district. They are often the site of an annual tsechu or religious festival.
The rooms inside the dzong are typically allocated half to administrative function (such as the office of the penlop or governor), and half to religious function, primarily the temple and housing for monks. This division between administrative and religious functions reflects the idealized duality of power between the religious and administrative branches of government.
1. Simtokha Dzong – BTN 1
The Simtoka Dzong, built in 1629 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, functions as a monastic and administrative centre and is the oldest dzong which has survived in its original form. It is the first of its kind built in Bhutan. An important historical monument and former Buddhist monastery, today it houses one of the premier Dzongkha language learning institutes.
It is believed that the dzong provided protection against a demon which had disappeared into a rock close to the site and hence taken the name ‘Simtoka’ meaning “simmo” (demoness) and ‘do’ meaning “stone”.
The dzong is at strategic security location on a prominent ridge between the Thimphu valley and approach roads to the eastern Bhutan. The Simtokha is located about 5 kilometers south of the Bhutanese capital of Thimphu.
2. Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) – BTN 5
The legend of Taktsang (Tiger’s lair) evolved form 747 AD when Guru Padmasambhava chose a cave on a sheer rock to meditate and, assuming a wrathful form, astride a tigress, subdued the evil spirits in the locality. He is said to have meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours inside the cave. Today, Paro Taktsang is the best known of the thirteen caves in which he meditated.
Taktsang clings to the rock towering 800 meters (over 2,600 feet) above the valley, and is located 2,950 meters (9,678 feet) above the sea level. It takes about 2 hours hike to reach the monastery from the road at Ramthangkha, 12 kilometers from Paro town.
3. Paro Dzong (Rinpung Dzong) – BTN 10
Built in 1644, the dzong’s correct name, Rinchen Pung Dzong (usually shortened to Rinpung Dzong), means ‘Fortress on a Heap of Jewels’.
Paro Dzong ranks as a high point of Bhutanese architecture. The massive buttressed walls that tower over the town are visible throughout the valley. It was formerly the meeting hall for the National Assembly and now, like most dzongs, houses both the monastic body and district government offices, including the local courts.
Below the dzong, a traditional wooden covered bridge called Nyamai Zam spans the Paro Chhu (Paro river). This is a reconstruction of the original bridge, which was washed away in a flood in 1969. Earlier versions of this bridge were removed in time of war to protect the dzong.
4. Punakha Dzong – BTN 20 and BTN 500
Punakha Dzongkhag (district) served as the capital of the country from 1637 to 1907 and the first national assembly was hosted here in 1953. Constructed in 1637–38, Punakha Dzong is not only the second oldest and second largest dzong but it also has one of the most majestic structures in the country. The Punakha Dzong means “the palace of great happiness or bliss”.
Punakha Dzong was built at the confluence of two major rivers in Bhutan, the Pho Chhu (Male) and Mo Chhu (Female), which converge in this valley. It is an especially beautiful sight on sunny days with sunlight reflecting off the water onto its white-washed walls. To access the Dzong, you’ll need to cross the Bazam Bridge, rebuilt in 2008 after severe floods swept away the original bridge built in the 17th century.
As a tourist here, you can’t fail to view the one-hundred pillar hall featuring exquisite murals. The inside of the Dzong is beautifully decorated with carved woodwork and colorful paintings.
October 13, 2011 marked an unforgettable wedding of the King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck to Jetsun Pema which was held at Punakha Dzong.
5. Trongsa Dzong – BTN 50
Trongsa Dzong, meaning “The Dzong on the tip of a Dungkhar (Conch) of the never-changing country of Druk and the everlasting Dharma” was built in 1647. It is the largest dzong fortress in Bhutan and is built on a strategic location overlooking the Mangde chhu (river).
This commanding dzong is perhaps the most spectacularly sited dzong in Bhutan, with a sheer drop to the south that often just disappears into cloud and mist. The rambling assemblage of buildings that comprises the dzong trails down the ridge and is connected by a succession of alley-like corridors, wide stone stairs and beautiful paved courtyards. Read more…
6. Tashichho Dzong – BTN 100, BTN 1000
Known as “fortress of the glorious religion”, Tashichho Dzong was built in 1641. It was rebuilt in its present form in 1965 by the Third King of Bhutan. It is an impressive structure that houses the Bhutanese government and stands on the right side of the Wangchu River.
Tashichho Dzong has been the seat of the government since 1952. It presently houses the throne room, offices of the king, the secretariat, the ministries of home affairs and finance.
Tashichho Dzong is open to tourists and visitors after the office hours at 4:30 PM (Winter) and 5:00 PM (Summer).
Post any questions related to Bhutan currency, costs, and visiting dzongs in the comments section. I will be happy to answer.
Happiness is a Place