Perched at a mere 2235 meters (7333 ft) above sea level overlooking the Thimphu valley, it is a newly-constructed (and still under construction) vast plaza of statues, temples, and decorative elements. The highlight is a gigantic bronze-plated Buddha. At 51.5m (169 ft) it is one of the largest Buddha statues in the world. The plaza is surrounded by 108 (a lucky number in Buddhism) goddess statues, and the interior temple contains 2500 small Buddhas.
In Buddhism a stupa is a small, white, round devotional shrine typically about ten feet high in Bhutan. Our next stop, in the center of Thimphu, was the Memorial Stupa built to honor the third king (the young current king is the fifth since Bhutan became a constitutional monarchy in 1907). This is a magnificent structure over 50 feet to the top of its golden spire. The interior has several sumptuously-decorated levels.
The grounds surrounding it contain beautifully-manicured lawns, gardens, and open-air temples with prayer wheels, some of which are the size of a person and quite heavy to turn. Buddhism is quite important in Bhutan where monks comprise 10% of its 700,000 population. While this shrine is very popular with older worshipers, many younger people come to eat their lunches in the temples or on the grounds.
Changankha Lhakhang Monastery.
After a quick local lunch, it was back into the hills to visit our first monastery - Changankha Lhakhang Monastery. Among the oldest in Bhutan, it was built in the 12th Century on a spot selected by a Tibetan immigrant (most Buddhist masters in Bhutan came from Tibet). A long stairway of stone steps led to an ancient tree and then to a lovely lawn. It is surrounded by 108 small prayer wheels. Stepping through a passageway brought us to a small courtyard surrounded by four old-looking buildings, the most impressive of which was the main temple.
As usual the interior was dazzling. This is the place where local parents bring their babies for their naming ceremony (like a baptism). We witnessed two of these and saw the happy families make their offerings to the monks. It was warming to be part of their joyous occasion.
Zilukha Anim Dratshang Nunnery.
From there it was back down and then up again to the Zilukha Anim Dratshang Nunnery (yes, Buddhism has a few nunneries in addition to its many monasteries). This one dates from the mid 19th century, is dedicated to the Iron Chain Builder (remember him from the 1st day?), and houses about 60 female monks from the age of eight into their fifties. From the Nunnery, you can get a great view of the parliament building of Bhutan.