Paro is a major district in Bhutan and has historical and religious significance. It is also a picturesque fertile valley. There are over 155 monasteries and temples in this place. I started off with a visit to the Drukgyel Dzong which means the Fortress of the Victorious Drukpa. This is considered as one of the most famous archeological sites in Bhutan.
Dzongs are unique Bhutanese fortresses which also serve as administrative and monastic centres. Each district has a dzong, and they are built at strategic locations mostly on the hilltops. Zhabdrung Ngwang Namgyal-the unifier of Bhutan is credited with building most of the major dzongs, and he also established the dual system of governance. So each dzong has a monastic center with temples, schools, living quarters, and administrative offices for the government officials.
Drukgyal dzong was made in the 16th century to commemorate the victory over the invading Tibetan and Mongolian army. It also served as a major trade route as it was at a strategic site near the border with Tibet. It was also supposed to have the best armory in the country. A major fire destroyed most of the fort in 1951, and we see only the ruins. It is still impressive and worth a visit.
Singey, his wife Ugyen, and their kids Angel and Angela kept me company. A huge prayer wheel is at the foot of the hill and from there it is a steep climb to the top.
It took 10 minutes to reach the top. It was starting to get dark and there was a chill in the air, adding to the suspense ahead.
View from the top
Finally reached the entrance and I felt as if I have stepped into a bygone era. The whole place looked abandoned and a little spooky. One can see the ravages of fire all around. Isn’t it ironic that this fort was never conquered by the enemy but was destroyed by man- made fire?
We went inside and could see only the burnt walls and woodwork.
Singey informed that this year the Prime Minister had announced a major renovation programme.
This fort is listed as a tentative site in Bhutan tentative list for UNESCO heritage sites.
Uplistsikhe is one of oldest urban settlements in Georgia and dates back to the Iron Age.It had been through multiple invasions and also ravages of time and a massive earthquake.What we get to see now are these enormous rock cut structures.According to legends the slaves were given tools made of gold and metal and they had to toil till the metal wore out.And then they were granted freedom and also the gold .I wish they had a choice !
In its heydays this place had about 700 rock structures of which only 150 remain.The oldest inhabitants were pagan worshippers.
We reached the site at noon and set out to explore the caves.There is a bit of steep climbing and one has to watch out for the slopes and pits.I went inside the caves expecting to see some distinct features but most look alike.It is hard to believe that there was once a sprawling city with temples,houses, hospitals,pharmacy,prison and interconnecting streets.Amazing how they have they carved into the rocks with primitive tools.
There are no drawings or carvings .Just bare walls with empty nooks.
This is the 10th century church at the site of the original pagan temple.
I hope this unique cave complex makes it to the list of UNESCO heritage sites soon.
From the 6th century Jvari monastery we made our way to the 11th century Svetitiskhoveli Cathedral-very difficult to pronounce and meaning Life giving pillar.Our airbnb host Teolina and her friends George and Irakli accompanied us.This is the second largest church in Georgia and is a symbolic copy of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem .This is also supposed to be the place where Christ’s mantle is kept .My knowledge of christanity is very limited and I wish I had done some research.
There is a narrow street leading to the site dotted with souvenir shops,fancy restaurants, vegetable vendors and pretty houses.
There is a fort surrounding the church.
Though it was a sunday the church was not crowded.It has impressive frescoes,tombs and icons.The cathedral was the site of coronation of the Georgian kings and also was their burial site.Only three tombs have been found so far.I could see a few ladies praying in front of the altar .I did not see pews in any of the churches in Georgia.The serene and silent atmosphere was overpowering.
Teolina took me aside saying that she has something interesting to show and she asked me to look up at the external wall.After much squinting I could see a hand with a chisel and that is supposed to symbolise the unfortunate architect Arsukidze .The story goes like this-a priest who was the teacher and patron of the architect was so jealous of his success that he influnced the King to have his right arm chopped off.
Yet another folklore like Taj Mahal architects?
There are four UNESCO heritage sites in Georgia and we had the chance to visit the Holy Cross Monastery of Jvari and Svetitskhoveli Cathedral included in the hisorical monuments of Mtskheta.Mtskheta was the old capital of Georgia and it was from this place that Christanity was adopted as the state religion of Georgia.
Jvari Monastery was the first stop.It is about 20 km from Tbilisi and is on top of Mount Armazi.
According to legend Saint Nino who brought christanity to Georgia erected a wooden cross at this site and a church was built over the remnants in c .545.The entrance to the monastery
From the top we can see the confluence of Aragvi and Mtkvari rivers.
I had a feeling of deja vu.This is the confluence of indus and zanskar rivers at Nimmu in Leh I had seen two years back.
It was a cold windy day and we could not stay long outside.Inside the church there were few worshippers..We also lit candles and stood in reverence .
Though the church looks well preserved it is facing damage from the rains and strong winds and is on the 100 Most Endangered Sites List of the World Monument Fund.
This monastery does not have impressive frescoes or statues like most of the churches we saw in Tbilisi but it has its own simple charm.
Soon it was time to leave St.Nino and go to the first orthodox church in Georgia.