Kyichu Lhakhang

Legend tells that beneath the dramatic landscape of the Tibetan Plateau there lies the body of a demoness. When it was divined that she was preventing the spread of Buddhism, the great seventh-century Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo pinned her in place with 108 magically constructed temples -- allowing Buddhism to flourish above her restrained body. One of Bhutan's two ancient demoness-pinning temples, Paro's Kyichu Lhakhang is believed to hold the demoness's left foot in place.

With its tiered roof and luminous white walls, the lhakhang's age is not immediately apparent. It is only inside the monastery's ancient heart, the Jowo Lhakhang, that the sanctuary's long history is palpable. Golden murals shine faintly from smoke-darkened walls, and the floor has been polished smooth by the feet of countless faithful practitioners. The holiest part of the chapel surrounds the revered seventh-century statue of Jowo Sakyamuni, visible through a gilded door. The neighboring Guru Lhakhang was built in 1968 under the sponsorship of the Third King's wife, Ashi Kesang Wangchuck, and holds an impressive statue of Guru Rinpoche surrounded by elegantly restrained paintings of Buddhist saints and fearsome dharmapalas.