Dechen Phodrang

Dechen Phodrang — Palace of Great Bliss — is a state lobra (monastic school) for about 450 monks situated on a rise several hundred meters above the capital city Thimphu. It's about 4km south along Gaden Lam to the city, and all the valley is clearly visible from here. Tashichhodzong, Bhutan's center of secular and religious administration popularly known as Thimphu Dzong, is just to the west, and off in the southern distance is giant Buddha Dordenma.

The two-story main structure stands atop the site of the country's first fortress, built in 1216 by the founder of the Lhakpa School of Tibetan Buddhism, Gyalwa Lhanapa. Do Ngon Dzong (Blue Stone Fortress), as it was named, guarded Thimphu valley from invaders for hundreds of years. The great unifier of Bhutan, the Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyel, acquired it in 1630 and in 1641 rebuilt a new dzong on the same site, establishing it as the original Tashichhodzong. After fire badly damaged the fortress in 1771, Tashichhodzong was rebuilt at its present site on the valley bottom nearby. Some years later, the torched dzong was reconstructed and renamed Dechen Phodrang — the 2-story temple that stands on the site today.

The temple's ground floor houses a statue of Buddha Sakyamuni and a goenkhang (inner sanctum for protector dieties), and on its upper floor is a large statue of the Zhabdrung and precious 12th century paintings restored by a special UNESCO project. Classrooms and dormitories are also on the grounds, and since 1971 the school has provided an eight-year course of study to the young monks under its care until they graduate on to monastic colleges.