Bhutan’s history has been marked by a succession of invasions – most notably by the Tibetans in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In 1616, the Tibetan lama and military leader Ngawang Namgyal, established his base in West Bhutan going on to found Cheri Monastery in the Thimphu Valley. He unified the warring fiefdoms of Bhutan and built a network of fortresses across the country, called dzongs, to defend against more Tibetan invasions. Many of the dzongs still exist as religious and administrative centers.
RELIGION – the state religion is Vajrayana Buddhism, which was introduced to Bhutan in the 7th century AD by the Tibetan king Songtsän Gampo. He built two temples, one at Bumthang and the other at Kyichu Lhakhang in the Paro Valley. It is estimated that three-quarters of Bhutan’s population are adherents and the government pays annual subsidies to the Buddhist monasteries and shrines.
ICONIC STRUCTURES – Of all Bhutan’s majestic dzongs and monasteries, the most famous and perhaps most sacred is the Taktsang Palphug Monastery or Tigers Nest as it is popularly known. Perched high on the mountainside in the upper Paro valley, the temple complex was first built in 1692, around the Taktsang Senge Samdup cave where Guru Rinpoche is said to have flown from Tibet on the back of a tigress. There he meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours in the 8th century. Situated at an altitude of 3,120 metres (10,240 ft), about 900 metres (3,000 ft) above the Paro valley, the monastery can be reached from the northwest through the forest, from the south along the steep path used by pilgrims, and from the north with access over the rocky plateau known as the “Hundred Thousand Fairies” or Bumda. .