About four hours’ drive from Wangdi, after crossing the Black Mountain ranges via the Pele La Pass at 3420m, Trongsa district forms the hub of Bhutan and it was from here that the country was first unified. The route passes through Chendebji village, where mule caravans used to stop for the night on their journeys west from Trongsa during the reign of the second King. The Chendebji Chorten or Charo Kasho, a large white structure below the road and next to the river, is modelled on the Swayambhunath Buddhist temple in Nepal. It was built in the 19th century by the Tibetan Lama Shidha to cover the remains of an evil spirit killed at this spot. This Chorten is the westernmost monument in a ‘chorten path’ that was the route taken by early Buddhist missionaries between the west and east of Bhutan, ending at Chorten Kora in Tashi Yangtse.
The position of Trongsa town, at 2180m, is indicated by the view of the sprawling white Trongsa Dzong with its distinctive yellow roof. Most of the shop owners here are Tibetan immigrants of the early 1950s and 1960s, now assimilated into Bhutanese society to the extent that there is little indication of a distinct Tibetan presence in the town.
Above the Dzong is Ta Dzong, previously a watchtower, now renovated with a newly opened museum dedicated to the Wangchuk dynasty, which tells the stories of the Dzong and the valley it has watched over for centuries and features personal belongings of the Kings and Queens of Bhutan.
Trongsa Dzong is officially known as the Chhoekhor Raptentse Dzong (also known to local people as Choetse Dzong) and was built in its present form in 1644 by Chhogyal Minjur Tenpa who unified central and eastern Bhutan under the instruction of the Shabdrung. The fourth Desi Tenzin Rabgye enlarged it at the end of the 17th century. It is a rambling collection of buildings that trails down the ridge with a succession of street-like corridors, wide stone stairs and beautiful stone courtyards. In aesthetic and architectural terms this dzong is one of the most impressive in Bhutan today. Its strategic position on the only route between eastern and western Bhutan gave the Trongsa Penlop great influence over the Trongsa valleys and beyond. The three circular buildings just above the town overlooking the dzong and the valleys below are watch towers which once guarded Trongsa Dzong from internal rebellion. They are an impressive sight and suggestive of Trongsa’s historical significance. The dzong is the ancestral home of Bhutan’s Royal Family; the father of the first King, Jigme Namgyel, was the Trongsa Penlop, and the first two hereditary kings ruled from here. It is still a tradition that the crown prince first serves as Trongsa Penlop before his accession to the throne.
Kunga Rabten Palace, famed for its superb woodwork, is about 23 km south of Trongsa and was the winter palace of the second King, Jigme Wangchuck. The palace is currently under the custody of the National Commission for Cultural Affairs. Part of the third storey has been converted into a library which houses a huge collection of books from the National Library in Thimphu.