A 45-minute drive north of Thimphu brings you to the edge of the Jigme Dorji National Park and a pair of Monasteries known as Tango and Cheri.
I created a small video when I was there:
I hiked the Cheri Monastery a couple of years ago but didn’t really collect a sufficient number of photos to make it worthwhile to write about the experience and decided that I should wait until I had a chance to do the hike to the Tango Monastery so I could cover both at the same time. I’ve finally managed to make my way to the Tango monastery and so here is my brief article about the hikes.
I don’t really feel qualified to talk about the history or significance of the monasteries in terms of a religion aspect as this is not my field and besides there are hundreds of websites out there with this information and I would really just be paraphrasing or copy what has been said before.
I hiked to Cheri Monastery (or correctly known as Chagri Dorjeden Monastery) a couple of years ago and I have driven up to the base of the hike several times, but this seems to be a place where photographs enter the Bermuda triangle because I can hardly find any. The only thing that I have the hike are some bird photos but no actual photos of the monastery so I’m guessing that I only carried my long lens to get bird photos.
After parking the car, the first thing that you need to do is cross the Thimphu river by a typical Bhutanese style bridge that you have likely spotted near the vegetable market in Thimphu. The photos of the river provided on this page was taken during late December and as a result the water is quite low. During the summer months the river is flowing very swiftly here.
After crossing the river there is a small ground with a temple area. The climb up to the Cheri monastery is relatively easy compared to some of the other monasteries that you could try hiking to. It will take about 40 to 60 minutes at a reasonable pace to reach the monastery.
The one thing that makes the hike up to the monastery interesting is the amount of wildlife present in this part of Bhutan. We found a deer, and a lot of variety of birds in the short hike up. The presence of the wildlife probably has to do with the proximity of the monastery to the National park.
The close proximity to the national park even brings out the possibility of finding tigers as is described here: http://www.kuenselonline.com/tiger-spotted-in-kabesa/.
One of the great things about this monastery and Tango, is the number of visitors that they receive, and that number is small. Because of the small number of visitors, you have a good chance to interact with the monks if you wish. I was invited into one of the monk’s rooms to have a cup of tea during this trip.
Tango Monastery is located on the other mountain near Cheri Monastery. The monastery itself is located on the edge of cliff just like most other monasteries in Bhutan but this one is more hidden from ground. The monastery is actually the largest University of Buddhist Studies for monks in Bhutan.
After parking the car and starting out, it becomes quite noticeable that the path to this monastery is very well maintained and is constructed from concrete and stone. This is one of the easiest monasteries to reach in terms of the path, not necessarily the effort required for the climb. There were a few sections where they have converted a very steep section into some steps but mostly the steepness of the path is good for both going up as well as walking back down. There is no place where you would require stepping in mud if was a wet day. However, If it is a wet day, the trip down could be a bit slippery.
The hike up took us just over 1 hour. This included a couple of rest points along the way and of course I was doing video footage as many points. Without distractions and stopping you could probably reach in about 45 minutes if you don’t exert yourself too much.
Because this is a University of Buddhist studies, they have lined the entire path up with various proverbs such as “There is no evil similar to hatred, nor austerity to be compared with patience. Therefore, one should in various ways, earnestly pay attention to patience.” There are probably 40 similar proverbs on the way from the parking area to the monastery itself. The path is also lined with a number of small artifacts that look like items from various places in Bhutan.
The people who maintain the path has done a very nice job at adding rest areas about every 15 minutes or so. The rest areas have a cover that will protect you from rain or shine and everything is very clean.
The monastery itself was under renovation this year so there is a lot of construction debris and scaffolding around that we had to step over, between and under. Some of the temple areas are still in operation so we managed to enter those. A lot of the items from the main temple have been moved to other rooms during the renovations.
Given that it was summer, there were a lot of flies around that became quite annoying near the top of the hike. There were also a lot of warning signs asking us not to feed the monkeys as they could become aggressive. I did not see any monkeys during this trip but there are lots of comments on trip advisor that monkeys do actually hang out in this area.
The institute does have a small museum… well the sign on the door of the room said “museum” but it is more of a room with some relics. Even if you don’t go into the temple, you might as well drop into this museum and it will only take 5-10 minutes to look at everything. Like most temples, photography isn’t allowed inside the temple.(https://www.bhutanpeakadventure.com/travel-information/temporary-closure-of-monastery/).
Should you go and which to visit?
I looked through the reviews of Tango Monastery on Trip Advisor to see what others have said and like a lot of reviews of places in Bhutan, the reviews are positive, mostly commenting on the scenery and the peacefulness of the hike.
I have a number of very well-travelled colleagues at work and I have heard more than once about not being interested in visiting another Buddhist country because they were tired of visiting temples after temples. Remember that Tango and Cheri are monasteries and if you hike up the path, you will end up at yet another monastery. However, if you are interested in the hike but not the actual temple, just tell your guide, and they will not force you to enter the temple. Even without going inside the monastery, the grounds themselves are a peaceful place to sit and observe the monks or the wildlife. The hikes themselves are still very nice and the views from most of the monasteries are quite amazing because they are always perched high on a hill.
The trip return trip from Thimphu to visit one of the monasteries will take half of a day. We left at 9:30 in the morning and reached back home at 1:30 in the afternoon. It is possible to take in both monasteries by bringing a picnic lunch and eating after the first visit. The visit to both will certainly consume the entire day with the drive but you would likely stop into Dechenphug Lhakhang on the way back since you are passing right by it.
Some visitors have pointed out that they enjoyed the trips to these monasteries because there are very few visitors compared to other places like Taksang. The lack of crowds was very true this time, I met just one tourist coming down while I was heading up.
With the limited number of tourists, it becomes possible to interact with the monks but not all of them can speak English so you might have to interact through your guide.
Would I add an extra day to my trip just to make the trip to Tango or Cheri? If the purpose of the visit is to visit the temple then of course this is a good reason to extend the itinerary. I probably wouldn’t add an extra day but if you already had an extra day or half day in your trip and not much to do, then visiting these places gives you a nice drive and hike.
If you are looking for a longer and more challenging hike: the Motithang to Phajoding return, the Chele La to Kila Gompa, or the Dochula-Hongtsho hikes can consume a full day and bring you to very scenic places. These hikes will eventually end up here on my website as they are written.