Trashigang: The Jewel of the East – Trashigang spans the easternmost corners of the kingdom, skirting up to the edge of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. It is the country’s largest district, with an altitude ranging from 600m to over 4000m.
Bhutan’s largest river, the Dangmechu, flows through this district. Trashigang town is set on a scenic hillside and was once a bustling trade center for merchants looking to barter their goods in Tibet.
Today it is the junction of the East-West highway, with road connections to Samdrup Jongkhar and then into the Indian state of Assam. Trashigang town is also the principle market place for the semi-nomadic people of Merak and Sakteng, whose unique way of dress stands out from the regular Bhutanese Gho and Kira.
Trashigang Dzong or ‘The Fortress of the Auspicious Hill’ was built in 1659, to defend against Tibetan invasions. This imposing fortress is strategically situated high atop a spur overlooking the Dangmechu River. According to legend it is said that upon seeing the Dzong, invading Tibetan armies remarked that the Dzong was “not on the ground. It is a Sky Dzong” before retreating. It has been the political stronghold of Eastern Bhutan for over 300 years.
Mount Meru is the site of the palace of the Druk Chhoglay Namgyal (victory of Bhutanese Over enemies in all directions). It is accessible only from the north, via a narrow road, paved by blasting through the cliff-side. Due to its location Trashigang Dzong is one of the most strategically placed Dzongs in Bhutan. The present Dzong was enlarged by Dzongpon Dopola, in 1936.
Trashigang Dzongkhag is the largest district in the country. Its aboriginal inhabitants are known as the Tshanglas. Trashigang dzong sits majestically on a high ridge overlooking the Dangmechu and the Gamrichu.
It was built in 1651 and over the years has played a crucial role as the administrative center of the district. In the 17th century it was also essential in defending the province as it withstood several Tibetan attacks that were launched from Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh.
Every village in the district has its own distinctive annual festival but the highlight is the three day Tshechu that is held in Trashigang Dzong during the 7th to 11th days of the tenth month of the Bhutanese calendar (December). The Tshechu is attended by the Brokpas, a semi-nomadic people that reside in the valleys of Merak and Sakteng, the Khengpa community and people from as far as Samdrup Jongkhar, Pema Gatshel and Trashiyangtse.
Preparations for the Tshechu begin 2 days prior to the actual festival. On the 7th day of the month the monks perform ceremonial ablutions or thrue. On the 8th they have rehearsals in preparation for the Tshechu. Then on the 9th of the month the Tshechu begins proper. On the 10th day the Thongdrol of Neten Chudrug (Sixteen Arhats) is unfurled amidst a flurry of mask dances. On the final day, the old Thongdrol of Guru Tshengyed is displayed. The unfurling is accompanied by the performance of Guru Tshengyed Chhams.