When you set off to discover the hidden treasures of Bhutan, its monasteries in particular, you will find that these monuments, some as old as 12th century, are located on mountain tops and hillsides inaccessible by any mode of transportation; only on foot.
Many of them are mild hikes, easily covered in under 4 hours, and offer some of the most spectacular views of the topography that has helped shape Bhutan’s unique culture. And of course, at the end of the hike are the majestic monasteries that by their sheer size and structure make you wonder at the effort that must have gone into building them, stone by burdensome stone, in an age when cranes and sophisticated building equipments were far from being invented.
One of the most famous monasteries a couple of miles from Thimphu is the Tango Goenpa.
We first wrote this post in 2012. Since then, a lot has changed around the monastery. For one, the route has more habitation and people than it did when we explored Tango.
We have updated our original post with the latest photos as well as information.
Tango is considered to be one of the supreme sacred places visited and blessed by Guru Rinpoche. It was first identified as sacred by Phajo Drugom Zhigpo in the 13th century and was later established as a religious seat by Tshewang Tenzin, the second lineage-son of Drukpa Kunley. The 12 cornered structure was built in two months!
The monastery was renovated by His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the 4th King and the predecessor of the current monarch.
We began the hike on a cold and overcast afternoon in March. It had been raining intermittently in Thimphu and although we were worried about the rain catching us midway through the hike, we were encouraged to go ahead by the owner of Ambient Cafe, our friendly neighbourhood cafe that has the best Cappuccino in all of Bhutan! He assured us that the hike was quite mild, very scenic and that only trouble we would have to endure would be the chill in the weather.
To encourage us he handed us a copy of perhaps the most amazing books we laid our hands on in Bhutan (after extracting our word that we would bring it back to him, safely). Called ‘Mild and Mad Day Hikes Around Thimphu’ this ‘booklet’ (as it is referred to throughout its pages) written by Piet Van Der Poel and Rogier Gruys is your best guide/handbook/information booklet for all the hikes in the area. It has detailed instructions and even maps to ensure hikers know exactly where they are, especially in the wilderness when there is nothing more than a meditation hut for a landmark (which there are plenty of in the mountains in Bhutan).
A taxi from Thimpu dropped us off at Dodeyna, the base of the hike. It is also the point from where the limits of the Jigme Dorji National Park begin. We followed the instructions in the book that directed us to the base of the hike “near a house with three ground floor garages”.
2015 Update: The house with three garages is still there!
According to the book there are two routes to the hike – the direct route and the ‘prettier’ route, which is tougher than the direct route. Since this was our first hike to any monastery in Bhutan and the weather was unpredictable that day, we took the direct route which was a well laid path.
2015 Update: The path is now paved and takes you along the direct route. The other route is no longer open to tourists.
The hike gave us some spectacular views of the Himalayas but photography opportunities were diminished due to the fog and cloudy skies. That did not deter us from going trigger happy with pictures of blooming rhododendrons and also our first encounter with the verdure along the path.
At the end of the hike we were rewarded by the sight of the impressive and gargantuan structure.
The monastery is a center for Buddhist studies and as we entered its hallowed precincts we could hear chanting emanating from one of the inner rooms.
Unsure if our presence would be considered an intrusion we desisted from entering the sanctorum.
It is an easy hike and will take less than an hour and a half if you stop to take photographs; under and hour if you don’t.
The tranquillity of the surroundings is a good reason to make the hike up to Tango.
How to get there
Take a taxi from Thimphu and ask them to drop you off at Dodeyna. Finding a ride back can be a bit challenging, so you could ask the taxi to wait till you return. They may want waiting charges.
Taxis in Thimphu are not metered. Be sure to bargain a bit with the drivers, who almost always are open to negotiations. We were charged 300 Nu (equivalent to Rs 300) the first time for a drop off at Dodeyna. The prices may have gone up to Rs 500 now and a return trip with waiting charges may perhaps cost you in the region of Rs 800-900 (after negotiations).
For those exploring Bhutan with a tour operator, this hike may be included in your itinerary which will also include the to and fro ride.
Things to remember and carry
Dodeyna is a tiny hamlet with few homes. In the three trips we’ve made to the area, it was quite isolated and desolate (the first time we went we saw a little boy playing outside a home, but couldn’t see a parent or sibling). There is a little store inside one of the homes that sells energy drinks and water.
We leave you with our photographs of Tango.