One of the first places we visit on our tour of Bhutan is the famous iron bridge at Tachog Lhakang. This 600 year old bridge crosses the Paro Chhu (Paro River) and was traditionally restored in 2005 after being washed away during a 1969 flood. The bridge was originally built by the legendary Tibetan architect, physician, blacksmith and civil engineer Thangtong Gyalpo who is an important figure in Bhutanese and Tibetan history.
While Thangtong Gyalpo is lesser-known by tourists, he has a meaningful legacy in Bhutan. He was the builder of 58 iron bridges throughout Tibet and Bhutan as well as the founder of Ache Lhamo, the Tibetan Opera. Legend has it that his opera performances raised the money he needed to build his iron bridges.
Born in Tibet in 1385, he founded the Gonchen Monastery and went on to build iron bridges to help pilgrims visit holy places. While in Tibet he built the Chakzam Bridge which spanned 150 yards across the Yarlung Tsangpo and was the longest unsupported span in the world.
In 1433 he traveled to Bhutan where he built the Jangtsa Dumtseg Lhakhang temple in the Paro Valley to subdue a serpentine force under the mountain. Later, while meditating along the Paro Chhu (Paro River) just downstream of Paro he had a vision of a spiritual horse that inspired him to build a temple as well his famous iron bridge that crosses the Paro Chhu. This temple, Tachog Lhakhang, meaning “temple of the hill of the excellent horse” is a private monastery currently run by the descendants of Thangtong Gyalpo.
We always stop to cross the beautiful bridge and sometimes get permission from the monks to visit Tachog Lhakhang monastery.