Choki Wangmo | Tsirang

Popular among Bhutanese for its lush gardens, well-maintained footpaths, and green spaces, the nation’s organic dzongkhag will soon have its first nature trail.

The 360-degree track, which is five minutes’ drive away from Damphu Town, begins from below the Royal Guesthouse, along the Menchuna chiwog road in Kilkhorthang gewog.

Built to promote domestic tourism in the dzongkhag, the 3km track runs through deciduous forest amidst the songs and chirpings of various birds perching among tall trees, including some medicinal plants like Oroxylum indicum and Sapindus rarak. The plant and animal lives are diverse that to keen eyes, it could be called a nature lovers’ paradise.

Dophu Ney

The trail which passes through Kilkhorthang and Tsholingkhar gewogs is wide and is developed as a bicycle track and a mild hiking trail. It provides a picturesque view of Rangthangling valley and terraces located below the Tsirang-Sarpang highway. It takes about an hour to complete the trail that has two stops—resting places and washrooms. A few workers are still seen completing the last construction works.

For the past eight months, about 15 workers have been developing the site. Metal railings were installed in steep areas. However, they said that lockdowns had hampered the work progress. The project was supposed to be complete two months ago.

While only a few local residents are aware about the trail, visitors, mostly outsiders, have started exploring the trail. “The mental peace from walking on this forest trail is healing,” one said.

The highlight of the trail is an important Hindhu-Buddhist landmark, Dho-Phu Ney or in its corrupted form called as Dombu Ney. The one-metre-deep cave, believed to be in the shape of an elephant is equally worshipped by Hindu and Buddhist locals as blessed sites of Guru Padmasambhava and the Lord Shiva. Some say that the cave is the local deity’s palace.

According to an oral history, Damphu is the corrupted form of the site’s name Dra-Phug (cliff/cave) or Dho-Phu (stone cave).

Elders in the vicinity say that it was believed that three centuries ago, two bulls—white and black—would appear during paddy harvest season at the mouth of the cave on auspicious days. A peasant who followed the bulls observed that the black bull disappeared towards the southern side of the cave while the white bull vanished into the cave. Since then, it was believed that the white bull was an avatar of Shiva.

During full moons, Hindus perform deity rituals twice a year at the cave. Although the site received pilgrims in the past, the site maintenance and trail development is expected to attract more visitors in the area.

Despite the presence of diverse culture, tradition, and natural resources, reports show that Tsirang receives the least number of tourists after Dagana dzongkhag.