The Department of Culture sent us to experience a unique taste adventure at a fascinating new community restaurant (first of its kind) created in an ancient hermitage structure and renovated by DoC for the community members to showcase their food and also earn an income from the project. This experience made me rethink everything I thought I knew about my country’s cuisine.
Welcome to the quaint little village on a hilltop called Nobgang in Punakha district, western Bhutan. Come with us on this whole new journey as we taste new flavours, listen to the stories of how these unique dishes came to be and interact with a passionate community of people working hard to put their local food on the foodie adventure map for both local and international tourists.
I can’t wait to share what this beautiful community of Nobgang has in store for you all (I’m talking about age-old recipes that even most Bhutanese have never even heard of). So get ready to feel very hungry.
Welcome to Nobgang
This beautiful hill top village is known as the home of our beloved Queen Mothers. The journey to Nobgang is one of the most beautiful road trips I’ve ever been on. We meander through winding roads going uphill along the same highway towards Talo. We cross scenic little hamlets surrounded by beautiful terraces of rice fields with a green-yellowish hue with the changing season. Tall thin pine trees shelter us from the mid-afternoon Punakha heat. In less than 30 minutes we arrive on top of a hill – a small cluster of unique Bhutanese houses surrounding a temple.
In the old days Nobgang was known as a hermitage destination. Most structures were built as retreats for venerable Buddhist teachers who spent the rest of their days here in isolation. “This land is very holy”, says Tshogpa aum (local community leader) Kinley Dem. “The main temple of Nobgang, the Tshuglakhang, is considered to be as sacred as Dorjidhen (Bodhgaya) in India.”
Did you know that Nobgang literally means “Gem Hill”?
The Story of Nobgang
There’s a hiking trail around Nobgang hilltop. It begins from the connecting route to Talo (& one that takes you all the way down towards Punakha town too). This is where Aum Pema Lhamo took us on a story-telling journey. Some time around the 18th century, when the 9th Je Khenpo Shakya Rinchen was meditating at Jachong Karmo, a cliff north of the valley, he saw a glittering light emanating from a hill in the distance.
As he followed the shining light, he discovered that it was actually coming from a precious gem (norbu). Hence the name Nobgang (the hill of the precious gem). Deeming the gem to be sacred, His Holiness built the Pelri Dorji Dhen on the hill. Today it is known as the Tsuglakhang, the main temple that you’ll see in the village.
Soon the sacredness of the hill attracted many teachers and lamas to meditate and build hermitage houses around the temple. As you walk around the village, you’ll notice that the houses are built differently compared to most village vernacular houses in Bhutan. Relive the magic of the hill as you walk on the wide open trail around the village. It is truly fascinating.
Read more about my food adventure in Nobgang on yeegetaway.com