Day Trips: The Lhakhang, El Paso

How a Bhutanese temple landed in an El Paso college campus


photos by Gerald E. McLeod

The Lhakhang brings the art and architecture of an isolated Himalayan kingdom to the center of the University of Texas at El Paso campus.

The story of how Bhutanese architecture came to dominate the campus began in 1913 when the University of Texas System established its second campus, then called the State School of Mines and Metallurgy, in El Paso.


When the original campus was destroyed by fire, the college moved to its present location and began constructing buildings in 1917.

Inspired by the first photographs of Bhutan published in National Geographic magazine, Kathleen Worrell, wife of the school’s dean, suggested that the new buildings be modeled after the traditional Bhutanese mountain architecture. The buildings were distinguished by their low-pitched roofs with wide eaves, decorative flourishes, and heads of dragons protecting the corners.

As the UTEP campus grew on the side of the Franklin Mountains overlooking downtown El Paso, it developed a distinctive look mimicking Bhutanese architecture. The Bhutan royal family became aware of the connection and began sending students to the school.


Although lhakhang translates to “temple” in English, it was not necessarily a religious building, but a house of meditation and contemplation. The Lhakhang was constructed by Bhutanese craftsmen for the Smithsonian Institution’s 2008 Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C.

After the festival the building was moved to El Paso as a gift of appreciation and friendship from the royal family. It contains a treasure trove of Bhutanese art, native costumes, and cultural artifacts.

The Lhakhang is open free of charge on Wednesdays and the first Saturday of the month from 11am to 1pm when the university is open. As part of the campus’ Centennial Museum, the exhibit’s website, www.utep.edu/centennial-museum/lhakhang, is a great introduction to the building before visiting. Parking passes are available at the security booth off Sun Bowl Drive. For more information, call 915/747-5565 or 915/747-8994.


1,709th in a series. Everywhere is a day trip from somewhere: Follow “Day Trips & Beyond,” a travel blog, at austinchronicle.com/daily/travel.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Lhakhang, UTEP, El Paso, Bhutan, Kathleen Worrell, Franklin Mountains, Himalayas

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