Buddhism in Bhutan
Much of Bhutan’s early history is difficult to recount with any precision, given the incidence of earthquakes and fires that will have destroyed any evidence, but legend has it that Buddhism appeared, in the country we now know as Bhutan, in the 7th century.
The king of Tibet at that time, Songtsen Gampo, is said to have been attempting to build Buddhist temples across the region to anchor the body of an ogress who was obstructing the advance of Buddhism into his country. Temples were built in central Tibet at her hips and shoulders, and those in Bhutan were built to pin down her left leg - Kyichu Lhakhang in Paro and Jampel Lhakhang in Bumthang are two of the temples associated with this story.
And, of course, no history of the region would be complete without a legend or two about Padmasambhava’s interventions. He features prominently in the monasteries and temples in Bhutan today, known locally as Ugyen Rinpoche (his birthplace of Uddiyana is known in the Dzongkha language as ‘Ugyen’). He is said to have first arrived in Bhutan at the behest of a local king, Sendhaka (Sindhu Raja), who had neglected to worship a powerful local deity, Shelging Karpo, whilst mourning the death of his son during a feud with a rival king. Sendhaka’s life force had been withdrawn by the deity and was close to death, and only saved when Padmasambhava put on a display of magical powers, in which his eight forms manifested simultaneously, and a local princess was transmogrified into five identical princesses. Shelging Karpo was then sworn to become a protector of Buddhism, the king recovered, reconciled with the other king, and both converted to Buddhism.
The site of this first visit, Kurje in the Bumthang district, remains one of the most sacred sites in Bhutan, with an imprint of Padmasambhava’s body left on a rock where he is aid to have meditated, and on which a temple was later built. Two other temples were built nearby, one to house a large statue of Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), and the other, the Ka-Gong-Phur-Sum Temple of the Nyingma terma tradition.
After this, Padmasambhava famously entered Tibet, to suppress the local deities who were obstructing the construction of Samyé monastery, but was to return to Bhutan again, leaving another impression in a rock after meditating to subdue a demon at a site where the temple of Gomphu Kora is now located. But his most famous legacy in the Taktsang Pelphug, ‘Tiger’s Nest,’ monastery above Paro, situated on a cliff face at 3210m. He is said to have arrived here in the back of a flying tigress, meditating in a cave known today as ‘Pel Phuk,’ once again to subdue a local demon.
Arrival of the Drukpa
In later times, Tibetan monks started to make inroads into Bhutan. Nyo Gyelwa Lhanangpa Sanggye Rinchen (1164 - 1224) is thought to have founded Do Ngön Dzong, which today lies in ruins near the monumental fortress Thimphu Dzong (Tashichho Dzong). He was ordained in the Drigung Kagyü, and his own special lineage called Lhapa remained influential in Bhutan with the establishment of additional monasteries in subsequent years.
But it was to be the Drukpa Kagyü who were to make a lasting impression on Bhutan and its people. The First Drukchen, Tsangpa Jarey Yeshe Dorje (1161-1211), founded the Ralung monastery, just east of Gyantse in Tibet in 1193, and it became the first seat of his lineage. In 1206 he went on to establish Namdruk Sewa Jangchub Ling, an event which led to the naming of his lineage as ‘Drukpa.’ This flows from the legend that when he arrived at the holy place where his root guru had instructed him to build a monastery, nine dragons roared up in the sky causing a loud clap of thunder and white flowers to rain down. To mark this auspicious occurrence, Tsangpa Jarey named his lineage Drukpa, meaning 'Lineage of the Dragons'. The monastery was accordingly named 'Nam-Druk', meaning 'Sky Dragon,’ and later became the main seat of the lineage.
Pajo Drukgom Shingpo (dates uncertain: (1184 - d.1251 or 1276) studied at Ralung with the nephew of Tsangpa Jarey, and later established a hermitage near the present Tango Shedra, formerly known as Tango Choying Dzong, north of Thimphu. He then took control of Do Ngon Dzong fortress shortly after its founding, firmly placing the Drukpa Kagyü at the forefront of Buddhist transmission in Bhutan.
Later, other Drukpa masters travelled from Ralung and strengthened the Drukpa presence in Bhutan, including Ngawang Chögyel (1465-1540, the fifteenth throne holder at Ralung) and his sons, who established several important monasteries, including Druk Choeding, the town temple in Paro, and, near Thimphu, Pangri Zampa and Hongtso Goemba.
This period also witnessed the phenomenon of Drukpa Kunley (1455-1529), an immensely popular figure with the Bhutanese people, and associated with the temple of Chimi Lhakhang (near Lobeysa in the Punakha valley). Born in the Ralung monastery complex in Tibet, he was to travel extensively across south-central Tibet and the southern Himalaya, train in tummo, mahamudra, and Dzogchen, and ordain as a monk before returning his vows in order to marry. He travelled throughout Bhutan, using song, humour, and outrageous behaviour to bring Buddhism to the people. His actions, including a great deal of promiscuity, were intended to awaken people to their innate potential to receive the Dharma. His sexual exploits were many and various, and the flying phalluses, believed to ward off evil, seen painted on homes , suspended from eaves, and on flags flying throughout Bhutan, are his distinctive legacy. He is known as the ‘Divine Madman’ or ‘Crazy Yogi.’
The Drukpa Kagyü, whilst the dominant force in Bhutan in these middle years, did coexist with the Nyingmapa. This can be traced to the legends of Padmasambhava’s early contributions, and later to the Terton Pema Lingpa (1450-1521) who was born in the Tang valley in Bumthang. He discovered his first Terma at the age of 25 (having dreamt that a monk had handed him a scroll giving instructions on how to find Guru Rinpoche’s Terma in a pool in the Tang valley). A second visit to the same lake led a sceptical local governor to accuse him of trickery, so he took a lighted lamp and disappeared into the lake with it. He emerged some time later, bringing with him a small box crafted from joined skulls, a small sculpture, and the butter lamp, still alight. The lake became known as Mebartso, the ‘Burning Lake.’ In total, he is said to have discovered thirty-two Terma during this lifetime, the most famous being the Lama Norbu Gyatso, and numerous material objects such as the image of Padmasambhava from Sengge Drak in Bumthang. In 1505 he completed the Tamshing Lhakhang, a major Nyingma monastery located in Chokhor in central Bhutan.
After his death, his teaching transmission lineage passed down through three primary lines of incarnations, one direct line of his own reincarnations, and two stemming from his son and grandson: the Peling Sungtrul (speech incarnation), the Peling Tukse (mind incarnation), and the Peling Gyelse (body incarnation), also known as the Gangteng Trulku.
Another legacy from Pema Lingpa are the dances (pa-cham) of the dakinis and yidams, observed during his visions within Zangto Pelri, Guru Rinpoche’s celestial paradise; some of these dances are still performed during Bhutan’s tshechu festivals.
One of his grandsons, Gyatse Pema Thinley established the Gangte Goempa in the Phobjikha valley, and the Gangte trulku lineage continues here to this day. The Bhutanese royal family, the Wangchuk dynasty is also descended from this line.
At this point in regional history, power remained fragmented, characterised by local feuds and sectarian competition between lamas as they attempted to extend their influence eastwards. Nyingma was the dominant tradition in central and eastern Bhutan and the Drukpa Kagyü predominant in the west, with over a dozen branch monasteries of Ralung established there before 1600.
It took at the arrival of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (1594-1651, also known as Zhabdrung Rinpoche), a Tibetan-born Drukpa Kagyü leader, to finally unify the region into what we now know as Bhutan. He had been recognised as the reincarnation of Pema Karpo (1527-1592), the fourth Gyalwang Drukpa and great scholar, but the selection was challenged by the powerful regent of Tsang, forcing him to flee to Bhutan in 1616.
In 1619 he founded Cheri monastery at the northern end of the Thimphu valley. In 1629, he founded his first fortress, Simtokha Dzong, east of Thimphu, enabling control over traffic between the Paro valley to the west and Trongsa valley to the east. The dzong was built to house monastic and administrative facilities, as well as serving as a defensive structure, a model for all subsequent dzongs in Bhutan. The important Punakha Dzong was completed in 1637 and became the central monk body.
Over his 35 years as the temporal and spiritual ruler of Bhutan, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal repelled seven Tibetan invasions (the first by the Tsangpa, and later by the regime under the Fifth Dalai Lama), and overcame internal opposition to unify the country for the first time in its history. The primacy of the Drukpa tradition was to lead to the naming of the country as Druk yul, ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon,’ and its inhabitants then known as Drukpa.
The Zhabdrung reinforced his position by forming alliances neighbouring kings in Nepal, Cooch Behar (north eastern India), and Ladakh. Because of the Ladakhi royal family’s long association with the Drukpa Kagyü, Sengge Namgyal granted the Zhabdrung a number of enclaves in western Tibet for meditation purposes, including Nyanri and Zuthulphuk monasteries adjacent to Kailas, a relationship which prevailed until the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959.
Soon after completing a retreat in 1625, he established a dual system of government, whereby secular power was allocated to an administrative Druk Desi, supported by three provincial governors called penlops, and religious affairs were to be controlled by the Gyaltshab (‘representatives’ of the Zhabdrung, also known as Je Khenpo). Subsequent incarnations of the Zhabdrung were given the ultimate power over both domains. There is one aspect of the legal code established in 1629, which, perhaps, has a message for modern day governments: ‘if the government cannot create happiness for its people, then there is no purpose for government to exist.’
The Tshechu festivals were also inaugurated by the Zhabdrung to honour Padmasambhava and other protector deities who supported Bhutan in the 1644-46 war with Tibet.
His vital role in ensuring the stability of Bhutan during this period led to his death being kept secret. In 1651 it was announced that he had entered a long retreat - a falsehood that was maintained for over fifty years, with edicts issued in his name until 1705. In this period appointments to the role of Je Khempo had been made from the Zhabdrung’s extended family, but with the end of all male descent lines, a decision was made in 1695 to appoint ‘exalted rebirth’ heads of state from reincarnates of the Zhabdrung and of the early Gyaltshab. Four lineages were created: speech, mind, and two ‘Precious Prince’ lineages derived from his son and a distant nephew.
The Modern Era
Competing incarnation lineages were to lead to years of political intrigue, and a civil war from 1729-35 in which the Paro province looked for support from Tibet. The civil war was eventually settled by the influence of Tibet and mediation by China, and skilful diplomacy on both sides eventually led to a major thaw in relations between the two countries.
Britain’s relations with Bhutan commenced in the late 18th century, following a dispute over Bhutan’s invasion of Cooch Behar in 1772. This resulted in decisive military action by British forces, ultimately settled by a peace treaty signed in 1774, brokered by the Panchen Lama. However, by 1826 there were further land disputes over control of the Duars (the southern hills of Bhutan which are particularly suitable for tea growing). In 1865 there was further military conflict with Britain over this territory, an issue finally settled by the Treaty of Sinchula, in which the Duars were ceded to the British and Bhutan opened its doors to free trade with Britain. Following this came the saying ‘Bhutan’s border is where a rock rolled down the hill finally stops.’
Also during this period, the Trongsa Penlop, Jigme Namgyel (1825-82), established effective control over Bhutan through a series of clever alliances, and central government power increased. Despite much internal conflict and the military conflict with the British mentioned above, Jigme Namgyel’s control over Bhutan remained intact, and, in 1879, he appointed his 17-year old son, Ugyen Wangchuk, as the Paro penlop. After Jigme Namgyel’s death, Ugyen Wangchuk consolidated his own position, marching on Bumthang and Trongsa. In 1882 he became penlop of Trongsa as well as Paro, and after further triumphs over the dzongchen of Thimphu and Punakha, he emerged with full authority over the country.
He developed stronger relations with the British, affording support to their assault on Tibet under Younghusband in 1904, and afterwards assisting in the treaty between Tibet and Britain. Then, after the death of the desi in 1907, Ugyen Wangchuk was unanimously elected as the hereditary ruler of Bhutan by provincial chiefs and senior lamas, installed with title ‘Druk Gyalpo,’ the ‘Dragon King,’ after which the desi system ended.
Ugyen Wangchuk continued to develop relations with the British, with the 1910 treaty of Punakha ensuring no British interference in Bhutan’s internal affairs, and providing for Britain’s assistance in external relations.
His son, Jigme Wangchuk, succeeded him in 1926 and continued to manage Bhutan’s independence, with a further treaty with the newly independent India in 1949 ensuring no Indian interference in Bhutan’s internal affairs and the assistance of India in its external affairs. He died in 1952, succeeded by his son Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. He moved away from Bhutan’s previously isolationist policies having seen the Chinese take control of Tibet in 1959. He drove a massive modernisation programme, with hydro-electric schemes, membership of the UN, and an overhaul of the country’s legal system, whilst still upholding the focus on the preservation of Bhutanese culture and tradition.
He died in 1972, aged only 42, and was succeeded by the fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuk who was crowned in 1974. Also a moderniser, he introduced the concept of ‘Gross National Happiness,’ and opened up Bhutan to the international community, with great emphasis on education, health provision rural development, and communications. He did this whilst simultaneously promoting national identity and traditional values. But in 1998, he gave up absolute power, sharing authority with the National Assembly and Council of Ministers, finally abdicating in 2006 in favour of his eldest son, Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk, with a plan to move Bhutan to a democratic constitutional assembly as soon as possible. In 2007 parliamentary elections took place for the 25-member upper house, the National Council, and in 2008 for the 47-member National Assembly, the lower house, governing with a new constitution.
Religion of Bhutan Today
The constitution upholds freedom of belief, although recognises the importance of Buddhism to Bhutan’s cultural identity. Hinduism is practised by an estimated 22% of the population - the Lhotsampas, descendants of Nepalese migrants, and migrant labour from Assam and Bengal.
Bhutan's religious minorities loosely refer to the Bhutanese Buddhists as 'Drukpas,’ yet several schools flourish in the country, notably Nyingma. There is a great deal of overlap in ritual and devotion evident amongst followers of the various schools. Many Bhutanese, including some royal family members, are Nyingma Buddhists or followers of lamas who are Nyingma teachers. Indeed, the Drukpas are considered a western Bhutan phenomenon, and are sometimes resented by eastern Bhutanese who view them as a privileged group.
Traces of Bön are still seen in Bhutan, and nature sprits still feature prominently in Bhutanese culture. Deities such as lha (deities of heaven, found in the white mountains), nyan (found in the space between sky and earth - ridges, glaciers and trees for example), tsen (deities of the rocky mountains), klu (beings of the underworld) and sadag (deities of the land) are worshipped and evoked. There are several hundred deities, and local protector deities pervade in most of Bhutan’s valleys: the better known Phola Masang Chungdue and Pusgang tsan in Paro, and Geynyen Jagpa Melen and Domtshangpa in Thimphu.
Their prevalence reflects early integration into the Buddhist traditions of Bhutan, Guru Rinpoche having subjugated spirits, transforming them to protectors of the Dharma, and the absorption of these practises by the Drukpa Kagyü. Although said to be in decline, rituals to propitiate the nature spirits, either by monks (or Bön priests) using invocation texts and oblation offerings (including torma, water and incense purification rituals), or shamanic recitation, continue. Shaman, variously known as nejom or pawo, make poetic recitations whilst in a trance, beating drums and ringing bells to invoke specific deities. In some areas, an animal sacrifice might also be involved.
In the 2008 Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan it clearly states:
‘Buddhism is the spiritual heritage of Bhutan, which promotes the principles and values of peace, non-violence, compassion and tolerance.’
The king of Bhutan, the Druk Gyalpo, appoints the country’s Je Khempo, head of the Zhung Dratshang, the Central Monk Body, on the recommendation of the five Lopons (‘master teachers’), all of whom have to be accomplished in ked-dzog (stages of generation and completion in Vajrayana practice).
The constitution also provides for adequate funding and facilities for the Zhung Dratshang and the Rabdeys, monastic bodies in dzongs other than Punakha and Thimphu. This includes funding the maintenance and construction of monasteries and temples, as well as funding for monks. A 2011 US State Department report stated that one third of the country’s 12,000 monks received government aid, although a more recent article gives the current number of monks as 7,373 monks, 275 nuns, and 461 gomchens (lay monks) registered with the Central Monk Body.
Historically, each household had to send one child to become a monk, a system known as the ‘monk tax,’ introduced by the Drukpa Kagyü in the 16th century. This no longer applies, but young boys still enter monkhood. Entry after adolescence is rare. Some monasteries provide educational scholarships for orphans, the disabled, and children from very poor families, but funds are limited, and institutions increasingly rely on local donations and charitable support from the international community.
Until a modern educational system was introduced, monastic education was the only type available. Today, there are three levels in the monastic education system: Zhirim, the primary level - alphabet, reading and writing, followed by memorisation of prayers and chants, plus traditional arts and crafts training which will include the creation of mandala and masked dance;
Dingrim, the secondary level - observation of the strict vinaya becomes essential, and students at this level are introduced to Buddhist philosophy, poetry, dialectics and debating;
Thorim, the college level - more advanced philosophical teachings, and training in the Drukpa practices of Mahamudra, the Six Yogas of Naropa, etc. After the theory, monks start Losum Chog Sum, three years’ meditation practice. There is a Buddhist University at Tango.
In everyday life in Bhutan, monks continue to provide spiritual support to the community, visiting households to perform rites during birth, marriage, sickness, death, construction of houses, consecration ceremonies, and other inaugurations. Monasteries often provide food and shelter for the elderly.
At household level, local and protective deities are regularly invoked and the burning of leaves or bushes such as juniper each morning is intended for the mountain deities. A single flag called a goendhar is mounted on the roof, a white banner edged with small blue, green, red and yellow ribbons, to invoke the support of Mahakala, and replaced annually in a ceremony that honours the family’s local deity.
An important part of such rites also has members of the community physically visiting the ‘citadels’ of their local deities and reaffirming their relationships with the deities and environment. This is illustrated in the five days of festival, held in spring in Sakteng to celebrate Ama Jomo, when the villagers climb the mountain, Jomo Kungkhar, which is the citadel of Ama Jomo.
Dzoe will also be seen close to monastery gates or outside houses, their purpose to house malevolent spirits to prevent them from entering the building. They are made with wood, straw and twigs, and coloured thread woven into a web like structure. Discarded dzoe, also known as tends, are frequently seen on roadsides to send away trapped evil spirits.
Every house has a small shrine or altar called a choesum, normally with statues of Sakyamuni, Guru Rinpoche and the Zhabdrung. An offering of seven bowls of water is typical, although five bowls are used for protector deities. Generally, Bhutanese people will prostrate before an altar or monk, clasping hands above the head (body of a Buddha, ku), again at throat level (speech of a Buddha, sung) and then at the chest (mind of a Buddha, thug).
Specific rituals of purification follow a birth, and rituals are followed to bless forthcoming marriages. Typically, lay folk do not meditate, but will consult astrologers before embarking on a journey to avoid mishaps, and seek blessings from lamas before starting new ventures, for their family, and for general well-being. And, as we will see below, attendance at the various religious festivals, with sacred dance and ritual, is a vital part of Bhutanese life.
Almost all Bhutanese art, dance, drama, music, and architecture has its roots in Buddhism, serving to dramatise Buddha’s teachings on the path to liberation and the continual fight against the delusions which keep us bound in samsara. Much of the development of Buddhist art in Bhutan is attributable to Pema Lingpa in the 15th century and then the later initiatives of the fourth desi, Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye (1638-1696) who opened the School of Bhutanese Arts & Crafts, which was eventually to become the National Institute for Zorig Chusum.
Zorig Chusum are those physical activities which serve to assist, educate and uplift others, and were codified into thirteen traditional arts and crafts, which, to this day, receive patronage from the highest echelons of Bhutanese society. Zorig Chusum are both spiritual, with works commissioned to gain merit, and anonymous, with artists rarely mentioned. The thirteen activities embrace carpentry, masonry and carving, painting, sculpture, casting, blacksmithing, gold-and silver-smithing, bamboo work, waving, embroidery, woodturning and paper making.
The art of painting, lhazo, is governed by strict iconographic conventions (reference the section on thangkas in Chapter 21). A popular theme is the fable of the Four Friends (in Dzongkha, Thuenpa Puen Shi - ‘cooperation,’ ‘relation,’ ‘four’), which tells the story of four friends, an elephant, monkey, rabbit and peacock, who cooperate to ensure a continual supply of fruit. The pheasant finds and plants the seed, the rabbit waters it, the monkey fertilises it, and the elephant protects it. When the tree matures, the four balance on each other so that the fruit can be reached.
There is another interpretation of the Four Friends - the bird is Buddha, the rabbit his closest attendant. His two main disciples, Shariputra, the monkey, and hailed for his wisdom, and the elephant is Maudgalyayana, famed for his paranormal powers. Buddhists believe that possession of this picture enables one to pacify the negatives and have better friendships.
Prayer flags will be seen everywhere in Bhutan. In addition to the roof mounted goendhar, there are lungdhar - wind flags, printed with the wind-horse carrying a wish-fulfilling jewel on its back. Located on hillsides, ridges and passes, they give protection from illness, and help in the achievement of personal goals and the acquisition of wisdom. The manidhar carries a prayer to Chenrezig, the bodhisattva of compassion, and is raised on behalf of a deceased person. They are erected in batches of 108 at high points in sight of a river, the latter able to carry the prayers over long distances. The lhadhar, the ‘god flag,’ is the largest flag type. Located outside dzongs and other important buildings, they represent victory over the forces of evil. It is a large version of the goendhar, but without text, and tipped by a colourful parasol.
The main form of dance in Bhutan, cham, is performed in the tshechu and usually hosted in dzong courtyards. The cham or ‘Religious Mask Dances’ are performed to invoke the deities who with their power and blessings will remove misfortunes and evil, and bring joy and happiness to the people. They are highly social and happy occasions, a chance for people from remote farming communities to gather once a year and attendance at the tshechu accruing merit. Every Bhutanese is expected to attend the tshechu at least once in their lifetime.
The tshechu involves a series of dances, held over three days, to honour Guru Rinpoche. The timing of the event varies by district and from temple to temple, but are always held of the 10th day of a month in the Bhutanese calendar (which is a variant of the Tibetan calendar where the date is based on the moon phase and the time of the solar year), a day dedicated to Guru Rinpoche. Paro and Thimphu are the largest events, Paro held in the spring and Thimphu in the autumn.
At some locations, the final day witnesses the unfurling of a giant thangka, the thongdrel, which features Guru Rinpoche flanked by his two consorts and featuring his eight manifestations. It is only exhibited for a few hours at daybreak on the final day of the festival, enabling the people to obtain its blessing.
Tshechu dances generally follow the same sequence, although there are local variations. For example, at the Paro tshechu, the first day features Shinje Yab Yum, dance of the Lord of Death and his consort, in which the performers wear a buffalo mask. During the Sakten and Merak tshechus in eastern Bhutan (an area inhabited by semi-nomadic people known as the Brokpas), the Yak dance and Ache Lhamo dance are also performed. The Raksha Mangcham, the Dance of the Ox, is a key feature of the Wangduephodrang tshechu.
When the Thimphu tshechu was initiated by the 4th Desi, Gyalse Tenzin Rabgay in 1867, the tshechu consisted of only a few dances being performed strictly by monks. These were the Zhana chham and the Zhana Nga chham (Dances of the Twenty-One Black Hats), Durdag (Dance of the Lords of the Cremation Ground), and the Tungam chham (Dance of the Terrifying Deities). But it saw change in the 1950s, when the third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck introduced numerous Boed chhams (boecham, mask dances performed by lay monks). These additions added colour and variation to the festival without compromising its spiritual significance. Mask dances like the Guru Tshengye (Eight Manifestations of Guru), Shaw Shachi (Dance of the Stags) are enjoyed because of their theatricality.
Equally important are the atsaras, who are more than just mere clowns. The dances and the jesting of the atsaras are believed to entrance evil forces and prevent them from causing harm during tshechus. Modern atsaras, wearing masks with prominent red noses, also perform short skits to disseminate health and social awareness messages.
A more detailed description of the sequence of the Thimphu Tshechu is given in Appendix 3.
Besides the annual three day tshechu, Thimphu also celebrates a one day festival known as the Thimphu Dromchoe. The day long festival dates back to the 17th century. It was first introduced by Kuenga Gyeltshen in 1710, who was recognised as the reincarnation of Jampel Dorji, son of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. The dromchoe is celebrated three days prior to the Thimphu Tshechu.
The Dromchoe showcases the sacred dances dedicated to the important protective deity of Bhutan, Palden Lhamo. Legend has it that she appeared before Kuenga Gyeltshen and performed the dances while he was in meditation.
MONASTERIES & DZONGS/FORTS
In each of the major towns will be found the dzong, the focus of secular and spiritual authority in each of the twenty dzongkhags (administrative districts).
Monasteries in Bhutan are called goembas, pronounced very differently from the Tibetan equivalent, gompa. Typically built on rocky buttress or remote hillside, they are located to provide the necessary solitude for study and meditation. Some are built around caves once occupied by Guru Rinpoche for meditation purposes, e.g. Taktshang near Paro and Kurje in Bumthang.
They are self-contained institutions with a central lhakhang, situated at the centre of the dochey (a courtyard, used as a dance arena during festivals) and adjacent sleeping accommodation. Usually, a lhakang will have a cupola and gilded bell-shaped feature on the roof, the serto. Just below the roof will be the khemar, a red painted band, sometimes adorned with brass plates representing the sun. As in other regions, the entrance vestibule will have painting of the Four Guardian Kings and the Wheel of Life, and the complex will be surrounded by a circumambulation route and prayer wheels.
Within the lhakhang, the altar (choesum) will usually feature a pair of elephant tusks alongside, symbolising goodness (from the legend of Buddha’s mother who had a vision of a white elephant when Sakyamuni was born). The central statue on the altar will be Sakyamuni or Guru Rinpoche. Very early goembas, established before Guru Rinpoche’s visit to Bhutan, may feature Jampa (Maitreya).
There will also be a chapel called the goenkhang, devoted to protective deities, sometimes situated on the upper floor and may also hold weapons and armour. Access to the goenkhang is usually forbidden to visitors, and women are never allowed in. The protector chapels are usually dedicated to Mahakala (the ‘Great Black One’), the guardian deity of Bhutan, having assisted Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal through his life. He appeared in raven-headed form (Yeshe Gompo) to Ngawang Namgyal and advised him to go to Bhutan, and is the basis for the Raven Crown worn by Bhutanese monarchs. Mahakala is invoked to remove obstacles to new ventures or to protect in times of danger.
Palden Lhamo is closely associated with Yeshe Gompo and another key protector of the Kagyüpa. She is invoked in times of difficulty, and special pujas used to avert major misfortunes like earthquakes or war.
Distinctive iconography that will be seen in temples and monasteries in Bhutan include images of Drukpa Kunley, the Divine Madman - often depicted with a bow-and-arrow case, accompanied by a small hunting dog. He can be depicted in normal clothes and boots, but sometimes with a bare torso and loin cloth like the mahasiddhas.
Pema Lingpa will also feature, usually seated in the vajrasana posture, holding a bumpa (vase symbolising long life) in his hands, wearing a hat similar to Guru Rinpoche, except for two vajras crossed at the front of it. And, finally, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, depicted with a pointed beard, wearing monastic robes and the distinctive ceremonial hat of the Drukpa order, seated in lotus posture. His left hand holds a bumpa, the right hand in earth witness mudra, and he will have a meditation belt on his right shoulder.
Chortens in Bhutan all contain religious relics, and may have been built to commemorate an individual, or the visit of a great spiritual authority, or hold the sacred texts or body of an acclaimed lama. Three basic forms of a chorten will be seen. The Nepali style will have a pair of eyes painted on each of the four sides of the tower, and will mirror the domed form seen at Boudnath.
Tibetan style chortens have a flared style rather than the dome style, the most obvious example being the National Memorial Chorten in Thimphu. The latter was built as a memorial to the third king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. The Bhutanese style has a square base and a pinnacle above, with a khemar near the top. Some may have a sphere and crescent on top to represent the sun and moon.
Two other forms of chorten will be observed. The gateway chorten, a khonying, is located over a track, and travellers will earn merit as they pass through it. Another type is the mani chukor, shaped like a Bhutanese chorten but containing a large prayer wheel.
Dzongs have a distinctive layout, as noted in chapter 20, and today function as centres of civic and secular administration, as well as a religious centre, the buildings for the latter demarcated by the khemar, the red painted band under the roof. The buildings are arranged around the dochen, a central courtyard, separated by the utse, a multi-storied tower, today functioning as home for the abbot and various temples.
Some of the notable dzongs, monasteries and temples around Bhutan are listed below:
Rinchenpung Dzong, Paro. Close to the Paro International airport and situated across the Pa chhu, it is located on a former temple/dzong site site donated by the lords of Hungrel. Construction began in 1644 under Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, with consecration in 1646. The name literally means ‘the fortress on a heap of jewels.’ It survived a massive earthquake in 1897 but then destroyed by fire in 1906. Today, Rinpung Dzong houses fourteen shrines and chapels. It houses the district Monastic Body and government administrative offices of Paro Dzongkhag, and is the site of the annual Paro tshechu.
Taktsang Pelphug Monastery, Paro. The ‘Tiger’s Nest,’ monastery above Paro is approached via a footpath which climbs 900m from the floor of the Paro valley and passes the Singye Pelphu Lhakhang, the ‘Snow Lion Cave,’ the site where Padmasambhava is said to have meditated with his consort Yeshe Tsogyal. As noted above, legend has it that Guru Rinpoche flew to the site as the fiersome Dorje Drolo, one of his eight manifestations, on the back of a tigress, a form assumed by his consort Yeshe Tsogyal to subdue the local demon, Singye Samdrup.
The foundation for the complex was laid in 1692 by the fourth Desi Tenzin Rabgye, a descendent of the Zhabdrung, and the building work completed in 1720. In recent times, the monastery has been seriously damaged by fire, necessitating a major reconstruction project, finally completed in 2005.
Within the main complex is the Pelphu Lhakhang (or dubkhang), a cave Padmasambhava is said to have used for a long meditation retreat, the entrance marked by a statue of Dorje Drolo. Other lhakangs feature images of Pema Jungme, another of Padmasambhava’s manifestations, and dedications to one of his disciples, Langchen Pelgye Tsengay.
Taktsang is the most famous of Bhutan’s monasteries, perched on the side of a gigantic rocky cliff where the only sounds of wind, fresh spring waterfalls and chanting of monks are heard. The name means “Tiger’s Nest’; it was named because Guru Padmasambhawa is said to have flown to the site of the monastery on back of a tigress. He meditated in a cave here for three months.
On April 19, 1998 a fire destroyed the main structure and all its contents. It also suffered a previous fire and was repaired in 1951. The site has long been recognized as a holy place and was visited by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1646 and is now visited by pilgrims from all over Bhutan. The Tibetan saint Jetsun Milarepa is also said to have meditated here and Drubthop Thangtong Gyalpo revealed a treasure text here.
The location of the monastery itself is 2 to 3 hours walk. Allow about four hours for the round trip including a rest stop at the view point. This hike is a major tourist itinerary and a good warm-up hike if you are going trekking. If you wish to ride a horse, you can ride them to the viewpoint instead of making the strenuous hike.
Kyichu Lhakhang, Paro. This is one of Bhutan’s oldest temples, said to date from the time of the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo and built to hold down the limb of an ogress who threatened the introduction of Buddhism into the region. Notable features here are a mural of Gesar of Ling, a 5m high statue of Guru Rinpoche, a chorten containing the ashes of the Nyingma master, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, and most significantly, a seventh century statue of Jowo Sakyamuni, from the same cast as the iconic form now held in Lhasa’s Jokhang.
A short distance south of Drukgyel Dzong Fortress is Kyichu Lhakhang. This temple is said to have been built in 659 by King Songtsen Gampo of Tibet. The original temple burned once and was rebuilt with a large Shakyamuni Buddha statue as the central figure. Additional buildings were constructed in 1839 by the ruler of Paro. A large statue of Chenreyzig (Avalokesvara) with 11 heads and 1000 hands were added at that time, as well as a golden roof. A new temple with a 5m high Guru Rinpoche statue was added by the great grand Queen Mother of Bhutan. There is also a statue of the iron bridge builder Drubthop Thangtong Gyalpo.
Tamchog Lhakhang, Paro. On the way from Paro to Thimphu on the opposite bank of Pachu river is Tamchog Lhakhang built by Drubthop Thangtong Gyalpo, the great iron bridge builder. The red soil around the temple contains low grade ore that once supplied the raw materials for iron works. Drubthop Thangtong Gyalpo (1385-1464) was a wonder working Tibetan saint who is believed to have originated the design of using heavy iron chains to build 108 suspension bridges throughout Tibet and Bhutan, who came to Bhutan in 1433 in search of iron ore. He was an important Terton (Mahasiddhi) of the Nyingma lineage and attained Drubthop (great magician).
Dumtse Lhakhang, Paro. Further to the south of Kyichu Lhakhang is Dumtse Lhakhang, a chorten or stupa-like temple. This unusual building was built in 1433 by Drubthop Thangtong Gyalpo. It has three floors representing hell, earth and heaven realms and the paintings inside are said to be some of the best in Bhutan. It is rather an awesome site to imagine as to how these mural paintings were accomplished in the semi dark corridors of the temple without hardly any windows to penetrate daylight.
Ta Dzong National Museum, Paro. At the top the hill above Paro Dzong is an old structure that was renovated in 1968 to house the National Museum. This unusual round building is said to be in the shape of conch shell was completed in 1656 and was originally the watch tower of Paro Dzong. The museum is open from 9 am to 4 pm on week days – Tuesday to Saturday. It is closed to public due to ongoing major renovation of the main structure, which was damaged partially by the 1998 earthquake.
Drukgyel Dzong Fortress, Paro. At the end of the road, 14km from Paro, stands the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong Fortress. It was built in 1649 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in a location chosen for its control of the route to Tibet. The fortress was named Druk (Bhutan) Gyel (victory) to commemorate the victory of Bhutan over Tibetan invaders in 1644. Now the Dzong is in ruins when a fire from a butter lamp destroyed it in 1951. The restoration work of the Dzong to its past glory is being initiated by the Royal government with financial support from the Indian government.
One of the features of the dzong was a false entrance that was designed to lure invaders into the enclosed courtyard. This is said to have worked successfully during the 2nd attack by Tibetan invaders in 1648. On the way up you can see the remains of the large towers and the tunnel that used to obtain water from the stream below during long siege. Once the invasions ceased, this became a major trade route between Bhutan and the Tibetan town of Phari. On a clear day you can see a spectacular view of Jhomolhari snow capped mountain from the area of the Dzong.
Cheli La, Paro. It makes an interesting road excursion and is an excellent jumping off point for day walks. From the peak 3780m, there are views of Jhomolhari and Jitchudra snowcapped mountains as well as down to the Ha valley. The peak is also one of the burial charnel grounds of those dead children who have not attained ten years of age and are fed to the wild alpine vultures. You can also put up prayers flags on this peak for long life, prosperity and enhancing spiritual energy.
Haa Valley. Haa valley is one of the most picturesque places in the Kingdom, spread over an area of 1706 sq. km. During pre-Buddhist era, Haa valley was known for its animist tradition. This tiny region is one of the most beautiful and isolated areas in the kingdom, adorned with pristine alpine forests and tranquil mountain peaks.
Haa is the ancestral home of the Queen Grandmother and the illustrious Dorji family. This valley remains one of the least visited areas in the country and retains the air of an unspoiled, primeval forest. The wooded hills of Haa provides an ideal location for hiking and mountain biking. Biking around the valley to visit the dozen or so local temples is an enjoyable way to spend the day when visiting.
Haa is home to a number of nomadic herders and hosts an annual Summer Festival that showcases their unique lifestyle and culture. The festival is an ideal occasion to immerse yourself into the traditions and unchanged lifestyles of nomadic Bhutanese herders, as well as to sample some delectable Haapi cuisine.
Earlier inhabitants then were enthused in offering animal blood to their local deities. Such animist belief however was transformed into peaceful Buddhist tradition in 8th century by the Tantric Master Guru Rinpoche, who subdued the local deities like Ap Chundu and made the guardians of the Buddhist tradition. However, the traces of this belief system are still noticed in the form of festivals and rituals.
The valley is also unparalleled in Bhutan in terms of the diversity of the folk culture, legends and shamanistic rituals. The shamanistic traditions is vividly practiced in almost all the communities, most notable of which is the annual ceremony to honor Ap Chundu, the guardian deity of the valley. The valley is also a paradise for nature lovers and travelling there is a very rewarding experience.
Haa valley was opened for the first time to foreign tourists in 2002. It is culturally rich valley and some of famous sites in this region are the 7th century Lhakhang Karpo (White temple) and Lhakhang Nagpo (Black temple) at the foothills of a venerated three brotherly mountains known as Meri Puensum.
Tashichho Dzong, Thimphu. ‘The Fortress of Auspicious Doctrine,’ this is the principle dzong of Bhutan, situated on the western bank of the Wang chhu. The original Thimphu dzong (the Do-Ngön Dzong, or Blue Stone Dzong) was built in 1216 by Nyo Gyelwa Lhanangpa Sanggye Rinchen, founder of the Lhapa branch of the Drigung Kagyü, on a ridge above the present Tashichho dzong. A little later, Pajo Drukgom Zhikpo of the Drukpa Kagyü took over the dzong, and in 1641 it came under the control of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. Finding it too small to house both the administration and the monks, it was later enlarged, but ultimately ravaged by fires and earthquakes over the years.
The original dzong burnt down in 1771 and in 1866 and twice more after that. Between 1962 and 1969, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck completely renovated and enlarged the dzong to become the symbol of the new capital of Bhutan. The Royal architect performed the repairs without touching the main structures and the entire dzong was rebuilt in traditional fashion without nails or written plans.
The dzong houses the secretariat, the throne room and offices of the king, while the northern portion is the summer residence of the Central Monk Body. The dzong is located close to Thimphu town, next to the banks of the Wangchhu river. It is an impressively large structure, surrounded by well kept lawns and beautiful gardens.
You can be part of the ceremonial national flag recess parade, performed every evening at 5 pm by the Royal Bhutan Police guards in its traditional finest grandeur.
When the capital was moved from Punakha to Thimphu, the present Dzong was rebuilt by the third king Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, as the seat of government, albeit with a different layout. Completed in 1968, only the central utse tower, the Lhakhang Sarpa (‘new temple’), and main goenkhang (protector temple) remain from the earlier dzong. Today, Tashichho Dzong houses the secretariat, throne room, offices of the King of Bhutan, and some ministries.
Simtokha Rigshung Dzong. Located about 5km south east of Thimphu. Legend has it that the site was inhabited by demons, so in 1629 Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal subdued one particular demon and enclosed it in a rock. The dzong was built over this stone, thereby deriving the name sinmo (demon), do (stomach), and kha (on) – the dzong on top of the demon’s stomach. Today, it also houses a leading Dzongkha language school, having been renovated several times over the years. It has a distinctive 12-sided utse, which houses a large statue of Mahakala.
National Memorial Chorten, Thimphu. This large Tibetan style chorten was built in 1974. It is a monument to the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck and to World Peace. There are numerous religious paintings and complex tantric statues inside, reflecting both peaceful and wrathful aspects of Buddhist deities. The memorial chorten is one of the most visible structures in Thimphu and for many people it is focus of their daily worship and prayer circumambulation.
Visitors will find elderly Bhutanese people circumambulating the Chorten throughout the day. Chorten literally means ‘Seat of Faith’ and Buddhists often call such monuments, the ‘Mind of Buddha’. The chorten is an extraordinary example of Buddhist architecture and artwork with its gorgeous paintings and intricate sculptures. The chorten is a large white structure crowned with a golden spire. It is located close to the center of Thimphu city and is one of its most iconic monuments.
Buddha Dordenma Statue. (Kuenselphodrang Buddha Point) This massive statue of Shakyamuni measures in at a height of 51.5 meters, making it one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world. The statue is made of bronze and is gilded in gold. 125,000 smaller Buddha statues have been placed indise the Buddha statue, 100,000 8 inch tall and 25,000 12 inch tall statues respectively.
Each of these thousand Buddhas has also been cast in bronze and gilded. The throne that the Buddha Dordenma sits upon is a large meditation hall. The Buddha is located atop a hill in Kuenselphodrang Nature Park and overlooks the southern entrance to Thimphu Valley. The statue fulfills an ancient prophecy dating back to the 8th century A.D that was discovered by Terton Pema Lingpa, who was a religious treasure discoverer and is said to emanate an aura of peace and happiness to the entire world.
Geynyen Jagpa Melen Temple.Various literary sources that provide scattered information on Dechenphu (means cave of consummate bliss) show that it is a significant sacred place in general, and the most important place of the protector deity for the followers of Drukpa Kargyu. There is no consolidated account of Dechenphu; pieces of information about it have to be assembled from various sources, in particular from the hagiographies of the successive abbots of Druk Ralung, the hagiographies of Phajo Drugom Zhigpo and his immediate descendants.
Lhoi Choejung, the famous history of Bhutan written by Penchen Tenzin Chogyal, the 10th Je Khenpo, contains some information about Geynyen. Because of the widespread belief in Geynyen in Tibet, a Tibetan lama, Jamyangje Drupwang Drodul Dorji wrote a booklet on him. The Late Dudjom Rinpoche was another author who composed drupchog for Geynyen. The hagiographies of the successive abbots (bla phreng) of Druk Ralung pertaining to information on Dechenphu are of the nine abbots whose names end with ‘Sengye’.
The first chief abbot of Druk Ralung was Onrey Dharma Sengye (1177-1237), the nephew of Tshangpa Jarey. The chief disciple of Pelden Drukpa Tsangpa Jarey (1161-1211) was his nephew Onrey Dharma Sengye, and the chief disciple of Onrey Dharma Singye was Phajo Drugom Zhigpo. When he was 40, in 1224, Phajo Drugom Zhigpo arrived in Bhutan.
Among the many estates he founded, Tango Choeying dzong is the most important because it is where Yidam Tandin appeared before him in person and delivered precepts to him. The Tandin Yidam also prophesied that he would establish a place for the meditation of Tandin at Tango, that he would marry Khando Sonam Peldon, and that he would be the first person to lay the foundation of the doctrines of Drukpa Kargyu in Bhutan.
After Phajo Drugom Zhigpo reached Wang area, he went to meditate at Draphu Sengye Gyaltshen for six months, located at the foot of Dagala, across Gaynen Tshochen. While he was in retreat in Draphu Sengye Gyaltshen in subservience to the prophesy of Guru Rinpoche, young ladies of Wang Chumdo, which is a village located a little short of Chhuzomsa bridge, used to go there regularly to collect fuel wood and leaf-litter. Among the young ladies was an emanation of Yeshey Khandoma named Achog who offered her pack-lunch and tea to Phajo Drugom Zhigpo. She also offered rice and flour to Phajo Drugom Zhigpo. A relationship developed between the two and she conceived his child.
Phajo Drugom Zhigpo moved from Draphu Sengye Gyaltshen to Dodena, the place next to the bridge on the approach road to Cheri and Tango. At the time of his departure, Phajo secretly advised Achog that in the following year she will give birth to a son and he should be name Dampa. Until then, he advised her, she should be cautious to avoid any pollution because the baby boy would be the emanation (trulpa) of the Indian mahasiddha Pha Dampa Sangye. Phajo left for Dodena with his consort Sonam Pelden who was the emanation of Machig Labdon (1055-1153).
In the following year, as predicted by Phajo Drugom Zhigpo, a baby son named Dampa was born to Achog. But Dampa was not brought into contact with any of other sons of Phajo Drugom Zhigpo from his wife Sonam Pelden till very late in Phajo’s life. Based in Dodena, Phajo Drugom Zhigpo had become an authority amongst the chipons and patrons after his triumphs against Lama Lhapa whose power was entrenched up till that point of time in this area.
At this point of time, Phajo Drugom Zhigpo sent his Nyeney (butler) Khampa Sonam Gyalpo to fetch his son, Dampa to Tango. By then Dampa was 15 years old. Phajo introduced Dampa to his other four sons and enjoined them to accept him as their eldest brother as well as an extraordinary person, being the emanation of Pha Dampa Sangye.
Phajo Drugom Zhigpo delivered a complete set of teachings and empowerment to his sons. Phajo Drugom Zhigpo was able to post his four sons as leaders in different places: Gartom to Sha, Wangchuk to Goen, Nyima to Chang and Lama to Paro as both chieftains and lamas. He then installed Dampa as the abbot of Tango while his other sons were sent away to become leaders in other places. Phajo Drugom Zhigpo ordered Dampa to construct 21 Drubkhang and a lhakhang with five doors at Dodena. Dampa coordinated the labour force during the construction. Many people from Dagala came to work: one of them was a jop lady, Budrenma, popularly known as joop Budrenma.
Dampa had an affair with jop Budrenma and their son jop Kuenzang Dorji was soon born. But the existence of illegitimate son, jop Kuenzang Dorji, was concealed from Phajo Drugom Zhigpo. Phajo Drugom was coming to the end of his life, and about a year before his death, Phajo Drugom Zhigpo asked Dampa to bring jop Kuenzang Dorji to Tango. He was given teachings by both Phajo Drugom Zhigpo and Dampa.
In course of time jop Kuenzang Dorji was made the chief lama of Tango in place of Dampa. Dampa had by then gone to Paro to establish Chang Namkor Monastery. Later, he lived in his newly founded monastery at Dechenphu. Dampa lived for about 100 years. The site at Dechenphu was dedicated to Geynyen from immemorial times. But it was not recognized as Geynyen’s Ney by either Phajo Drugom Zhigpo, or his son, Dampa. The place was just another wilderness.
It was, however, Dampa who first established a monastery and drubdeys at Dechenphu after he went to visit the valley. Towards the end of Dampa’s long life, he invited his son jop Kuenzang Dorji to Dechenphu lhakhang to be its chief abbot, thus making jop Kuenzang Dorji the second chief abbot of Dechenphu monastery.
During the period when jop Kuenzang Dorji was its chief abbot, he established more drubdeys in Dechenphu in addition to the Dechenphu lhakhang, which Dampa had founded. At the moment of Dampa’s death, jop Kuenzang Dorji cried and prayed to his father to live longer. In response, Dampa promised that he would return as jop Kuenzang Dorji’s son, which did happen the following year when jop Kuenzang Dorji had a son. Dampa passed away at Dechenphu. Jop Kuenzang Dorji’s son was named Damtrul Loden Gyalpo, and when he was three years old he gave a clear account of his previous life as Dampa.
Damtrul Loden Gyalpo, was therefore, enthroned as the third chief abbot of Dechenphu. Damtrul Loden Gyalpo could only get modest teachings from Yab Kuenzang Dorji who was quite aged when Damtrul Loden Gyalpo was growing up. Therefore, Damtrul Loden Gyalpo went to Druk Ralung to receive transmission of precepts. When he was at Druk Ralung, he found that Jamyang Kuenga Sengye (1314-1347) was the seventh chief abbot of Druk Ralung.
As mentioned earlier, Tshangpa Jarey had prophesied that there would be nine successive chief abbots of Druk Ralung whose names would end with ‘Sengye’. Damtrul Loden Gyalpo seems to have stayed for a long time in Druk Ralung in close association and service of Jamyang Kuenga Sengye. Jamyang Kuenga Sengye became abbot at the age of 13 and remained on the abbot's throne for 21 years.
Damtrul Loden Gyalpo invited Jamyang Kuenga Sengye to his place at Dechenphu in 1345. When Jamyang Kuenga Sengye stayed at Dechenphu, Damtrul Loden Gyalpo and Jamyang Kuenga Sengye built the present structure of Neykhang of Geynyen and installed inside the statue of Geynyen. During that occasion Geynyen appeared in person to Jamyang Kuenga Sengye, and Jamyang Kuenga Sengye administered Kago Damzha on Geynyen while directing Geynyen to be the principle protector of the doctrine of Palden Drukpa.
As Jamyang Kuenge Sengye was the abbot from the age of 13 till two years before his death, and he visited Bhutan in 1345 and died in 1347. We can attribute the construction of the present structure of Neykhang of Geynyen to the years between 1345 and 1347. This is the closest we can get to ascertain the year of construction of the present structure of Geynyen’s Neykhang.
Damtrul Loden Gyalpo also built drubdeys below newly constructed Geynyen Neykhang. The present Geynyen Neykhang was built lying below the house where Dampa and Damtrul Loden Gyalpo lived and above the drubdeys. All the structures built above and below the present Geynyen Neykhang have disappeared, although traces of foundation can be seen. Damtrul Loden Gyalpo had two sons: Drungdrung Gyalchog and Drungdrung Gyalzom.
The title Drungdrung is similar in meaning to Zhabdrung: those who were regularly in audience with a higher authority in Tibet were known as Drungkhor. Both Gyalchog and Gyalzom were always in audience with Damtrul Loden Gyalpo, hence the title Drungdrung given to them.
Drungdrung Gyalzom became the fourth abbot of Dechenphu monastery and thereafter his descendants held the abbot's post of Dechenphu. Drungdrung Gyalchog went to Druk Ralung to study, and later went to settle at Hungrey in Paro. Drungdrung Gyalchog came to be known as Hungrey Drungdrung of Paro who built Paro Rinpung Dzong.
When Drungdrung Gyalchog was in Druk Ralung, the chief abbot of Druk Ralung was Gyalwangje Kuenga Peljor (1428-1478) who was the first incarnation of Palden Drukpa Tsangpa Jarey. Drungdrung Gyalchog invited Gyalwangje Kuenga Peljor to Dechenphu and Gyalwangje Kuenga Peljor in fact lived for four months in Dechenphu. Once again, Jewangje Kuenga Peljor administered kago damzha on Geynyen.
Thereafter, Drungdrung Gyalchog and Gyalwangje Kuenga Peljor left for Paro. Drungdrung Gyalchog was to carry on his life in Paro by establishing the main line of his descendents as Hungrey Lamas. Given the fact that Geynyen was bound by oath by various lamas such as Damtrul Loden Gyalpo, Jamyang Kuenga Sengye (1314-1347) and Gyalwangje Kuenga Peljor to serve the doctrine of Pelden Drukpa,
Geynyen was found working in person for various Drukpa hierarchs who visited Bhutan. For example, when Drukchen Ngawang Chogyel (1465-1540), half brother of Drukpa Kuenley, was in Bhutan, Geynyen was in attendance. Likewise, when Drukchen Ngawang Chogyel’s elder son Thethok Tenpai Gyaltshen also known as Ngawang Drakpa (1506-1530) who founded Fangyul Dagye Goenpa in Wangdi, was in western Bhutan, Geynyen was constantly in attendance, guiding Thethok Tenpai Gyaltshen out of dangers and inconveniences.
Drukchen Ngawang Chogyel’s younger son was Ngagi Wangchuk (1517-1554). The son of Ngagi Wangchuk was Mipham Chogyal (1543-1606) and Mipham Chogyal’s son was Mipham Tenpai Nyima (1567-1619). Mipham Tenpai Nyima’s son was Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. All of these hierarchs of Pelden Drukpa starting from Dampa, the son of Phajo Drukgom Zhigpo, were guarded, protected and supported incessantly by Geynyen.
Geynyen is a protector of all Buddhist doctrine but especially of Pelden Drukpa. Geynyen Jagpa Melen is actually the emanation of Yidam Tandin. However, he was born as a product of Noejin Yobshue and Sinmo Dongmar. Hence, his conduct was not very virtuous. In order to transform him, the first kago damzhag was delivered on Geynyen by Yidam Tandin. Geynyen also received kago damzhag from Guru Rinpoche at Yangleyshey. This leads to an account of the control that Guru Rinpoche exerted on various malignant spirits in the Himalayan region, including Geynyen, before they became protector deities.
During the first visit of Guru Rinpoche to Bhutan, Guru returned to India from Bumthang. There was no contact between Geynyen and Guru Rinpoche. Some 12 years after Guru Rinpoche visited Bumthang, Guru was at Yangleychey in Nepal on his way to Tibet. As the malignant spirits of the mountains of Himalayas came to know of Guru’s intention to subdue them, they got together to obstruct his plans. However, four Geynyens, such as Geynyen Kula Khari, Damchen Dorji Lekpa and Geynyen Jagpa Melen (as Dechenphu Geynyen is called) decided to be in support of Guru Rinpoche who bestowed kago damzha on them at Yangleychey.
This was the first occasion when Guru and Geynyen came into contact. Later, Guru came to this country, including Cheri and Tango, from Tibet. Guru bestowed kago damzha on Geynyen for the second time. But Dechenphu was not marked by any structure at that time. Besides the Neykhang at Dechenphu, there are seven Neykhangs of Geynyen: Samye Chinphu, Tisi in Joe Ngari, Puri in Tsari Kongpo, Dueyul Khura Gogu, Monyul Dungla Kar, Tsenyon Zangthang Marpo and Drug Ralung. But it seems that Dechenphu is the only one with such an old and august structure.
Very often, no matter where in the Himalayas and Tibet invocations and rituals of Geynyen are conducted, in visualizations, he is envisaged arising and coming from Dechenphu in Bhutan. Because of this Dechenphu Geynyen Neykhang is of importance to the whole Mahayana Buddhist world.
The Fourth Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck initiated the most significant restoration and rehabilitation works on Geynyen Neykhang and its surroundings, without compromising the principles of conservation and preservation of the Neykhang which has great historical, architectural and religious values. The restoration of Dechenphu Neykhang complex started on 18 January 1996 and concluded in 1998.
Only some of the major elements of the restoration can be cited here. The mud plaster work exterior of the Neykhang and the goma-rabseys (window-galleries) outside of the liturgical rooms on the second and the third floors; the wooden cornices of the Eastern and Southern sides of the Nyekhang; and the roof-timber were restored. Further, the wooden columns, girders, beams and the ceilings of the ground floor of the Geynyen Neykhang were restored, as were the window boards on the first floor.
During the restoration and rehabilitation of the Gyenyen Neykhang complex, a large two storey house was constructed in front of the Geynyen Neykhang for the resident monks of Dechenphu at the site where a kitchen stood. This grand house was built also to provide space for the increasing numbers of pilgrims going to Dechenphu to pay their homage to Dechenphu Geynyen. In addition, landscaping around the Dechenphu complex was carried out, and the path to the Neykhang itself was changed to allow a better perspective when approaching the Nyekhang.
The Fourth Druk Gyalpo, His Majesty the King Jigme Singye Wangchuck envisioned the institution of a sacred festival for the public to honour the beneficence of Geynyen Jagpa Melen, the chief deity of Pelden Drukpa. At the time of restoration, the courtyard was expanded considerably by shifting the compound wall outward and a bigger courtyard-cloister created. At the personal initiative of His Majesty, a Tsechu dedicated to Geynyen Jagpa Melen was fulfilled by starting it on the 10th Day of Ninth Month in Water Sheep Year corresponding to November 3, 2003 at his Abode of the Cave of Consummate Bliss. Tourists are still not permitted to visit the sacred temple except Royal family and government guests.
Chang Gangkha Lhakhang, Thimphu. It is a fortress-like temple perched on a ridge above Thimphu. It was established in the 12th century on a site chosen by Lama Phajo Drugom Shingpo, who came from Ralung in Tibet. The central statue is Chenrezig in a manifestation with 11 heads and the ancient printed volumes of books are larger than usual Tibetan texts. There is an excellent view of Thimphu from the courtyard.
Anciently known as Chang Gangri Naykhang. Obeisance to Drukgom Zhigpo, forerunner of the Glorious Palden Drukpa tradition, manifestation of Chenreyzig, and essence of compassion of all the Buddhas, who appeared in person in the land of the Glorious Drukpa to benefit all sentient beings.
Obeisance to the Zhigpo, manifestation of Buddha Kuentu Zangmo's embodiment Macik Lapdroen, who appeared in this land of Ten Accomplished Virtues and left this earthly existence for her heavenly abode without losing her human form.
Obeisance to Nyima, who excelled in both means and wisdom and continued both the religious and family lineages. Having paid my deep respects to the father, mother and the sons, who introduced the spiritual and temporal traditions of the peerless Palden Drukpa, I shall now write down a brief history of the Chang Gangri Naykhangs and Lhakhang in Thimphu Valley. Before writing about the nayshey karchag, we have to trace back its history to the father of its founder.
Father of the Founder: Phajo Drukgom Zhigpo, who was the incarnation of Chenreyzig, was born in Tashigang Dokham. After having taught him all the teachings of the Glorious Drukpa, Dharma Sengye spoke to him thus: "Before passing away, my teacher Tsangpa Jarey gave me Chief Abbot, Nimalung Monastery, Bumthang the following instruction: "After my death a boy form Kham will come to meet me. Since I cannot meet him, send him to the Southern Valley blessed by Padmasambhava. He will benefit the Doctrine of the Buddha. However, I did not tell you about this until now, as I was afraid that it might make you arrogant".
Dharma Sengye then took a portion of the skull of a hero who had practiced religion extensively. He filled it with nectar, dropped into it hundred and eight nectar pills, and handed it over to Phajo Drukgom Zhigpo. He also gave him books like Mani Kabum, Ronyom Kordrung and the rosary of Boddhichitta. Finally, he said, "These are my gifts on the auspicious occasion of your departure. The last teaching I gave you as a present is: recognize your mind as Dharmakaya”. He continued, "Go to the valley called Thimphu. At the confluence of three rivers, construct a hut for meditation on the throne of the immutable Vajrasana and raise the victory banner of realization. In future, the tutelary deity will appear to you in person. Act according to his instruction. That is all I have to say".
Having finished speaking, he blessed Drukgom Zhigpo with his feet. While wishing him farewell, he remarked, "Any act which benefits sentient beings should be done even if it looks like a sin. Any act, which harms sentient beings, should not be committed even if it appears to be a virtuous deed on the face of it". Drukgom Zhigpo thus arrived in Bhutan in 1219 A.D.
Mother of the Founder: It is said in the book of Soeldep: "Listen to the story of my successive lives. I, Machik, am called Sangwai Yeshey (divine wisdom of the mystics) in the realm of Dharma; Yigye Drukma (the six-syllable prayer: Om Ma Ni Pad Me Hung) in the sphere of compassion. Bhero Zangmo in Nepal; Macik Labdroen in Tibet; and Khandro Zhigmo in Bhutan. Thus I am the incarnate illusory dancer of both in appearance and in emptiness". Sonam Paldon, incarnation of Machik Labdroen was born around 1199 A.D. at Wang Sinmona in Thimphu district.
Founder of the Gangri Naykhang and Lhakhang: Drukgom Zhigpo begot seven children through Sonam Paldon. He placed them all on a slab of wood and upturned them into the rushing river. While three of them were carried away by the river, the remaining four sons were miraculously saved. Among them was one who was found sitting in the serene posture of meditation on a hill, with the sun as his mat; and from the sky, a voice spoke thus: "The Protector of sentient beings, essence of compassion, is in the state of tranquility. The sun shines for the glory of all sentient beings. Nyima, the Incarnate One, is here".
The place where he was found was previously known as Gangri, but after his appearance there, the name was changed to Boelgang (Hill of Tranquility). This was the son Nyima, where supernatural powers prevented him from drowning. When Drukgom Zhigpo was 65 years old, he appointed his sons as lamas and chieftains in different areas. Nyima was given to rule the two districts of Gung and Chang in addition to the border areas. Gyenyen Domtshangpa who, having been subjugated by Padmasambhava, took an oath of becoming the protector of the religion guarding Chang Gangkha Boelgang. It is the place where Drukgom Zhigpo and members of his family were protected.
In the book of Karchag it is said: "They (Punakha and Thimphu) are extraordinary places. The auspicious wealthy village (of Chang Gangkha) is like a statue. If we look up at it from below, it is like a country of gods that has descended to the earth. If we look down at it from above, it is like a country that has sprung up from the Naga's world, where horses and cattle abound. If we view it from the side, it looks like a smooth plain where peace and happiness are assembled. At its middle, it is like a king's palace where boys and girls romp around and play. In the forest of fruit trees in the upper valley, live animals like the tiger, leopard, and the monkey. In the lower valley, the water is possessed of eight attributes, and water-birds and fishes abound. In the middle valley, the land is extensively cultivated, and harvests of rice are good and plentiful. Oh, what a wonderful place it is".
Because of Nyima's miraculous escape from death when he was thrown into the river, he first constructed his temple in the valley where this experience took place. When his father (Drukgom Zhigpo) was about to pass away, he sang a song to his sons to this effect:
"Excellent sons, you incarnate ones who appeared in this world to benefit sentient beings, you are all practicing the Buddha's teaching with perfects understanding. You four, who are like lions and wish-fulfilling gems, listen to me. Thanks to the good karma of the past, I, Drukgom Zhigpo of Kham, entered into religious life and practiced the essence of Great Perfection. Thanks to the power of prayer, I came to the central valley and met the master Dharma Sengye. Under him, I practiced the real essence of Sutras, Tantras, and Mahamudra. Dharma Sengye told me, "Manifestation of Chenreyzig, Protector of sentient beings, do not stay here. Go to the south. Go to the country situated between India and Tibet and rich in incense and medicinal plants. Go to the upper valley of Thimphu, to the throne of the immutable Vajrasana where dakinis and dharmapalas gather like a cloud, and the wrathful tutelary deities reside in person. Meditate there, and guide the sentient beings to the path of bliss. You, the lamp of religion, follow the footsteps of other Bodhisattvas. Work diligently like a hero, and extend your activities everywhere. You, incarnate of the sons of the Buddhas, continue the work of your father."
At dawn on the 5th day of the 1st month when Drukgom Zhigpo was 68 years old, four groups of dakinis appeared in the sky with white rainbows to receive Sonam Paldon, who ascended to heaven in her physical body. On the 15th day of the 8th month of the same year, Drukgom Zhigpo also passed away.
To commemorate the death of his parents, Nyima undertook the task of enlarging the temple. Inside, he constructed a sitting statue of eleven faced Chenreyzig. This life-size cast statue, made of bronze, is quite unusual in so far as Drukgom Zhigpo had once manifested himself in this very sitting form, and the sculpture is said to be a faithful representation of this supernatural revelation. Nyima also made a statue of Hayafriva, which is the wrathful form of Chenreyzig, tutelary deity of Drukgom Zhigpo.
The Compassionate One manifests Himself in this form in order to subjugate the sentient beings who are difficult to convert by peaceful means. The statue is generally believed to be made of chuzang (copper), but the biography of Ngawang Pekar has it that the statue is made of bronze. The statue of Sonam Paldon was also made of the same material. He also made a slightly larger-than-life-size bronze statue of the Buddha, a life-size bronze statue of Chukcheeshay, a gilded copper statue of Chenreyzig in Nepalese style, a life-size clay statue of Vajrapani, clay statues of Chenreyzig and Guru Rinpoche, and a life-size clay statue of Drukgom Zhigpo.
The holy scriptures of the monastery like the Boom Gye Dring Due Sum, the detailed, the middling and the abridged compilations preserve the characteristics of the old Tibetan manuscripts and are the original manuscripts of the 13th century A.D. In addition to these scriptures, the temple possesses a set of Narthang Kanjur in 108 volumes.
The Temple was looked after by successive descendants of Nyima. During the arrival of Jamyang Kunga Sengye in the 14th century A.D., he stayed at Chang Gangkha at the invitation of Lama Sonam Gyaltshen and gave religious teachings. In the 15th century, Ngawang Chogyal performed the consecration ceremony for the renovation work in the monastery. Also in the same century, Drukpa Kuenley came to Bhutan. He was invited to Chang Gangkha by Lama Penjor, who received from him many religious teachings.
On the arrival of Ngagi Wangpo, elder son of Ngawang Chogyal, Kunga Zangpo, the Lama of Chang Gangkha offered religious services to him. Likewise, descendent upon descendent of Nyima took devoted care of the Monastery. In the 17th century, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal arrived in Bhutan and took as his spouse the young Damchoe Tenzin, sister of Choeje Kunga Pekar of Chang Gangkha. A daughter is said to have been born to them. Later, Damchoe Tenzin was married to Tshewang Tenzin. To them was born Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye, incarnation of Gyalpo Trisong Drutsan.
Around this time, Druk Tshering was the Choejey of Chang Gangkha. His son Ngawang Pekar entered the Monk Body, received the novitiate's vow (Geyshaye) from the 3rd Je Khenpo Pekar Lhundup, and the full Nyenzo ordination from the 4th Je Khenpo Damchoe Pekar. Having received from them numerous initiations, injunctions, etc. he subsequently became the tutor of Zhabdrung Choglay Namgyal and Choglay Sakya Tenzin.
In the 18th century, during the reign of Gongsa Jigme Sangye and Lama Sherab Lhundrup, Choeje of Chang Gangkha at the time renovated the temple and made medicinal-clay statues of Drubchen Thangtong Gyalpo and the incarnate son Nyima. This is the same temple that survives today in metropolitan Thimphu city, the capital of Bhutan, where it remains one of the main spiritual attractions for people's worship.
Tango Monastery, Thimphu. Continuing up north of Thimphu valley is a 12km drive to Tango Goenpa. The trail to Tango is a climb of 280m and takes about half an hour. Lama Gyalwa Lhanampa founded the Goenpa in the 12th century. The present building was constructed in the 15th century by the ‘Devine Madman’ Lama Drukpa Kunley. In 1616, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal visited Tango and meditated in a cave near the Goenpa. His meditations helped ensure the defeat of an invading Tibetan army. At the base of the monastery houses the recently built university of the highest order of learning of the scholars.
Chari Dorji Dhen, Thimphu. A short distance beyond the turnoff to Tango Goenpa, a walk of about an hour leads to Chari Goenpa. The trail starts by crossing a lovely cantilever timber bridge that spans Wangchu river and then climbs steeply to the Goenpa. Shabdrung built it in 1620 and established the first month body here. A silver stupa holds the ashes of Shabdrung’s father.
Pangrizampa Buddhist Astrology Institute, Thimphu. Just on the way to Tango and Chari Goenpa, the institute lies in a grove of giant cypress trees and two imposing white structure buildings, which houses the Central Monk Body’s main astrology institute. Shabdrung lived here after he arrived in 1616 because this temple appeared in his vision that directed him from Tibet to Bhutan. Some well known astrologers now live here and teach Buddhist astrology to the young monks.
Druk Wangyel Lhakhang, Dochula, Thimphu. On the way through the national highway road leading to Central and Eastern Bhutan is a 23km drive to Dochula (3150m) marked by a large array of prayer flags, 108 chortens and the imposing Druk Wangyel temple, built by the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck to honor the victory over flushing out the Indian militants from southern Bhutan, which was personally led by the 4th King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in 2004. The past and future appears to merge in the details of the temple and its structure tells the story of a supreme warrior figure, whose vision pierces the distant future in a fine blend of history and mythology.
Dochula is also popular spiritual destination for both locals and tourists because an important temple is located on the crest of the pass. It is a popular location among tourists as it offers a stunning 360 degree panoramic view of Himalayan mountain range. The view is especially scenic on clear, winter days with snowcapped mountains forming a majestic backdrop to the tranquility of the 108 chortens gracing the mountain pass. Such days are often rare. You will have the best chance of a view in the early morning between March to May and October to December.
Bhutanese families enjoy visiting the pass during holidays and weekends to picnic and simply enjoy the scenery. It is common to see families and groups of friends seated amongst the chortens, enjoying a packed lunch, hot tea and locally brewed Ara. For tourists this is ideal location to capture beautiful pictures of Himalayan mountain range.
Druk Pungthang Dechen Phodrang, Punakha. Perched between the massive Phochu and Mochu rivers, it is the second of Bhutan’s dzongs. For many years until the time of the 2nd king, it served as the seat of the government. The construction of Punakha Dzong was foretold by Guru Rinpoche that Shabdrung will build it in 1637, who established the Central Monastic Body here with 600 monks. It is still the winter residence of the Central Monk Body.
The dzong burned in 1750 and again in 1798. Several temples were added after the second reconstruction. Another fire in 1802, 1831 and 1849 was assumed deliberate and suffered major damage by the 1897 earthquake. The latest fire in 1986 damaged the residence of the Je Khenpo, which has since been restored to its original grandeur.
It is inextricably linked with momentous occasions in Bhutanese history. It served as the capital of the country from 1637 to 1907 and the first national assembly was hosted here in 1953. It is the second oldest and second largest dzong in Bhutan and one of the most majestic structures in the country.
In addition to its structural beauty, Punakha Dzong is notable for containing the preserved remains of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the unifier of Bhutan as well as a sacred relic known as the Ranjung Karsapani. This relic is a self created image of Avalokiteswara that miraculously emerged from the vertebrae of Tsangpa Gyarey the founder of the Drukpa School when he was cremated.
On October 13, 2011, the wedding of the 5th King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, and his fiancé, Jetsun Pema, was held at the Punakha Dzong. Punakha valley has a pleasant climate with warm winters and hot summers. It is located at an average elevation of 1200m above sea level. Owing to the favorable climatic conditions, rice is the main cash crop.)
The second oldest dzong in Bhutan, located at the confluence of the Pho chhu and Mo chhu, the Punakha dzong served as the centre of government and the first session of the National Assembly was also held here in 1953. Punakha was the first capital of Bhutan and the country’s first king, Ugyen Wangchuk, was crowned here in 1907.
It is now the administrative centre for the Punakha district and is the winter residence of the dratshang, the official monk body. It houses the sacred relics of the southern Drukpa Lineage of the Kagyü, including the Rangjung Khasarpani (a ‘self-created’ image of Chenrezig) and the sacred remains of Ngawang Namgyal and the tertön Pema Lingpa.
In the 8th century, Guru Rinpoche had prophesied that a young man named Namgyel would come to a mountain that appeared like a sleeping elephant, and then build a dzong upon the elephant’s trunk. To fulfil this prophecy, Zhabdrung commissioned Zowe Palep, an architect, to construct the dzong in 1637.
The dzong was significantly expanded from 1744 to 1763 during the reign of the 13th Desi, Sherab Wangchuk. Like other dzongs, the building suffered numerous fires, and the 1897 earthquake caused severe damage. The site is also affected by flooding on a regular basis, some caused by glacial lake outbursts.
The annual Punakha festival known as the Drumchoe, held in February/March, features the display of the Rangjung Khasarpani, a re-enactment of the attempt 1639 by Tibetans to steal the image (foiled by the Zhabdrung), dances in honour of the Zhabdrung, and traditional mask dances.
Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten, Punakha. A beautiful hike takes you to the regal Khamsum Yuelley Namgel stupa, which was built to remove negative forces and promote peace, stability and harmony in the changing world. The Chorten dominates the upper Punakha Valley with commanding views across the Mo Chhu and up towards the mountainous peaks of Gasa and beyond.
The gold plated brass Buddha statue weighing more than 3 tons sits on the 3rd floor vase structure of the stupa facing Druk Pungthang Dechen Phodrang Dzong in the south. The statue which was based previously at one of the exterior temple of Punakha Dzong was retrieved and placed on the stupa’s vase structure under the Royal initiatives of Her Majesty the Grand Queen Mother Ashi Tshering Yangdon. It is believed and witnessed that the statue remained always faced to the north, where it is now based, despite that fact that monks attempted several times to turn its position back to its original position facing the south.
Chimi Lhakhang, Wangdi. It is situated on a hillock in the centre of the valley, is dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kuenley, who in the late 15th century used humour, songs and outrageous behavior to dramatize his teachings and due to this also known as "Divine Madman". This temple is also known as the temple of fertility. It is widely believed that couples who do not have children and wanting one, if they pray at this temple, they are usually blessed with a child very soon. A wooden effigy of the Lama’s thunderbolt penis is preserved in the temple. The small chorten on the Alter is said to have been crafted by the “Devine Madman’.
It is about 20 minute walk across field from the road to the temple. The trail leads across rice fields to the tiny settlement of Pana, meaning "field". It then follows a tiny stream downhill to Yoaka and across more fields before making a short climb to Chimi Lhakhang.
Dargay Goempa, Wangdi. This monastery was built in the spot where Divine Madman Drukpa Kuenley first met Ashi Genzo who was renowned for her beauty. When it was first constructed, the monastery was a simple Drubdey or meditation center. Lam Drukpa Kuenley is widely considered to be Bhutan’s favorite and most iconic saint due to his unorthodox method of teaching through ribald humor.
Wangdi Phodrang Dzong, Wangdi. It is located 21km south of Punakha, draped by cacti plants that cover the hillside long ago as protection against invaders below the dzong. It was founded by Shabdrung in 1638. Wangdi is important in the history of Bhutan because in the early days, it was the country’s secondary capital.
The dzong was repaired after a fire in 1837 and again after it was severely damaged by the 1897 earthquake. The dzong burnt down completely in 2008 and is currently in ruins. Rebuilding the dzong in its original grandeur has already begun.
It is one of the largest districts in the country. As the district covers 4,308 sq km and ranges from 800-5800 m in altitude, it has extremely varied climatic conditions ranging from Sub-Tropical forests in the south to cool and snowy regions in the north.
It has a rich tapestry of ancient Buddhist temples and monasteries that is sure to enrapture any visitor. With its diverse climates and rich natural resources, Wangdi is home to many rare and exotic animals like Red Pandas, Tigers and Leopards. There are also large number of rare birds such as the Black Necked Crane, White Bellied Heron and the Spotted Eagle.
Bae Langdra, Wangdi. A sacred secret legacy. Throughout the ages, in the heart of a hidden valley lay a sacred secret site. The destined discovery of this spiritual legacy is flourishing with an undefiled vibrancy today. The legacy of Bae Langdra is embedded in the esoteric traditions of Vajrayana Buddhism. In 1950, the renowned yogi Togden Shakya Shri was in Tsari, Tibet. There, he witnessed an oracle of butter lamps that lit by themselves.
The Togden revealed to Lama Sonam Zangpo that the event foretold the dakini’s prophecy. Lama Sonam Zanzpo was asked to locate a sacred site between the ‘three sertos,’ which were the three dzongs of Trongsa, Wangdue and Punakha. Later, Lama Sonam Zangpo passed on the instructions to Lama Serpo, a renowned Dzogchen master.
Subsequently, in 1981, Lama Serpo instructed Lungten Tulku to visit the site and make ‘tsok’ offerings there. Lungten Tulku after doing so reported to Lama Serpo about all the sacred imprints and landmarks of Guru Rinpoche. He also apprised that there were no standing structures of any sort at the place.
Two years after Lama Sonam Zangpo passed away, Lungten Tulku discovered details about the site in sacred texts. It was stated that Guru Rinpoche returned from Zangdokpelri for a seven days sojourn in Bae Langdra. On his arrival, Terdak Langdrapa, a local diety, caused obstacles to the Guru. However, manifesting as Ugyen Dorji Guru, the Guru subdued the deity and appointed him as the protector of the treasure teachings. The Guru has hidden about 60 treasure teachings there.
Kuenkhyen Longchen Rabjam visited Bae Langdra in 1356 followed by his son Tersey Drakpo Waeser. Later in Shar Kunzaling, the seat of Kuenkhen Longchen Rabjam, Terdak Langdrakpa instructed Terton Dorji Lingpa to visit Bae Langdra. After visiting the place and staying there for seven days, Terton Dorji Lingpa was disappointed for not finding any spiritual indications.
When he was about to leave, a dakini appeared before him and instructed him to look at the cliff. On the cliff, he saw Guru Rinpoche as an eight year old boy emanating from a rainbow. The Guru thus instructed him: “My son, do not leave. You are the destined treasure revealer.” The Terton then entered into a retreat.
On the tenth day of the eighth month in retreat, the Guru again appeared to him. The Guru instructed him that if one saw Bae Langdra, one would be freed from samsara; if one visited it, all defilements would be purified; if one practised dharma here, one would find spiritual fulfillment and realize all the yidam practices; if one make offerings here, all aspirations for all lifetimes would be fulfilled.
Bae Langdra is also a gateway to be reborn into Zangdokpelri or Dewachen. The Terton then discovered the treasure teaching called ‘Chenrezig Nyensong Khenchop.’ This has led to the annual Mani Dungdrup held every year in the 8th month. The belief holds that Chenrezig himself stated: “If one sponsored the whole dungdrup for a day, a meal, tea or just made offerings of firewood, one would be freed from samsara. If the Mani Dungdrup is held for one year, it is equivalent to holding the 16 day Nyungnay Karpo Chagay.”
Despite Guru Rinpoche and many great Tertons like Pema Lingpa and Sherab Mebar consecrating Bae Langdra, it remained hidden even to Bhutanese throughout the ages. In 1986, Lungten Tulku went to Yourmo in Nepal and approached Chabje Chatral Rinpoche.
In 1988, Chabje visited Bhutan and petitioned His Majesty about the spiritual discovery. He then stated that although there were many sacred spiritual places in the world, the discovery of Bae Langdra was very significant; firstly, it had a very sacred legacy and secondly it had not been defiled over time.
He also remarked that all Bhutanese who could now visit the site had more merit than those who had passed away. On his instructions, a retreat centre named Drubdra Waesar Samteling was constructed at the foot of the valley.
In 2000, he appointed Lungten Tulku as the destined lama, to construct a temple in Bae Langdra. The temple housed a ten foot tall statue of Ugyen Dorji Gur, two six foot tall statues of Khandro Yeshey Tshogyal and Khandro Mendarawa. On every auspicious month of Choethri and Tendra, the fourth and ninth month and on the Guru’s auspicious days, thousands of people visit the site regularly.)
Gangtay Sangna Chholing Goenpa, Wangdi. Built on a ridge overlooking the large green expanse of Phobjikha valley, the temple was founded here in 1613 by Gyalse Pema Thinley, the grandson of the mind incarnation of Terton Pema Lingpa. It is a Nyingma Goenpa and is affiliated with other Nyingma sects of Bhutan. During a visit to Phobjukha valley, Pema Lingpa prophesized that the temple would be built on this site and that the teachings would be spread from there.
A Nyingma temple was built on this hill top (gang-teng) site overlooking the Phobjikha valley in 1613, a location which had been prophesied by Pema Lingpa. The larger goemba was subsequently founded by his second reincarnation. Also known as Gangten, it has one of the largest assembly halls, tshokhang, in Bhutan, and houses the funeral chorten of the founder Tenzing Legpey Dhendrup.
The monastery was completely restored between 2002 and 2008. The annual tshechu is held in September/October. A nearby shedra (monastic college), Do-ngag Tösam Rabgayling, provides advanced Buddhist studies which include a long retreat.
One of the most notable sites in the district is Phobjikha Valley. This valley is the habitat of rare and endangered Black Necked Cranes that roost there during their annual migrations. The residents of the valley have garnered much acclaim for their conservation efforts to preserve the habitat of these beautiful birds.
Every year the Black Necked Crane Festival is held in Phobjikha in order to protect and spread awareness of the cranes. The Festival includes songs, masked dances and plays by the local school children. This event is one of the most unique and popular festivals in the country.)
Choekhor Rabtense Dzong, Trongsa. Trongsa is smack in the middle of the country, separated from both the east and west by high mountain passes. It is the most impressive dzong in the country and can be seen from great distance in its strategic position high above Mangdechu river. It is one of the most aesthetic and magnificent works of traditional Bhutanese architecture.
It was built in its present form in 1644 by Choygyal Minjur Tenpa, the official who was appointed by Shabdrung to unify eastern Bhutan. It is also the ancestral home of Bhutan’s royal family. The first two hereditary kings ruled from this dzong and is still a tradition that the crown prince first serve as Trongsa Penlop before acceding to the throne.
Yongzin Ngagi Wangchuk, a descendant of Ngawang Chogyal, visited Bhutan in 1541, and he meditated at Yueli in Trongsa where one night he saw a lighted butter lamp below the present goenkhang. He also saw hoof-prints and the lhatsho (sacred pond) of the guardian deity. Therefore, considering the place sacred he built a small temple here. The dzong was built in 1647 during the time of Trongsa Penlop Chogyal Minjur Tenpa, enabling taxation of east-west trade, and enlarged during the 18th century.
Trongsa dzong is the ancestral home of Bhutan’s royal family, the first two hereditary kings having ruled from here. In the winter it is home to a large monastic community, many of whom relocate to Kurje during the summer months.
Between Pele La and Trongsa is the Chendebji Chorten, the entry point into eastern Bhutan. Built in Nepalase style in the 18th century, it was designed to hold down Ngala dudm, a demoness who had been oppressing people in the adjacent valley.
Ta Dzong Museum, Trongsa. This ancient tower has been made into a museum dedicated to the Wangchuck dynasty and provides visitors with unparalleled insight into Bhutan’s political history. There are three watch towers on the hill to the east of the dzong and is worth making a short climb for the view and to take a brief look to explore the museum artifacts of the previous kings and royal family members displayed here. A chapel inside the tower is dedicated to Trongsa Penlop and an interesting representation of small statue of horses, yaks and elephants.)
Bumthang Valley. This region that spans from 2,600-4,500m is the religious heartland of the nation and home to some of its oldest Buddhist temples and monasteries.Tales of Guru Padmasambhava and the tertons still linger in this sacred region. It consists of four main valleys: Ura, Chumey, Tang and Choekhor. The valleys are broad and gentle carved by the ancient glaciers. The wide and scenic valleys draw a large number of tourists each year.
The name Bumthang has two probable origins; the first is that it is named after a Bumpa, a vessel for holy water which the valley resembles in shape. The second origin implies that it is the valley of beautiful girls as Bum translates to ‘Girl’ and Thang means ‘flat piece of land’.
These fertile valleys are covered in fields of buckwheat, rice and potatoes. Apple orchards and dairy farms are also common sights here. This serene region is one of the most peaceful places in the kingdom. It is one of the richly endowed districts in terms of historical and spiritual legacy.
It is an exciting destination for all visitors. It includes some of the most significant historical and religious sites in the country. The district of Trongsa has always been of great political importance to the leaders of Bhutan due to its commanding location in the center of the nation while Bumthang district has some of the most ancient and important temples and monasteries in Bhutan.
Some of the important landmarks in central Bhutan are: Kurje Lhakhang built in 1652 at the site where the great Buddhist saint Guru Rimpoche meditated. Tamshing Lhakhang, the great religious treasure revealer Terton Pema Lingpa built dating back to 1501. Mebar Tsho: A sacred lake from which Terton Pema Lingpa discovered religious treasures hidden by Guru Rimpoche.
In addition to the traditional annual religious festivals (Tshechus) there are also many newer festivals showcasing the rich traditions of the region like the annual Nomad’s Festival and the Matsutake Mushroom Festival in Ura, Bumthang.
Central Bhutan is a region blessed with great natural beauty and there are miles of pristine alpine and sub-tropical broadleaf forests teeming with all manner of flora and fauna. The Thrumshingla National Park is located in this region and is famous for the many rare and endangered birds that inhabit it including the Rufous necked hornbill, Rufous-throated wren-babbler, Satyr Tragopan, Beautiful nuthatch, Ward’s trogon and Chestnut-breasted partridge. Visitors may even catch a glimpse of the exotic animals that live in the park such as the majestic Royal Bengal Tiger or the adorable Red Panda.
Jampey Lhakang. It is situated on the way to the Kurjie Lhakhang. It’s a ten minutes drive to the temple from the Chamkhar town. The temple is one of the oldest temples in the kingdom. It was founded by, Songtsen Gampo, a Tibetan King in the 7th century AD. The king was destined to build 108 temples known as Thadhul Yangdhul in a day to subdue the demoness that was residing in the Himalayas. The temple is one of the two of the 108 built in Bhutan.
A second is located in Paro, the Kichu lhakhang also built on the same day. Legend has it that Guru Rimpoche visited the site several times and deemed it exceptionally sacred. Chakhar Gyab, the king of the Iron Castle of Bumthang renovated the temple in the 8th century AD. The first king of Bhutan, Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck constructed the Dus Kyi Khorlo (Kala Chakra- Wheel of Time) inside the temple, to commemorate his victory over his rivals Phuntsho Dorji of Punakha and Alu Dorji of Thimphu after the battle of Changlimithang in 1885.
Later, Ashi Wangmo, the younger sister of the second king of Bhutan, built the Chorten lhakhang. The main relics include the future Buddha, Jowo Jampa (Maitreya) from whose name the present name of the temple is derived. The lhakhang also houses more than one hundred statues of the gods of Kalachakra built by the first king, in 1887.
One of the most spectacular festivals in the country, called Jambay lhakhang Drup is hosted here. The festival lasts for five days. The highlight of the festival is the fire ritual that is held in the evening where crowds gather to witness the ritualistic naked dance.
The central figure of the temple is the Buddha of the future, which is protected by an iron chain mail that was made by Pema Lingpa. It was visited by Guru Rinpoche and renovated by Sindu Raja several times. The pile of curved Mani stones in the parking lot in front of the temple is representations of the guardians of the four directions. Under the temple is said to be a lake in which Guru Rinpoche has hidden several terma treasures.
Another temple associated with Songtsen Gampo and one of the 108 demon-controlling sites established across Tibet and Bhutan. Situated in the Chokhor valley in Bumthang, the temple was visited by Padmasambhava and then restored by the king Sendhaka after his life force had been recovered by the actions of Padmasambhava to control a local demon. The principal statue in the lhakhang is Jampa, the future Buddha (Maitreya), protected by iron chain mail which was made by Pema Lingpa. Each October a major festival, the Jampa Lhakhang Drup, is held here, with cham dance and fertility rites.
Kurje Lhakhang. As described above, this complex was founded on a rock which carries imprints of Padmasambhava’s body after a period of meditation. There are three large lhakhangs on site. The first one, Guru Lhakhang, built by king Sendhaka and rebuilt by Minjur Tempa in 1652, with the Sangay Lhakhang at a lower level, encloses Padmasambhava’s meditation cave, and is surrounded by multiple images of him and his eight manifestations. The second is Sampa lhundrup temple, built by the first king Ugyen Wangchuk in 1900 to house a monumental statue of Guru Rinpoche, and the third, Ka Gon Phur sum lhakhang was consecrated by the great master Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche in 1990.
Kurje is an important place of pilgrimage for Buddhists, and the annual tshechu is held in July. The kings and some royal family members are cremated in Kurje. A little away from the complex is the Zangtopelri Lhakhang, featuring a 3D representation of Guru Rinpoche’s paradise.
Tamshing Lhundrup Chholing, Bumthang. It was established in 1501 by Terton Pema Lingpa and is the most important Nyingma temple in the country. Pema Lingpa himself built the structure with the help of his dakinis, who also made many statues.
On the inner walls of the temple are believed to be original un-restored images that were painted by Pema Lingpa, although recent research has uncovered even older paintings beneath them. On the lower floor of the temple is a chain mail armor made by Pema Lingpa, weighing 25kg and it is believed to be an auspicious act to carry it on your back around the temple corridor for three times.
Close to Jakar, this was built by Pema Lingpa from 1501 to 1505, and is one of the key Nyingma establishments in Bhutan. Guru Rinpoche is the principal statue, said to have been sculpted by khandromas (dakinis). The temple is owned by the Tamshing family descending from Pema Lingpa, and is the seat of two incarnations of Pema Lingpa lineages, the Sungtrul and the Thuksey. It is an important centre of Bhutanese sacred masked dance, many introduced by Pema Lingpa himself. There is an independent monastic school here too.
Yuley Namgyal Dzong, Bumthang. Commonly called Jakar Dzong, it was built in 1667 in honor of the victory in a battle with troops of the Tibetan ruler. It was damaged once by fire and by earthquake in 1897.This is a bustling little one-street town with an abundance of restaurants and handicrafts stores. Jakar sells a good amount of chugo, a hard, chewy dried cheese snack popular among Bhutanese. Internet cafes and the odd espresso bar have also started to make an appearance here.
The Jakar Dzong or the “Castle of the White Bird” dominates the Chamkhar valley and overlooks the town. Constructed in 1549, by the Tibetan Lam Nagi Wangchuk, the Dzong played an important role as the fortress of defense of the whole eastern districts. It also became the seat of the first king of Bhutan.
A special feature of the Dzong is the approximately fifty meter high Utse or the Central tower, which is distinct from most other Dzongs in Bhutan. The other unique feature of the Dzong is a sheltered passage, with two parallel walls, interconnected by fortified towers, which gave the population of the fortress access to water in the case of a siege. The protected water supply is still intact to this day.
Wangdichholing Palace, Bumthang. The extensive palace was built in 1857 on the site of a battle field. It was the early home of the 1st, 2nd and the 3rd kings. It was inherited by a great grand aunt of the present king but is no longer used.
It is the biggest and most elaborate Ka-Gong-Phur-Sum Temple of the Terma Nyingma tradition. Ka-Gong-Phur-Sum literally means Three Mystic Revelations of The Eight Pronouncements (Kagye), Abhipraya Samaja (Gongdue) and Vajra Kilaya (Phurpa).
Kitchu Lhakhang, Bumthang. It is named after the body print of Guru Rinpoche, which is preserved in a cave inside the oldest of the three buildings that make up the temple complex. It was built by Trongsa Penlop Minjur Tenpa in 1652 and the 1st king Ugyen Wangchuck built the 2nd temple in 1900. The 3rd temple was built by great grand Queen Mother in 1990.
Mehbar Tso, Bumthang. The burning lake, which is actually a wide spot in Tangchu river was founded by Terton Pema Lingpa, who discovered several hidden treasures of Guru Rinpoche. A wooden bridge across the river and is a good vantage point to look down into the lake. Perhaps you might be fortunate enough to spot the temple that exists in the depths of the lake. Under the rock with carvings is a cave that virtuous people, no matter how big they are, can crawl through. Beware; you might get stuck in the hole.
Ura Valley, Bumthang. South-east of Bumthang is the highest valley of Ura and believed by some to have been the home of the earliest inhabitants of Bhutan. It is 48km drive from Jakar. Ura (3100m) is quite a large village. There are about 40 closely knitted native houses along the cobblestone streets that give the village a mediaeval atmosphere. A traditional addition to the clothing of Ura women is a sheepskin shawl that serves as both blanket and cushion.
Ura valley is known for the famous dance known as the Ura Yakchoe. The dance is performed during a festival that is held every May. During the festival a sacred and important relic is put on display so that the people can receive blessings from it.
According to legend an old woman sitting outside her house was visited by a lama asking for a drink of water. When she came out with the water, the lama had vanished leaving behind only a sack. Out of curiosity, she checked the bag and found the statue that is now displayed annually. This relic has been passed on from generation to generation and is still owned by the descendants of the woman.
About 20 minutes drive north of Ura lies the enchanting mediaeval Shingkhar village, where life stands still for the local inhabitants of the valley.)
Thowa Drak Goemba, Bumthang: Local Name: Thowadra. Date of Construction: 1238. Category: Heritage site. Geographical Location: At the northern tip of the valley, Thowadra is nestled into a cliff that appears to block the Tang valley. Thowadra, meaning 'the highest rock', is at an altitude of 3,400 meters (11,155 feet). The feeder road stops at the foot of the cliff and it is a two hour climb.
Description: Thowadra ‘s position is spectacular and similar to Taktsang in the Paro valley. It is made of a main building with overhanging wooden balconies and several smaller buildings as well as in the mountain caves higher up still.
History: According to local tradition, Thowadra was an isolate place for Gelongma Pelmo, the daughter of the Kashmir King Triten gyalpo who had leprosy and was cured there. It was also blessed by the presence of Guru Rinpoche who came there to meditate.
This is where Guru Rinpoche is said to have left behind a wooden bird which he used to expel the king Kyikharatoe from the Khenpajong valley north of Bumthang. Thowadra is also one of the ‘gates’ leading into this secret valley, which was sealed up by Guru Rinpoche after he drove out the king.
The story surrounding Thowadra and the King Kyikharatoe is sad. It is said that Kyikharatoe came from Jelikhar in Choekhor where he had finally settled just to have a look at his beloved Khenpalung from the top of Thowadra mountain. He saw only desolation and out of grief cut down a bamboo to make a flute and played a nostalgic tune. Many places in Tang are associated with this tragic figure.
Thowadra was founded in 1238 by Lorepa (1187-1250), the Drukpa Kagyupa lama who had established Choedrak monastery at another of Guru Rinpoche’s meditation places in the Chume valley of Bumthang. Pema Trinley (1564-1642), the grandson of Pema Lingpa and first Gantey lineage holder meditated at this place.
A Nyingmapa monastic community was established here at the end of the 18th century by Changchub Gyeltsen (alias Jigme Kundrel), a disciple of the great Tibetan Dzogchen master, Jigme Lingpa (1730-1798). After his death the temple was not looked after but was restored by the Drukpa hierarch Choeje Ngawang Trinley who stayed there in meditation. Choeje Ngawang Trinley also restored Choedrak in Chume, also founded by Lorepa.
However one problem is that there are two lamas of the same name in this lineage. The 1st Ngawang Thinley lived 1712-1770 and the 2nd Ngawang Thinley’s dates were 1916-1950, and both were Je Khenpo of Bhutan. It might be the second who restored the temple but this has to be confirmed.
Architectural style school and related art works: Thowadra is made of a main temple and several small houses scattered above the rock as well as the holy spring of Gelongma Pelmo and the stone throne of Guru Rinpoche.
Social cultural function: Thowadra is a highly regarded pilgrimage place, a place of meditation and also has a small monastic school under the Thowadra Lam; it follows the Longchen Nyinthik tradition of the Nyingma school.
A spring blessed by Guru Rinpoche and Gelongma Pelmo comes out of the rock and is revered by the pilgrims as well as the stones believed to be dakinis’ bath and Guru Rinpoche’s throne.
The bamboos around Thowadra are said to be holy as they would have been brought initially from the great pilgrimage place of Tsari is south-east Tibet. Pilgrims take bamboos from Thowadra as protection.
Kunzang Drak Goemba, Bumthang: Local Name: Kunzangdra. Date of Construction: 1488. Category: Heritage site. Geographical Location: This monastery, at 3,350 meters (10,990 feet), is located in the Tang valley about 12 kms on the Tang road from the Jakar-Ura-Mongar highway.
It is above the great saint Pama Lingpa 's birthplace of Chel and in the hollow of a cliff which rises above the valley floor and visible from the road. One needs about one hour to reach it on foot and a road should reach the monastery soon.
Description: Apart from Pema Lingpa’s living quarters which are now the gonkhang, the temple of the protective deity Gonpo Maning, the monastery consists of four temples: the main temple with a wooden gallery contains images of Pema Lingpa, Guru Rinpoche and Namkhai Nyingpo.
The last two attributed to Pema Lingpa himself; the Wangkhang, in which the principal statue is Avalokiteshvara with a thousand eyes and a thousand hands made by Pema Lingpa; Oezerphug, the meditation cave of Pema Lingpa’s son, Thugse Dawa Gyeltsen (1499-1586) with a holy spring (grubchu) supposed to cure epilepsy and stroke.
Higher up from the main buildings is the Khandroma Lhakhang, which contains a gilded copper statue of Pema Lingpa and a copy of the prajanaparamita sutra. It is built at the place where Yeshe Tshogyel, the enlighted consort of Guru has meditated.
Nearby is a wooden post embued with the life force of thousands of dakinis, and a chorten built by Thugse Dawa Gyeltsen. Below the main temple is Pama Lingpa’s meditation cave with a life like statue of himself and his gilded footprint, and besides a stone throne.
History: It is one of the places where Guru Rinpoche meditated, as did his disciple Namkhe Nyingpo, and a little temple is said to have been established there at the end of the eighth century. However, the present site was founded in 1488 by the saint Pema Lingpa who was born close by at Chel, and he made it one of his residences.
Architectural style school and related art works: There are several stone buildings scattered through the mountain and on the rock face. They are small and look like houses. Kunzangdra has a beautiful collection of woodblocks and several footprints on stones. It also contains superb images in clay and copper (see description above).
The chorten containing the remains of Pema Lingpa ‘s mother is also near the cliff. The monastery is now under the care of the Gantey Tulku and has a small monastic school. It is a revered place of pilgrimage and also houses meditation practitioners.)
Lhuedrup Tsey Yee Dzong. The dzong houses the administrative and Buddhist monastery in Lhuntse district in eastern Bhutan. It lies on the eastern side of the Kuri Chhu and is perched on a spur at the end of a narrow valley. The Dzong was initially known as Kurtoe in the then isolated Lhuntse District. It is the ancestral home of the House of Wangchuck.
According to one legend, Khedrup Kuenga Wangpo, son of Tertoen Pema Lingpa was assigned to find a ridge resembling the trunk of an elephant. He found one opposite Baeyul Khenpajong and mediated there. This location came to be known as Kurtoe Lhuentse Phodrang.
The monastery was originally established by Pema Lingpa's son Kunga Wanpo in 1543, although it wasn't until 1654 that the Trongsa penlop (governor), Minjur Tenpa, built a formal dzong here after winning a battle and named it Lhuentse Rinchentse The dzong was later restored in 1962 and again between 1972 and 1974.
The historic importance of Lhuntse Dzongkhag is on account of its established link as the ancestral home of the Wangchuck Dynasty. Lhuentse town is the administrative capital of Lhuentse District, besides the Lhuentse Dzong. At present 100 monks reside here.
While its geographic coordinates are in eastern Bhutan, its cultural roots are central Bhutanese. This was because before road traffic connected it to Mongar, the approach was through a trade route crossing Rodang Pass.
The Dzong is located in the Kuri Chhu valley, which is part of the Lhuntse district. The Kuri Chhu is the major river that has formed the scenic valley with high peaks and steep hills. Kuri Chhu is a tributary of the Manas River system, which is the largest river of Bhutan and a major tributary of the Brahmaputra River that drains most of Eastern Bhutan.
The road from Mongar to Lheuntse Dzong is a 3 hours drive over a distance of 77 kilometres (48 mi) and 63 kilometres (39 mi) from its junction at Gangola. The approach to this Dzong is over a flag-stone-paved path over the steep cliffs.
Takila’s Guru Nangsi Zilnoen. The construction of 154 feet tall Guru Nangsa Zelnen in Takila under Lhuentse Dzongkhag is located at the top of the Menbi Gewog, which is popularly known as Tangmochu, a few kilometers away from the Gewog centre.
According to the founders, the site was chosen as per the prophecy of Guru Rinpochhe. “We have a sacred place Ajana in the east, Yamalung in the West, Khenpajong in the North and in the south we have Singye Dzong. In the centre of these four holiest places, we have this statue.” It was prophesized by Guru Rinpoche himself.
Over a hundred skilled workers were involved with the interior works and some with the other parts of the Statue. The wood curving is intricate and is based on the idea of Khenpo Karpo.
Bringing in sacred statues and other Nangtens are some of the important works. These are the statues of Jeo ri Nga, brought from Lhasa. They were installed inside the Guru Statue, once it was completed. The idea Guru Nangsa Zelnen was conceived in 2005. However, the construction work began only in March 2008.
Drametse Monastery, Mongar. Founded in 1511 by And Chhoeten Zangmo, great-granddaughter of Pema Lingpa, this is the largest goemba in eastern Bhutan, and home to gomchen, lay or married Nyingma monks. It is noted as the home of the Nga Cham, the drum dance which features in tshechus across Bhutan.
Chorten Kora, Trashiyangtsi. It is an important stupa next to the Kulong Chu River in Trashiyangtse, in East Bhutan. Nearby is a town of the same name. The stupa was built in the 18th century by Lama Ngawang Lodrö, the nephew of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in order to subdue a harmful demon believed to have been living at the site where the chorten is now located. The stupa is modeled after the famous Boudhanath stupa in Nepal popularly known as Jarung Khashor.
Chorten Kora took twelve years to construct and was consecrated by Je Yonten Thaye. The demon that had harmed the people of the valley was apparently subdued and banished. Thereafter, it is said that the people of the valley continue to live in peace and harmony.
Chorten Kora Festivals. There is an annual Dakpa Kora (circumambulation of the Chorten by the Dakpas) festival held on the 15th of the first lunar month, and a Drukpa Kora (circumambulation of the Chorten by the Bhutanese) festival held at the end of the first lunar month which celebrates the stupa. These festivals are attended by Dakpa people of the neighboring Tawang District of Arunachal Pradesh in India, and Bhutanese from Tashiyangtse, Tashigang, and Kurtoe.
A popular belief is that when the stupa was constructed, a pious Dakini princess from neighboring Arunachal Pradesh in India entombed herself within, as the Yeshe Semba, to meditate on behalf of all beings. A popular Bhutanese (Dzongkha language) film "Chorten Kora" is based on this legend.
The dzong also contains a Gonkhang, which is dedicated to Mahākāla, and a temple dedicated to Amitāyus, the Buddha of Infinite Life. The ground floor also has a temple dedicated to Avalokiteśvara. The Kunre, the assembly hall for the monks, is located on the upper floor.
The dzong has suffered serious damage during an earthquake measuring 6.1 on the Richter magnitude scale that hit eastern Bhutan on Monday, 21 September 2009. Many other monasteries in the region also suffered serious damage.
Gom Kora or Gomphu Kora, Trashiyangtsi. Around 13kms beyond Chazam (22km from Trashigang) on the road to Yangtse is an extraordinarily picturesque temple, just beneath the road, surrounded by terraced rice fields, called Gom Kora or actually Gomphu Kora (Gomphu meaning Mediation Place and Kora means Circumambulation).
Guru Rinpoche meditated here and left a body impression on the rock. It is believed that Guru Rimpoche subdued an evil dragon here crushing it into the rock leaving impressions of the dragon's body and his hat. Guru Rimpoche also hid a Tshebum or vase containing the water of immortality inside the rock. Pilgrims may be fortunate to have opportunity to taste the water if it trickles out of the rock when they visit.
The temple was built here in 17th century by Minjur Tempa, above the large rock with meditation cave underneath. There are many relics inside this two-storey temple and the murals are said to date from its original construction period. The pilgrims revere it as a sacred power place and circumambulate the meditation cave. The pathway around the cave includes a narrow, twisting passageway through which pilgrims crawl and wiggle to test their negative past actions.
In March/April, a three-day festival is held here, which is quite unique from other Tsechu around Bhutan. Pilgrims circumambulate the Goemba aruond the large rock throughout the night during the festival. Many nomadic tribes from Merak and Sakten also come here during this period and for many of whom, the evening event results in marriages.
Trashigang Dzong. Located on a mountain ledge overlooking the Dangmechhu, this is one of the most strategically placed dzongs in the country because it is accessible only from the north. It was founded by Trongsa Penlop Chhogyal Minjur Tempa in 1667 when the eastern region of the country was brought under Drukpa rule by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. One of the temples here features a statue of Yama, Lord of Death, and lama dances here are performed to appease him. The tshechu is held here in November/December.
The Dzong sits on a jagged piece of land jutting out from the town and is the first landmark that can be seen from the road winding up to Trashigang. The Dzong was founded according to the prophecies of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in order to consolidate indomitable power and unparallel reign over the whole of the eastern regions.
It was built in 1659 and commands a spectacular view over the valley, for which it is the administrative center. The Dzong withstood several invasions from Tibetan troops. Due to its location Trashigang Dzong is one of the most strategically placed Dzongs in Bhutan. The present Dzong was enlarged by Dzongpon Dopola in 1936.
Rangjung Woesel Choeling Monastry, Trashigang. Rangjung monastery is located in Eastern Bhutan under Trashigang district. The monastery was founded by His Eminence Dungsey Garab Dorje Rinpoche in the year 1989 with few monks and nuns.
After Trashigang town, another commercial hub in Trashigang is the Rangjung town. It is the place where people of five gewogs comes together to do business activities. One can also visit the magnificient Ranjung lhakhang. It houses a monk body supported by HH Garab Rinpoche.
The objective of monastery is to provide a conducive haven for the study of Buddha dharma as expounded in the Dudjom New Treasure Lineage and carry out dharma activities for the benefit of the Buddhist community in and abroad the country. It has a flourishing community with branches monasteries and retreat centers.
Rangjung Woesel Choeling Monastery traces its roots to the Gelong Gonpa which was established by Rinpoche and H.H. Dungse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche. Gelong Gompa is situated in a mountainous region which takes a day to reach it either on foot or on horseback. It has always been the aspiration of the Bhutanese to have Dudjom's family lead the dharma practice.
After H.H. Dungse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche departed from Bhutan, the Bhutanese fervently requested Rinpoche to remain and turn the dharma wheel of Dudjom New Treasure Lineage in the monastery. Rinpoche, realizing the deep faith and genuine devotion of the Bhutanese, accepted the heavy responsibility to continue the dharma activities and welfare services for the Buddhist fraternity living in and around the monastery.
During the time of the establishment of Rangjung Woesel Choeling Monastery, Rinpoche was still pursuing his studies in H.H. Penor Rinpoche's and Mindroling Monasteries in India. For four years, rinpoche spent all his winter holidays working incessantly, carrying out dharma activities for the monastery.
At that time, there were only a handful of ordained monks and nuns in the monastery. Owing to the limited access to transportation in the monastery, a piece of strategic land was offered to Rinpoche. Nevertheless, due to financial constraints encountered at the initial stage, only bamboo huts were built and the monks and nuns survived on alms.
A few years later in 1993, the number of nuns increased to the extent that a separate nunnery had to be established in Radhi, Pakaling which is a few kilometers away from the monk's monastery. Thereafter, Rinpoche has been exploring for sponsors from abroad. With the blessings of the Buddha and the kind assistance and contribution from donors and supporters, Rinpoche successfully constructed a larger monastery to cater to the needs of the monks and nuns.
The neighborhood of the monastery is poor yet religious. Many wish to send their children for monastic education in India and Nepal but they cannot afford to do so. Due to poverty and lack of support from the family, they often request enrollment for their sons at the monastery. However, with the exponential growth of the number of monks and nuns, Rinpoche has started to control the admission of monks and nuns.
In 1993, the number of nuns increased to the extent that a separate nunnery had to be established in Radhi, Pakaling which is 12 kilometers away from the Rangjung monastery. Thereafter, Rinpoche has been exploring for sponsors from abroad. With the blessings of the Buddha and the kind assistance and contribution from donors and supporters, Rinpoche successfully constructed a larger monastery to cater to the needs of the monks and nuns. At present there are over 300 monks and nuns studying in the monasteries.
Trashigang is the easternmost point on the highway and is the country’s largest district. The district has an altitude ranging from 600 m to over 4000m and Bhutan’s largest river, the Dangmechu, flows through the district. Trashigang town, on the hillside above the Gamri Chhu (river), was once the center for a busy trade with Tibet. Today it is the junction of the east-west highway, with road connections to Samdrup Jongkhar and then into the Indian state of Assam. This town is also used as the market place for the semi nomadic people from Merak and Sakteng whose way of dress is unique in Bhutan.
Chador Lhakhang. Chardor Lhakhang is located at Bartsham village, one and half hour drive from Trashigang. It is known for fascinating tales revolving around its famous thumbsize replica of Chador, Vajrapani, which originally belonged to the local Chieftain of Khaling.
Bremung Lhakhang. Bremung Lhakhang is located in a village called Bidung, a ten minutes drive from Bartsham. It dates back to the 15th century and a sacred relic is the embalmed remains of its founder Kuenga Wangpo, son of Terton Pema Lingpa.
Namdru Choling Lhakhang. Namdu Choling lhakhang widely known as the Phongmey lhakhang is located in Phongmey village, an hour drive from Ranjung town. It was built in late 1890’s. The lhakhang serves the spiritual needs of the village.
Kupijigtsam Lhakhang. Kupijigtsam Lhakhang or the temple of the cuckoo is built in the 15th century. It is located in the village of Yangneer. This lhakhang is another sacred monument in Trashigang. Besides one can visit the Tsengmi lhakhang in Gongthung village and the Jarung Khashor temple.
Kanglung Zangtopelri Lhakhang. Kanlung Zangtopelri temple is located near Sherubtse Degree College. It was built in the early 1970’s at the initiative of the late Tamzhing Jagar, the Minister for Home and Cultural Affairs. The Lhakhang consists of the most intricately designed statues. It also houses a monastic school headed by a Central Monastic Body Abbot.
Yonphu Manma Lhakhang. Further about 7 kilometers drive up from Sherubtse College near the Domestic Airport of Yonphula is the oldest temple in Trashigang – the Yonphu Lhakhang. The establishment of the Lhakhang cannot be ascertained. It houses several sacred relics and a Tercham (sacred dance) that is conducted twice in a year and commemorates the feats of religious luminaries like Guru Padmasambhava.
Yonphula Sangnag Dongnag Lhakhang is a Buddhist monastery in Bhutan. It is situated in the Eastern District of Bhutan. The Lhakhang or monastery in Yonphula has been founded by Tantric Master Lama Karpo Rinpoche alias Lama Tshewang Penjor. He was the disciple of Tertoen Dudjom Lingpa Jigdrel Yeshi Dorji, who named him as Lama Karpo. Before he actually met with his karmic Master, Lama Karpo went to Tibet to learn and master the Tantric practices.
There in Kongbu, Tibet, he has mastered and directed him by his master therefrom to visit his Karmic Master Dudjom Rinpoche. Lama Karpo Meditated in Paro Taktshang. While meditating in the cave, where Guru Rinpoche has meditated, from Guru's statue, he heard a clear voice. He was said to have astonished by this and felt himself in illusion. But, later he found to have talked to him by that very Guru Rinpoche's Statue.
Subsequently, same Guru Statue voiced out to him for another time and during that time he did conversation with the statue. In later years, he went back to Trashigang and founded Yonphula Monastery. It is approximately 2700 meters above the sea level. It is few km away from the yonphula domestic airport. Currently, the abode is headed by Lama Jigme Tenzin, son of Lama Karpo. There are approximately 100 gomchens. They perform periodical rituals and other related religious rituals.
There is a Meditation Center where many Gomchens do meditate for minimum of three years. After that, they are known to be tshampas or Yogi. They follow the Nyingma Tersar religion. It performs its annual Tshechu in the 10th day of 3rd month of Lunar calendar every year. It is called Trelda Tshechu.
Karma Thegsum Dhechenling Monastery, Khaling, Trashigang. Kilaya Foundation was founded by His Eminence the 8th Zuri Rinpoche in 2012. Please follow us for information and updates on the activities that the Foundation engages in through the Karma Thegsum Dechenling Monastery. You may also visit this page for updates on the various projects that His Eminence the Zuri Rinpoche supports.
Gyalsey Ganapati Temple, Khaling, Trashigang. The 400-year old Khaling goemba is the biggest structure in Khaling valley. To the villagers of Dawzor, Rashong and Goemba the three-storied lhakhang is an indispensable part of their lives; they hold all their religious rites there.
Yongla Goenpa, Pemagatsel. It is one of the sacred Goembas in the Country. It is blessed by many revered lams. In September 2009, the Goemba suffered a major damage caused by an earthquake. Three years on and the restoration of the Goenba is yet to be complete.
The Shumar Gup, Lepo, says although renovation works are in full swing the progress is slow. The Goemba also serves as the summer residence of Pemagatshel Rabdey. Currently, the monks are put in a temporary shelter.
Earlier the Rabdey used to move to the Goempa on the 1st day of fifth Bhutanese month and stay there till 30th day of ninth Bhutanese month. But now they stay there for only about a month. Even the Phurpai Drubchen had to be preponed. According to Zobel Gup, Pema Dorji, the decision has made many people unhappy.
Even as the restoration work continues, the Dzongkhag says they are facing numerous challenges to complete the work. The District Engineer, Ugyen Norbu, said as the site is located at high altitude, it is very difficult to set the cement and labor is another, especially during winter. “None of the Bhutanese labor is willing to work there. We have to hire the non-national labourers who are demanding high wages.”
The history of the Goemba dates back to some 200 years ago. Although nobody knows when the Goemba was exactly built, the elders say it was founded by Lam Rigzin Jigme Kuendrel. The Lam built the Goemba following the instruction of his master Terton Rigzin Jigme Lingpa. Since then many revered Lamas served and blessed the Goemba. During the Lam Sonam Zangpo’s in 1976, the Geomba saw a major renovation.
Guru Padmasambhava/ Guru Rimpoche
King Songsten Gempo and his two wives
Kyichu Monastery Paro Bhutan
Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal
Lama Drukpa Kuenley
Phajo Drugom Zhigpo
Jambay Lhakhang/Monastery in Bumthang
Cheri Monastery Thimphu Bhutan
Semtokha Dzong in Thimphu
Tsechu - annual religious festivals in Bhutan
Every Bhutanese home would have a Choeshum or an alter
Sir Ugen Wangchuck 1st King of Bhutan
King Jigme Wangchuck 2nd King of Bhutan
His Majesty Jigme Dorji wangchuck 3rd King of Bhutan
His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck the Great 4th King of Bhutan
His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck the reigning monarch of Bhutan.
The Crown Prince HRH Jigme Namgyal Wangchuck
Traditional Chipdrel ceremony in Bhutan
Bhutanese cuisine is hot and spicy and also use lot of cheese
Smoke offering to local deities is common practice in Bhutan
Bhutan has a rich textile heritage
Thongdrol or Liberation by sight! unfurled during a festival in Bhutan
Archery is the national sport in Bhutan
National Memorial Stupa of the 3rd King at Thimphu Bhutan
Dechenphu monastery Thimphu
Changangkha monastery Thimphu
Yongla gonpa monastery in East Bhutan