The sacred but woeful Lhakhangs of Dangchu Gewog in Wangduephodrang

Brief Background

Dangchu Gewog in Wangduephodrang dzongkhag was considered one of the remotest Gewogs until it was electrified and feeder road was built from Nobding in recent times. The Gewog has over 207 households. Godang, Takshar, Tomla, Tashidingkha, Yusagang, Rethangwog and Tokaling are its villages.

Dangchu alone has over 19 Lhakhangs along with other sacred sites. Dendup Chholing is the only Lhakhang under the auspices of the government. The sacred mask dances are performed once in every three years in the first month of Bhutanese calendar. All other Lhakhangs are owned and maintained by the community and its people.

Chagkhey (Prakhey) Lhakhang

It is located on the south west direction of Godang Chiwog. It is a one hour up-hill walk from the nearest road point at the base of river Dangchu. There was no caretaker so visitors can’t enter the Lhakhang. Further ahead is a sacred Guru site. Visitors are welcomed by an unending upward fissure through the base of the ridge, similar to a hydropower diversion tunnel. Guru Rinpoche is said to have meditated at this spot and subdued demons and other harmful demigods. A site where Guru in the form of a monkey is believed to have extracted holy water from the base of the cliff with the tail of a monkey can be seen towards the extreme left hand side.

It is scary and dark fissure where mammals like bats reside. Sharp and pointed rocks and some smooth objects resembling sacred artifacts are visible via torch light. A fragile ladder, made up of tree trunks is used as a scaffold to reach the next level. No one seems to have reached the exit point of this mystical fissure till date. But it is believed that a cat was sent through the tunnel exited from the other side of the ridge adjoining Boed Langdra Ney.

Zhabjee Lhakhang

One can reach Zhabjee Lhakhang by crossing Dangchu river via Dangchu Primary School and doing a one hour and 30 minutes uphill walk. Ahead of the Lhakhang, after a 15 minute walk, is a cave where Khandro Yeshi Tshogyel is said to have meditated. It is one of the most scared Lhakhangs in the region. However the surrounding area is currently filled with cow dung. It seems the place is used as a grazing land by the people nearby. The lhakhang is a single storey structure with a single room. A square shape rock surrounded by bushes and shrubs, on the right hand side of the Lhakhang has numerous footprints of Khandro Yeshi Tshogyel. For about 5 meters away from the door, stands a towering cypress tree that welcomes visitors with its great aroma. A small Chorten with an inscription of Terton Dorji Lingpa stands at its immediate distance. It is popularly known as Zhabjee Lhakhang as it has footprint of Guru Rinpoche as its sacred remnant.

It is believed that Guru Rinpoche with his religious dagger extracted a stream from the ridge, north ward of Lhakhang. The stream is said to have flown from the ridge downward to Dangchu river. When the stream reached the site where the Lhakhang is located today, it is said that a demoness crossed the stream. Thus, the stream could not continue to gush down and join Dangchu river. Then it is said that Guru subdued the demoness and so the robust footprint of Guru which is said to have been stamped on the back of demoness can be seen today inside the Lhakhang in the form of rock that resembles the demoness’ back. The demoness’ internal organs are said to have been splashed and it can still be seen on the exteriors of the Lhakhang wall. The Guru is said to have done this to benefit the nearby

people for cultivating paddy in the vicinity. The gentle slope covered by high altitude shrubs and grasses, like paddy fields can be seen today as well. As it is believed that the demoness crossed the stream and the stream could not join Dangchu river the people of Dangchu gewog do not grow rice except wheat and other crops.

Guru Tsokhorsum is the central vestige of the Lhakhang. Though small in size yet its walls are beautiful with paintings of great figures. Amongst many others, figures such as, Lord Buddha, Zhabdrung Rinpoche, Drupchoen Thangthong Gyalpo, Doedjom Rinpoche, Jamyang Khentse Choki Loedroe, Meinling Khen Rinpoche, Drupjoed Rinpoche, Balay Trulku, Terton Dorji Lingpa, Bayru Tsana, etc, all seem to have been beautifully painted but have become faded over the time. There are few Thangkas hung which are worn out too. Few boxes, pots and other utensils are stored untidily.

There were no signs of offerings being made, the Butter lamp cups were empty and no incense was lit. The floor was filled with dust and the place look abandoned. Aum Yangka Pem and Nima Lham are the Kuengyer (care takers) of the Lhakhang for year 2014. Upon our request, Gup Sonam Dorji instructed Aum Yangka Pem to facilitate our visit. They narrated their dissatisfaction and troubles about having to serve as a care taker. This responsibility is shouldered by two households from each Tshogwog for a one year period on a turn wise basis.

Aum Yangka Pem and Nima Lham will be shouldering this responsibility but there is hardly any incentive or compensation though the turn comes after every 12 years for each Tshogwog. Today, there is hardly any Woola or community social work which used to be exempt for caretakers in the recent past. The annual community ritual, bazaguru recitation and other occasional rituals are performed at the Lhakhang. Otherwise, it seems that Lhakhang is left unattended despite its sacredness and great prospects of pilgrimage.

Concerned authorities have to intervene in such cases. Even the physical feature of the Lhakhang needs an immediate renovation. This may be one such case amongst numerous other unreported cases. Local government, ministry of home and cultural affairs and tourism council of Bhutan may work together to make it as a popular destination for both local and foreign tourists. While people are trying to improve their livelihood and their homes, monasteries are left out.

All views expressed are of the author’s and does not necessarily represent any organizations.

Pema Thinley, Researcher, Centre for Bhutan Studies and GNH Research, Thimphu


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