The tale of Bhutan’s Romeo and Juliet to go international

The renowned story of Bhutan’s Romeo and Juliet, Gasa Lami Singye and Changyul Boom Galam has been told and retold over generations, and also made into several movies by the Bhutanese film industry.

The story is believed to have taken place around the 17th century. Galem was a beautiful woman and the daughter of a wealthy farmer in Punakha who used to frequent Puna Dashitsawa, which was the main market of Punakha.

Singye was an attendant of the Deb (Chieftain) of Punakha whose centre of power and administration was the Punakha Dzong.

The duo had fallen in love and used to meet secretly. The Deb had noticed the extraordinary beauty of Galem and wanted to marry her, so he instructed his assistants to make the necessary arrangements.

Realizing the existing deep relationship between Galem and Singye, Singye was sent to serve the Lam of the monastic body of Gasa, the district north of Punakha.

Galem’s parents were overjoyed with the Deb’s proposed marriage to Galem. However, Galem did not agree and confessed her relationship with Singye, whereby she was already carrying his child.

This enraged her parents who threw her out of her house. Galem was forced to live alone on the bank of the Mochu and singing out to the rare travelers and sent a message to Singye in Gasa informing of her difficulty.

A passerby, moved by her predicament, volunteered to go to Gasa although his destination was only Goenshari.

When Singye received the news, he immediately rushed to Punakha, only to find that Galem had passed away and was already on her funeral pyre.

Legend says that the funeral pyre would not burn until the arrival of Singye, who could not bear this site, and jumped on the funeral pyre which engulfed both of them immediately.

The tragic love story in the mould of “Romeo and Juliet” has become popular by the day with many people interested to see the real site of the story.

Galem’s house is a major attraction in Punakha, and it is to be renovated at the earliest, to keep the legend of Gasa Lamai Singye and Changyul Boom Galem alive,  and further enrich the tradition and culture of Punakha.

The current decendents of Galem have moved out to newly built houses nearby.

Holding such significant connection with every Bhutanese, the Home and Cultural Affairs Minister Tshering said that the ministry has almost secured the drawing estimated budget fund which comes to Nu 17.6 million (mn)  for the renovation of Changyuel Bum Galem’s ancestral house in Punakha.

He said that as Galem’s house is historically important, the ministry have almost finalized the design of the house.

He said, “When we say design, it’s not that we are going to build it from the base. Rather we will be renovating cracks on the wall. Most importantly we need to renovate the roof, fix the cracks and also come up with the footpaths and streetlights outside, which are almost ready.”

The government will renovate and hand it over to the descendants. An MoU will be signed where the owners will take care of the structures and demolishment of the property will be prohibited. 

The amount will be provided by a former German diplomat.

The former German diplomat, Harald Nestroy, shared that Germany’s  Foreign Ministry and “Pro Bhutan” a non-profit German philanthropic NGO will be funding about Nu 11 mn for the restoration of Galem’s ancestral house.

Upon asking the reason for the funding, he said, “Our personal attachment to the unique Kingdom of Bhutan and its people, culture, history, and the beauty of this last intact Buddhist Himalaya country, is the reason. We support the Bhutanese people through the RGoB, mainly in the fields and in closest cooperation with the relevant ministry, planning, constructing and financing large projects.”

The preparation of the project for restoration of Bum Galem’s Heritage House including the establishment of a public museum in the restored building is in the very last stage.

MoHA said that the finalizing and signing of the “Project Agreement” between the RGoB and “Pro Bhutan, Germany” as the basis for the release of funds will be done latest by 15 April, 2024.

The financial contribution of “Pro Bhutan, Germany” for the Restoration shall cover the design, planning and supervision. It will also take care of the  restoration of building, site development and landscaping, and thee establishment of the museum inside the building. Also, ancillary infrastructure plan will be done by the dzongkhag administration.

Along with it, RGoB has so far listed 16 unique traditional structures which will require renovation.

The house of Galem dates back to Zhabdrung’s time and the old traditions are still practiced today like offering Soelthap (reception offering) to Goendrap (local deity) and it is also a stop when Kabji pazaps bring the tshendhar (fringed warrior banner) of Gayngyen Jakpa Melen (guardian deity of Thimphu) from Pangrizampa to the Dzong. The male descendants of Galem still play an active role in the above functions.

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