Thimphu’s popular Lhakhangs impacted by sharp drop in visitors due to COVID-19

Lhakhangs in Thimphu used to be the most visited and crowded places during weekends and on auspicious days. Now with outbreak of COVID-19 in country, the visitors to the various Lhakhangs have reduced greatly in number and sometimes none at all. The Memorial Chorten is now closed to visitors as a precautionary measure.

Tshewang Tenzin Norbu from Dechenphu Lhakhang shared that when the first case of COVID-19 was announced, the Lhakhang did not receive any people for a few days. However, when the news of a first COVID-19 patient leaving the country came out, people started visiting again, though the number was very few.

He said, “We have seen a drastic decrease in number of visitors by 80 percent. We now hardly see people even during auspicious days and on weekends. Before COVID-19 the number used to be so high.”

People today visit to seek support from the local deity for the safety of their loved ones outside Bhutan, he said.

“There is an impact due to COVID-19 though not to the extreme point. We have 10 people who do not get anything from government. We pay them from what we get from the Lhakhang. In a month, we have to pay Nu 24,000 each. We also have to pay a certain amount to Dratshang Lhentshog,” he added.

In addition, they have around 40 dogs and 70 chickens that are looked after by the Lhakhang.

“We keep getting a little (money) everyday, he said, and added, “If the situation prolongs then I worry there will be an issue. We may fail to pay our monks and we may fail to feed everyone who are depending on the Lhakhang.”

Phub Dorji, a teacher from Pangrizampa College of Astrology said, “We are a Lhakhang that directly deals with people in person. They come to us for various purposes, starting from finding the astrology on one’s good or bad day and to the extent of finding out what needs to be done for a dead person until 21 days. We used to deal with more than 100 people in a day before COVID-19.”

Now the situation is different, he said, adding that with directives from government and Dratshang Lhentshog they now started providing such facilities through phone calls, to avoid direct contact with people, to maintain social distancing and for the safety of everyone. “The numbers were shared through different means of media,” he added.

They have not stopped the visitors from coming to Lhakhang to make offering but very few and sometimes not a single visitor comes. Even people that used to circumambulate everyday are  not coming to the Pangrizampa Lhakhang anymore.

Phub Dorji of Changangkha Lhakhang said that people visiting the Lhakhang has gone down by 70 percent after COVID-19. People who visit today are those who come to offer Serkim for their newborn, to offer monthly offerings for the well being of their children and who come to seek support from the protective deity.

He said, “Before COVID-19, no days have passed without a visitor. During auspicious days, there would be a rush and long queues, whereby we would have to request police officials to monitor.”

Even during the weekends, the visitor would come in large numbers, he added. Now, the situation has changed for they hardly see a few people in the Lhakhang, even during auspicious days.

“It is good in one way, to see minimum people because this shows people are aware of COVID-19 and its consequences. We have installed a water tank outside Lhakhang and we see all visitors washing their hands before entering,” he added.

However, he said that people are not aware of using Druk Trace App. There are many who don’t know about the App. He said, “We send them back to scan when we know but we miss a few because we cannot keep track of people every time as we have a lot to do in the Lhakhang.”

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