A Travellerspoint blog

Bhutan Thimphu and Punakha

Festival of Tshechu Thimphu, dzongs, Temple of the Divine Madman

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September 21st Bhutan

A relaxed breakfast was followed by a drive through Thimphu to Taschichoedzong, a Buddhist monastery/ fortress on the northern edge of Thimphu, on the west bank of the Wang Chuu. Taschichoedzong (བཀརཤིས་ཆོས་རཛོང) is traditionally the seat of the Drug Desi (Dharma Raja), the head of Bhutan’s civil government, an office combined with the kingship since the creation of the monarchy in 1907. Taschicho-dzong has been the seat of the government since 1952 and presently houses the throne room and offices of the king, the secretariat and ministries of home affairs and finance. Other government departments are housed in buildings nearby. The original Thimphu dzong (Do-Ngön Dzong, or Blue Stone Dzong) was constructed in 1216 by Lama Gyalwa Lhanapa (1164-1224), founder of the Lhapa branch of the Drikung Kagyu, at the place where Dechen Phodrang Monastery now stands on a ridge above the present Tashichö-dzong. In 1641 Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (Rinpoche) took the Dzong from the Lhapa Kagyu, renamed it Tashichö-dzong and turned it into the main seat of the Southern Drukpa Kagyu and summer residence of the monastic body (sangha) headed by Shabdrung Rinpoche. However, finding it too small, he built another one, known as the lower Dzong. Most of the original dzong was destroyed by fire in 1772 and everything was moved to the new dzong by the 16th Desi, Sonam Lhudrup, and 13th Je Khenpo, Je Yonten Taye, who named the new Dzong ‘Sonamchö-dzong’. Following the death of the Desi it was renamed Tashichö-dzong. It was damaged during an earthquake in 1897 and rebuilt in 1902. In 1962 the Dzong was rebuilt in traditional style using neither nails nor written plans by the 3rd king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, as the seat of Government. Only the central Utse tower, Lhakhang Sarp (New Temple), and main Gönkhang (Protector Temple) remain from the earlier Dzong. After completion in 1968, it was consecrated by the 66th Je Khenpo Yonten Tarchin; the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpai Dorje; and Je Kudre, Jamyang Yeshe.
The dzong is an impressively large structure, surrounded by well- kept lawns and beautiful gardens. As Bhutan’s main festival, Tsechu, was on this week (19th-21st Sept 18) the car park was very busy. This festival is also a national holiday and a day that most people like to watch the festivities. Traditionally it marks the move of the monk body from Thimphu to Punakha, a warmer town where they overwinter. Although busy we were able to park and joined the crowd walking past the dzong into the main courtyard. The ‘guards’ are in fact volunteer soldiers (no Bhutanese are conscripted, but many volunteer their services for a period of time). This year the royal family had already moved to Punakha and were watching the festivities there. However, the main Abbot was very visible. We found some excellent seats and settled to watch the festival.

The Thimphu Tshechu (Tsechu) festival involves Mask or Cham dances, performed in the large courtyard of the Tashichhoe-Dzong in Thimphu during the 4-day Tsechu festival, held Autumn (19-21 Sept). Tsechu=10th, so it starts on the 10th day of the 10th month of the Tibetan lunar calendar, although it is performed in each district in Bhutan at slightly different days (depending on whether the 10th day starts, is the centre or ends it); Thimphu Tsechu and Paro Tsechu are the most popular. Thimphu Tsechu is generally attended by the Royal family and always by the Chief Abbot of Bhutan. The colourfully costumed, masked dances are typically are moral vignettes, or based on the life of the 9th century Nyingmapa teacher Padmasambhava and other saints. It is a religious folk dance of Drukpa Buddhism, established c1670. Tsechus are a series of dances performed by monks/ dance troupes to honour deeds Padmasambahva/ Guru Rinpoche.
The cham dance is a lively masked and costumed dance associated with some sects of Tibetan Buddhism and Buddhist festivals. The dance is accompanied by music played by monks using traditional Tibetan instruments. The dances offer moral instruction eg compassion for sentient beings, and are held to bring merit to whoever watches them. Cham dances are considered a form of meditation and an offering to the gods. The leader of the cham is typically a musician, keeping time using percussion instruments like cymbals/ drums, or a dramyin (type of lute). Chams often depict incidents from the life of Padmasambhava, the 9th century Nyingmapa teacher, and other saints.
The great debate of the Council of Lhasa between the two principal dialecticians, Moheyan and Kamala!"la is depicted in a cham dance once held annually at Kumbum Monastery in Qinghai. In Bhutan, the dances are performed during an annual religious festival known as Tshechu. The Cham is performed by monks, nuns, and locals, although The Royal Academy of Performing Arts is now the main body which promotes the preservation of the culture of Cham and the dances. Although originating in Tibet (and Tibetans still perform the cham dance to large audiences during the Monlam Prayer Festival), the current situation in Tibet means that purer forms are more common in Bhutan. Tshechu (Dzongkha ཚས་བཅ༦།, literally “Day Ten”) are annual religious Bhutanese festivals held in each dzongkhag (district) of Bhutan on the 10th day of a month of the lunar Tibetan calendar. The month depends on the place. Tshechus are religious festivals of the Drukpa Lineage of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Early Buddhism in Bhutan/Tibet
The Kagyü school, aka Oral Lineage/ Whispered Transmission, is one of six main schools (chos lugs) of Himalayan/Tibetan Buddhism. The central teaching of Kagyu is the doctrine of Mahamudra, "the Great Seal". The early Kagyu tradition soon gave rise to a bewildering number of independent sub-sects. The principle Dagpo Kagyu lineages existing today are Karma Kagyu, Drikung Kagyu and Drukpa Lineage. Kagyu begins in Tibet with Marpa Lotsawa (1012–1097) who trained as a translator with lotsawa Drogmi Sh#kya Yeshe (993–1050), and then travelled to India and Nepal in search of religious teachings. His principal gurus were the siddhas N#ropa (from whom he received the "close lineage" of mah#mudr# and tantric teachings) and Maitr"p#da (from whom he received the "distant lineage" of mah#mudr#). N#ropa codified the Six Doctrines or Dharmas of Naropa, instructions to practice different Buddhist highest yoga tantras, which use energy-winds, energy- channels and energy-drops of the subtle vajra-body in order to achieve the four types of bliss, the clear light mind and the state of Mah#mudr#. The Mah#mudr# lineage of Tilopa and his disciple N#ropa is called the "direct or "close lineage" as it is said that Tilopa received this Mah#mudr# realisation directly from the Dharmak#ya Buddha Vajradhara. The "distant lineage" of Mah#mudr# is said to have come from the Buddha in the form of Vajradara through incarnations of the bodhisattvas Avalokite!vara and Mañju!r"to Saraha, through Maitripada to Marpa. According to accounts, on his third journey to India Marpa met Ati!a (982–1054) who later came to Tibet and founded the Kadam lineage. Together Marpa, Milarepa and Gampopa are known as "Mar-Mi-Dag Sum" and considered the founders of the Kagyu school of Buddhism in Tibet. Marpa established his "seat" at Drowolung, Lhodrak in southern Tibet just north of Bhutan. Marpa married the Lady Dagmema, and took 8 concubines. Collectively they embodied the main consort and eight wisdom dakini in the mandala of his Yidam (tantra), Hevajra. Marpa wanted to entrust the transmission lineage to his oldest son, Darma Dode, following the usual Tibetan practice of the time to transmit of lineages of esoteric teachings via hereditary lineage (father-son or uncle-nephew), but his son died young, so he passed his main lineage on through Milarepa. Darma Dode's incarnation as Indian master Tiphupa became important for the future development of Kagyu in Tibet. Marpa's four most outstanding students were known as the "Four Great Pillars”.
1. Milarepa (1040–1123), born Gungthang province, western Tibet, the most celebrated and accomplished of Tibet's yogis, who achieved the ultimate goal of enlightenment in one lifetime became the holder of Marpa's meditation or practice lineage.
2. Ngok Choku Dorje (1036–1102), principal recipient of Marpa's explanatory lineages and important in Marpa's transmission of the Hevajra Tantra. Ngok Choku Dorje founded Langmalung temple in Bumthang, Bhutan. The Ngok branch of Marpa Kagyu was an independent lineage carried on by his descendants at least up to the time of the 2nd Drukchen Gyalwang Kunga Paljor (1428-76) who received this transmission, and 1476 when Go Lotsawa composed the Blue Annals.
3. Tshurton Wangi Dorje (Tshurton Wangdor), principal recipient of Marpa's transmission of the teachings of the Guhyasamāja Tantra. Tshurton's lineage eventually merged with the Shalu Monastery tradition and subsequently passed this down to the Gelug founder Je Tsongkhapa.
4. Meton Tsonpo, one of Marpa's main disciples
Tshechus are large social gatherings, which perform the function of social bonding among people of remote, spread out villages. Large markets also congregate at the fair locations, leading to brisk commerce. The Thimphu and Paro tshechu are the biggest in terms of participation and audience. The focal point of the tshechus are Cham dances. These costumed, masked dances typically are moral vignettes, or based on incidents from the life of the 9th century Nyingma teacher Padmasambhava and other saints. Most tshechus also feature the unfurling of a thongdrel - a large appliqué thangka typically depicting a seated Padmasambhava surrounded by holy beings, the mere viewing of which is said to cleanse the viewer of sin. The thongdrel is raised before dawn and rolled down by morning. Because tshechus depend on the availability of masked dancers, registered dancers are subject to a fine if they refuse to perform during festivals. Padmasambhava, the great scholar, visited Tibet and Bhutan in the 8th century and 9th century. He used to convert opponents of Buddhism by performing rites, reciting mantras and finally performing a dance of subjugation to conquer local spirits and gods. He visited Bhutan to aid king Sindhu Raja. Padmasambhava performed a series of dances in the Bumthang Valley to restore the health of the king. The grateful king helped spread Buddhism in Bhutan. Padmasambhava organized the first tshechu in Bumthang, where the eight manifestations of Padmasambhava were presented through eight forms of dances. These became the Cham dances depicting the glory of Padmasambhava. The dance schedule for each day of the four-day festival is set out and generally (though not exclusively) consists of the following dances.
● 1st day: Dance of the Four Stags (Sha Tsam); Dance of the Three kinds of Ging (Pelage Gingsum); Dance of the Heroes (Pacham), Dance of the Stags and Hounds (Shawo Shachi), Dance with Guitar (Dranyeo Cham)
● 2nd day: The Black Hat Dance (Shana), Dance of the 21 black hats with drums (Sha nga ngacham), Dance of the Noblemen and the Ladies (Pholeg Moleg), Dance of the Drums from Dramitse (Dramitse Ngacham), Dance of the Noblemen and the Ladies (Pholeg Moleg), Dance of the Stag and Hounds (Shawa Shachi)
● 3rd day: Dance of the Lords of the Cremation Grounds (Durdag), Dance of the Terrifying Deities (Tungam), Dance of the Rakshas and the Judgement of the Dead (Ragsha Mangcham)
● Last day: Dance of Tamzhing Monastery, Dance of the Lords of the Cremation grounds (same dance as day 3), Dance of the Ging and Tsoling (Ging Dang Tsoling), Dance of the Eight Manifestations of Padmasambhava (Guru Tshen Gye).
The last day of the four-day festival also marks the unfurling of the Thongdrel, a very large scroll painting or thangka, which is unfurled with intense religious fervour, early in the morning. This painting measuring 30×45 metres has the images of Padmasambhava at the centre flanked by his two consorts and his eight incarnations. Devotees who gather to witness this occasion offer obeisance in front of the Thongdrel seeking blessings. Folk dances are performed on the occasion. Before sunset, the painting is rolled up and kept in the Dzong before it is displayed the next year.

After watching all the dances and music, we headed out back to Thimphu where we passed several well known buildings, the Institute Zorig Chusum, Institute of Tibetology and Gagyel Lhundrup Weaving Centre.
Namgyal Institute Tibetology houses a vast collection of rare Buddhist books and manuscripts, as well as 200 Buddhist icons. The building is a good example of Tibetan architecture. It has one of the world's largest collections of books and rare manuscripts of Mahayana Buddhism, religious art and finely executed silk embroidered Thangkas. National Institute of Zorig Chusum http://nizc.gov.bt is the centre for Bhutanese Art education established by the Government with the objective of preserving the culture and tradition of Bhutan by training students in 13 traditional art forms. Painting is the main theme, with 4–6 years of training in Bhutanese traditional art forms. The curricula cover drawing, painting, wood carving, embroidery, and statue carving. Images of Buddha are a popular painting done here. National Handicrafts emporium is a large government run emporium close to Zorig Chusum, which sells handicrafts, traditional arts, painted lama tables known as choektse, drums, Tibetan violins and jewellery. Gho and Kira, the national dress of Bhutanese men and women, are available.

Bhutanese Dress
Bhutan's traditional dress is one of the most distinctive and visible aspects of the country. It is de rigueur for Bhutanese to wear national dress in schools, government offices and on formal occasions. Men wear a gho, a long robe similar to the Tibetan chuba. The Bhutanese hoist the gho to knee length and hold it in place with a woven cloth belt called a kera wound tightly around the waist, and the large pouch formed above it traditionally used to carry a bowl, money and the makings of doma. The gho has white internal sleeves which are pulled through to create long white cuffs. According to tradition, men should carry a small knife called a dozum at the waist. Traditional footwear is knee-high, embroidered leather boots, but these are now worn only at festivals. Most Bhutanese men wear long wool socks, leather shoes or trekking boots. Ghos come in a wide variety of patterns, though often they have plaid or striped designs. Flowered patterns are taboo, and solid reds and yellows are avoided because these are colours worn by monks. Historically, Bhutanese wore the same thing under their gho that a Scotsman wears under his kilt, but today it's usually a pair of shorts or thermal underwear. Formality in Thimphu suggest that legs should be uncovered until winter, defined as the time the monks move to Punakha. Formal occasions, including a visit to the dzong, require a scarf called a kabney that identifies a person's rank. The kabney has to be put on correctly so it hangs in exactly the right way. In dzongs a dasho or someone in authority carries a long sword called a patang. Ordinary citizens wear a kabney of unbleached white silk and each level of official wears a different coloured scarf: saffron for the king and Je Khenpo; orange for lyonpos; blue for National Council and National Assembly members; red for those with the title Dasho and senior officials; green for judges; white with a central red stripe for dzongdags (district governors); and white with red stripes on the outside for a gup (elected leader of a village). Our guide, on questioning, admitted he only wore the gho for guiding, then changed into jeans! Women wear a long floor-length dress called a kira, a rectangular piece of brightly coloured cloth that wraps around the body over a Tibetan-style silk blouse called a wonju. The kira is fastened at the shoulders with silver hooks called koma and at the waist with a cloth or silver belt. Over is worn a short, open, jacket-like garment called a toego. Women often wear large amounts of jewellery. The whole ensemble is beautiful and Bhutanese women are very elegant. The kira may be made from cotton or silk and may have a pattern on one or both sides. For everyday wear, women wear a kira made from striped cloth with a double-sided design, and on more formal occasions a kira with an embellished pattern woven in. The most expensive kiras are kushutaras (brocade dresses), made of handspun, handwoven Bhutanese cotton, embroidered with various colours and designs in raw silk or cotton thread. When visiting dzongs, women wear a cloth sash called a rachu over their shoulders or simply over their left shoulder in the same manner as men wear a kabney.
As we left our guide pointed out the Motithang Takin Preserve Motithang district of Thimphu, a wildlife reserve area for takin, the national animal of Bhutan. Originally a mini-zoo, it was converted into a preserve when it was discovered that the animals refrained from inhabiting the surrounding forest even when set free. The reason for declaring takin the national animal of Bhutan on 25 November 2005 (Budorcas taxicolor) is attributed to a legend of the animal’s creation in Bhutan in the 15th C by Lama Drukpa Kunley. Takin (cow/ chamois/gnu goat), national animal of Bhutan a goat-antelope found in the eastern Himalayas. Four subspecies exist; Mishmi takin, Shaanxi/ golden takin, Tibetan/Sichuan takin and Bhutan takin.
Recent mitochondrial research shows a close relationship to Ovis (sheep), with the physical similarity to a muskox a good example of convergent evolution. A Tibetan saint, Drukpa Kunley, popularly called “The Divine Madman” is credited with creating the takin with unique features. Drukpa Kunley was requested by the people of Bhutan during one of his religious lectures to conjure a miracle before them. He agreed to do so provided he was fed a whole cow and a whole goat for lunch. Once served, he devoured both animals and left out the bones. He took out the head of the goat and fixed it to the skeleton of the cow and with a snap, he created a live animal, with the head of the goat and the body of the cow. The animal sprang up and moved on to the meadows to graze. The animal was then given the name dong gyem tsey (takin). Since then this animal has been a common sight in the hills of Bhutan. Because of the religious connection, the animal has been adopted as the national animal of Bhutan. When takin were confined in the "mini-zoo", the King of Bhutan felt that it was improper for a Buddhist country to confine animals and ordered the release of the animals and the closure of the mini-zoo. To everyone’s surprise, the takin refused to leave and strayed in the streets of Thimphu and thus the takin preserve came to be established in the Motithang neighborhood. The preserve also holds a few sambar and barking deer. Motithang Takin Reserve plans to expand the collection of the preserve by introducing other rarely seen animals of Bhutan such as the red panda, and Himalayan serow. It's worthwhile taking the time to see these oddball mammals. The best time to see them is when they gather near the fence to feed, which is luckily as we drove past.

Buddhism in Bhutan Part 1
Padmasambhava (lit. Lotus-Born), aka Guru Rinpoche, was an 8th-century Indian Buddhist master. Although there was a historical Padmasambhava, little is known of him apart from helping the construction of the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet at Samye, at the request of Trisong Detsen, and shortly thereafter leaving Tibet due to court intrigues. A number of legends have grown around Padmasambhava's life and deeds, and he is widely venerated as a "second Buddha" by adherents of Tibetan Buddhism in Bhutan, Tibet, Nepal, and the Himalayan states of India. In Tibetan Buddhism he is a character of a genre of literature called terma. The Nyingma school considers Padmasambhava to be a founder of their tradition. One of the earliest sources for him as an historical figure is the Testament of Ba (9th or 10th c), which records the founding of Samye Monastery under the reign of Tibetan king Trisong Detsen (755–797/804).
Other texts show that Padmasambhava's tantric teachings were being taught in Tibet during the 10th century. According to tradition, Padmasam-bhava was incarnated as an 8 year child in a lotus blossom floating in Lake Dhanakosha, in the kingdom of Oddiyana (Odisha in India). Padmasambhava's special nature was recognised by the childless local king of Oddiyãna and was chosen to take over the kingdom, but he left Oddiyana for northern parts of India. In Rewalsar, known as Tso Pema in Tibetan, he secretly taught tantric teachings to princess Mandarava, the local king's daughter. The king found out and tried to burn him, but when the smoke cleared he just sat there, still alive and meditating. Greatly astonished, the king offered Padmasambhava his kingdom and Mandarava. Padmasambhava and Mandarava went to Maratika Cave in Nepal to practice secret tantric consort rituals. They had a vision of buddha Amitãyus and achieved spiritual realisation. Both Padmasambhava and Mandarava are still believed to be alive and active in rainbow body form by their followers. Padmasambhava's other main consort, Yeshe Tsogyal, who reputedly hid his numerous termas in Tibet for later discovery, reached Buddhahood. Many thangkas and paintings show Padmasambhava with Mandarava on his right and Yeshe Tsogyal on his left. King Trisong Detsen, 38th king of the Yarlung dynasty and first Emperor of Tibet (742–797), invited Padmasambhava to Tibet to subdue demonic forces. According to tradition, Padmasambhava received the Emperor's wife, Yeshe Tsogyal, as a consort. He is regarded as the founder of the Nyingma tradition, the oldest of the 4 major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. "Nyingma" literally means "ancient," and is often referred to as "Nga'gyur" or the "early translation school" because it is founded on the first translations of Buddhist scriptures from Sanskrit into Tibetan, in the 8th century. The group particularly believes in hidden terma treasures. Monasteries with celibate monks and nuns, along with the practice of reincarnated spiritual leaders are later adaptations, though Padmasambhava is regarded as the founder of Samye Gompa, the first monastery in Tibet. Bhutan has many important pilgrimage places associated with Padmasambhava. The most famous is Paro Taktsang or "Tiger's Nest" monastery, built on a sheer cliff wall 500m above the floor of Paro valley. It was built around the Taktsang Senge Samdup (stag tshang seng ge bsam grub) cave where he is said to have meditated in the 8th Century. He flew there from Tibet on the back of Yeshe Tsogyal, whom he transformed into a flying tigress for the purpose of the trip.

As it was late morning we set off on the 77km drive to Punakha. Although this doesn’t sound far, the road through the mountains was extremely winding and it took 2' hours in the end. Not far from Thimphu was the Zilukha Anim Dratshang Buddhist Nunnery, also called Thangthong Dewachen, built in 1976 by the 16th emanation of Thangtong Gyalpo (King of the Fields), Drubthob Rikey Jadrel. Currently, the nunnery is home to about 60 nuns and is the largest in Bhutan. It has an interesting enclosed chorten in the main courtyard. Druthob Thangtong Gyalpo (aka Drubthob Chakzampa), was famous in the 15 century in the Tibetan Buddhist world for building iron bridges across large rivers. As a monk he had no money, so he persuaded pretty girls to sing and dance for money, and is regarded as the father of Tibetan Opera. (see Tibet section). Thangtong Gyalpo (1385–1464/85), aka Chakzampa "Iron Chain Maker”, Tsöndrü Zangpo "Excellent Persistence", and King of the Empty Plain. He was a pioneering civil engineer. He is considered a mind emanation of Padmasambhava and a reincarnation of Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen. He founded the Iron Chain lineage of the Shangpa Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. Thangtong Gyalpo is said to have built 58 iron chain suspension bridges around Tibet and Bhutan, several of which are still in use today. Associated with Kagyu, Nyingma and Sakya traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, and with the tradition of "mad yogis” known as nyönpa, Thang Tong Gyalpo is also known as a sorcerer character in the popular Tibetan story of and is believed to be the most widely travelled person in Tibetan history.

As we ascended we reached a check point where we had to produce our visa to show that we had been authorised to go to Punakha Dzonga. Continuing up we were amazed at the sheer number of prayer flags along and across the roads, some strung across valleys 100s of metres high. A prayer flag is a colourful rectangular cloth, often found strung along mountain ridges and peaks high in the Himalayas. They are used to bless the surrounding countryside and for other purposes, primarily to honour the deal. Prayer flags are believed to have originated with Bon. In Bon, shamanistic Bonpo used primary-coloured flags in Tibet. Nepali Sutras, originally written on cloth banners, were transmitted to other regions of the world as prayer flags. Legend ascribes the origin of the prayer flag to the Gautama Buddha, whose prayers were written on battle flags used by the devas against their adversaries, the asuras. This was carried into Bhutan/Tibet by 800,and the actual flags were introduced no later than 1040, where they were further modified. Traditionally, prayer flags come in sets of five: one in each of five colours, arranged left to right in order: blue, white, red, green, yellow. The five colours represent the five elements and Five Pure Lights. Blue symbolises sky and space, white the air and wind, red fire, green water, and yellow earth. According to Traditional Tibetan (and so Bhutanese) medicine, health and harmony are produced through the balance of the five elements. Traditionally, prayer flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. They do not carry prayers to gods, which is a common misconception; but the prayers and mantras will be blown by the wind to spread the good will and compassion into all space. By hanging flags in high places the wind will carry the blessings of the flags to all beings. As wind passes over the surface of the flags,
which are sensitive to the slightest movement of the wind, the air is purified and sanctified by the mantras. The prayers of a flag become a permanent part of the universe as the images fade from exposure to the elements. As life moves on and is replaced by new life, people renew their hopes for the world by continually mounting new flags alongside the old, as part of a great ongoing cycle.
At the top of Dochula Pass (3000m) we stopped for a break. Dochula Pass is a mountain pass in the Himalayas on the road from Thimpu to Punakha where 108 memorial chortens/ stupas, known as the Druk Wangyal Chortens have been built by Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk (the Queen Mother). Apart from the chortens there is a monastery, Druk Wangyal Lhakhang (temple), built in honour of the 4th Druk Gyalpo (head of the state of Bhutan), Jigme Singye Wangchuck; the open grounds in front is a venue for the annual Dochula Druk Wangyel Festival. Strung along are Lung Dar (prayer flags). The pass is adjacent to the country's first Royal Botanical Park. The pass is located at an elevation of 3,150 m amidst the Eastern Himalayas. To the east the snow clad mountain peaks of the Himalayas are seen, among them Mt. Masanggang 7,158m, the highest peak in Bhutan, aka Mt. Gangkar Puensum. The road east of the pass runs steeply down for some distance and then takes a left turn towards Punakha. The pass was part of ancient trails between Thimphu and Punakha, such as DochuLa Nature Trail which begins at DochuLa cafe and Lumitsawa Ancient Trail that joins the main road at Lumitsawa. Both are sections of the original route. Sadly the weather was its normal mist, so we didn’t get much of a Himalaya view. After a pleasant walk around we headed down the other side of the pass until we reached Menchuna restaurant with the normal indifferent Bhutanese buffet, and a great view.

After lunch it was on down towards Punakha. We stopped at several vantage points to admire the scenery, mainly small pretty rivers and dragon’s back rice fields. Before reaching Punakha we turned off towards Lobesa village. As we drove down the smaller roads we had an idea of where we were headed thanks to the profusion of phallus decorations on walls. Yep, we parked in the car park to walk up to the Temple of the Divine Madman. This is Chimi Lhakhang, known as The Fertility Temple, a Buddhist monastery, idyllically placed on a rotund hill. The Lhakhang is located 7 km from Punakha near a village called Sopsokha from where a 20 minutes walk through agricultural fields of mustards and rice, leads to a hillock where the monastery and the chorten are situated. Prayer flags are lined all along the road from the tiny hamlet known as Yowakha, along a drain or stream to the monastery. All houses in the village have paintings of phalluses on their exterior walls. The temple was built in 1499 by the 14th Drukpa hierarch, Ngawang Choegyel, on the site blessed by the "Divine Madman", maverick saint Drukpa Kunley (1455–1529) who built a chorten on the site. In founding the site it is said that Lama Kunley subdued a dog-like demoness of DochuLa with his “magic thunderbolt of wisdom” and trapped it in a rock at the location close to where the small chorten now stands near the entrance to the Lhakhang. The stupa meditation hall, was constructed by the eccentric Yogi Drukpa Kunley, who blessed the entire grounds. Drukpa Kunley preached Buddhism is an unconventional manner, by way of song, comedy, and sex. He actively encouraged phallus symbols to be used throughout the design of the temple in paintings on the walls and flying carved wooden phalluses on house tops at four corners of the eaves. To this day, the monastery safeguards the original wooden phallus symbol, embedded with a silver handle, that Kunley brought from Tibet. It is still used to bless visitors and pilgrims, especially women seeking to conceive. The monastery is renowned throughout Bhutan as a fertility inducing magnet, pledging that all who wish to conceive will find help at the temple. Thousands travel here in the hopes of having a child, as well as receiving a wang (blessing) from the saint. Couples with new-borns also visit so that a local lama (Buddhist teacher), can bestow a good name on the child, whilst eager travellers can ask lamas for their unique Bhutanese name. The tradition at the monastery is to strike pilgrims on the head with a 25 cm wooden phallus (erect penis). Traditionally symbols of an erect penis in Bhutan are used to drive away the evil eye and malicious gossip. The lama Kunley had used the hillock because of its round shape, like a female breast. The Lhakhang is of modest size, square in shape with a golden spire. It is a golden yellow roofed building. It has a row of prayer wheels and its exterior walls are embedded with slates carved with images of saints. The prayer hall inside the monastery has tantric paraphernalia, thangkas, bells, drums, horns, dorjis and a kangd. The statue of Kunley, in monk's robe, is centrally located at the altar, in a reclining position with a ceramic statue of his dog Sachi. Images of Zhabdrung, Sakyamuni Buddha and Chenresig are also deified in the monastery. Women who come seeking children get hit on the head by the presiding Lama with a 25 cm ivory, wood and bone phallus. They can also make the pilgrimage to get the name of a child to be born., by picking bamboo slips placed in the altar inscribed with names of boys and girls. It is said that the small chorten at the altar was made by Kunley himself. There are frescoes painted on the walls of the monastery depicting the Mad saint's colourful life. According to one legend Kunley was also known for his supernatural power to predicted the death of other lamas. Lama Kunley and his dog Sachi, whose statues are deified in the monastery, attained heaven.

Buddhism in Bhutan part 2
The Drukpa Lineage-.འབརག་པ་བཀའབརགྱུཡཏ, sometimes called Dugpa or Red Hat sect is a branch of the Kagyu school Tibetan Buddhism. The Kagyu school is one of the Sarma (New Translations) schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Within the Drukpa Lineage, there are further sub-sects. In Bhutan the Drukpa Lineage is the dominant state religion. The Drukpa lineage was founded in west Tibet by Tsangpa Gyare Yeshi Dorje (1161–1211), a student of Ling Repa, who mastered the Vajrayana practices of the mahamudra and Six Yogas of Naropa. As a tertön or "finder of spiritual relics", he discovered the text of the Six Equal Tastes, previously hidden by Rechung Dorje Drakpa, a student of Milarepa. While on a pilgrimage Tsangpa Gyare and his disciples witnessed a set of nine dragons (Tibetan: druk) roaring out of the earth and into the skies, as flowers rained down everywhere. From this incident they named their sect Drukpa. Also important in the lineage were the root guru of Tsangpa Gyare, Ling Repa and his guru, Phagmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo, who was in turn a principal disciple of Gampopa, one of Rechung Dorje Drakpa's main disciples. A prominent disciple of Tsangpa Gyare's nephew, Onre Darma Sengye, was Phajo Drugom Zhigpo (1208–1276) who in 1222 went to establish the Drukapa Kagyu teachings in the valleys of western Bhutan. The main disciples of Tsangpa Gyare, the first Gyalwang Drukpa, are in two categories: blood relatives and spiritual sons. His nephew, Onre Darma Sengye (1177–1237), ascended the throne at Ralung (Tibet), the main seat of the Drukpa lineage. Darma Sengye guided later disciples of Tsangpa Gyare, such as Gotsangpa Gonpo Dorje (1189– 1258), onto the path of realisation, thus becoming their guru as well. Darma Sengye's nephew and descendants held the seat at Ralung to continue the lineage.
Gyalwa Lorepa, Gyalwa Gotsangpa and Gyalwa Yang Gonpa (known as Gyalwa Namsum or Three Victorious Ones) led to new branches The followers of Gyalwa Lorepa became the 'Lower Drukpas', those of Gyalwa Gotsangpa the 'Upper Drukpas', and of Onre Darma Sengye the 'Middle Drukpas'. After the death of 4th Gyalwang Drukpa, Kunkhyen Pema Karpo, in 1592, there were two rival candidates for his reincarnation. Gyalwang Pagsam Wangpo, one of the candidates, was favoured by the King of Tsang and prevailed. His rival, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, went to Western Bhutan, unified the country and established Drukpa as the preeminent Buddhist school from Haa to Trongsa. The Drukpa Lineage was divided from that time on into the Northern Drukpa branch in Tibet headed by the Gyalwang Drukpa and the Southern Drukpa based in Bhutan and headed by the Shabdrung incarnations. Ever since Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal appointed Pekar Jungne as the 1st Je Khenpo, the spiritual head of all monasteries in Bhutan, successive Je Khenpos have acted to date as spiritual regents of Bhutan. The Southern Drukpa are led by the Je Khenpo (an elected office, not a tulku [reincarnation] lineage), who is the chief abbot of the Dratshang Lhentshog of Bhutan.
Drukpa Kunley (1455–1529), aka Kunga Legpai Zangpo, Drukpa Kunleg (Divine Madman of Dragon Lineage was a monk (Mahamudra) in Tibetan Buddhist tradition, as well as a famous poet. After undergoing training in Ralung Monastery under siddha Pema Lingpa, he introduced Buddhism to Bhutan and established the monastery of Chimi Lhakhang there in 1499. Drukpa Kunley was born into the branch of the noble Gya clan of Ralung Monastery in the Tsang region of western Tibet, descended from Lhabum, the brother of Tsangpa Gyare. His father was Rinchen Zangpo. He was nephew to the 2nd Gyalwang Drukpa and father of Ngawang Tenzin and Zhingkyong Drukdra. He was known for his crazy methods of enlightening others, mostly women, which earned him the title "The Saint of 5,000 Women". Among other things, women would seek his blessing in the form of sex. His intention was to show that it is possible to be enlightened, impart enlightenment, and still lead a very healthy sex life, which our guide parsed as “people in his time didn’t understand his religiousness”. He demonstrated that celibacy was not necessary for being enlightened. In addition, he wanted to expand the range of means by which enlightenment could be imparted, while adding new evolutionary prospects to the overarching tradition. He is credited with introducing the practice of phallus paintings in Bhutan and placing statues of them on rooftops to drive away evil spirits. Because of this power to awaken unenlightened beings, his penis is referred to as the "Thunderbolt of Flaming Wisdom" and he himself is known as the "fertility saint". For this reason women from all around the world visit his monastery to seek his blessing. Some of his most famous performances include urinating on sacred thankhas, stripping down naked or offering his testicles to a famous Lama. He is one of very few Buddhist teachers to almost always appear in Bhutanese paintings topless. It is known that Drukpa Kunley would not bless anyone who came to seek his guidance and help unless they brought a beautiful woman and a bottle of wine. His fertility temple, Chimi Lhakhang, is today filled with the weaved portable wine bottles. Visitors to the monastery are welcome to enjoy a short trek up a hill. The monastery is very modest, one smallish building, but it contains a wood-and-ivory lingam through which one can obtain blessings from the monk in residence. A small book contained photos of babies sent by women all over the world who had come here to help conceive. In theory, if you use the temple and have a baby, if it is a girl it should be called Chimi and if a boy called Lakhang (hence the prevalence of these names in Bhutan, even our guide’s sister-in-law had a baby this way).

After our walk to Chimi Lakhang we drove down to Punakha itself, a tiny town along the river. Close to the Dzongkha two rivers, the Pho (Father) Chhu (river/ water) and Mo (Mother) Chhu met, combining the blue Pho with the fertile brown Mo. The source of the Mo chu is in the northern hills of Lighsi and Laya in Bhutan and Tibet. The Po Chu is fed by glaciers in the Lunana region of Punakha valley. After the confluence of these two rivers, the river is known as Puna Tsang chu or Sankosh River and flows down through Wangdue Phodrang, crosses the Bhutan–India border at
Kalikhola and eventually meets the Brahmaputra River. Punakha valley has a pleasant climate with warm winters and hot summers. It 1200 m above sea level and owing to the favourable climate, rice grows very well here, as do bananas. Two major rivers in Bhutan, the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu, converge in this valley. Punakha Dzong is built at the confluence of these two rivers and is an especially beautiful sight on sunny days with sunlight reflecting off the water onto its white-washed walls. 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, an image of Avalokiteswara that miraculously emerged from the vertebrae of Tsangpa Gyarey the founder of the Drukpa School when he was cremated.

Punakha Dzongkhag is linked with momentous occasions in Bhutanese history. It served as the capital of the country 1637-1907 and the first national assembly was hosted here in 1953. It is one of the most majestic structures in the country. In 2011, the wedding of the King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, and Jetsun Pema, was held at the Punakha Dzong.
A panoramic view of the Punakha Dzong,, at the confluence of Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers
We crossed over the wooden covered bridge to access the dzong’s steep steps. A covered wooden cantilever bridge crossing the Mo Chu was built with the Dzong in the 17th century, but washed away by a flash flood in 1957. In 2008, a new wooden cantilever bridge in traditional style, with a free span of 55m was completed. A memorial honouring the 23 people who died in the dzong in the glacial floods of 1994 has been erected just outside. Inside was an outer courtyard surrounded by buildings and an inner one, again with buildings and the main temple straight ahead. Photos were allowed (though not inside the temple), but no video. Punakha Dzong, aka Pungtang Dewa chhenbi Phodrang (the palace of great happiness), is the administrative centre of Punakha District. Constructed by Ngawang Namgyal, 1st Zhabdrung Rinpoche, in 1637/8 it is the 2nd oldest and 2nd largest dzong in Bhutan and one of its most majestic structures. The dzong houses the sacred relics of the southern Drukpa Lineage of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, including the Rangjung Kasarpani, and sacred remains of Ngawang Namgyal and tertön Pema Lingpa.
According to local legend, Padmasambhava prophesied that “a person named Namgyal will arrive at a hill that looks like an elephant”. Ngawang Namgyal, 1st Zhabdrung Rinpoche, found the peak of the hill, which appeared in the shape of trunk of an elephant as prophesied, and built the dzong in 1637-38. Another legend tells how Zowe Palep, the architect, had a dream after the Zhabdrung ordered him to sleep under a small structure which contained a statue of the Buddha, known as Dzong Chug "small dzong". In a 2nd dream, he had a vision of a palace for Guru Rinpoche, enabling him to conceive the plan for the dzong without paper and to build it. The dzong was consecrated in the name of Pungthang Dechen Phodrang. In 1639, a commemorative chapel was erected to house the arms seized from the Tibetans who were defeated by the Bhutanese on this spot. The Zhabdrung also set up a monastic order with 600 monks (brought from Cheri Gompa of upper Thimphu valley) and lived here till his death. The spire at the top of the utse (the dzong’s central tower) was added in 1676 by Gyaltsen Tenzin Rabgye, the abbot of the dzong. Further additions were made 1744-63, when Sherab Wangchuk was the chief Abbot of Bhutan. A large thangka known as chenma (great) thoundral of the Zhabdrung was donated to the Dzong by the Desi (ruler). This thangka is displayed during the annual tshechu. The 7th Dalai Lama donated the brass roof for the dzong.
The dzong is a six-storey structure with a central tower (utse) at an elevation of 1,200m with a scenic, mountainous background. The materials used in building the Dzong consisted of compacted earth, stones and timber in doors and windows. The dzong was constructed as an “embodiment of Buddhist values” and was one of the 16 dzongs built by the Zhabdrung during his rule 1594-1691. The dzong measures 180m long by 72m wide and has three docheys (courtyards). The defensive fortifications built in the dzong to protect from enemy attacks consist of a steep wooden stairway and a heavy wooden door that is closed at night. After the dzong suffered fire damage, a large prayer hall was added in 1986. Administrative offices of the dzong, a large, white-washed stupa and bodhi tree are located in the first courtyard. In the same courtyard, on the far left, are a mound of stones and a chapel dedicated to the queen of the n#gas. The residential quarters of the monks are located in the 2nd courtyard, with the utse intervening between the 1st and 2nd courtyards. There are two historic halls in this courtyard; one of Ugyen Wangchuk, who subsequently became King and another where the King was decorated in 1905 with the Order of the Knight Commander of the Indian Empire by John Claude White. The 3rd courtyard at the southernmost end of the dzong is where the remains of Pema Lingpa and Ngawang Namgyal are preserved. Machey Lakhang (machey=sacred embalmed body) in the 3rd courtyard has the well preserved embalmed body of the Zhabdrung. This Lakhang was rebuilt in 1995, but the casket containing the embalmed body was not opened, although it is visited by the King and Je Khenpo to seek blessing before assuming their offices. Flash floods from glacial lake outburst flooding the upper reaches of the valley, are a common occurrence in the Mo Chu and Pho Chu rivers, and in the past caused flooding and damage to the dzong. Fires and earthquakes have further added to the problem. In 1996, flash floods in the Pho Chu river damaged the large stupa and caused several deaths. After major refurbishing carried out in the "zorig chusum tradition" (an ancient tradition of crafts in wood carving, masonry, metal work, painting), the Dzong has several new Lhakhangs, over 200 new religious images, and several other treasures including thangkas. A consecration “Rabney ceremony” performed by the Je Khenpo and the monks of the Dratshang (central monk body) was held in 2004. Note the murals depicting the life story of Buddha painted during the rule of the second druk desi. Large gilded statues of Buddha, Guru Rinpoche and Zhabdrung from the mid 18th century, and gilded panels on pillars are also here.
entrance steps; Second Courtyard
utse; First courtyard; Second courtyard; main temple; window detail; door detail
It was getting late into the afternoon and we finally drove to our hotel for the night, the Zangto Perli. http://www.hotel.bt/hotels-in-punakha/hotel-zangtho-pelri/?ctab=ca This nice hotel had an small attached shop where we could buy some local jewellery (a ring and bracelet for Emma and me).
From our hotel we had a great view of the Punakha Suspension Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan built above Po Chu river. The bridge is broad and built in a very nice way and you will be amazed to see that it doesn’t shake so much which can cause a sudden amount of panic among the tourists. The bridge connects the nearby villages., and the surrounding mountains on all the sides also gives a breathtaking view. Interestingly, despite the obvious bounty of the rivers, fishing is forbidden in Bhutan (unless you are the king, who is apparently above this law).

History of Bhutan part 2
Kingdom of Bumthang was one of several small kingdoms in the territory of modern Bhutan. The Kingdom of Bumthang is particularly notable among its many contemporary Bhutanese chiefdoms because it was here that Buddhism first took root in Bhutan. The kingdom contained several places relevant to important Bhutanese legends. The kingdom is the ancestral homeland of the House of Wangchuck, a local elite family that surpassed the erstwhile Tibetan aristocracy. During Bhutan's early history, Bumthang served as a locus of exile for both Tibetan and Indian rulers, and was also the home of Buddhist saint Pema Lingpa [1450–1521 a Bhutanese saint-siddha of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism]. King Sindhu Rāja was engaged in a war against King Nawuchhe, an Indian king to the south, during which he fell ill due to possession by a Bön demon. On advice, Sindhu Rāja invited Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) to exorcise the demon and cure his illness. On arrival, the saint requested a Tantric consort and the king offered his daughter Lhachig Bumden Tshomo (Menmo Tashi Kyeden). After capturing the demon and converting it to Buddhism, Guru Rinpoche cured the king who converted to Buddhism and founded several pilgrimage sites inc Kuje Temple. As a result, many mountains and deities worshipped by Bönpa were incorporated into local Buddhism. The king's daughter went to live in the cave of Guru Dorji Tsepa, and help the Guru in his religious activities. The decline of the Kingdom of Bumthang began with the consolidation of Bhutan by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1616. The Zhabdrung, fending off invasions from Tibet, established effective control of central/ eastern Bhutan, including Bumthang, after a series of battles through his lieutenant Chogyal Minjur Tenpa (1667–1680). Minjur Tenpa was the first Penlop of Trongsa (Tongsab), appointed by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. He was born in Tibet, and led a monastic life from childhood. A trusted follower of the Zhabdrung, Minjur Tenpa subdued the kings of Bumthang, Lhuentse, Trashigang, Zhemgang, and other lords from Trongsa Dzong. From this time, the status of the independent kingdom was reduced to semi-independent Bumthang Province, whose dzongpen (governor) answered to Trongsa. The legacy of the Kingdom of Bumthang is demonstrated in its religious and political significance in modern Bhutan, inc the modern royal House of Wangchuck, who emerged from roots in the Bumthang Kingdom.

Pema Lingpa (1450-1521) was born in Bumthang. His father was Lama Döndrup Zangpo of the Nyö clan, and his mother, Drogmo Pema Drolma, was bestowed with the signs of a dakini. As an incarnation of the Omniscient One Drimé Ozer (Longchenpa), Pema Lingpa was an extra-ordinary child. One day Padmasambhava appeared before Pema Lingpa, blessed him, and placed in his hands an inventory of 108 major termas to be revealed. Pema Lingpa was highly regarded by all 4 principal schools of Tibetan Buddhism. He spent his life revealing the precious treasures of Padmasambhava, giving empowerments and teachings, meditating in isolated locations, building and restoring monasteries, and establishing a tradition that endures to this day. Pema Lingpa prophesied that in the future he would return as Longsal Nyingpo in the pure land of Pemako, and that those connected with him would be reborn in Pemakö as his students. He married twice; to Yum Tima (Sithar) and Yum Bumdren. Notable descendants of Pema Lingpa include the House of Wangchuck and the 6th Dalai Lama. The Pema Lingpa lineage continues today in the 3 lines of Body, Speech, and Mind emanations of Pema Lingpa: the Gangteng, Sungtrul, and Tukse Rinpoches, all of whom traditionally reside in Bhutan. Traditionally, these are:
1. Peling Sungtrul incarnations: The incarnation of Padma Lingpa (Tenzin Drakpa 1536–97, Kunkhyen Tsultim Dorje 1680–1723, Dorje Mikyō-tsal aka Ngawang Kunzang Rolpai Dorje 1725–62, Kunzang Tsewang aka Tenzin Drubchog Dorje 1763–1817, Kunzang Tenpai Gyaltsen 1819–42, Pema Tenzin aka Kunzang Ngawang Chokyi Lodro, Kunzang Dechen Dorje, Tenzin Chōki Gyaltsen 1843–91, Pema Ōsal Gyurme Dorje 1930–55, Jigdrel Kunzang Pema Dorji b. 1965 present Peling Sungtrul or Lhalung Sungtrul Rinpoche)
2. Peling Thuksay/ Tukse incarnations: The incarnations of Padma Lingpa's son Thuksay Dawa Gyeltshen (Tukse Dawa Gyaltsen b.1499 son of Pema Lingpa, Nyida Gyaltsen, Nyida Longyang, Tenzin Gyurme Dorje 1641–1702, Gyurme Chogdrub Palzang 1708–50, Tenzin Chokyi Nyima 1752–75, Kunzang Gyurme Dorje Lungrig Chokyi Gocha c1780–c1825, Kunzang Zilnon Zhadpatsal, Thubten Palwar 1906–39, Tegchog Tenpa'i Gyaltsen 1951–2010)
3. Gangteng Truelku/Tulku or Peling Gyalse incarnations: The incarnations of Gyalse Pema Thinley; son of Thuksay Dawa Gyeltshen (Gyalse Pema Tinley 1564–1642, Tenzin Lekpai Dondrup 1645–1726, Tinley Namgyal aka Kunzang Pema Namgyal d.1750, Tenzin Sizhi Namgyal 1761-96, Orgyen Geleg Namgyal d.1842?, Orgyen Tenpai Nyima 1873-1900?, Orgyen Tenpai Nyinjed, Orgyen Thinley Dorje, Rigdzing Kunzang Padma Namgyal b. 1955 ~ present Gangteng Tulku Rinpoche)
Pema Lingpa's family line grew into a pre-eminent class of religious elites, known as Choje, who were pre-dominant in the Bhutanese religious and political sphere. The House of Wangchuck claims direct descent from Pema Lingpa, as do many other Himalayan religious elites. The Tamzhing Chöje family, with its main seat at Tamzhing Monastery, began with Pema Lingpa's son, Drakpa Gyalpo, who died without leaving an heir and continued through Pema Lingpa's youngest son, Sangda.

Posted by PetersF 14:05 Archived in Bhutan Tagged temple bhutan dzong tshechu

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