Showing posts with label Dzong. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dzong. Show all posts

26 March 2016

Mother's Sweet Revenge?

I saw an elderly woman completely drunk and making scene near Paro Dzong on the first day of Tshechu. Everybody was avoiding her. She was flat on the ground crying and cursing, occasionally begging to be taken to hospital or home. She was wearing a complete set of Tshechu clothing, except it’s all covered in dust. Like Cinderella she has left one of her shoes some distance away from her.

My son Jigme and I went close to her and asked if she really needed to go to hospital. A nearby shopkeeper cautioned us through her window, 
“Sir, stay away. Just let her be. She is drunk.”

I didn’t feel comfortable leaving a woman of my mother’s age in that condition even though she was wasted. I picked her shoe and like prince charming tried it on her foot. It was a perfect fit. Lol.
Tshechu is full of Show

“Ama, you must have come to watch Tshechu, why are you becoming the Tshechu yourself? People are watching you perform here.”
She tried to crawl but fell back heavily on her back. We brought some cardboard pieces and gave her a thin layer of mattress and pillow.
“You don’t seem to need hospital, you need to go home and sleep. Where do you live?”
She pointed in random directions. I knew she was totally disoriented. She stopped throwing tantrum and began paying attention to me. We bought her water knowing very well how it would feel.
“Ama, if you must drink you should wait till the evening, reach home and enjoy your drink. Here in Tshechu you have made a joker of yourself. And where are your friends? Even they have gone into hiding.”
She would laugh and cry at the same time and cursed her friends for leaving her. Not surprisingly she was in agreement with my suggestions, like all seasoned drinkers.

Then it struck me that she might own a mobile phone. So I asked if she had one, which I could use to get her people pick her up. She dug into her hemcho for the longest time and took out a cold drink and handed it over to me.
“Don’t drink this. It’s mine.”
“Give me your mobile phone.”
She went into her hemcho again and came out with her purse, then few changes but not her phone. So I helped her search for it. Bingo, it was just there.

I went into her call log and dialled the most recent number. It was someone in Punakha. Then the next, it didn’t answer. Then I checked her contact list and surprisingly there were names saved. So I read out each name and asked her whom to call. She suggested a lady.
“Sir, I’m in the town. I have to be here for a while.”
“Can you tell me whom I should call to get immediate help?”
“Try her son and nephew. They are both in the Tshechu.” The lady gave me their names. I checked back in her contact list and found the son’s number.
“Hello, you mother is here near a shop beside the Dzong. She seems too drunk. Can you come and take her home.”
“Sir, I will send her nephew immediately.”
I put back her phone, purse, changes and most importantly her cold drink into the safety of her hemcho. While waiting for her nephew I casually remarked,

“Ama, you have to understand how your children would feel seeing you like this and embarrassing them in the crowd…”

“Dasho, my children are not like you. They too must understand how I feel after all these years of raising them… they have done their share of embarrassing me!”

I didn’t have anything to say after that. It seems embarrassment was mutual. Her son and nephew came and took her home. They were thanking me but I told them to be more thankful to their mother.
I am hoping the shopkeeper lady who cautioned me to stay away must have learnt how to help. I am also hoping my son would have learned something because I have learned something.

On the last day I saw the woman again. Not drunk.

04 July 2015

Journey of Terton Sherab Mebar’s Kudung (body)

In my last post, I have briefly narrated the history of Terton Sherab Mebar, the first known treasure discoverer to have set foot in Bhutan. As promised I will narrate the history of his kudung (body) that seemed to have a life of its own and created history and mysteries greater than the living Terton himself.

Because Terton Sherab Mebar went against the prophecy one too many times and compromised the whole divine mission he had been assigned to, his mission on earth seemed to have been terminated prematurely. He died in his thirties, leaving behind many unfinished works. He was supposed to visit Nub Tshonapatra seven times and discover treasures that will make our country rich in all times to come, but his first untimely attempt jeopardized everything.

Terton Sherab Mebar lived in Pangpisa after that life-threatening mission to Nub Tshonapatra when he was called to attend a big event in Baylangdra, Wangdue. Before leaving, he summoned the nine households in Pangpisa and asked them to bring him a stone that could fit in his palm. He was presented with a broken piece of stone. He asked if the stone was already in that shape or did the people break it into that shape to fit in his palm. He took it as a bad sign when he was told that the stone was a freshly broken piece. He told his nine patrons that the signs said he might not return alive from Wangdue and therefore instructed them to bring his body back to Pangpisa.

He squeezed the stone with his bare hands like wet clay and left his handprint on it. This stone with his handprint was one among many such rocks he left behind from different occasions. In fact, every household in Pangpisa owned one each besides the six that were in the temple. One was a chunk of gold he took from Pasakha during his failed mission of unearthing an endless supply of gold, silver and salt.

As foreseen, Terton Sherab Mebar died in Baylangdra, Wangude and the message reached Pangpisa. A group of men was sent to claim their Lam’s kudung (body) as wished by lam himself, but people in Baylangdra turned them away. They said it was the lam’s destiny to die in their village; therefore, the body must rest there.

The disappointed patrons of Pangpisa spied on Baylangdra ever since. They planned to strike during the harvest season when every able man from the village went on their annual alms seeking event. The temple where the kudung was preserved was guarded by a lame gomchen who couldn’t go with the rest. Men from Pangpisa waited for this moment, and without wasting any time, they barged into the temple and tied the lone gomchen onto a pillar, and to keep him from starving, they placed a huge pot of porridge at his reach to last through until the villager returned. Thus, the kudung was stolen and brought to Pangpisa.

There is no record of what happened after this event until centuries later, after Zhabdrung’s era. It was during Tshulthrim Namgyel’s (Popularly known as Penlop Haap) reign as the Parob or Paro Penlop (governor of Paro), that he asked the people of Pangpisa to hand over the kudung to the central government in Paro for better preservation. Paro was the centre of Western Region, then. He explained to the people of Pangpisa that the Kudung was a national treasure and the there could not be a better place for the kudung than Paro Rinpung Dzong. It could be safe from disasters and also secured from Tibetan invaders.

People of Pangpisa reluctantly consented to hand over the sacred remains to Paro Dzong, intending to secretly steal it back. The Kudung was stored in the Marchey of Paro Dzong, secured in a wooden box and sealed into the mud wall. No sooner did they give away the kudung, they began plotting to steal it back. They planted one of their local monks to spy and get access to the Marchey. The monk started chanting Dem, the prayer in the worship of Jetsun Dema, from day one. He made the entire Dzong believe that he was the best candidate to be the caretaker of Dema Lhakhang, the chamber in the Dzong dedicated to Jetsun Dema.

That was their first move; they wanted to get access into the Dema Lhakhang because beneath it was the Marchey where their lam’s kudung was kept. Meanwhile, some men from Pangpisa worked with blacksmiths in Paro Woochu to forge iron rods with hooks on one end, and the rest of the men worked on creating a proxy of Lam’s kudung using clay.

One day, when most elder monks were out of the Dzong for rituals, the team from Pangpisa sneaked into the Dzong with the proxy kudung and got straight into the Dema Lhakhang. They removed the floorings that were straight overhead the kudung and, using the iron rods, fished the box containing the kudung. Unfortunately, they discovered the box was too big for the narrow gap between horizontal beams running across under the floor. According to their plan, they were to lift the box into Dema Lhakhang, take out lam’s Kudung, replace it with the proxy and place back the box in the Marchey as if nothing had happened.

But their plan failed when they couldn’t lift the box through the beams. They then broke open the box in midair and tried to take out the kudung, but they found that even the kudung wouldn’t fit through the gap, except for the head. When they ran out of ideas and time, they decided to at least take something, if not the whole Kudung, so they cut off the head from the body and replaced it with the head of the proxy kudung. The box was sealed again and placed back.

For the next many years, no one knew about this high profile break-in, not until a fire disaster that razed down Paro Rinpung Dzong (Date to be confirmed), about which I couldn’t find any information yet. Penlop Haap Agay Haap was still in Power, and he was said to have jumped into the raging fire to save the kudung. Everyone thought he might have burned himself to death, but he came out of the fire with the box without so much as a blister and without even burning a single strand of his hair.

When they opened the box to assess the kudung, they found the head of the kudung had turned into earth. This saddened the Penlop, but he found that the rest of the body was intact upon further inspection. Then he knew that something was done with the head. He furiously tried to detach the clay head from the body but soon figured out that the clay head had merged with the body. It’s said that the clay head gradually turned into a real head and smiled at the Penlop. He lived with much regrets for not being able to ask anything when the kudung came alive for that brief moment.

Penlop Haap rebuilt Paro Rinpung Dzong and placed the kudung back in the Marchey of the new Dzong. However, he was told that the Dzong would be destroyed yet again in times to come. He, therefore, prayed to be reborn in Paro so that he could be the one to rebuild the Dzong again.
Ruins of Paro Dzong (1907) - Shared by Tshering Tashi

In 1907, when Paro Penlop Dawa Penjor was in power, Paro Rinpung Dzong suffered another major fire disaster. The penlop was said to have fainted twice, once when he was told about fire, and next then, he reached the Dzong and knew the Kudung could not be salvaged. So that was the end of the long journey of Pangpi Lam’s Kudung, across almost 700 years.

Penlop Dawa Penjor was believed to be the reincarnation of Penlop Haap, and it’s said that he always saw this coming. He had stored hundreds of strange balls stitched in animal hide, which looked like stone used in ancient weighing scales, in the fireproof basement of the Dzong.

Paro Penlop Dawa Penjor(?)
Later after the ashes cooled down, and when the entire officials were worried about the reconstruction and even planned to send people to India and Tibet for donation, Penlop Dawa Penjor told them not to worry about funds. He sent his men to collect the stones covered in leather from the basement. Confused men thought the Penlop was severely shaken by the fire incident; nonetheless, they presented hundreds of heavy balls to the penlop. He then cut open the leather covers and showed hundreds of football-sized balls of pure gold. He is said to have funded the entire reconstruction and most of the objects in the Dzong today were made of pure gold.

When the Dzong was completed, Penlop Dawa Penjor approached the people of Pangpisa to bring the sacred head relic of kudung for the consecration ceremony of the new Dzong. He promised the people that it would be returned in three days. Penlop Dawa Penjor was known for his honesty and integrity and when he approached, the people consented.

1914 Paro Dzong restored to by Penlop Dawa Penjor
On the third day of the consecration ceremony, birds hovered over the Dzong and made strange sounds; some birds fought overhead and dropped dead on the Dzong courtyard. Dawa Penjor immediately consulted his astrologer and found out that if he didn’t return the head relic to Pangpisa, there would be a threat to either his life or the safety of the Dzong. He returned the relic right away. It was later discovered that the people of Pangpisa had been performing deadly religious rituals for the safe return of their most priced treasure ever since the Penlop took it from them.

The sacred head relic was sealed in a box by Paro Penlop and opened once a year for public display during a major ceremony. The sealing after the ceremony was soon done by Woochu Drungpa. Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyal upon hear that ordered the boxed to be sealed using his seal because he didn't like the idea of Woochu Drungpa putting his unholy hands on the precious National Treasure. Woochu Drungpa was the official responsible for punishing criminals and had his hand in many executions. A certain Zimpon Sangay carried Jigme Namgyal's seal and sealed the box, never to be opened again.

It was only recently the seal was finally broken, and the sacred head relic was displayed for public viewing. It was said that the seal on the box was always called "Sangay's Seal" and many thought it was Buddha's seal (Sangay=Buddha). Later upon verification, they figured out that Sangay was Trongsa Penlop's Zimpon Sangay, who sealed the box on behalf of Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyal.

The Scared head was on display on the day I visited Ugyen Guru Lhakhang in Pangpisa. I just look at it for the longest time and wondered what a journey it underwent across almost 800 years.

Paro Penlop Dawa Penjor's wife's home in Paro Geptey, now converted into Heritage Museum

Disclaimer: There could be inconsistencies in the historical events and dates; therefore, I remain open to feedback and advice to make this thrilling narrative as close to fact as possible. 

13 January 2015

The Buffalo Horn in Daga Dzong

In my last post I wrote about the mythical treasure of Daga Dzong but I have not discussed about where it came from. I could only write about having seen it for real. It was a 7.2 feet long buffalo horn, which is by far the largest in the world (at least as far as I know).
Illustration of the Horn in comparison to my height


The Legend has it that one day in 17th century, people living in Daga Dzong heard an unusual bellow of a buffalo from the deep jungle across the valley. The Lam (ID not known) sent his subjects to check on the animal but upon reaching the site all they found was a pair of gigantic horns.

They pair of horns were kept in Daga Dzong for centuries and over the years, it was said that the horns were carelessly thrown all over the place until one day one horn flew away. It was then that the single horn left behind was received back in the Goenkhang of the Daga Dzong and treated as one very important treasure.

The other horn which flew away is believed to be in Talo Monastery in Punakha (Need to confirm). It's pity that I didn't know about it when I was close to Talo. I visited Talo twice and if it was true it can't be missed, literally.


After having seen the horn itself there is nothing so unbelievable about anything but because horns don't have wings I am a bit suspicious about the flying horn myth. I rather prefer to believe that the horn was brought to Punakha as a gift, because Daga Penlop was known in history has someone who brought the best gifts to Punakha Dzong during those day.
The Three Parallel Staircase, Punakha Dzong
It's said that the three parallel staircase in Punakha Dzong were for Trongsa Penlop, Paro Penlop and Daga Penlop, where Daga Penlop was given the privilege to climb the central stair because of the kind of gifts he presented. Perhaps he must have brought it along with so many ivories he presented to Zhabdrung those days.

But how it reached Talo could be another story or may be it really flew, or perhaps it's not even in Talo. (There is more to learn about this fascinating legend)


After seeing the horn, I have looked all over the internet to see if there is any 7 feet long buffalo horn in the world but I found none. In fact, no species of buffalo has horns that looked close to the one in Daga Dzong. Of course none matched its size too. So is it really buffalo horn?

Bongo with Large Horns
As I pursue my fascination for largest horns I stumbled upon Bongo, the largest and heaviest antelope found in the Lowland Rain Forest of West Africa and the Congo Basin to the Central African Republic and Southern Sudan. This animal has similar horns that grow very long. But again how could a pair of horns from Africa land up in Dagana? and More over the world record holding Bongo horn is just 3 feet long, no where close to the 7 feet long mythical horn in Daga Dzong.

Therefore the mystery remains and it's best left that way. 

2015 is observed as Visit Bhutan Year and it's time we Bhutanese visit our own country and enjoy its unmatched cultural heritage and endless mysteries. I am giving you 7 feet long reason to visit Daga Dzong this year. World dreams to visit our country, we are already here!

Disclaimer: There could be factual errors regarding time periods and historical references for which I seek your kind correction. Please leave your comments in the comment box below. 

29 December 2014

Mythical Treasure of Daga Dzong

My Maiden journey to Dagana held a mythical surprise for me, which ironically emerged from an american friend. I was invited to Camp RUF in Dagana by my friend and founder of the camp, Tenzin Dorji, as photographer. Though it was a privilege, I had to decide to leave the camp early because I took along a foreigner friend who turned out to be little too 'underprepared' for the kind of place the camp was setup in. He was ready to leave on his own but I was quite unsure about how he would make it back given the remoteness of where we were and rarity of transportation services.
My another Milestone
It was the night before we left that I shared about my plan to visit Daga Dzong on our way back, when Julie, an american lady teaching in Thimphu and facilitating at the camp, asked if I knew about the massive Buffalo Horn treasure of the dzong. It's ironic yet very heartening to learn about the mythical treasure of Daga Dzong from a foreigner.
Daga Dzong
How massive can a buffalo horn be? I was skeptical yet curious, and when I heard the horn stands taller than me I was convinced that I wouldn't leave without seeing it of myself. Deep inside I wasn't ready to believe the myth. I suddenly went around seeking confirmations from local teachers, and surprisingly many had just heard about it. There are a few of them who claimed to have seen it and they description couldn't logically convinced me. They say it's over 5 feet long, and I can't imagine a buffalo that carried a pair of 5 feet long horns. I assumed that it possibly just a myth and whatever was there in Daga Dzong must be something else.
But I was shivering with excitement when I finally took that 43 km journey to Daga Dzong from Dagapela after declining a comfortable free ride to Thimphu. The middle aged cab driver was a local who was one among the many people who heard about it but haven't seen it. It was only getting interesting.
Finally I walked into the central tower of Daga Dzong with my friend Hemant, and there we were face to face with the Buffalo Horn. I stood there frozen at the sight of it. It's really a horn and it's even longer than I ever could have imagined. It's officially 7.2 feet. I touched it, it's real. How could it be possible?
Illustration of the Horn, since camera wasn't allowed inside.
 Continue in the next post- The Buffalo Horn in Daga Dzong

13 December 2014

Haa Dzong in The Parliament

From Drukgyel High School to Paro College of Education my friends Kinley Wangchuk (Takta) used one line to silence me in every debate we had, much out of context at all times: "You Haap, who don't even have a Dzong should just shut up." This is just one among many jokes about me coming from Haa and Haa not having Dzong.
I would ask, "What's in a Dzong?"
But over the years time and age taught me what's in a Dzong; It's the identity of the place, symbol of unity, sentiments of people, storeroom of history, illustration of cultural heritage, and therefore it's everything for the people of the place, but suddenly it felt so hallow realising we don't have our Dzong.
To add to the misery our entire administrative body is housed in an ordinary traditional structure that is no bigger than my village house, it's so ordinary that no one seemed to have cared to photograph it and load it on internet. I could not find one picture of our administration house.

Haa Wangcuk Lo Dzong is the original Haa Dzong. It was initially called Dumcho Dzong Sarpu meaning new Dzong. It's been occupied by Indian Military Training Academy for more than half a century.
Wangchuk Lo Dzong- The Dzong in Question

While I thought Haa Wangchuk Lo Dzong was built in 1913 right after the old Dumcho Dzong was destroyed by fire, which is during the reign of first king Ugyen Wangchuk and when Gongzim Ugyen Dorji was Haa Drungpa but blogger Wangcha Sangay, who should know better, wrote it was "... built by the people of Haa during the time of the 2nd King. It was initiated by Deb Zimpon Sonam Tobgay (Son of Gongzim Ugyen Dorji)" Then it should be much later than 1913. (Click here to read this history of Old Haa Dzong)

Watercolor of Wangchuk Lo Dzong
It was during the time of Prime Minister Jigme Palden Dorji that the Dzong was provided for temporary occupancy to IMTRAT as an interim measure to answer accommodation problem in Haa. The BBS report suggests that Dzong became IMTART headquarter in 1988, Do they mean officially?Because by any calculation IMTART was there before 1964, the year Jigme Palden Dorji Passed away. And following is an extract from Wangcha Sangay's blog that confirms that that it was occupied way before and also the King's words to people of Haa.
In 1970 or early 1971 any way it was When His Majesty the King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck came to Haa for the inauguration of Haa to Chhuzom motor road. In his Public Address to the people of Haa His Majesty the King confirmed that the Dzong and the area surrounding the Dzong belonged to Haa and the Bhutanese Nation. It was not sold nor leased to the Indian Military Training Team ( IMTRAT ).
I would like to thank our representative in the National Council, Honourable Tshering Dorji for asking Home and Cultural Minister about our Dzong. When the minister said, "I cannot say exactly when the Dzong would be returned to the people." He means to say that it's a very sensitive issue but I wonder why people even think that it's sensitive and would have negative impact of our friendship with india.
It's true that Indo-Bhutan friendship is more important than any structure, therefore it's about mutual respect and respecting a friendly nation's cultural sentiments. IMTART doesn't need our Dzong, they just need space to function. They know how important our Dzong is to us and therefore relocating them elsewhere should be fairly acceptable to them. 
Wangchuk Lo Dzong- A long time Ago

It's perfectly timed reminder by Dasho Tshering Dorji to his colleague in the Parliament Dasho Kinley Om who made this very promising promise during her election campaign to get back our Dzong. She made it seem so possible. People believed in her. People voted her to power, now she should bring result. And like I believe, the issue is not sensitive, IMTART understands and trust our country's intentions, and they can empathise with our people's sentiments attached to Dzong. It's just matter of approaching from the right direction. Finally I hope and pray Lyonpo Damcho will have more confirming and responsible answer to give next time.

P:S: The BBS Report on this issue seems to indicate they have a misconception that Lhakhang Karpo is going to a replacement of sort for Haa Dzong, which I hope is not on anybody's mind and in any plan. And talking about Lhakhang Karpo, it reminds me of the people who are involved in stealing even from the Lhakhangs. I pray to Ap Chundu to leave no guilty man free!

06 August 2014

First Dzong in Haa

Let alone the rest of the country even most Haaps won't know that we had Dumcho Dzong in Haa before Wangchuklo Dzong. The present Dzong was built in 1913 by Gongzim Ugyen Dorji after Dumcho Dzong was destroyed by fire that year. Dumcho Dzong was located somewhere near Lhakhang Karpo in Dumcho, about a kilometer away from the present dzong.
Except for the ruin of the foundation, there is no trace of Dumcho Dzong, which was once a power house of the region. One record suggest that Dumcho Dzong was built in 1895 after the establishment of post of Haa Drungpa but going by the only picture I ever saw of Dumcho Dzong taken in 1905, it has to be way older than recorded.
Gongzim Ugyen Dorji posing in front of Dumcho Dzong (1905)
The picture taken by John Claude White in 1905 is the only visual evidence of how the disappeared piece of history looked like in its glorious days. Eight years later, 1913 the Dzong was heavily damaged by the fire and instead of reconstructing it a new Dzong was constructed at a new location- Wangchuklo Dzong.

Every time I see an old picture of our past I thank John Claude White, it was this man who left us priceless treasure trove of our history. He was a close friend of our first king Ugyen Wangchuk who was then the Trongsa Penlop, and I say the friendship was evident in the amount of time and films White invested in shooting every aspect of Bhutan in the early days. I am now on the mission to get a copy of John Claude White's book "Sikhim & Bhutan: Twenty-One Years on the North-East Frontier, 1887-1908" hoping there will be more pictures of our past than the dozens I could get on internet.

Wangchulo Dzong
Today I am sent on a long history trip by the inspiring historian Tshering Tashi. He posted the picture of Dumcho Dzong that took me on a nostalgic journey back in time. This is not the first time Tshering Tashi has inspired me, there were many moments where he would post a piece of historic record and I will be lost in time. Today after I saw the picture, which was the first ever picture I saw of the Dzong, I went on internet hoping to find more of it. But turned out that it's so rare that it's not even included in the huge collections of White's pictures. But on my way I found so many pictures I have never seen before. I even called my mother to confirm about the location of the Dzong before I illustrated the following map. Thank you Au Tshering Tashi, you inspire me, you make history exciting, and you make me believe.

Illustration of Location of Dumcho Dzong and Wangchuklo Dzong