Gelephu – and the shortest visit to India

Zhemgang to Gelephu 🤸‍♂️🤸‍♀️🤸

I love this drive – except the Ossey stretch. It is so green and pristine, and the views are very scenic, especially the one overlooking Jigmecholing (aka Surrey), which is sooooo beautiful.

A must-do, if you haven’t.

Of course, a trip to Gelephu is incomplete without a visit to my kurmas in Dadgari Haat, where the noise, dust, and the commotion just brought back fond memories of the 1980s, when I used to accompany my father, a truck driver, to these places.

I feel at home here. The people still feels friendly. Of course, we, people on either side of the border, have a long history of being hosts and guests in the cross-border relations known as Shazi-Kurma. My family’s kurma was in Darranga and Kumarikata, being from Tashigang. It is similar to nyeps in Tibet who hosted the Bhutanese traders.

My first visit to India since 2020 BC (before Corona), lasted three hours. Both our Police and their SSB soldiers – the border guards on each side, were very polite. It was a smooth sail, like in those good old days. 😘😘😘

I bought a 3-kilo boulder of pink salt, and ate some bujia and turned back.

😎😎😎

Phurpa Drubchen 2023

Phurpa Drubchen

Phurpa Drubchen, meaning Vajrakilaya Purifiucation Ritual, is a very powerful purification ritual, which is traditionally conducted as the Lunar year ends. The ritual has power to cleanse all accumulated negativities and defilements, while also clearing obstacles, tragedies in the coming year. This powerful practice is, most importantly, believed to clear the path towards enlightenment, which is the ultimate goal in Buddhism.

Even Guru Padmasambhava is supposed to have performed the Vajrakilaya rituals before he attained an enlightened mind through the practice of Yangdag Heruka (ཡང་དག་ཧེ་རུ་ཀ་) at Yanglashoe in Nepal.

Phurpa Drubchen 2023

This year the grand finale of the Phurpa Drubchen will be held from January 27 to 29, 2023.

We are very fortunate, and glad to announce, that Her Eminence Dorje Phagmo Rimpoche personally recited the Phurba Nyenpa (non-stop recitation of Vajrakilaya mantra). She will also preside over the final rituals and ceremonies. 

The three-event consists of Tordo on 27th Jan where the wrathful torma will be cast away to pave way for the New Year to be filled with positive merits and circumstances, while increasing the longevity, victory, happiness and harmony in the family, community and country.

The next day will be dedicated to the Dharma Protectors (Choesung Soelkha), where we will pay respects and gratitude (Tang-Rak), for the Year gone by and for the New Year.

The Tshogkor will be third and final day, 29th Jan. 2022 and will be dedicated to pay gratitude to the divinities such as Guru Padmasambhava and Tara  for the gift of life, peace and prosperity. It is believed that they will visit us during the ceremony.

Who should attend:

While everyone is invited and encouraged to attend this powerful ceremony and the celebrations, these rituals are particularly recommended for those who are facing logka, duenzur, dursa, or thinsum (check with your astrologer), and women born in the Dragon year and men born in the year of Tiger. And those who are venturing into new projects (school, college, long journeys, career or profession change) or simply the spiritual pursuit, which is the ultimate goal of all sentient beings.

What can you offer:

Vajrakilaya and Protector deities rituals require many tormas. Besides, on all the three days there will be continuous smoke and butter offering as well as raising Prayer Flags. Furthermore, there will be offering of Tsok consisting of biscuits, fruits, and food.

You are welcome to offer or sponsor one of the above in full such as full sponsor of torma (already secured), or full sponsor of tshog, butter, prayer flags, or incense. Given that there might be duplications, and if you can place the trust on the dratshang, monetary contribution is best – and convenient.

For monetary offering, you can deposit directly into:
Bank of Bhutan account 202081833 (Ngajur Pemachophelling)

For more information you can contact:
Lopen Umze Anim Nyima Drolma. Tel – 17388847

For accomodation at the Centre:
Mr. Thinley Penjor. Tel – 77434142

For donations contact:
Mr. Chokzang. Tel – 1775 9200

Dates, Venue and direction:

Dates: 27-29 Jan 2023

The venue of this event in the most-sacred Mebar Tokchoe temple (aka Ngajur Pemachophelling Dharma Centre) in Nangkor Gewog in Zhemgang.

The venue is 20 kilometers from Zhemgang town, 17 kilometers from Tingtibi and 4 kilometers from Dakphel towards Buli. It is under Kikhar chiwog.

It is easily accessible from Gelephu (107 km), or Trongsa (100km),  and even Thimphu (300 km). All roads are blacktopped till the venue.

Place to stay and food:
The Centre has seven rooms that can accomodate around 32 guests. Plus a camp site that can take up 15-20 tents. Food and water and food will be served by the Centre.

There are hotels in Zhemgang and Tingtibi too.

Other nearby pilgrimage sites:
The famed Buli Tsho is a 45-minutes drive from the Centre. Zhemgang town is 30-40 minutes and is the site of Zhemgang Dzong, Lhamo Remati temple and Mani Dunjur built by late Jadrel Rimpoche.

On the importance of Drubchen:

“If there’s any drupchen happening, one must try to participate. Just as we should participate in tsok offerings again and again, it is really good to participate in a drupchen as a Vajrayana practitioner again and again. It is believed that just going to one drupchen will take care of all samaya breakages instantly. Where there is no drupchen, one should try to organize one. “…………………………..

……………….. Dzongsar Khyentse Rimpoche

Be a verb. Not a noun

I refrain from going to social events in Thimphu because it is a highly sophisticated city. People now greet you with a question, “Busy?” instead of kuzuzangpo. I am never busy. And, I guess, no one is in Bhutan except for the bees.**

More importantly, I avoid going around because of a very uncomfortable question I face: “Where do you work?”, which means what are you? First, I do many things to point out just one work. Second, in a city that is dominated by power and privileges, this question also implies that if you are not in the government service, you are of less value, or you are not serving your country – or a combination of both. As a matter of fact, many non-civil servant youth will even respond, “I am not working,” if they are not in the government.

While you can shrug off the topic as nonsensical, it actually gaslights you into believing that you aren’t doing much with life. In fact, ever since I left the government service I have often asked that existential question, and even pondered deeply if I was really playing the rolling stone that gathers no moss by moving too much.

I was in an eternal dilemma.

My moment of enlightentment, however, came through in 2019 while attending a wellbeing retreat in Bali in Indonesia. There, my good friend, Ron Elison (PhD), a professor-psychiatrist from University of California at Berkeley, was speaking on the topic of discovering one’s true self.

“Be a verb, and not a noun”, he said, somewhere in his hour-long talk. And went on to explain the difference.

I was like, “Wow! That’s me. I am a verb.” 

Life is about doing. Not about being.

A verb describes an action, or an experience, such as “feel”, “run”, or “do”, while a noun only refers to a thing like a table, cat, or chair.

While saying, “I am a teacher” or “I teach” may sound similar, there is a difference. Being a verb is to be dynamic and action-oriented, while nouns are static and role-focussed.

For example, when you say, “I am the CEO,” your focus is yourself. But when you say, “I lead a company”, or better still, “I provide leadership to my team”, you are action-driven. Your focus is your people. Furthermore, a verb gets you into doing mode. If you think that your role is to lead or provide leadership, you will be motivated to do it.

As you verb your life along, you will soon discover that there is simply a greater joy in “doing” than in “being”. Although I resigned being an engineer in 2002, I still like building stuff. In fact not a day goes by that I don’t look for one of my tools. I love storytelling and taking pictures. I publish some on my blog or on my social media handles, but I don’t claim to be a writer. I like to learn new things and I went back to school at 49 and earned my second advanced degree, and now I teach another field: communication, social science and traditional wisdoms. 

I am not a public servant but I serve rural communities by being there for them when they need. I helped build three temples as a social space in two far-flung villages of Rukha and Lamga – both in Wangdue Dzongkhag ( I am from Trashigang). I don’t say that I am a Buddhist. I just practise loving kindness and compassion (core Mahayana teachings) everytime an opportunity arises. These days I am helping organise Phurpa Drubchen (Vajrakilaya rituals) in Zhemgang to see off the Year of the Tiger and welcome the Year of the Rabbit. Hard-core Vajrayana practioner? Na! I am just verb-ing away my life.

There is science behind

There is something called linguistic determinism – a sociological perspective that stipulates that the vocabularies you use determine who you are or what you become. A Stanford professor suggests that people who use more “but” when talking were less successful in life because they get less things done. E.g. I want to do this, but…. I want to help you, but…

In our case, the way you self-identify yourself as just “being” or “doing” will also define whether or not your life will be a fulfilling one.

Of course, labelling others, and ourselves, makes our brain feel safe. Or so some psychologists would say. It has its positive sides too. For instance, if you are walking in a jungle at night and see a dark figure, you will panic. But if your friend tells you that is a bush, you feel reassured. It is nature’s way to keep us calm.

Nonetheless, using nouns is not how one should identify oneself. Labelling is self-defeating, as writer Austin Kleon notes:

Lots of people want to be the noun without doing the verb. They want the job title without the work.

Let go of the thing that you’re trying to be (the noun), and focus on the actual work you need to be doing (the verb).

Therefore, don’t be just a teacher, but teach and inspire your pupils. Do try to be a writer. Just write! Don’t say you are a civil servant. Serve the public. Make a difference in someone’s life. And, don’t look for a job. Look to work.

Being a verb will surely take you far and to more interesting places than just being a noun, because, a rolling stone gathers more moss.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

NB:

* In western cultures (Australia included), you have more chance to land a job, or a scholarship, if you use verbs when you describe your resume’. E.g. instead of saying, “I was the media director”, you say, “I led the strategic communication team for this or that event”. Always action words to describe yourself and your achievements. Another example: I never say, “I was the chief engineer of BBS”, but I say, “I brought TV into Bhutan in 1999”. And people go, “Wow!”

** When my friends, who are heading government departments, and corporations, say they are busy, I tell them, “You are not busy. You are stupid.”

I spent much of my youth learning science and technology. Now I am learning about our culture, traditions and spirituality
We are the self-appointed wisdom keepers of the world – from 4 different cultures living in 5 different countries

Keep moving. You are not a tree

My friend, Rajesh, has a problem. He doesn’t know how to introduce me when we meet new people. 

I studied engineering in college, and worked as the chief engineer in Bhutan Broadcasting Service before I made a complete career-shift and went to make documentaries and host TV shows (Q&A with Dorji Wangchuk between 2003 and 2005). I also led the BBS as the GM of administration and HR, as the No. 2 at BBS. I eventually resigned from there to go into freelance filmmaking and newspaper column writing for two years before I was inducted as the Director of the Royal Office of Media in 2009 to head the media relations and public affairs for the highest office of the land. I served there for four and half years. I am now into my third career as an academic and educator – again in another field altogether- communication and social science. I teach media, communication and wellbeing leadership.

So who, or what am I? An engineer, TV anchor, media exec, filmmaker, writer, PR guy, or a professor?

Well, I am all of these – and none of these. In the sense I never liked to be stuck with titles and designations – and in short to be labelled, which in Bhutanese popular culture, you are often remembered by those titles instead of the given name.

First of all, when you take the label too seriously (many do) you entrap yourself with a list of do’s and don’ts, between what is proper and what is not, and within the boundaries set by the society. For example, if you are a TV star, you are not supposed to be underdressed. Or if you are a professor you cannot go dancing.

Second, when you are stuck with a title or designation, slowly and unconsciously you build a false identity of yourself around that label, such as “Now I am a director. I need to stop hanging around with my drunkard friend in a pub”. You get deeper and deeper into that “identity” that after a while it feels scary to leave, to change, or to move on, or move out of it. In general, this is what I see happening with many people with power. You take root. You build yourself a comfort zone. You don’t want to step down, or step aside. Eventually, you will undo your own legacy.

Lastly, isn’t life too short to be limited to doing just one thing?

The world is a beautifully crafted and diverse place where, besides the different cultures and traditions of different countries, there are microcosms of subcultures in every profession with their own charm and rich experiences. For instance, the microcosm of engineers is totally different as compared to, let’s say, that of the doctors, or taxi drivers. The life of a filmmaker is a world apart from that of a bureaucrat, or of a minister.

I call each of these lives another mode of existence. Nothing more. Nothing less. Each has it own share of fun and fares – and of struggles and skeletons. To live a life in full is to experience as many of these different worlds.

Although we inhabit the same country, or the same city, at the same time, the world we see and experience depends on what we perceive of ourselves. That’s why the identity you build for yourself is important. That’s why not being stuck with something – a job or a profession, enables you to immerse into varied experiences and microcosms of the different worlds that the universe offers. 

Someone said, “Keep moving – unless you are a tree”.

So, who am I? Maybe I am a verb.

How? I will elaborate in my next post.

2023: Here you are. And here I am.

It was January 2020. My bags were packed, ticket booked and hotels too. I was planning to fly back to Macau after the New Year break in Bhutan when I received an “urgent email”. I was asked not to re-enter the university campus and was told to wait for further instructions. A public health warning was issued.

What happened next is anyone’s guess. 

Disruptions on a global scale where dreams and destinations had to be put on hold, and projects and prospects had to be dumped altogether. To put it a la John Lennon, life happened when I was busy making other plans.

Fast forward to three years, and we are in 2023. And things have become even more uncertain. Maybe the looming threat of another Covid pandemic is real. Maybe it is the lasting damage brought about by it. Whatever. We live in a critical time and must now accept that uncertainty will be a norm hereafter. 

I had written about how we as a nation must respond to the post-Covid era. (See ”Thoughts and dreams on the eve of the National Day”, December 18th, 2021, Kuensel). 

In this article let me share a few things that I learnt as Covid caged us indoors – fearful and pondering, but left me a better me – and also as a fatter me.

1. Just do it! Nothing is permanent.

If I have to meet a friend, or a relative, I just call right away. If I want to go for a pilgrimage, I set off immediately. If I need to do a gyelwa (accumulation of merit), I just do it. I don’t put it off for some other time because that day may never come. And if another pandemic strikes us, that day will never come. 

Bhutanese are master procrastinators. We live, and act and do things, as if we are immortals. We must remember an old Bhutanese adage: “one day we will fall sick, we will feel the pain, and we will die eventually”. Covid has delivered the greatest teachings of impermanence.

If it is something positive, just do it! Do not procrastinate. And if you cannot be nice, do not be mean (my late mom’s golden rule). Remember, nothing lasts.

2. My way – and the highway

A little surprising fact about me. I get easily disappointed when things don’t go my way. I used to be, “My way or the highway.” Now I am “My way and the highway”. Covid has taught me that the world does not dance to my tunes only. There are many things that I can do nothing about. And there is no use of worrying about them. 

Now, whatever is within my reach, I do my best. Whatever is beyond me, I let it be.

At times, though, I slip into my old self – and my heart sinks seeing some things unfold in front of me – only to immediately tell myself, “Nope! You shouldn’t be bothered with something that you have no control of.” 

I let life move on and I follow it with humility, gratitude and acceptance.

3. I am enough. I have enough

In August 2013, after a long career in the government, I packed my small car and set off for my hometown – Tashigang, where I was assigned to replace a runaway American professor, and teach a class of media students at Sherubtse College.

That short stint left an indelible mark in my lifestyle. I realised you don’t need much to live or survive. I experimented living on 10 pieces of clothing. I succeeded. 

It is in our nature to keep wanting for more. Now I think twice, or thrice, before I make any purchases – especially clothes.

No brands or bigger cars can make up for what you are not. Instead, if you just keep repeating to yourself, “I have enough. I am enough”, you will feel complete and content.

4. Smile! You are alive

In case you are not up to speed with the latest stats, Covid-19 has killed seven million people around the world. That is ten times the population of Bhutan. Plus over half a billion have been infected.

And yet when I look around I see we are all alive but back to grumbling en masse. It is appalling to observe how easily we forget the good things that happened to us, and around us, or were bestowed on us. The fact that we are still alive, in the first place, is in itself a great achievement. Not everyone has been as lucky. So, smile! 

Don’t take anything for granted – your life, your job, and your relationships – the people under your care, or those around you. 

Do everything that excites you. There is another popular Bhutanese saying – we don’t take anything when you die. Of course, you do. Your karma will follow you. The gyelwa you do will accompany you. Your legacy will be immortalised after you. 

We lost 2020 and 2021, for sure, and also 2022 for many of us. We have gone through so much. But 2023 is here. Embrace it with a new you, and not as your old self.

🥳🥳🥳

Nyilo – The Return of the Sun

Nyilo literally means the day when “the Sun returns”. It is believed to be the shortest day of the year.

One folk belief of Nyilo – the winter solstice, is that the Sun returns from the South after paying respect to Shinje (Sanskrit: Yamaraj). Shinje is one of the Deities of Ten Directions (ཕྱོགས་སྐྱོང་བཅུ་, chokkyong chu).

Since Shinje is also the Lord of Judgement of Death, there are believed to be many dead souls waiting for the final verdict. Some of them escape with the Sun, or they tag along. These dead souls called Shinpo are believed to bring harm, deaths and diseases to the human world.

What this entails is that the days following the Nyilo should, therefore, be dedicated to doing rituals to push them away. This maybe the reason why annual kurims for health of the house or of the clan, or even village, are conducted in the winter months.

The general norm for performing annual preventive or propitiating rituals is as follows: life threats averting rituals to be conducted in Winter months, and prosperity-seeking rituals around the Summer solstice. The latter is when the Sun returns from the North, which is ruled by Kubera – the wealth deity.

What may be suggested is that in Summer, for example, one can conduct Drolma Yuldog, or Namgyel Tongtshog, while in Winter you can do Jabzhi, Mikha Kharam, or even Tordog.

#wintersolstice #nyilo #sun #shortestday #yamaraj #yama #kubera

Source: Oral explaination by my teacher, First Tsugla Lopen Samten Dorji, who conducts his annual choku on Nyilo and on the two subsequent days

#wintersolstice #nyilo #sun #shortestday #yamaraj #yama #kubera

When destiny finds you

Athang Rukha, Wangdue. 25 December 2022.

I was born in a remote village in eastern Bhutan. My birth prophecy had a monastic life prescribed for me – unequivocally. From my mother’s side, I come from a long line of lamas and yogis. We can trace our family line to three important religious lineages and, like all eldest male members of our family, I was also brought up for a life of spirituality. However, fate took me elsewhere – to modern education in a Catholic school, higher studies in engineering in Italy, and awesome careers in the media, at the royal court, and finally in the academia.

A chance assignment took me to Athang Rukha in 2007. It was at a two-day walk from the nearest road back then. That trip followed a two-year voluntary work for a non-profit organisation. When that ended I stayed back to help the villagers build a temple on the spot, where what remains of the original structure was two pieces of mud wall, and three sacred relics that were left unattended in a hut.

15 years, three temples and many happy and historic moments later the resident lama, Ugyen Tshering, and I came up with an ambitious 5-day Tshobum-Rabney-Tshechu project. We wanted the Tshobum (literally meaning 108,000 Festive Offerings) to help the locals accumulate Tsho (prosperity merit) so that they do not return to being poor and destitute – and to offer gratitude to the divine and to those who held our hands. The Rabney, meaning “consecration”, was to sanctify the two additional temples I had built – one in Rukha and one in Lamga, during the the three pandemic years. Finally, the Tshechu was to put a final seal of Dharma in this virgin territory, which has mostly been practicing shamanism and animism.

In the days running up to the event, some people were worried if all the planned activities weren’t too ambitious. Even Gangtey Rimpoche, who was going to preside everything, kindly enquired if we needed anything – food offering (tshog), money, butter lamps, or mattresses and blankets for monks to stay. I assured everyone that I would provide all the necessary financial back up for this event, and in future too if so people wished or if the tradition required it.

Honestly, I didn’t know exactly the amount of hard work, both mundane and religious, that went on such occasions. I have rarely had the opportunity to be on the driving seat.

There were over several rituals and mantras, of varying length, that were chanted, accompanied by a full set of religious instruments, with some 50 monks. When one ended, another began, and they went for days and nights – and non-stop in both the old and the new temple. At various intervals, tea and broths had to be served, money offered and food (tsho) and ritual cakes (torma) cast away. Some at wee hours of the night. The cooks and attendees worked round-the-clock shifts. During the day there were more rituals and public celebrations and mask dances. In short, it was tough for everyone – from the Rimpoches to the young monks, and to the community.

I also didn’t know that this was a major religious undertaking. It was only when it was all over that we fully realised what we went through. We had just done what many affluent villages in the lower Sha region haven’t – and achieved what many can just dream of. After His Holiness and the Yangsey left the valley, I met the villagers and explained to them the significance – of what we just did, the history we created and our responsibility thereafter. I told them:

“First, the abode of Palden Lhamo, and the site where Terton Pema Lingpa meditated on his way from Bumthang to Gangtey, and which was later blessed by the Second Gangtey Trulku Tenzin Lekpai Dondrub in 1647, is your village. Although you are not the original inhabitants of this village, the destiny and the duty to be the patron now fall squarely on you.”

“Second, from now on you are no more the lowly hunters-gatherers or the outcast but a community that has hosted the Ninth Gantey Trulku Rimpoche and the 11th Thuksey Yangsey Rimpoche, together, and the village that has organised the first Tshechu (sacred mask dance festival) in the lower Sha region. Take pride and all the credits for this. You may not realise it now but when you reach my age you can claim that during your time, you hosted a Gangtey Trulku after close to 400 years.”

“Third, I am a Sharchop from eastern Bhutan. I accidentally landed here some 15 years ago. Now, forget about knowing every household, I also know the cows and dogs and to which family they belong. Our past karmic connections have brought us together. I was supposed to be a monk and fulfill my share of religious undertaking. I think this valley is where I was destined to fulfill them. So, please do not feel indebted to me because I had to put out so much resources. Instead celebrate that you are also well on your path to Dharma, and not going for another hunt.”

I am not sure if the people understood what I told them or what they achieved or witnessed, but over time I am sure they will. I am only glad that they believed in me, and laboured for over a month to prepare for the event.

As for me, they say, “one often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.”(Jean de La Fontaine). I say that is darn right. Fate has swayed me here and there. But destiny? It finds you ultimately. You got to fulfill it. Somehow.

The 5-day event was a culmination and consecration of my 15 years of service to the community, and to the Dharma, which I will always cherish, and try building on it.

Invitation to all readers

If you are driving from Wangdue to Tsirang, or vice versa, and you are not in a rush, make a detour to Rukha from Taksha Forest Range Office. The drive to Rukha is around one hour, and small Alto cars can ply too.

The abode of Palden Lhamo is at Rukha Neykhang. Visit it! You will be blessed with good health since Palden Lhamo has a black pouch to store your diseases and obstacles. The caretaker is a jolly man called Aap Kingka.

This was how we got to Lamga village back in 2015
First visit in 2007

Bringing the blessings to the valley

Athang Rukha, Wangdue, 23 December 2022.
Tshe Wang is a Buddhist religious ceremony whereby a lama confers a life empowerment blessing to disciples and devotees. Literally translated as “life confidence”, Tshe Wang ensures the recipient to be healthy and confident to lead a life towards self realization and of service to all sentient beings.

I had requested His Holiness Gangteng Trulku Rimpoche to confer a Tshe Wang to each and every person in the Rukha, on the last day, so that no one gets back to being what they were before I arrived in the valley in 2007. Meaning in abject poverty.

Rimpoche smiled, perhaps amused by another wierd request from me. 😂😂😂

Over the last few years I have also been reminding the people of Rukha that it is difficult to prosper but it is very easy perish, and destroy one’s hard work of many years and decades in an instant.

Furthermore, the village of Rukha has a history of vanishing. Between 1931 and 1933, a terrible epidemic wiped out the original inhabitants. The village remained desolated till all the land were granted to the Oleps by His Majesty the Fourth King in 1982. Until then the Oleps were forest dwellers practicing hunting and shifting cultivation – a practice that is locally known as tseri.

The presence and the blessings of a high lama is believed to deter any such terrible epidemic to occur again.

His Holiness not only agreed to bless them individually but even offered more. “Let me add Ta Cha Chung Sum Wang, since these people are farmers and have to disturb the earth and the environment,” Rimpoche said.

Ta Chha Chung Sum, which stand for Tandrin (Hayagriva in Sanskrit), Chhana Dorje (Vajrapani), and Jachung (Garuda). Their powers are believed to help the humans to ward off all negative forces from the nature and the supernatural. If this was the case then I thought the Ta Cha Chung Sum would also be useful to the Dessung boys and girls who have just started to work on a fishery project at the mouth of Harachu Valley. We invited them too for the blessing.

Having blessed the land with the sacred dances (chham) and having paid gratitide and 108,000 Offerings to the Divine (tshobum), the final day was a day of mass blessings by His Holiness Gangtey Rimpoche, and by the young Thuksey Yangsey – which is historic first in the valley, and which I am afraid may be difficult to make it happen again.

When I offered the Kusung Mendrel to thank the two Rimpoches for their blessings, His Holiness pulled out something from a bag and placed it on my head.

“This is most sacred phurba (ritual dagger) I have.” Rimpoche added.

As I received the blessing, I wished that the people of Rukha valley remain prosperous and never return to the state of poverty and destitutes, and that each and every person gathered here achieve realisation and work towards the benefits of all sentient beings.

And that our country remain the land of the peaceful dragon.

😌😌😌

Consecrating the two temples – in Rukha and in Lamga

Athang gewog, 22 December 2022.

“This task falls on the jindha (religious patron),” His Holiness the Gangtey Rimpoche tells me with a smile. I nod obediently and take up my role for the occasion with honour, pride and reverence.

The task was to carry a large bowl of colored rice known as chhandru, which a lama would sprinkle around to mark the final act of consecration of a sacred place, monument or an object. This time the two new temples at Rukha and at Lamga are being consecrated.

As I accompanied His Holiness Gangtey Trulku Rimpoche (one of the highest reincarnate lamas in the Nyingma tradition) in a procession of monks and lay officials carrying the eight sacred symbols, with sounds of horns and trumpets blaring in front of us, my mind travelled back to the nostalgic memories of my first trip to Rukha in 2007 when I found this village in total misery. Then to 2009 when all of them received their permanent houses in place of the bamboo shacks. And then to 2014 when we consecrated the first temple in Rukha – in honour, and at the site, of the dharma protector Palden Lhamo (Kaladevi, or Sri Devi).

In Lamga, the sight of the thirteen women – lined up in a traditional reception style with a bangchung of rice, egg and josstick, took me back to 2015 when I visited them and they received me in a similar manner.

During that visit, I learnt that my friend, and their aging leader, Aap Mindru, had passed away and had left a death-bed wish to his family – to welcome me back to the village (this is accorded only to high lamas and officials) and to lead the village and help build a community temple in Lamga – among other things. He also left a piece of land if I wanted to build a house for myself (which I have refused until now). He was the only wise man of the village and I was both sad, and surprised by the wish and touched by the gift of a plot of land. Outside of my family there was only one person who left a death-bed wish left for me in my life. 

I was financially unsound back then but I was determined to fulfill the wish of my Late friend – and become their leader. I promised to build a community temple together. We could start immediately but cautioned them that the progress would be slow, as I would have to depend on my salary only. My wife was more shocked by my promise because we had just struggled building the first one in Rukha, which was consecrated just a few months earlier by former Tsugla Lopen of Zhung Dratshang – in December 2014. 

So, we worked when I had money, stopped when I became broke and resumed when I had saved enough to continue. Seven years later, ola! We did it!    

His Majesty the King, at the recent National Day Address reminded that “there is nothing that the Bhutanese cannot do. It is just a matter of whether we want to do it or not”.

The Rukhaps – also known as Oleps, have done it. The Lamgaps, who are Phobjibs resettled here, did it. Just over a decade ago the Oleps were scrambling for food in the jungle or elsewhere – and living day by day – not knowing where their next meal would come from. And living in make-shift bamboo shacks. Yet in less than a decade, they were seeing a second temple being consecrated in their village. And now they are even joined by their urban members who drove into their village in their own cars. The villagers produced all the food and hosted some 50 monks needed for the three-day festival. The urban salary men and women pulled out one-third of the cash of 450,000 ngultrums required for the three-day festival. I covered the rest.

While there were outpouring of words of appreciation and gratitude to me for taking the lead, the Oleps and the Lamgaps have every reason to celebrate and take credit for the achievement. 

There is an adage in Bhutanese: “Even if the privileged and the endowed give, but if those who receive cannot receive well, there won’t be any good outcomes.”

Therefore, the people of Rukha and Lamga are entitled to celebrate their extraordinary feat of doing all the hard manual labour – and above all, for believing in themselves and their dream, and come together and work towards it.

If only this is replicated among every Bhutanese across the whole country.

Launching a tshechu

Athang Rukha – Wangdue. When the Rukhaps asked me to help them (re)build the temple at the site believed to be the abode of Palden Lhamo I had no choice but to accept. (As to why is another story for another time).

It was 2009, and when I looked around and toured the forested area, I thought, why not even a religious festival. Afterall, this regionel does not even seem to have received any form of Dharma (I later learnt that it did but because of remoteness, Shamanism prevailed again).

I had, of course, not the slightest of idea as to what really goes behind the religious dances. All I know is the sacred mask dances are sacred and they mimic the realm of Gods. And the masks are real deities bestowing the real blessings. And I wanted to cheery-top this region as a spiritual paradise, over its stunning natural beauty and a virgin territory. Many spiritual masters in the past conducted sacred mask dances as the final ceremony in the propagation of dharma – especially in Vajrayana Buddhism.

In 2020, I shared my vision with the newly-appointed resident Lama, Ugyen Tshering. He was bit shocked by my religious cluelessness but was kind to say it could be done. He knew the head dancer (chhampoen) of Gangtey Shedra.

Four months back when I approached His Holiness Gangtey Trulku Rimpoche with my wild request, which meant the monk-dancers had to be released from Gangtey Shedra, Rimpoche was bit surprised by my innocent request. I proposed that the sacred dances would be in conjuction with the consecration of the newly-built community tshokhang. He didn’t seem impressed and didn’t say a word on it.

I reached out to him again three months later during his short visit to Thimphu. His Holiness was still undecided but said he would look into it.

Again a week back I traced Rimpoche at his remote Winter residence in Sha Chitokha, in upper Wangdue.

“Oh! It is you again,” sighed His Holiness.

I gave a mischevious smile. 😁😁😁

“We can give a try. A few numbers this time,” Rimpoche told me. “Those that can be taken out,” He added.

I was so elated that I could barely feel my feet on the ground. I felt as if I was flying from Chitokha to Wangdue to Rukha, where I have been posted for a month to personally oversee the preparation.

Moral of the story: sacred dances are very sacred and you just can’t take them anywhere, and do what you like.

Anyway, His Holiness and 49 monks led by three khenpos (and not one) of the highest order first conducted a long ritual in the temple, carried out the invocation of the protector deity Palden Lhamo, sanctified the ground, and did an elaborate ceremony just to prepare the ground.

Now I undertstand why everyone was less excited than me. My apologies.

Nonetheless, my eternal gratitude for helping me fulfil a dream goes to Gangtey Trulku. And then to Khandrola for consenting to let the young Thuksey Yangsey travel to such remote and inhospitable area. His presence made the occasion special and more sacred.

And finally to the khenpos and monks – for the hard work that goes behind unseen. They conducted the ceremonies and danced during the day, and at night prepare the ritual cakes, and rehearsed the dances.

May their deeds bring peace and prosperity in the region, and in the whole country.

What next? May be an annual festival would be difficult for this humble valley. Perhaps to make to every three years and then to commemorate this visit of the Gangtey Rimpoche and Thuksey Yangsey by organising a Baza Guru Dungdrub (billion chants of Baza Guru mantra) would be best as the way forward.