The newly-built road to Lamga seems painstakingly carved out of a rocky vertical cliff that one miss could take you flying straight down to Harachu river. However, my host and driver, Chorten Tshering, is hardly bothered by it. He is rather proud and happy. “When I first landed here as a groom, I was asking God what I had done in my past life to be transplanted all the way here from Mongar?” he says with a beaming smile. “Now I don’t even think of my native village anymore.”
Chorten Tshering, popularly known as Kota, married into a family in Lamga and is now the de facto leader of the community. His father-in-law, Mindu, who died two years ago, had led them before him. My association with this community started in 2008 when I was volunteering for Tarayana Foundation that was building them homes, sending their children to school and teaching them health and sanitation among others. The Lamgaps are simple innocent folks who depended on Mindu for every wise decision. And with him gone, Chorten Tshering and I decided to fill the void – as wise men of the village. Sharp, quick and resourceful, Kota learnt to drive in few days. When the Gewog Administration implemented the farm road in the valley, he befriended and invited the bulldozer driver and the site supervisor in his house and lavished them with food and drinks. Although Lamga has been trailing behind other villages in every aspect of modern developmental works, it became the first village to be connected with a motor road in the valley. “The government may provide the budget but it is the hands of the people on the ground as to how the road should be built. If we treat them well, they would go an extra mile to do a good job,” he explains. Even before the road was through, he bought a used Bolero and was ahead of the game.
Lamga village is located at the southeastern end of Athang Gewog. Beyond the village is the massive Black Mountain range and further towards the east is the Mangdechu valley. To the south is Tsirang. It is a new settlement of Phobjibs who made there their permanent home after the government asked them to choose between Phobjikha and Lamga. Until then, they moved between the two distant places in the bjasa-guensa (summer-winter) tradition – a practice that has been long been discontinued in other parts of Bhutan.
Moving to Lamga, however, posed a challenge they forgot to consider. They needed to appease their deities regularly. There are at least three rituals to be conducted every month. “During the monsoon, we do the rituals under the tarpaulin sheets in a pouring rain,” explained Daw Gyeltshen, the village Tshogpa. Few years back, on the insistence of Chorten Tshering and Daw Gyeltshen, I initiated a community temple project.
When I say, I am doing a temple, I am not doing everything. From my experience doing my first temple in Rukha, you only need to put in, may be, a third of what it might take. The rest is something that the community will do on their own. As a net result, you have the people that contribute in equal measures and feel proud to be a part of the whole process. This is called empowerment. In Lamga, the same modus operandi was followed. I provided the three main statues, fuel for the wood working machineries, royalty for timber, some cash to the chief carpenter, the roofing materials. The villagers happily go into the jungle to extract the timber, find boulders near the river and carry them to the site, dig muds and pound them for days and months till they have all the four walls. Compared to what I put in, theirs is a much larger share.
As the Bolero pick-up truck negotiates the dusty hair-pin bends taking us the village, we see a huge smoke of incense shooting up from the site where the new temple is built. As we get closer, we see the whole village lined up to greet the chief guest (me). “Sorry to keep you waiting. There was a road block above Samthang,” I tell the people as I jump out of the car. I then walk and greet one woman after another – with each of them offering me a basket of raw rice, three eggs and three incense sticks. This is a traditional way of welcoming an important guest into a village. We all gather in the temple that is under construction. All around us, the place has been cleaned, decorated and done up really well for my impending visit. My heart is overjoyed to see the progress at the site. They have worked hard.
“Thank you everyone, for this most heartwarming welcome to your village,” I open my speech. “Allow me to tell you that it’s a very humbling experience and totally undeserved for something so little that I have done for you,” I continue. I updated on the statues of Tshela Namsum (Tsepamay, Namgyelmo and Drolma) being completed in Gangtey and Tashi Yangste and ready to be transported to site. I conclude with a renewed commitment to see to the completion of the project. When I am done, Chorten Tshering and Daw Gyeltshen share on the recent visit of His Eminence the Gangtey Tulku, who came and blessed the place. “That’s wonderful,” I interrupt them. “However,” they continue, “this spot is nam droesum sa droesum (literally, three skies and three earth*) and Gangtey Tulku told us that you might have been a lama in your past life. That’s why nothing bad happened after initiating a temple here.” In fact, I was told that three people before me, including one lama, had initiated a similar project and had failed in their attempts.
“Oh!” I replied and laughing at myself – bemused by the fact that I have just been promoted as “lama” – from being the Wise Man.
* Nam droesum sa droesum refers to a place where two rivers meet in mountainous area and thus creating a spot with three valleys and three skies. The local belief is that such places have excess of cosmic energy that ordinary dwellings would perish. Only spiritual structures can come up and that too initiated by accomplished masters.