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.