Tracing the Four Skills of Wang Valley – Paga Gonpa

Many years back when I was building the radio repeater stations overlooking Paro, Thimphu and Chukha one thing that I enjoyed was visiting local temples and listening to local folk tales. There was one popular saying in that area, which remained ingrained in my head, and that went something like: Do not compete in making drums with Tshamdrak Gonpa. Do not compete in reading scriptures with Paga Gonpa. Do not compete in blowing horns with Chizhing Gonpa.  Do not compete in mask dance with Datong Gonpa. 

Popular sayings and proverbs convey timeless wisdom. In Bhutan they are more powerful and important for intergenerational transmission of values and belief systems because of the lack of writing culture. For a researcher, or a journalist, these sayings are clues, or keys, to greater hidden meanings, and vital information to spiritual treasures.

Coming back to the saying, it is because Tshamdrak Gonpa is supposed to have, as treasure-relics, a set of 108 drums; Paga Gonpa has a set of Kanjur made out of a single daphne tree (འདལ་ཤིང༌།); Chizhing gonpa has a pair of Tibetan horns (དུང༌།); and Datong Gonpa has the religious dance – ter-chham. Or so I was told. The other thing is these four temples were under Thimphu Dratshang before district remapping two the first two under Chukkha – and hence, the popular title, The Four Skills of Wang Valley.

On a side note, I just wish that our political-administrative undertakings respect the social and cultural backgrounds and contexts, because they could erase timeless wisdoms, or hurt local sentiments – or both. This is another issue for another time.

Anyway, last weekend I set out to discover these four places. 

Pagar Gonpa

Pagar Sangachholing Gonpa, or simply Paga Gonpa, sits on the left ridge above the highway after one crosses Chuzom Bridge on the Thimphu – Phuntsholing route. It takes little over an hour to drive from the capital. It has a commanding view of Dawakha village, Dobji Dzong, and Nyechen Dongkala, Phurdo Gonpa and Mendrup Gonpa.

There are varying stories of its origin. One is associated with Kunga Gyatsho (1702 -1776) – one of the four principal students of Tshang Khenchen Palden Gyatsho – the biographer of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (1594 – 1651). The other tells the story of it being established in 1707 by Geshe Kunga Gyeltshen who, when he was meditating above in a place called Jangkhochen, saw a crow fly towards him, pick his small cymbal and then fly away and drop it at the present site where Paga Gonpa now stands.

Whichever of the two stories is true is secondary. They both add to the folklore. What is important is that Paga Gonpa became the most important and famed library in mediaeval Bhutan for Buddhist scriptures and scholarship. Among them the sacred Kanjur volume is believed to be the ter (sacred relic) and was written by Kunga Gyatsho himself from the papers made out of a single daphne tree (འདལ་ཤིང༌། dey-shing in Dzongkha).

The temple is being rebuilt after a devastating fire destroyed its structures in 2012. The Kanjur was saved, fortunately. Owing to the rennovation, all the scriptures and books are locked away, except for one volume, for public viewing, that is placed in front of the main statue of Shakyamuni Buddha.

The kudrung chorten

An equally mind-blowing relic is the kudrung chorten (stupa) in the small temple located in front of the main Paga Gonpa. The chorten is believed to be one of the three stupas of its style and spiritual value that are still standing in the world. It is very powerful and any wish made here is believed to be fulfilled.

This small chapel also has mural painting in fresco style, which is now extinct, as all murals paintings are done on canvas and then pasted on the temple walls. This temple was not destroyed by the big fire of 2012.

Chhu Yenla Gyedhen

About 30 minutes walk from the temple there is the famous Chhu Yenlha Gyedhen, which means “Water of Eight Qualities”, which not only is believed to cure illnesses but also cleanse your bad Karma.

Many monks and masters in the past would come from Punakha and Thimphu dratshang to take the holy bath and stay in Paga for a week.

Getting there

From Chuzom Check post drive towards Phuntsholing and look out for the red signboard on the left. You have to drive past the Paga village and community temple. It is not visible from the highway, or from any point of the feeder road.

A trip to Paga Gonpa would be a perfect Sunday afternoon drive from Thimphu, Paro or Chukha. There are few places for picnic and a wonderful sunset spot.

NB – I plan to return after the reconstruction is over and all relics are put out on public display

(Picture coutesy: BBS)
Paga Village was once along the ancient “highway” to Pasakha from Thimphu.
View towards Dobji Dzong
View towards Dongkala

2 thoughts on “Tracing the Four Skills of Wang Valley – Paga Gonpa

  1. Gyambo Dorji

    Sir, you have written several local folklore of many villages in Bhutan. None of them have failed to interest me. I am sure, it is the same with other readers la. Sir, wouldn’t it be nice, and have a greater degree of impact if you could compile all your writeups and transform it into a book la.
    A humble suggestion from your literary fan.


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