20 March 2024

Altitude 8600

Bumthang Valley, renowned for its temples, and more temples. It is a region of numerous sacred stupas, fortresses and monasteries. Today, we visit four temples in quick succession. There is a danger that all temples will become a blur but for the fact each seems so unique.

A Plethora of Temples

Jamphel Lhakhang 

Our first temple of the morning is Jamphel Lhakhang, also known as Jambay Lhakhang. It is one of the oldest monasteries in Bhutan, dating from the 7th century and the introduction of Buddhism into Bhutan.

Legend reports this monastery represents one of the 108 temples built by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo and his wives on a single day in 659 CE. Stupas surround the central shrine. 

Its purpose was to forever pin to earth a demoness-ogress who was causing obstruction to the spread of Buddhism. Therefore, temples purposely constructed over her body parts spread across Tibet and Bhutan. The face of the Ogress lay in Tibet where they built many temples. But more temples were needed. Ultimately, twelve temples pinned down her shoulders and legs. In Paro, Kyichu Lhakhang covers her left foot. At Jamphel, the temple rests upon the left knee of the Ogress. 

Structurally, the temple is a one-story complex. Its main hall holds a large idol of Maitreya Buddha surrounded by four Bodhisattvas. Paintings depict the Buddha and the Eight Manifestations of Guru Rimpoche. (Tibet recognized Padmasambhava as one of the founding fathers of Tibetan Buddhism). Paintings of the Thousand Buddhas cover the walls and prayer wheels line the room. The paintings are priceless as many date back to the 7th century.

Originating at this temple and re-created each winter is the “Naked Dance.” Participants dance naked, just wearing a mask, with the purpose of driving away demons.

Kurjey Lhakhang

Kurjey Lhakhang is one of Buddhism’s most sacred places in Bhutan because Guru Rinpoche-Padmasambhava left his body imprinted on a cave here during his meditation. A large tree believed to be a terma, or hidden treasure/teachings, was left by Guru.

It is a large monastery involving three separate sections. The oldest building was constructed during the 8th century. The Queen Mother of the first king built the second section in 1984, while a third section arose from the largess of the first king in 1990. The interior design, murals, and statues all have a feel as if they have been here for 200 years. Offerings of food, incense, idols, and representations of religious items abound. I wonder, what would Buddha think?

We heard a long lesson concerning the Bhavachakra or Buddhism’s Wheel of Life, a symbolic representation of cyclic existence found on the walls of Buddhist temples and monasteries. Explaining the importance of meditation to overcome the failings of ignorance, desire and hatred.

Our Buddhist guide talked of the roles of good and evil, reincarnation, the meditation needed to reach heaven rather than hell, learning the lessons of Buddha to progress to a better life. Some takeaways leave me perplexed: animals are unable to learn the teachings of Buddha, so it seems no chance to be reborn (I guess I need to stop saying I want to come back as a beloved cat); if you live a good life, you may gain what you want and have wealth in your next life (I suppose I should stop saying I am lucky for what I have, and except that I had a good past life in order to deserve the things that I have in this one); the poor have the life they have because their previous life was not a good one.

I may have misunderstood his explanation. But it seems that Buddhism is displaying many similarities with other religions in general: good and evil, reincarnation, or born again, heaven in hell. In speaking of the fifth reincarnation of a particular god, I guess it’s best we leave DNA out of it.

This complex is also the final resting place of the first kings of Bhutan. Cremation of tne kings occur here in the courtyard. There is a rock stupa, not painted white, where the ashes of kings 1, 2, and 3 are interred.

Tamshing Lhakhang

Tamshing Lhakhang Temple was built in 1501 by Terton Pema Lingpa (1450-1521), a renowned Buddhist saint. The temple houses religious Buddhist paintings and is the most important Nyingmapa temple in Bhutan. Nyingma is the oldest of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The original murals on the walls are some of the oldest paintings in Bhutan, dating back to the 15th century. Furthermore, the sacred dances performed at traditional festivals throughout Bhutan originated at Tamshing.

Its temple and monastery hold a direct connection to the Bhutanese saint Pema Lingpa and the aspect of Tibetan Bhddhism embodying the concept of enlightened beings taking bodily forms to continue a life of spiritualteaching. Tamshing is now the seat of Sungtrul Rinpoche, the current Speech incarnation of Pema Lingpa (as opposed to the Mind and Body incarnations).

To pay for your bad deeds, one can shoulder a suit of chain mail, weighing about 70 lbs, and circle the temple. For those who take the walk seriously, the repented circles 108 times. For me, once was enough. The chain mail is heavy.

Just One More Temple

As monasteries, temples and dzongs go, they are beginning to blend together as for architecture, carvings, painting and importance. However, just as I think I have seen enough, I enter a new temple and am astounded by the beauty and uniqueness of each temple.

Unfortunately, I am giving up trying to following the guide’s stories. Too many myths and legends, too many names 24 letters long. One must let go and just enjoy the beauty and uniqueness of what is there. My eyes are on overload!

Kenchogsum Lhakhang Temple

Our fourth and last temple of the day is the 8th century Kenchogsum, The Temple of Three Jewels. This temple existed, according to the saint Pema Lingpa, as far back as the 8th century. In 1039, Bonpo Dragtshel, a tertön, discovered texts buried here by Padmasambhava. A tertön represents a discoverer of ancient hidden texts; many tertöns are considered to be incarnations of the twenty five main disciples of Guru Rinpoche-Padmasambhava.

According to legend, the king of the water deities rose out of the lake beneath the temple and offered Dragtshel a stone pillar and scroll. This concept of a lake beneath the monastery continues within another legend in which Pema Lingpa supposedly discovered the subterranean lake and concealed the entrance to it with a stone, which stands today in the courtyard of the monastery.

The interior is unique with its 3-story soaring pillars. The main relics include Buddhas of the Three Times (past, present and future), believed to have flown here. Thus, the name of the temple became The Three Jewels. Another sacred relic is a large bell presented by Nagas to Guru Rinpoche.

In February 2010, Kenchogsum Lhakhang suffered severe damage by fire. Rebuilt, the new temple and monastery were consecrated in November 2014.

Mebar Tsho – Burning Lake

I appreciate a relief from temples. We drive the short distance to Mebar Tsho, or “the Burning Lake”. A pleasant walk brings me to the lake. Actually, the lake is a rushing river, the water is not burning, the water is far from hot, but the entire area is peaceful. Little Buddhas, tiny stupa cupcakes lodged in rock crevices, small rock cairns, and multitudes of prayer flags color this very sacred site.

Mebar Tsho is a pool along a river in the Tang Valley about 30 minutes southeast Bumthang. Local legend says that the water contained a hidden holy treasure discovered by one of Bhutan’s most important religious figures, Terton Pema Lingpa, in the late 1400s.

Terton Pema Lingpa represents the reincarnation of an ancient guru known as the Second Buddha. According to tradition, in the 8th century, this guru hid secret teachings containing Buddhist wisdom for others find in the future so his principles could live on.

In the 15th century, Pema Lingpa experienced a vision about treasure hidden in a pool of the Tang Chhu River. When the locals expressed doubt, he submerged himself in the water holding a lit butter lamp. He resurfaced with a chest and a scroll, the lamp still aflame. From that time, the pool became known as Mebar Tsho, or Burning Lake.

Burning Lake remains one of the region’s most sacred places and a pilgrimage site for many Bhutanese people. A wooden bridge spans the river and thousands of prayer flags flutter in the breeze. An altar dedicated to Terton Pema Lingpa and many butter lamps can be found along the riverbanks as tribute. 

Red Panda Beer Factory

Our last stop of the day is a welcome change. Red Panda Beer is brewed at the oldest brewery in Bhutan located in Bumthang. And, because of its cute name, I was eager to try the fresh draft. The beer is free of preservatives and filtered.

Owned by a Swiss gentleman, it explains the existence of the Bumthang Red Panda Weissbier, a delicious wheat beer in the good ole German tradition. He gives us a short lesson in brewing. Then we get to taste a tall, cool pour. It is delicious.

As The Weather Turns

Our luck with weather has run out. Rain has begun and temperatures have dropped into the low-40s. Layering becomes necessary. Snow is expected in the passes. I hope this rain will clear the air and those elusive snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas may be visible.


Retired. Have time for the things I love: travel, my cat, reading, good food, travel, genealogy, walking, and of course travel.


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