Religion: Women are restricted from entering goenkhangs (sanctums) of any sacred lhakhang in the country but in Tharpaling Lhakhang in Chumey, Bumthang, even men are not allowed.

Pilgrims to the sacred monastery, which is perched on a slope overlooking the Chumey valley, meet the koenyer (caretaker), Dechen Dorji, 75, outside the lhakhang, where he briefs them on why people cannot enter the lhakhang.

“The main relic of the lhakhang is the remains of Lama Yonten Jamtsho who established this lhakhang,” he said.

The lhakhang, according to the koenyer, is restricted to visitors because the koenyer (caretaker) fears people will defile it. “There are deaths in the koenyer’s family if the lhakhang is defiled,” he said.

Citing some example of bad omen in the past, koenyer Dechen Dorji said all the people who were serving the Tharpaling lama died except a koenyer one day. “The koenyer consulted a great lama who said the lhakhang was defiled and that wiped out almost all the people living there.”

He explained that since then, the remains of lama was sealed and not shown to visitors to protect it from being defiled.  “The remains of the body was shifted into a small choeten.”

The koenyer also said the lama had asked the local deity called Ap Jowo to take care of his body after his death. “People who attend birth and death rituals before coming to the lhakhang could cause the defilement,” he said. “Three of my children died after the lhakhang got defiled.”

The koenyer said the lhakhang is called Tharpaling Purgi Lhakhang. “Pur means body and it is because the body of the lama is the main relic in the lhakhang. Lama Yonten Jamtsho’s body is known to have miniaturised after he died.”

The architecture of the lhakhang is unique. The four-storey lhakhang resembles a tower and has only one small window. The koenyer has to take a torch to make offerings inside the lhakhang.

The koenyer said Pema Lingpa built the lhakhnag upon the order of Lama Yonten Jamtsho. He said Pema Lingpa built it during the day and khandums (fairies) built it during the nights.

There are some religious sites of Pema Lingpa, Guru Rinpoche and khandums around the lhakhang that mostly comprise of footprints on rocks. Many more religious sites can also be seen on the way from Bhim village to the lhakhang.

The lhakhang is about an hour’s walk from Bhim village. Visitors have to walk through the moderate vegetation and need not walk uphill.

The lhakhang bears a crack and it is believed that a strong earthquake that destroyed Jakar Dzong caused it.

There are two Jangchub choetens by the lhakhang and they are also called the Purgi choetens. “This is because some remains of the lama’s body was put in them,” he said. “Pema Lingpa built these choetens after the lama passed away.”

The ground floor of the lhakhang was said to be a lake then, which later dried up leaving some rocks. Other storeys are the lama’s kitchen, living room of his attendants and the bedroom of the lama.

There are ruins of houses around the lhakhang and it is said that it housed the workers of the lama.

All people of Tharpaling have migrated and only the koenyer lives there today.

The koenyer said Lama Yonten Jamtsho lived for 160 years. He went to Tibet for education and lived in this lhakhang during the later part of his life.

Meanwhile, visitors leave their butter lamps, incense sticks and money offerings with prayers outside the lhakhang.

Nima Wangdi | Tharpaling