Sustaining the Gangkha Soenam Tse lhakhang has become a challenge

Gangkha village in Chapcha, Chukha, is considered one of the richest villages in the country.

A feeder road connects the village and all houses have electricity and CGI roofing.

The village community lhakhang, Gangkha Soenam Tse lhakhang appears no less from the outside. With intricate paintings and carvings, it is a magnificent structure.

However, the 18 monks in the lhakhang live in a difficult situation. The monks do not have a proper study room and study in a room that is supposed to be a residential room of the lhakhang’s lopon.

They said they studied, slept, and dined in one of the rooms at the ground floor of the lhakhang earlier.

The lopon, considering the hygiene and comfort of the monks, allowed them to study in his room. The room in the ground floor is still used for monks to sleep in.

The lhakhang does not have a kitchen, nor a cook or a lam. Monks claim that their sponsors (jinda) do not contribute to the lhakhang anymore.

A lopon, Lhapchu, said that the entire responsibility of looking after the monks’ welfare and lhakhang has fallen on him. “Earlier, sponsors contributed but they stopped. Sustainability is a big issue now.”

He said he and the other lopons take turns to cook for the children.

The 18th-century community lhakhang was reconstructed after a fire partially damaged it in 2004. Lopon Lhapchu said sponsors volunteered to look after the lhakhang since 2008.

He said that when he took over as the lopon two and half years ago, there were only three monks. “The number increased to 18 today and the need to sustain has become more pressing.”

The lopon explained that sponsors quit contributing because most of the monks from the first batch left for other schools and were not useful to the community as expected. He said the monks who are enrolled today are from Dungna gewog, Chukha.

A Gangkha resident, Raka, said finance was the biggest problem. “There is no proper hostel.”

Raka said there is need of a lam because after the last one left, there has been no replacement. “It is difficult to get lams during important events and while conducting rituals.”

Shemagangkha tshogpa Tazi said he has been trying to resolve the issue but could not.

He said that residents of Gangkha village, who mainly depend on agricultural produce, might not be able to contribute satisfactorily to sustain the lhakhang. “As of today, there is no support from the gewog.”

Currently, Gangkha residents collect and provide for the ration. They pay Nu 6,000 to lopon Lhapchu as salary every month. However, lopon Lhapchu says he invests most of it on the monks.

The lopon said it is not fair to depend on the community, as they depend on potato harvest, which fluctuates. “My only expectation is to get our monks registered with the dratshang,” he said, adding that it could help monks receive a monthly stipend of Nu 1,700. “It could be used to buy meals for monks.”

Tshogpa Tazi said potato harvest has decreased by 50 percent this year. “Many may not be able to contribute to the lhakhang.”

Department of Culture’s (DoC) deputy chief with the division of culture property, Sangay Wangchuk, said Gangkha Soenam Tse is a community lhakhang, which should be managed by the people and the local government.

Government lhakhangs under the Zhung dratshang, private lhakhangs, and latruel (lama and truelku) lhakhangs are other types of lhakhangs.

Those lhakhangs managed by a family and their ancestors throughout history are private lhakhangs. Lhakhangs that are run in the name of truelkus or lamas with their own funding are latruels.

Records with the DoC show that there are 2,468 lhakhangs in the country today, out of which 1,089 are community lhakhangs. There are 713 private lhakhangs, 382 government, and 284 latruel lhakhangs.

Rajesh Rai | Chukha