An oral account of how the lake came to Buli, Zhemgang

Younten Tshedup | Buli

Nestled in the heart of a dense forest, the mystical lake of Buli village in Zhemgang remains an enigma – unexplored and shrouded in mystery.    

Located less than 5km south of Nangkhor gewog centre, a serene atmosphere surrounds the lake. Amidst the calmness, an eerie aura is also very much present.     

The tale surrounding the popular Buli Tsho (lake) has many versions none of which has been documented officially. 

According to one of the many accounts that have been widely accepted among the locals, Buli Tsho narrates the tale of a promise made by a sister to her brother and the journey she undertook to keep the promise.  


The origin 

“For generations this story has been passed down in our family,” said Kinley Wangchuk who is the tshogpa of the chiwog. 

The story dates back to the later 17th century. 

After winning many battles in Tibet, Buli Penpo (chieftain of Buli village) had decided to head south (Bhutan) as per a prophecy. His sister (a mermaid), who had been supporting him throughout his battles for some reason could not join him in this expedition. 

Buli Menmo (the mermaid)

Buli Menmo (the mermaid)

However, she made a promise to the brother that the two siblings would reunite again in the land of the cypress tree. 

In search of her brother, Kinley Wangchuk said that the sister first arrived at Dungkar in Lhuentse then travelled to Chumey in Bumthang and finally reached Buli in Zhemgang. 

“It is believed that the lake was initially formed in these places and finally decided to settle permanently in Buli.”

Upon arrival in Buli, the sister disguised herself as a woman and sought shelter in a house in Trongmeth. An old lady welcomed her and allowed her to stay at the alter room. 

The mermaid who only partially reveled her face had requested the old lady not to disturb her. However, the old lady wanted to offer some tea and locally brewed wine to her guest. She went ahead and peeped through a hole and saw a large snake resting in the alter room.

The mermaid had left the house the next morning. When the old lady went to inspect the room, she found a butter churner left behind. “It is said that after that the number of cattle in the house multiplied for some year,” said Kinley Wangchuk. “But after a few years the churner disappeared on its own and from then onwards the number of cattle declined day by day in the family.”

The tshogpa said that after leaving the house in Trongmeth, the mermaid laid claim of certain areas below the main settlement and established her phodrang (palace) in the form of a lake. 

However, he said the nearby settlement polluted the lake, which is why the mermaid moved her phodrang down south near the existing lake. “Since the new location was at a tri-junction, constant movement of people once again polluted the lake. Finally it moved to the current location.”  

The house where the mermaid spent the night still exists today. Choney Zangmo, 65, is the fifth generation residing at the lui phodrang (the palace of the mermaid).   


The belief 

Known as Buli Menmo to locals, the mermaid is hailed as the main protective deity of the chiwog. Rituals to appease the mermaid are conducted twice annually. 

Kinley Wangchuk said that if timely appeasing rituals for the mermaid are carried out, there are no calamities affecting the community. “If we do not get rainfall on time, we have to make the offerings and the problem is solved.”

On the other hand, he said that if the lake is defiled or polluted the consequences are severe. “Hailstorms, heavy rainfall and thunderstorms were witnessed in the past when the sanctity of the lake was defiled.” 

The community strictly prohibits people from visiting the lake for almost two months every year. Known as Tsho-dam-re-dam, this suspension of visits begins from the first day of the 8th month till the 15th day of the 10th month of the Bhutanese calendar every year. 

The lake is also known for manifesting in various forms to some people. This according to the tshogpa depends on the luck of visitor. “There are people in our village who still have not seen these manifestations even once. And then there are people coming from outside who have witnessed it on several occasions.”

He said that if a visitor is fortunate enough, the mermaid exhibits her palace to them including lhakhangs, burning butter-lamps and prayer flags, among others.     

“Not everyone can see these features. It is equally important to have faith in such things if you want to see them,” he said. “I saw my first manifestation when I was 40 and it was a lhakhang. The water had disappeared and the lhakhang was there instead. It was surreal.” 

Visitors can also see white ducks swimming in the lake. Kinley Wangchuk said that this is another unique feature of the lake and not everyone gets to see the ducks. 

“There are five of them and they are there to clean the lake and pick the fallen leaves and twigs from the surface,” he said. Besides, the lake is also known for its clarity, and if the colour turns murky and dark, it is an inauspicious sign.   

Over the years visitors at the lake have also increased, said the tshogpa. More than 1,000 people visited the lake last year.