Welfare: Less than two years since 76-year-old Chathey from Phangyul, Wangdue shifted to stay at the first elderly monastic homes in Limukha, Punakha, and he has already found a “heaven on earth”.

He was one of the first 10 retired monks who moved in to Gangzhay Kepiling centre in Limukha.

The retired monk smiles as he explains how life has slowed down and become easier than ever after he moved in the centre. Life seems fulfilling, as they could pray and chant mantras without having to worry about even their meals.

“I feel homely at this centre, and I don’t think there will be any heaven better than this,” he said.

Another retired monk Wangdue, Passang is the oldest, and the only one who requires most care. The centre has two monks assisting the retired monks. They keep medicine and all required items, and assist Passang in bathing and dressing.

An oasis of serenity away from the bustling urban life, the centre, spread across 72 acres, sits atop the hill that divides Wangdue and Punakha dzongkhags.

One could see entire Punakha and Wangdue valleys from the centre on either side.

The centre with 11 one-storied structures can accommodate 66 monks and atleast four employees.

His Majesty The King has granted the land for the centre. The centre was built on the personal initiative of His Holiness the Je Khenpo with funding from an non-profit organisation based in Singapore, Tsao-Foundation. The government built the road, supplied electricity and water.

The centre, run by the Zhung Dratshang, takes in monks above 60 years who have resigned from dratshang and are without family members to care for them. The centre provides bedding items, furniture, a room heater and other facilities for each of them.

Tshewang Lhendup received basic medical training and has been working there for more than a year. Tshewang and his friend Sangay Dorji take care of the elders at the centre. The centre has a cook and a cleaner.

Tshewang Lhendup said since the retired monks come from a disciplined background, they are always calm and into prayers. Except for meal, they are hardly seen outside.

“We welcome every visitor, and allow them to meet with the elderly monks,” Tshewang Lhendup said.

Kesang Chophel, 84, from Punakha said they are immensely grateful to His Holiness the Je Khenpo.

“While some of us have siblings they are either old or have passed away, and without a family of our own, we would have no choice but to adjust with niece or nephew,” Kesang said.

Some of the retired monks don’t have any relatives.

Unlike in the dzongs or other monastic institutes, there is no routine at the centre.

Meanwhile, the Zhung Dratshang has plans to build similar elderly homes in the east and south.

Dawa Gyelmo | Wangdue