The district has rich spiritual memories, abundant local festivals, folklores, artisans and a historical story of resisting British troops during the Duar Wars. Pemagatshel is the lotus garden of happiness, almost forgotten by travellers but still celebrated in history books.
Pemagatshel literally means the “Blissful Land of Lotus”. It is situated at the South- Eastern part of Bhutan, covering an area of about 1,023 square km with the population of 23,800 and 4,448 household according to the recent survey. This is the only eastern Dzongkhag where no other dialects are spoken except Tshangla. The district has its own special tourist attractions. Situated upon a dagger-shaped mountain, Yongla Goenpa is one of the oldest and holiest shrines in Eastern Bhutan.
Also known as the Yongla Riwa Pelbar Dargay Choeling Gonpa or the Pelri Gonpa is a 18th century buddhist monastery. The Goenpa was constructed on the orders of the second Yongla Lam Dorji Jamtsho in 1736 to commemorate Khendrup Jigme Kuendal who identified, mediated and blessed this place. According to legend, Jigme Kuendal was sent by Jigme Lingpa (treasure revealer) to find a place that resembled Tsari in Tibet and shaped like a ritual dagger. He was also asked to spread his teachings through the land. When Jigme Kuendal reached the site , he asked Khandro if it was the same place prophesied by Jigme Lingpa , Khandro repailed ,” yong yong” meaning “yes yes”, hence the place came to be known as Yongla. Having confirmed that he was in the right place, Jigme Kuendel meditated immediately. As time passed, people from the nearby villages approached him for blessings and teachings. Jigme Kuendrol graciously gave them blessings and teachings, and over time built a meditation center. He soon attracted many disciples and the center flourished around Yongla. A nunnery was also established close by, and was looked after by Kudung, a disciplinarian.
One of the more interesting historical facts about the temple is that during the Duar War the Trongsa Poenlop (Feudal Lord) Jigme Namgyel, father of the First King Ugyen Wangchuck, used it as a base of operations in order to launch raids upon the British troops.
Yongla Phurpai Drubchen
The famous Yongla Phurpai Drubchen is said to have begun right from the time of Jigme Kuendrol. It however, lost some of its significance during the successive Lams. It was restored back to the past glory by Lam Sonam Zangpo, the great Yogi Master in the 1960s. Its significance peaked once again in 1970 following the visit of His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche during which time His Holiness gave the present name, Pemagatshel, meaning “the Blissful land of the Lotus”.
According to elderly people of the Dzongkhag, the Lhakhang was built in the late 1980s. A total of 16 successive lams have served as the abbot of Yongla Goenpa. Besides, several Buddhist masters and luminaries have also blessed this sacred place in the past. Unfortunately, the Lhakhang was severely damaged by the 6.1 magnitude earthquake that struck the entire country on 21st September 2009. Visiting the Goenpa in 2009, His Majesty commanded the reconstruction of the Goenpa, with immediate effect, to its present glory.
Jashar Anim Goenpa
There were many instances of the reincarnations of Drubchen Saraha being reborn in Tibet and out of the many reincarnations; one of them was Togden Shakya Shri. He had many disciples and out of them, nine were considered very learned. Among these nine learned disciples, Anim Woesel Choden turned out to be the most learned of them. She had dedicated her life to lifelong meditation. In 1958, she built the Ja Shar Woong Drubdey. She had about 15 to 25 disciples.
She was born in 1921 and lived until 1982. After her death, the house that Anim Woesel Choden and her disciples lived was not maintained and it had dilapidated. After a request from the local community, H.E. Gyeltshen Trulku took over the management and started building a monastery, which comprised a common place for meditation, a guest house and other facilities. Since then, there has been over 50 people studying and living there all the time. However, the construction is not complete yet and funds are still required to paint frescoes on the walls of the temple, and commission the making of life-size statues of Buddha Amitabha, Avaloketishvara and Guru Dewa.
The 15th century Goenpa was established by Kuenga Wangpo, son of the great treasure revealer, Pema Lingpa. The structure is said to be built over a lake at which he meditated for several days. The temple’s main relics are some sacred statues of the Buddha, Guru rinpoche, Chenrizig and Chuchizhey. The Tsechu is performed on the 10th day of the fourth month of the lunar calendar.
The Lhakhang was constructed over 400 years back by Drubthob Kuenzang Lhuendup. The Lhakhang was constructed mainly to have their village and people blessed and also for the well-being of all the sentient beings. Due to some urgent maintenance, the Lhakhang has undergone a renovation in the year 2013 through labour contribution by the public. It is currently owned by the community.
Dungkhar Lhakhang, located to the south of the Dzongkhag, is believed to have been constructed by Yab Mipham Tenpey Nyima (1567-1619), father of Zhadrung Ngawang Namgyel, in the 16th century when he visited Bhutan. Yab Tenpey Nyima was said to have fathered a son from a woman who later played an important role under Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel.
The Lhakhang is said to have been constructed on a ridge that resembles a conch. Hence it got the name Dungkhar. It is currently owned by the community. They perform the religious ritual, Annual Tshechu where people from the neighboring villages gather at the Goenpa in pitch tents for many days. Considered very sacred, people seek spiritual blessings from this Lhakhang and it’s believed to be unfailing in its blessing and protection.
Thonphu Zangdopelri Goenpa, like all the Goenpas, was built to benefit sentient beings, particularly to the people in the locality. There was no Lhakhang or a religious institution before the construction of the Lhakhang to receive blessings of Buddha dharma in the locality. The Lhakhang was constructed with the pure labour contribution by the public under the spiritual guidance and direction of late Lam Sangay Dorji. The Goenpa, with more than 50 monks, perform religious ritual known as Annual Drupchen.
Pemagatshel is also famous for its artisans and weavers, and for numerous local festivals and folk songs. We will bring you more stories from Pemagatshel in the following weeks.
Nima Zangmo is currently working as Asst. Economic Development Officer at Pemagatshel Dzongkhag Administration. She has graduated from ICFAI University, Sikkim, India and majored in BBA. She enjoys reading, poetry, cooking, hiking and traveling. She believes that “We tend to progress when we are out of our comfort zone so never hesitate to step out for your self-growth”.
This series is sponsored by Ecotourism Project “Mainstreaming Biodiversity Conservation into the Tourism Sector in Bhutan” funded by GEF-UNDP through Tourism Council of Bhutan, RGoB.