Monks worried with the increasing number

Yangchen C Rinzin

Up above the blue pine forest in Thimphu, the Phajoding monastery is no more secluded. With increasing people visiting the monastery, those at the monastery are worried about the never-ending visitors from the city.

Most visitors are youth and the monks have to bear with the nuisance they create, according to monks and lopens (teachers) at the monastery. The monastery’s principal, Namgay said that visitors have increased instead of decreasing during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The young people drink, smoke and make loud noises disturbing our monks,” one of the lopens said. “If they can do this near the monastery then we’re not sure what they must be doing at the lakes and campsites.” The lakes above the monastery are considered sacred and cannot be disturbed.

The principal also said that there were several incidences where youth are drenched in the rain at night without extra clothes. “They come knocking on our doors and ask us to give them food or shelter,” he added.

Phajoding, a three-kilometre trek from upper Motithang used to receive about 15 hikers in a week before the Covid-19 pandemic.

It has now started receiving more than 20 hikers a day. Almost 400 hikers, especially youth, visit the monastery during the weekends, according to monks.  The hikers hike till Dungtsho from Phajoding, almost five hours walk on an average.

It is not only the disturbances caused to the monks. Garbage has become another concern for the monks.

From plastic bottles to wrappers of junk food, snacks, alcohol bottles, rags, and broken umbrellas are dumped at the lake site, a campsite at Labana and on the ridge above Thujidrak.

Monks also shared that although people come to visit the monastery and lakes to accumulate good merit, it was sad to see that many youth bring alcohol, tobacco products and abuses near the monastery or the lake.

“We used to welcome visitors with tea and biscuits, but now some days we can’t even attend to visitors, as it has increased in last three months,” a lopen said. “We’re also worried about the increasing number of Covid-19 cases, many visitors are also those who have come out of quarantine.”

Although the monastery has put up signboards on the timing to visit the monastery, many visitors have also started visiting the monastery after 5pm. A group of youth a few weeks back had reached Thujidrak around 10pm and asked for food and shelter from the caretaker. When the caretaker could not provide, they got into an argument.

Some have also reportedly manhandled monks when they could not get a place to camp, according to the monks. Monks also shared incidents like a group of youth disturbing nuns who were practising fasting ritual at Thujidrak by making noises.

Kuensel also learnt that there were incidences where police and DeSuup had to rescue some youth after they suffered from altitude sickness. Some were injured, and some had travelled despite DeSuups who keep a record of the visitors warning them not to.

Monks feel that there should be some restrictions from the government or dzongkhag to control visitors camping near the monastery. “We cannot stop them. But we’re worried about an increasing number of visitors although police and DeSuups help us to monitor,” a lopen said.

DeSuups also volunteer to patrol the area whenever there are increasing numbers of visitors along the Dungtsho trail. They also clean the areas and pick up wastes.

One visitor shared that it was disheartening to find hookah (pipe used for smoking marijuana) at the campsite when he was picking up wastes left behind by some youth the night before.

“Despite requesting them not to smoke, they continued. It was sad to see how they refused to wear gho and kira while visiting temples and dancing to loud music near the temple,” he said. Another visitor said such an act would upset the local deity and disturbing the lakes could spell disasters with heavy rain ad storm.

However, the monastery has not yet reported the case to anyone. “We’re hoping that people will realise the importance and the sanctity of the monastery,” said a lopen.

Phajoding monastery has 38 monks at the dratshang and 50 monks at the Shedra. The monks try to practice physical distance as much as possible without interacting with the visitors.