Environment: High up north of Khaling village in Trashigang is a sacred lake that people revere as the abode of guardian deity Meme Dangling. People seek blessing from Dangling Tsho and the deity grants them healthy livestock and bountiful harvest.
This vast, holy and deep green lake, however, is shrinking and becoming smaller by the year, worrying the people who believe Meme Dangling may be leaving for someplace else for good.
Dangling Tsho in summer used to be huge, a behemoth of a lake that took people more than an hour to do the round. Today, it has come far below the level it used to be in winter.
The people of Khaling, Kanglung, Udzonrong, Rongthung and Younphula in Trashigang say that it has been about four years since the water level started dropping. Now one can even see rocks and pebbles at the bed of the lake.
Dangling Tsho is source of one of the tributaries of Jerichu, a stream that flows on the right side of Khaling town. It also the source of many spring waters that cut through the hills below.
Khaling Gup Tashi Dorji said that people of Khaling are worried. Some say this has happened because disturbances caused by travellers and yak herders who camp near the lake.
The yak herders from Merak and Saktang have to pass by the lake when they mirgrate to Khaling during winter and back. The lake sits at the junction to four villages of Merak, Sakteng, Yonphula and Khaling.
Gup said that lake is drying even without any catchment disturbances. “It’s very unusual.”
The Khaling’s gewog administration tried to seek government’s assistance but they did not know which agency or office to approach.
“We will put up a proposal to reclaim the lake,” said Tashi Dorji.
Senior forest officer with Watershed Management Division (WMD), Sonam Choden, said that what causes the lake to dry cannot be confirmed. A study has to be carried out. The lake could be drying like any water source due to climate change.
She said that if the problem is genuine and severe, WMD will help reclaim the lake. The Ramsar Convention to which Bhutan is a signatory ensures protection of wetland.
Meme Danging is the guardian deity not only of east but also of whole of Bhutan. Every winter hundreds of people visit the lake to offer prayers and to seek his blessing. Monks of Trashigang Rabdey go to the lake every year on the 20th day of fourth Bhutanese month to conduct purification ritual.
Lam Choki Wangchuk, who was the astrologer of Trashigang Rabdey said that monks used to return from the lake with lake water and share it with the monks of rabdey.
“Meme Dangling is the guardian deity that people of entire country seek blessings from. People in the west too seek his blessing during Lochoe,” said Lam Choki Wangchuk.
In old days farmers of Kanglung, Rongthung, Jomtsang, Udzorong, Barshong and Khaling used to go to the lake to make offering to Meme Dangling. They would bring with them back lake water to be poured into the ponds from where cattle drank.
Legend has it that Meme Dangling came with Brokpas of Merak and Sakteng from Tsonag in Tibet under the spiritual guidance of Amo Jomo, who is considered sister of Meme Dangling. Amo Jomo is believed to be one of the manifestations of Pelden Lhamo, one of the main guardian deities of Bhutan.
Seventy-nine-year-old Pangko from Khaling said that he heard stories from his parents that say Meme Dangling used to live in Dungsam in Pemagatshel and Assam areas before deciding to settle where it is today. He spent his winter months in warmer areas in the southern foothills.
The migration begins around the 11th and at the end of the 2nd Bhutanese month.
During these Ladham (forbidden) months no one goes to Dangling Tsho. The tradition continues to this day. The prevailing belief is that if people visit the lake during these months strange and powerful calamities will come to the nearby villages. Even herders don’t dare go near the lake during Ladham months.
Meme Dangling is known to abhor meat and garlic. Visitors cannot carry these items when they go to seek his blessing.
In the 1990s, a group of students from Jigme Sherubling High School went to picnic near the lake. Soon weather turned violent and they lost their way. Some had end up in Trashigang town and others in Yonphula.
It was later found that the students had cooked meat near the lake and infuriated Meme Dangling.