Choki Wangmo | Dagana
Early 1770s: After the death of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, a civil uprising disturbed the stability of the country. In absence of a male heir, the reincarnation of Zhabdrung’ son Jampal Dorji, Kunga Gyaltshen, was enthroned as the second throne holder in Punakha.
In 1706, he was the one to reveal the long-kept secret about Zhabdrung’s death.
The year is 1707, Earth Rat Year of the 12th Rabjung. Kuenga Gyem from Nyindukha is pregnant. She had extraordinary dreams and visions. From the Khangzug stupa below Chokchu Lhakhang, the mantra of Avalokiteshwara was heard.
The region is covered in thick forests. Dangerous wild animals roam free. The settlements are scattered. Bonism is widespread. People propitiate the various deities residing in rivers, rocks, mountains, trees, and lakes. Every village had yullha and nyep.
Kuenga Gyem and her husband, Sherab Tenzin, are excited about the birth of their child. They named their son Choglay Namgyal. As soon as the child could speak, he announced: “I am Ngawang Namgyel!”
At six, the 8th Druk Desi, Druk Rabgay, enthroned Choglay Namgyal as the first speech incarnation of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in Wangdue.
But the young boy would have to face a tumultuous time.
He was trapped in a wave of politics. He was set up against the rival claimants to the throne. Druk Rabgay enthroned the first Sungtrul Choglay as the third throne holder in 1713 after forcing Kunga Gyaltshen to step down.
The Sungtrul is believed to have led a short and lonely life. He passed away at the young age of 29. Then, the country was rife with internal conflicts created by the Desi.
What remains of his life today is a four-storey traditional house in Nyindukha, south of Daga Dzong in Kana Gewog.
Overlooking the dzong, the ancestral home, known as Zhabdrung Cholay Lhakhang, is located about a 15 minutes’ drive from the Kana-Dagana highway.
Seventy-three-year-old Tshering Om and her husband Kado, 70, are the only people living in the 19-room mansion. The home, however, is rich, ancient, and lively. Each room is intact and spiritual energy fills every room. A fire burns at a huge hearth.
After the end of the monsoon, Tshering Om and Kado are busy from October to February. Pilgrims flock to the village to get a glimpse of Zhabdrung’s life. Kado mostly has to lead the pilgrims, climbing up and down the two long ancient wooden stairs countless times a day.
He is more excited than the pilgrims. “I imagine myself climbing the stairways to Potala.”
Tshering Om prepares tea and snacks. No one leaves the house without eating.
“It is Zhabdrung’s jinlab; you have to eat something,” says Tshering Om to anyone who refuses to eat or drink. She is soft-spoken and deeply religious.
Kado leads visitors from one room to another. He tells the pilgrims to make fervent prayers in two particular rooms—a room where Zhabdrung was born and the relic room. These rooms house the self-arisen image of Avalokiteshwara on a wall and a self-made statue of Choglay Namgyel that was said to have spoken in the past.
Kado takes pride in his marriage. Tshering Om is the last Daga Penlop Rigzin Dorji’s granddaughter. The penlop, he said, later built the lhakhang’s fourth storey.
However, according to the records maintained by the National Museum of Bhutan, Rigzin Dorji was the second Dagana Dzongpon after Dzongpon Chungkhai Rinzin.
The National Heritage House is a reliquary that contains a rich history of Bhutan.