Sources claim the house once served as the residence of Gasa Lamai Singye’s reincarnation
KARMA CHIMI | Thimphu
Located below the road along the Thimphu-Phuentsholing highway, the magnificent manor of Wangsisi Chhum, the rich lady of Wangsisi, fascinates travellers as they glance into the medieval structure with a craggy rock face at the backdrop.
The five-storeyed manor of Wang sisi Chhum comes with a rich lore but is shrouded in mystery and the facts as vague as the crumbling walls as there are no written records.
Nonetheless, the biography of the Dorling lineage and the abbots of Wangdue Goenpa, claims that Wang Sisi Chhum has been associated with Terton (treasure discoverer) Dorji Lingpa since 1380s.
According to the biography, Terton Dorji Lingpa made his second trip to Bhutan via Paro Taktshang in 1380 after seeing a vision from Guru Padmasambhava directing him to visit the southern land of monyul to promote Buddhism.
Terton Dorji Lingpa is supposed to have extended his stay at a home in Wangsisina for several days because the host asked him to recite a holy script while he was traveling from Taktshang to Thimphu.
Legend has it that the woman had been a gracious host to the Terton. One day, as the hostess was departing to fetch water with her customary wooden jar, to her surprise, Terton Dorji Lingpa suggested she take a bag rather than a wooden container.
Perplexed, the host obeyed the instructions and went with a bag to fetch water. To her surprise she spotted gold instead of water which could fill the bag to the brim.
This made the Wangsisina host realize that Terton Dorji Lingpa, who lived at her home, was no ordinary being. As a result, her devotion to Dorji Lingpa intensified and she later became one of his true patrons.
History reveals that the woman became the richest in the region, giving her assets to proliferate the spread of Buddhism. She then became the Sisi Chhum.
Oral tradition has it that the historic structure housed three Desi’s, political leaders of Bhutan established by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in 1700s. The 19th Desi Druk Tenzin, 20th Desi Tashi Namgyel (son of gup Karp) and Sangay Tenzin, the 23rd Desi were some of the leaders born to this hallowed house.
Later, Chimi Wangmo the daughter of gup Karp took over the house and the name Wangsisi Chhum became widespread. However, there was minimal political and national influence from the family. From then onwards, the house became a stronghold of women folk.
According to the current Sisi Chhum Dechen Wangmo, they are of the knowledge that they are the 11th and current generation occupants of the house.
She added that there is a pudendum engraved on the face of the steep rock formation located just opposite to the house which makes the house occupant woman oriented. It is said that very few male children are born in the family whereas, women are in abundance.
Local lore even has it that the residents of the house are wealthy and influential as a result of the rock formation’s benediction, which is attributed to an Indian princess or, according to some, a mermaid.
Once when the mermaid was once en route to Tashichho Dzong to make her prayers and offerings, she was unable to do so as dusk fell. Dechen claims that she buried all of her possessions and offerings at the cliff, turning it into an incredible and blessed rock.
Today, locals and travellers alike claim that they can see elephants, conchs, gemstones, and other objects in a variety of sizes and shapes.
One lore within the family shows great reverence to their ancestor Agay Gomchen, ancestors of Sisi Chhum. He was a religious man and at one time he served as the Drungpa of Pasakha. However, during that time, the family shares that the taxes were significantly higher.
As a result of the high tax, it is said that one night as he lay in bed, he had a dream in which he saw a young and attractive woman dressed in vibrant traditional Bhutanese attire telling him not to worry and to place all of his containers close to the Pasakha wooden shaft water source.
So, in order to see if the dream was real or not, he proceeded with all of his containers close to the wooden shaft. To his surprise, he saw that the silver coins of Ekajati or aum Kangchigma were flowing from the wooden shaft instead of water (guardian female deity, revered mostly in Chapchaa region).
He returned to acquire more containers after filling his to the brim, but when he did, the magnificent tableau had vanished.
Dechen relates how some of the horses fell off the path above Chhukha while carrying the priceless coins from Pasakha; till this day, the place is called Terujaa (money cliff).
Agay Gomchen concealed all of his coins around the perimeter of his home and buried part of them underground in copper vessels and containers out of fear that it would be stolen by local authorities.
However, it is said a man discovered the strains more than a year later while he was walking near the house to go to the valley to grind his paddy.
Dechen claims that a cloth fragment protruding from the ground piqued the man’s interest, which led to him to uncover Ekajaki’s silver coins before the family could discover the mischief.
It is said that some of the coins still remain till date but it is not available for public viewing but is rather kept in a secret family vault.
The ground floor of the five-story mansion and the expansive courtyard were designed exclusively for animals, just like any traditional Bhutanese home. The first floor was used to store grains and cereals while the second storey was used for housing the inhabitants.
Finally, the third storey functions as the altar room and houses a sacred footprint of Ekajati. The attic was used to store meat, vegetables, and other items for drying. Beside the house, is a lha tsho (lake) of Ekajati.
The manor once served as the residence of Gasa Lamai Singye’s reincarnation. The house with the variety of clay pots is credited to Singye, who at the time lived and worked as a ceramicist in Wangbama, Thimphu.
It is said that Singye brought his creations and container with him to the house when he married Galem.
“We even have a big copper cauldron which cleanses the soul for longevity of life,” claims the current Sisi Chhum.
She was concerned that her children would abandon the long-standing custom and home in search of better prospects, however, she is relieved that her daughter got married and now resides with them to carry on the legacy of Wangsisi Chhum.
Before, the place and the house were the centre of rice paddies and fields that employed hundreds of farmers.
Nevertheless, the current Sisi Chhum has plans at her sleeve and have turned the traditional structure into a heritage home and museum since 2015, taken care by the current generation of family labelling it as the only heritage home and museum in Thimphu district.
Old antiques ranging from leather bags, traditional rice containers, baskets among others can be seen in the heritage home.
The family provides visitors with traditional Bhutanese cuisine and lifestyle. Moreover, they have traditional stone bath facilities.
Old trails will be transformed into footpaths and the surrounding will be turned into a park for the visitors in the future, says Dechen.
She further plans to employ more people and expand her business, keeping in mind to preserve and conserve the traditional aspects of being Bhutanese and her age-old tradition.
While all the structures have retained their ancient glory, only the toilet and sanitation have been modernized and established.
Meanwhile, Sangay Choden, the eldest daughter, will be the next Sisi Chhum in line. She will be responsible for supervising growth, preserving her family’s ancient tradition for future generations, and upholding the phrase “The house of Wangsisi Chhum never fails with its beautiful maidens.”