A place where people seek refuge

Dungkhar Ugyen Choeling Goenpa in Khar village under Pemagatsel dzongkhag


The country is filled with holy sites where people can go to receive blessings and make amends for previous wrongdoings. And it’s no exception to Khar village in Pemagatshel Dzongkhag.

The most revered and significant goenpa in the village is Dungkhar Ugyen Choeling Goenpa. The Goenpa is located on a ridge that rises around 6,800 feet above sea level in the isolated region of Dungkhar. The Goenpa is connected to the neighborhood by farm roads.

According to the research done by Choegyal Lhundrup from the Bongman village, the Goenpa overlooks the four valleys of Bongman, Labar, Yajur, and Bodung under Khar Gewog.

According to the research, the goenpa’s advantageous position draws people from different backgrounds who want to find refuge and get blessings. Since its historic founding some hundreds of years ago, the goenpa has been a major source of refuge, safety, and spiritual solace for the communities in the area.

It says that Pema Lingpa, the famous treasure hunter, is thought to have founded the goenpa in 1505 when visiting Shar Dongkha, present-day Arunachal Pradesh.

According to the histories of Pema Lingpa and Thuksey Dawa Gyeltshen, they stopped in Dungtsho Karmathang their route to Shar Dongkha (Tawang) at the king of Tawang Jo-Phag Darma’s invitation.

The biographies also state that Pema Lingpa and Thuksey Dawa Gyeltshen arrived at Dungtsho Karmathang after a 13-day journey. They had made a two-day stop there, blessing the locals and speaking to them. Terton Pema Lingpa is thought to have founded the location at this period after discovering treasures from Dungtsho Karmathang.

According to the investigation, there are still remnants of Dungtsho Karmathang Lake close to the Dungkhar Lhakhang. Dungkhar Lama Tempa Wangdi, who claims that Terton Pema Lingpa did in fact discover Dungkar Pho Mo from the Dungtsho Karmathang lake, today at the Goenpa, further supports the historical veracity of the Lhakhang’s foundation.

Therefore, local legends, local experts’ knowledge of the area, and historical records all confirm that the illustrious Terton Pema Lingpa did indeed find the Dungkhar Goenpa. Because the settlement below is called Khar, the place may have originally been called Dungkar but later altered to Dungkhar.

Following the creation of Kheri Goenpa, Khedrup Kinga Wangpo is reported to have blessed Dungkhar Goenpa while traveling to Assam in India, as part of a pilgrimage to Jagar Tsha Chok.

It says that back then, everyone traveling to Assam in India for business had to pass through Dungkhar Goenpa along the Kharpai lam (route of the Kharpas). It is stated that a stone thought to be Terton Pema Lingpa’s ritual cake may still be seen today at a location called Tshekhai near the Kharpai lam.

In addition to historical information, the study reveals that Pedling tradition has a considerable influence on the religious lives and rituals of the Kharpa communities. Four communities have been performing the Rimdros and Tshechus rites for generations. These rituals are based on the “Lama Nobu Gyamtsho,” a treasure text revealed by Terton Pema Lingpa. The “Lama Nobu Gyamtsho,” which serves as the basis for both the annual and monthly Tshechus and Lhasoel, is also used.

Even everyday religious observances such as smoke and feast offerings, mask dances, and ritual rites are carried out according to Pedling custom. It claims that the lay monks and local authorities’ tremendous dedication, valuable sacrifices, and huge efforts are to be blamed for the communities’ ability to maintain such magnificent tradition without even the tiniest modification.

However, it makes the case that, given the rapid change in lifestyle and the growing use of technology, there are pressing and real questions about how successfully the ancient tradition can be passed down to succeeding generations intact.

As the number of lay monks decreases with each new generation, it is evident that urgent action must be taken to prevent the gradual destruction of such a vast and ancient spiritual legacy.

It claims that Lama Pema Tashi’s travel across Dungsam furthered the Pedling Tradition in the Khar village. According to oral histories, Lama Pema Tashi, the second lama of Dungkhar Ugyen Choeling Goenpa, worked diligently to carve several priceless writings into wooden blocks.

Additionally, he founded Dratshang and popularized mask dances in Dungkhar Goenpa. According to Lama Pema Tashi’s biography, he was a skilled poet and a Pedling practitioner.

He invokes the blessings of Pedling Yabsey Sum whenever he is in both good and bad situations. His writing expresses his desire for greater understanding and newly discovered memories of Pedling Yabsey Sum. According to the study, his writings claim that he bestowed the blessings and oral transmission of “Lama Norbui Gyamtsho” on the Khar people on many occasions.

According to several senior villagers, he had a significant role in bringing the Dharma to the Khar population and elevating the Pedling tradition, and he is revered as a realized master.

There are various theories regarding who founded Dungkhar Goenpa, though. It says that certain oral histories claim that Norbu, a man who was Terton Pema Lingpa’s great-great grandson, built the temple after being chosen to serve as the lama. The second story claims that Yab Tenpai Nyima founded the Goenpa while visiting the Dungsam Region.

According to an oral history preserved in the Dungsam region, Yab Tenpai Nima was dissatisfied when seeking for a suitable location to live there because there was no water nearby. Meanwhile, he noticed a bird soaring overhead and dropping some water drops. He interpreted that as a sign, followed the bird, and eventually came to a location that looked like a conch (Dungkar). He also discovered a cauldron-shaped lake in the valley. Dungtsho Karmathang Lake had already started to dry up and settlements had started.

There probably weren’t many settlements there when he got there. A little temple has been erected here by Yab Tenpai Nima. The current Goenpa structure was not built by Tenpai Nima, according to local lore. Instead, he constructed a little shrine and kept a hole in the Dhug-khang there where worshippers might get water for offerings.

As a result of these advancements, he has gained the title of Dungkhar Goenpa’s founder. The study discovered that it is still unclear how and when he arrived in Dungkhar Goenpa because there are no records or written accounts of it., the research says.

In “Lhodruk Choejung,” a book written by His Holiness (HH) Je Geyshey Gudeun Rinchen, the 69th Je Khenpo of Bhutan, Yap Tenpai Nima describes his journey to Dungsam Yongla Goenpa and his return to Trongsa, where he met Ani Chonyi Wangmo and gave birth to Tenzin Drukda, who would go on to become the Druk Desi. As a result, Yap Tenpai Nima’s visits to other Dungsam locations are not mentioned.

Furthermore, Yap Tenpai Nima shares his name with several notable people. Yap Tenpai Nima was another name for Terton Pema Lingpa’s paternal grandpa. Yap Tenpai Nima was also Thuksey Dawa Gyeltshen’s son. Even Gangteng Trulku’s sixth reincarnation went under the name Tenpai Nima. Therefore, it is challenging to identify which of these legendary figures visited the location.

The oral tradition that is still practiced by the locals in the Dungsam region merely describes his visit to the location in general terms; it is unclear what activities he engaged in. As the Dungtsho Karmathang lake was already present and there was no need to search for water, the traditional account of the bird scattering water while in pursuit of it is also up for debate.

It says “We think that people’s perceptions about Dungkhar Goenpa’s founding history of Kheri Goenpa were incorrect.”

Meanwhile, the inhabitants of the four villages also participate in an annual four-day Tshechu every third month (7th to 11th day) of the Bhutanese calendar. In addition to its spiritual significance, this Lhakhang gives the residents of these communities a reason to celebrate and mingle.

During the Tshechu, a few uncommon mask dances from the Pedling Tradition of Buddhism are performed, among others. When he visited the area in the 1970s, HH Chabjay Dudjom Jigdrel Yeshi Dorji Rimpochhe is claimed to have held those mask dances in great regard and valued them.

A single caretaker who is chosen from among the villagers on a rotating basis oversees the Lhakhang during those times. However, because of its remote position, both the caretaker’s life and that of the Lhakhang are frequently under danger from burglars. Several historical artifacts and nangtens have experienced vandalism.

According to the article, the Lhakhang was once in danger of being abandoned since no one wanted to take on the responsibility of caretaker, along with frequent break-ins and natural disasters. The Lhakhang was in bad shape because no significant repairs were made.

The research claims that Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye, then the Chief Justice of Bhutan, kindly took care of patronage and laid the groundwork to resuscitate the ancient Goenpa to its former splendor after realizing the holiness of the Lhakhang and the desperate necessity to safeguard and renovate it.

A Drasha to establish a Shedra was built and completed in 2014 with the financial supports from the Lyonpo, Kharpas, and other donors.

It states that Ugyen Dorji, who at the time was a member of the Drasha Project Committee, willingly donated a plot of land measuring 43 decimal for this. As a result, HH Gangteng Trulku Rimpochhe and Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye inaugurate the Drasha in 2014. The residents of Khar and the adjacent villages were present for the inaugural ceremony.

Additionally, it mentions that HH Gantey Trulku Rimpochhe from Gantey Monastery in Wangduephodrang donated a Khenpo and a Lopen to the Shedra, which was initially founded with 11 monks and eventually grew to 23 monks.

The sacred and priceless conch that Terton Pema Lingpa took from Dungtsho Karmathang Lake is thought to be where the Goenpa gets its name.