Sunday, March 10, 2024

Restoring the only surviving photograph of Trashigang Lama Neten Sonam Dorji from Bartsham (circa 1901 - 1968)

 During the early to mid-twentieth century, when Bhutan was under the reign of the First King and the Second King, just before the country opened up to the world outside and adopted the path to modern development, both government and monastic officials held great power. And to hold the position of Lama Neten (abbot) of Trashigang must have been a big achievement for someone from Bartsham, a rather remote corner of Bhutan.

I heard a lot about the story of Meme Lama Neten Sonam Dorji from Bartsham as a child. So, recently, when I got hold of an old and totally faded photograph through my uncle Wangchuk Dorji and Bartsham Umze Drepa Tshampa Sonam Dorji, I immediately got to work trying to get it restored to get a glimpse of the Lama Neten. Umze Drepa Sonam Dorji got the picture from his uncle Kencho, one of the men in the picture.

I took professional help from my friend Dr Naren Dubey, CEO of ScanCafe Inc., a company that specialises in photo book design and photo restoration. With his help, what I got is the picture given below. The man in the middle is the Lama Neten himself, while the the one on his left is Mr. Tshering, father of Mrs. Yeshi Wangmo and Mr Tenzin Phuntsho. On his right is Mr Kencho, brother of Umze Drepa Sonam Dorji’s mother Wangmo. Both of them are relatives of the Lama Neten – Kencho being direct denscendant of Lama Neten’s paternal aunt Damchoe, and Tshering being descendant of his paternal uncle Ugyenla.

Umze Drepa Sonam Dorji recalls being told that this picture was taken in Gudama (present day Samdrup Jongkhar and neighbouring Indian town) probably around 1966 or 1967. By then, the road between Trashigang and Samdrup Jongkhar had been completed though it must been rough and rudimentary. As per Umze Drepa Sonam Dorji, he heard that the Lama Neten made this journey by a truck which used to serve as a public transport then.

My mother, who is now 80, recalls going to Samdrup Jongkhar once by bus, but walked on the return leg of the journey as they did not have enough money to pay for the fare. This might have been in the late 1960s too. The journey used to take around seven days one way on foot.

Above is a picture of Lama Neten Sonam Dorji alone, extracted from the original picture at the request of Umze Drepa Sonam Dorji since he wanted to frame it and keep it on his altar. He started his religious studies as a kid under him after his resignation from the post of Lama Neten and has very fond memories. He recalls that the Lama Neten and the first Bartsham Lama Pema Wangchen, though the latter was much younger than him, shared a great camaraderie. On one occasion, he was accompanying the Lama Neten and passing by Lama Pema Wangchen’s residence when they were invited to come in and offered food and drinks. As the attendant, Umze Drepa, then a kid, sat on the next high seat next to the Lama Neten while Lama Pema Wangchen himself, as the host, sat on much lower seat. Later, the Lama Neten teased Umze Drepa saying that he sat on a seat higher than Lama Pema Wangchen’s.

From these stories, it also seems clear that Lama Pema Wangchen always held other Lamas in high respect unlike some who try to project themselves to be better and higher than others.

Lama Neten must have loved teaching. My mother and her friends, then as kids, also learnt how to read religious texts from the Lama Neten. However, after she got married and became a full time farmer, she had never read any books. That was until 2006 when she came to Thimphu to live with my sister after the passing away of my father. Then, at the age of 62, she started to relearn what little she had learnt before. But amazingly, what she had learnt as a child proved still useful. She was able to pick up reading the texts quite fast, and now, she reads the prayer books quite easily.

People say that the Lama Neten was a respected and powerful figure in the Trashigang Dzong. While the bells of all riding horses of officials had to be silenced after reaching a certain point on approaching the Dzong, the Lama Neten usually rode his horse with its bell ringing right until the Dzong. Another story goes that the sound of his pestle crushing the doma (betelnut) for his consumption used to break the silence of the sanctum of the Dzong while all others tried their best to maintain silence.

There used to be an elegant and imposing three storeyed traditional Bhutanese house in Majawoong which was built by the Lama Neten. It is said that it was built at the height of his power with labour contribution by the monks of Trashigang. He resided in this house after he had resigned from the post of the Lama Neten. This must have been in the early 1960s it is said that he served as the Lama Neten for a long time, right from the days of Sey Dopola and even after his death in 1953.

As per accounts of the elders, he must have probably died in 1968, which is soon after the above picture was taken.

Since he was a celibate monk, he did not have any children. Therefore, this house was inherited by his siblings. When I was a kid, this house was occupied by four families, who were all descendants of Lama Neten’s siblings. These families demolished the house in the late 1980s or early 1990s when they all began constructing their own houses. The house is vividly in my mind, but I could not get hold of a picture of the same.

Lama Neten Sonam Dorji had a first cousin (son of his mother’s sister Wangchuk and her husband Wangdi from Thumling, Bartsham) who served as the Umze (precentor) in Trashigang Dzong. The post of Umze is a respected one since he is the one who leads the ritual ceremonies, and sits right next to the presiding Lama.  His name was Umze Dorji Wangdi (nicknamed Umze Merkong – as he had a small burn mark on his neck). He was the eldest son of Lama Neten’s mother’s sister Wangchuk. He was younger than Lama Neten by a few years. People believe he might have risen to the post of Lama Neten too, but he died suddenly while he was still serving as the Umze. 

Umze Dorji Wangdi was the elder brother of my maternal grandfather. According to my mother, he died suddenly during a feast organized by the villagers in his honour. In those days, and as recently as the early 2000s, it was customary for the village folks to slaughter a pig and organise a feast in honour of someone successful from the village when he comes home to visit his relatives. It was during such a feast that Umze Dorji Wangdi suddenly fell sick and died. Most probably, he had suffered a stroke. Few years later, a little boy born after his death, recounted the story of his past life that exactly matched the life of Umze Dorji Wangdi, and he was recognized as his reincarnation. He received modern education and currently works in a corporation in Thimphu, but he is also a true Buddhist practitioner at the same time following Drukpa Kargyu tradition under His Eminence Gyalwa Dokhampa. He must be in his 50s now. 

By then, the Lama Neten had resigned and was residing in his house in Majawaoong. His house was just about 150 metres below that of the Umze’s.  Elders recall that the Umze had a fine Phurpa (Kilaya) believed to have been given by some high Lama, probably Dudjom Jigdrel Yeshe Dorje. The Lama Neten liked it and wanted to have it. So, after Umze’s death, the Phurpa was given to the Lama Neten. Today, some believe that this Phurpa has been offered to the main statue of the protecting deity of the Nagtshang temple in Bartsham. 

Umze Dorji Wangdi had also helped in the construction of a two storeyed traditional house for his parents. It was not as elegant and imposing as the house of the Lama Neten, but it was a nice house with a overhanging roofed verandah (built in the architectural style of Western Bhutan) above a pig sty down below. This house, in its renovated and refurbished form, stands to this day. 

So, let us now turn back to the life and ancestry of the Lama Neten.  

Lama Neten Sonam Dorji was born in the village of Majawoong in Bartsham. Majawoong is located on a gentle slope next to the famours Barstsham Chador Lhakhang in Trashigang.  According to Umze Drepa Sonam Dorji, the Lama Neten was born in the year of ox, the same year as his paternal grandfather Meme Chadola.  From this, it can be surmised that the year was 1901.

On his father’s side, he descended from Lopen Tshering who came to Bartsham from Kurtoe Tsankhar and settled here and founded a small temple which later was replaced by the present day Chador Lhakhang. His mother had her roots in Tsamang, Mongar. 

As his name indicates, he was a learned Buddhist Master though not much is known about him now. His wife was Ani Konyermo (Ani is a respectful title used for the spouses of Lamas). 

Lopen Tshering and Ani Konyermo had eight children – 6 sons and 2 daughters. In the order of their birth, they were Dorjilia, Tenzinla, Ugyenla, Pemala, Changila, Jangchub (daughter), Damchoema (daughter) and Sinchungla (Source: Meme Lobzang Yeshi from Bartsham, 93 years old as of 2024). Their children then had many offsprings of their own. Hence, almost all Bartshampas are in one way or the other descendents of Lopen Tshering. (see the Family tree of the descendants of Lopen Tshering here 

Sinchungla, the youngest son of Lopen Tshering, married Pema Sangja from Majawoong, and they had the following children: 1. Jamu (daughter), 2. Lama Neten Sonam Dorji (son), 3.  Cheten(daughter) 4. Garpa Kezang (son) 5. Pemchoe 6. Dorji Dema (daughter), 7. Kunzang Lhamo (daughter) and 8. Phuntsho Dema (daughter). 

So, as you can see, Lama Neten Sonam Dorji was born as the eldest son of Sinchungla and Pema Sangja. He grew up during the rule of the first king and Second King of Bhutan. When he was a child, Trashigang Dzong must have been under the governorship of Dzongpon Sonam Tshering, father of Dzongpon Thinley Tobgyel (aka Sey Dopola). 

From the 16th century onwards, one of the dominant sects of Buddhism that had made inroads into the villages of central and eastern Bhutan was the Peling sub-sect of the Nyingmapa founded by Terton Pema Lingpa who was born in Bumthang. However, as it is now, the monastic order inside the Dzongs which housed the administrative centres of the different regions or districts was the Drukpa Kargyu sect set up by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the founder of the state of Bhutan. The Dzongs had a vibrant monastic community, and children from the locality were encouraged to enrol as novice monks.

And so it was that little Sonam Dorji, the eldest son of Sinchungla and Pema Sangja from Bartsham Majawoong was enrolled as a novice monk in Trashigang. The exact year that he was enrolled is not known. But suffice it to say that he was sent there when he was quite small, may be before turning 10.

He turned out to be gifted with superior intelligence, and he excelled in his studies. He not only was able to memorise and understand the scriptures much faster than the others, but he also excelled in picking up all aspects of performing the different rituals. And as a result, it is said that he rose up the ranks of the monastic centre within the Dzong steadily until he became the Lama Neten, the head of the monastic order within the Dzong.

It is said that he served as Lama Neten for a long time during the time of Dzongpon Thinley Tobgyel alias Sey Dopola and even after Sey Dopola passed away in 1953.


The above accounts have been written based on information from many people, especially the following.

Meme Lobzang Yeshey (b. 1931) with my Japanese friend Yoshiki Ishiuchi doing research on Bartsham  Meme Lobzang Yeshi is my father's maternal first cousin. He has a photographic memory of past events, and he is especially good with family history of not only the Bartshampas, but of most prominent families of Bhutan. At 93, he is now losing some grasp of those memories.

Umze Drepa Sonam Dorji (middle). He is the one who took care of the only photograph of Lama Neten Sonam Dorji. Though faded, he believed that technology should be able to restore it. That is when I came in and took help from my friend Dr Naren Dubey, CEO of ScanCafe. 

My uncle Wangchuk Dorji (b. 1956), my mother's paternal cousin, is another person who has good memories of the history of Bartsham.

My mother (Mrs Kunzang, b. 1944) is a born hard worker and not so much into small talk and story telling, but with age, she has become better at recalling and narrating past stories to me.  

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Long life prayer (Zhabten) of His Majesty the Fifth King of Bhutan




དཀོན་མཆོག་རྩ་གསུམ་སྐྱབས་གནས་རྒྱ་མཚོ་ཡིས། །དགེ་ལེགས་རྟེན་འབྱུང་དམ་པའི་མཆོག་སྩོལ་བས། 

ས་སྐྱོང་འཇིགས་མེད་གེ་སར་མཚན་ཅན་གྱི། །སྐུ་ཚེ་ཡུན་བརྟན་མངའ་ཐང་རྒྱས་པར་ཤོག

བཅོམ་ལྡན་ཐུགས་རྗེའི་དབང་ཕྱུག་ཆེན་པོ་ཡིས། །བྱིན་རླབས་བདུད་རྩིའི་ཆར་རྒྱུན་རྣམ་ཀུན་ཕབ། 

མི་དབང་ཆོས་རྒྱལ་དམ་པའི་སྐུ་ཚེ་བརྟན། །ཆབ་སྲིད་མངའ་ཐང་དར་ཞིང་རྒྱས་པར་ཤོག

སྙིགས་དུས་འགྲོ་མགོན་པདྨ་ཀཱ་ར་ཡིས། ། འཆི་མེད་བདེ་ཆེན་གྲུབ་པའི་མཆོག་སྦྱིན་པས། །

མི་དབང་ཆོས་རྒྱལ་དམ་པའི་སྐུ་ཚེ་བརྟན། །ཆབ་སྲིད་མངའ་ཐང་དར་ཞིང་རྒྱས་པར་ཤོག།

སྐྱབས་མགོན་ངག་དབང་རྣམ་པར་རྒྱལ་བ་ཡིས། །གསང་གསུམ་རྡོ་རྗེའི་དབང་བསྐུར་མི་བསླུ་བས། 

མི་དབང་ཆོས་རྒྱལ་དམ་པའི་སྐུ་ཚེ་བརྟན། །ཆབ་སྲིད་མངའ་ཐང་དར་ཞིང་རྒྱས་པར་ཤོག ། ཕན་བདེའི་འབྱུང་གནས་རྒྱལ་བའི་བསྟན་པ་འཕེལ། །རྒྱལ་བློན་འབངས་འཁོར་དམ་གཙང་མཐུན་འབྲེལ་ཟབ། །བདེ་སྐྱིད་ཕུན་ཚོགས་དཔལ་ཡོན་དགུང་དུ་འཕྱུར། ། ལྗོངས་འདི་འཛམ་གླིང་ཀུན་གྱི་རྒྱན་འགྱུར་ཤོག



Here is the link of the pdf version of the long life prayer Zhabten of the fifth king of Bhutan:

Here is the link of the image JPG version of the long life prayer Zhabten of the fifth king of Bhutan: 

Prepared and uploaded online by Tshering Cigay on 11th Oct. 2022 for easy access since finding a high resolution pdf or JPG version of the prayer was difficult.  

Sunday, May 23, 2021

The Dying Art of Bhutanese Calligraphy (Yig-zo)

Tshampa Norbu Wangchuk, master calligrapher who wrote the master copy of the Constitution of Bhutan in gold, writing Kanjur in gold at the Royal Textile Academy, Thimphu (May 2021). 

Students in the monastic schools and the erstwhile Semtokha Rigney School used to study calligraphy as one of the disciplines to be mastered. But it does not seem to be the case anymore. So, when His Majesty the King of Bhutan initiated the project to write more than 100 volumes of Kanjur (Buddhist canon) in gold few years ago, it was not so easy to find skilled calligraphers to undertake the task. That is when Tshampa Norbu Wangchuk and few other lay monks (Gomchens) from Bartsham Chador Lhakhang were called upon to join the project as gold calligraphers. 

Calligraphy is called 'Yig-zo' in Bhutan, and it is an ancient art that can be traced to the introduction of Buddhism in Tibet.  It is does not feature in the 13 Arts and Crafts (zorig chusum) of Bhutan, but it is nonetheless a very important part of our rich tradition and culture that should be preserved. 

A master copy of the Constitution of Bhutan adopted in 2008 as the country transitioned to democratic form of Government under constitutional monarchy was hand-written in gold using the traditional calligraphic method  and is preserved for posterity. 

Dasho Sonam Kinga's 2010 article, "The Constitution – the King’s Gift: Defiling and Sanctifying a Sacred Gift", records the details of the signing of the Constitution of Bhutan as follows: 

"The King signed 'The Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan' at 10.06 a.m. on 18 July 2008 in the kuenra (assembly hall of the state monk body) of Tashichho Dzong. There were three copies of the Constitution, one of which was done in gold. The King signed in all of them. Following him, the Prime Minister led the seventy two members of Parliament in signing the Constitution. The Chief Justice signed last." 

"The day before the Constitution was signed, prayer ceremonies were organized in monastic institutions all over the country to solemnize the occasion. Before dusk, copies of the Constitution were taken inside the goenkhang of Tashichho Dzong and kept on its altar. .....Later, copies of the Constitution were taken to the kuenra from the goenkhang escorted by Dorji Lopen, who is considered to be the second highest abbot of the state monastic community. They were placed on the chhoethri located in front of the altar of the huge image of Buddha Shakya Muni."

The honour of writing the master copy of the Constitution  in gold fell upon Tshampa Norbu Wangchuk which he fulfilled very successfully. Tshampa is an accomplished lay Buddhist practitioner who has undergone practices such as the three year solitary retreats and received numerous teachings from great masters such as Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, Dungse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche and Lama Pema Wangchen among others. Physically, he is a giant of a man, but is very humble and gentle in nature. 

Tshampa Norbu Wangchuk, master calligrapher who wrote the master copy of the Constitution of Bhutan in gold. Picture takeb by the author in May 2021.

Tshampa Norbu Wangchuk also had the honour of writing many other important documents for the Royal Family of Bhutan in calligraphy. Currently, as a member of the ongoing project to write all the more than 100 volumes of Kanjur (Buddhist canon) in gold, he resides in Thimphu. The project is an initiative of His Majesty the King and the writing is taking place in the project office located at the Royal Textile Academy. The text is being laboriously written using real gold ink. "Gold powder imported from Japan is finer and produces better quality ink. The ones brought in from elsewhere like Nepal is not as good as the one from Japan," recounts Tshampa. 

On being asked what kind of pen they use for writing Kajur in gold, Tshampa says that they used to use only bamboo pens in the past, but now, pens with metallic nibs are being used because they last longer. He says that the bamboo pens get their nibs soaked and dissolved sooner. 

Calligrapher writing Kanjur in gold at the Royal Textile Academy, Bhutan (March 2021). Photo by: Chrys Fynn

It would be great if the Government can initiate activities to revive the interest of the public and the younger generation in this dying art of calligraphy. In Japan, where I spent nearly six years, calligraphy is practised as a living art, and even foreigners visiting Japan are made to try Japanese calligraphy in various festivals and cultural exchange events. 

Related links:

A Tipsy Irony (based on a real encounter)

 A Tipsy Irony (based on a real encounter that happened on 8th May 2021 above Tashichhodzong)

Last Saturday at around 11 am, I was travelling in my brother’s car when a man walking unsteadily by the roadside waved his hand at us for a ride.
Brother: Where do you want to go?
Man: Can you take me to the city bus stand in the middle of town?
Brother: Okay. Get in.

As he got in, smell of ingested alcohol filled the car. His face was swelly, hair unkempt and limbs sagging without much energy.

“She is now gone. Gone forever!” he murmured to himself as he lunged his body into the back seat of the car.

“Who is she? And what happened?” we enquired.
“She was my cousin’s wife. She died. I am just returning from the cremation ground. We told her many times, but she wouldn’t stop drinking. She killed herself by drinking too much.” He spoke in drunken tones.

Picture of drunk man above: Courtesy of

We asked how old she was. He said she was born in the year of ox.
“Then she must have been 48 this year,” I said.
He said that must be right. We then asked him how old he was and what he did for a living.
“I work as cook for the monks in a monastery which is about half day’s walk from Thimphu. I came down today for her cremation. I live by myself now, but I have a daughter who is married with an army personnel. ”

“How old are you?”
“I was born in the year of dragon”
“Are you about 45 then?”
“Maybe. I must have crossed 40”. He said. But he looked to be in his mid 50s. It was either that he didn’t keep track of his age, or that the alcohol had hastened his ageing process.

“Why do you want to go to the bus stand? Are you going to catch a bus to somewhere?” we asked.
“No, I am not going to catch a bus. I have to go there to refuel myself (ma-khu tsuba jogobay). I can’t bear to stay without refuelling myself (makhu matsuba de mi tshubay)”, he said meaning he is going there to drink in a bar.

What an irony. He felt sorry for the relative who had just died from drinking too much alcohol. Yet, he was not bothered about his own health and life.

“Oh, you better take care of yourself. You just said you just returned from the cremation of your relative who died by drinking too much. You may follow the same path after her if you don’t control your drinking,” we told him.
“I only drink white one. She used to drink the red one – that too without mixing any water,” said he as we dropped him in the town.

I gazed after him as he disappeared wobbly into the small bystreets of Thimphu.

And I thought to myself, “There goes another potential victim of alcohol liver disease (ALD), one of the top causes of death in Bhutan for the past many years. Yet, not doing much about it remains one of the biggest ironies in our country.”

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

16 Practical Suggestions to Tackle Thimphu’s Water Problem for the Immediate to Long-term

 Let me begin by making it clear that no individual or organisation should feel offended by this post, as it is only intended to start practical conversation and actions to solve this perennial water problem in our capital city.

Fig. 1. Picture of water distribution pipe at the distribution tank above Zilukha.

The people in my neighbourhood and my family went to bed without water last night, and woke up without electricity. No electricity even as I finished writing this post at 7.30 am (i.e. on 6th April 2021). Two most necessities of modern life. Anyway, this post is dedicated to the water issue only.

I woke up this morning (on 6th April 2021) thinking about the water issue and wondered how long we can endure this. As some people commented on my Facebook post yesterday, we will look pathetic to ourselves and also to the outsiders. But this problem, like all other problems, is not without solutions. So, I really would like to invite my fellow citizens to brainstorm and come up with ideas to say good-bye to this persistent problem. As a start, here are 16 practical suggestions that we can work on immediately, starting today.

In my neighbourhood, we are used to and we are happy with water supply of 2-3 hours a day since we have invested in water tanks and store them to last throughout the day. But these days, we did not even get that. What to say about 24-hour water supply!

A. Suggestions for immediate term (doable within this week)

1. Find out the cause of the current problem

Why has the current problem started? Find out the facts. Let us not keep on making assumptions. Is it because water source has become smaller? Why so suddenly? Is it because people have diverted drinking water sources for irrigation? Let us find the solution based on the facts.

2. Give priority to drinking water over irrigation for flower and vegetable gardens

If the source has become smaller, let us find out by going to the actual site whether this is true and why? Is it a natural phenomenon for water source to dry up in this month while the water was sufficient till March? Or is it because water is being diverted for irrigation? In any case, water for drinking should be given the first priority.

3. Tappings from the main supply pipe

The water we get in Zilukha comes from the main tank in Motithang via a main distribution pipe to three syntax tanks above my neighbourhood which serve as the distribution tanks. We have connections to these three distribution tanks. But over the years, a lot of tappings have taken place from the main pipe before reaching the distribution tanks. Some have no choice but to get water that way because they are located much farther away from the distribution tanks. But a proper study needs to be done to find out how many tapings are there and if they are all verified and necessary. Because of these tappings on the way, not much water reaches the distribution tanks in the end.

4. Get rid of illegal connections

Are there illegal connections taken to water fields and gardens? If so, they need to be removed so that others can have enough to at least drink.

5. Stop leakages and overflows

On the one hand we have no water to drink, but on the other hand, a lot of water goes to waste through leakages and overflows. It happens even in our area sometimes. Why? This is a water management issue. We have to stop that.

6. Do a quick study of the water distribution network in problem-hit areas and submit a report to the Government with action plan

My neighbourhood is not the only one that suffers from water problem from time to time. A study has to be done to find out the facts and come up with solutions. How long can we go on like this? This is 2021, not 1981.

7. Make someone accountable for the water issues in Thimphu and make it clear to that person

One of the management lessons I have learnt is that things get done well and in time when we fix accountability on someone clearly. In the case of water issues, it seems this is lacking.

If not, this should not go on and on like this. Now is the time to make it clear as to who is accountable. We know that one rhetoric answer to questions like this is “We are all accountable. We should all do our bit”. Yes, that is also right. But one person has to be there who will ultimately take charge of solving this perennial issue.

B. Suggestions for the short term (doable within few months to 1 year)

8 Water distribution network information system

As suggested by one of my friends, we need water distribution network information system so that the decision makers can quickly understand where the problem lies. Such systems are in use in many countries.

9 Make a plan for proper water distribution management and implement the pan

It is understood that we have enough water for Thimphu. The problem is management of distribution. And yet, we do nothing about it. Now is the time to make a distribution management plan, and again not sit over it, but get moving to implement that plan as soon as possible.

10 Upgrade distribution networks and tanks

There is a need in some places to upgrade/repair distribution pipes and distribution tanks in the locality. The distribution tanks can be improved in my locality my instance, and the distribution system can be made fairer and more leak and overflow-proof to save precious water.

11 Work on formation of an independent corporation to manage Thimphu’s water supply – name it Twenty-Four Hour Water Supply Limited

One of the best ways to solve the accountability and going-round-and-round issue with this perennial water issue may be to set up a dedicated corporation to manage the water supply for Thimphu immediately. They may then be given the mandate to even take care of water supply in other cities. People are not so comfortable with SOEs, but SOEs may be a better at delivering such services. We have talked enough about the water issues. Let the corporation self-sustain on fees with Government regulation and subsidy extended to certain families as they need may be. Generally, we may have to pay more than what we pay now, but I am sure people will be okay with that as long as they get water when they need it.

Let the name of that Corporation be Twenty-Four Hour Water Supply Limited so that the company would feel ashamed to not live up to their name, and work harder. This would also work as a positive brand for the company.

12 Work on building bigger storage tanks near water sources to store water during good water seasons

As I have mentioned earlier, a lot of water is wasted through overflows during the good seasons. We can store them for future use by building bigger tanks near the sources. If we are scared of flooding from such tank bursts, we can build many smaller tanks. That won’t cost a lot of money.

13 Make a holistic MASTER PLAN for Thimphu’s water supply for the next 10-20 years and start implementing it

The current problem is a result of no planning. When I started working in Thimphu in 2000 after graduating from a university in Australia, I was shocked to face water issues in water-rich country. And at that time, I raised the issue informally and formally in some gatherings. And 20 years down the line, we talk of the same issue. What a shame! More than 20 years ago, I spent four years in Australia from 1996 to 1999 and I don’t remember a day when the light went off or tap went dry.

Now is the time to make a Master Plan for 24-hour water supply and implement it. Budget can be mobilized if we have a proper plan. So, budget is not an excuse. For instance, DITT worked on the National Broadband Masterplan Implementation Project and connected almost all the Gewogs to the national fibreoptic network through that project. Why can’t we do the same with water supply?

C. Suggestions for the Long-term (beyond 1 year)

14 Complete building bigger storage tanks to store water during good water seasons

We need to do this and complete them so that we can store water for use during lean seasons.

15 Complete forming the Twenty-Four Hour Water Supply Limited and hand over the water supply work to this corporation.

Let the CEO of Twenty-Four Hour Water Supply Limited take full accountability for 24-hour water supply in the long run. Right now, it seems water supply is nobody’s priority.

16 Implement the Master Plan Phase-wsie starting as soon as possible
Start implementing the Master Plan suggested above as a short term initiative.


This article is an edited version of the Facebook post made by the author in the morning of 6th April 2021. This is being published here for the future reference by the individuals and agencies concerned to see if any of these suggestions could be helpful in solving this persistent issue of our capital city. 



Monday, January 25, 2021

Lama Pema Wangchen– Bartsham’s Most Illustrious Son and Its Greatest Benefactor

 Lama Pema Wangchen– Bartsham’s Most Illustrious Son and Its Greatest Benefactor

By Tshering Cigay Dorji

Written on 25th January 2021

 Growing up in this fertile and beautiful village of Bartsham in upper Trashigang, not very far from Bhutan’s easternmost border with Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh, India, I, as a child, heard people talking about our revered Lama Pema Wangchen in very respectful tones. Yet, it is only now that I have realized how much he has done for our village community. I think much of what Bartsham is today is because of Lama Pema Wangchen.

Lama Pema Wangchen in Phuentsholing Development Guest house garden (now Dungkhag office) sometime in the winter of 1988 or 1989 (Picture by: Ana Jamyang, Lama's youngest daughter).

Since the 1960s and 70s, Bartsham had become an important spiritual centre in Eastern Bhutan with its famous Bartsham Chhador Lhakhang serving as its base. It not only hosted various religious events such as Tshechus, Drubchhen and Tshog offerings on auspicious dates, but it was also one of the few villages in the area that hosted a full three-day annual Tshechu in those days with various masked dances like in the Dzongs.

All these were introduced under the personal initiative and guidance of Lama Pema Wangchen, including the re-construction of the Chhador Lhakhang in 1977 which became one of the most beautiful Lhakhangs in eastern Bhutan during those times. Before that, there was an old dilapidated Lhakhang in its place which was said to have been constructed in the 1930s by Trongsa Dronyer Drepa Sangay Thinley of Bainangkhar Nagtsang in Bartsham. The main nang-ten (inner relic) of Chador Lhakhang has been the much-acclaimed self-arisen statue of Vajrapani (Chagna Dorje) since those times, hence the name Chador Lhakhang.   

The author in front of the old Chador Lhakhang built by Lama Pema Wangchen in 1977. Picture taken in 2019.

The self-arisen statue of Vajrapani (Chagna Dorje)which was brought to Bartsham from Dungsam by a groom who married a daughter of Yangkhar Khochhe of Bartsham. This is the most important nang-ten (inner relic) of Chador Lhakhang. It is believed to be a treasure revealed by Terton Pema Lingpa, and has the power to bestow great blessings and protection to devotees. (Piture courtesy: Jubiliant Travel Facebook Page)

Yet, this great man started his journey of life in the most humble of circumstances. He was born in 1923 and was raised by a single mother and his sister on a small farm. At the age of 12, he entered Trashigang Rabdey as a monk and studied there for about six years. In 1939, His Holiness Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche visited Trashigang and consecrated the newly rebuilt Trashigang Dzong along with Lama Sonam Zangpo at the invitation of Trashigang Dzongpon Thinley Tobgay alias Sey Dopola. After the consecration, Lama Pema Wangchen, then as a young boy of 17, was one of the monks chosen to accompany and reach Lama Sonam Zangpo to his retreat place in Tsari Kiphug in Tibet.

After Lama Pema Wangchen reached Lama Sonam Zangpo to Tsari Kiphug and came back to Trashigang Dzong, his heart longed very strongly to go to Tibet to study and practise the Dharma under the great masters there. In those days, Tibet was the place where the Dharma was flourishing with many great masters, while Bhutan was seen as a peripheral place. Therefore, he approached his teachers and Lama Neten in Trashigang who granted him the permission to leave. He then went to see his mother and sister in Bartsham and then left for Tibet with nothing but great determination.

In Tibet, life was very difficult as he hardly had any personal resources to support himself. It was only his steely determination and perseverance that kept him going. He trained under masters such as Lama Thupten Nyendrag of Kongyul, Lama Kunzang Namtrul, Lama Menlam Rabzang, Lama Thupten, Jadrel Sangay Dorji and Kyabje Dudjom Rinpocehe among others.

In particular, he had great devotion for Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche having received teachings and initiations from him since he was 17 years old at Trashigang Dzong, and he excelled in the teachings and practices of Dudjom Tersar lineage. 

When he returned to Bartsham in 1951 from Tibet, he had accomplished much spiritually because of his unfaltering devotion to his teachers, determination and perseverance. Yet, he was very humble and kept a very low profile and lived like an ordinary Dharma practitioner.

In those days, the community of Bartsham used to conduct an annual Tshechu at Cheten Lhakhang. Since Bartsham did not have any accomplished Lama, the people of Bartsham used to invite a lama called Galing Lopen from Galing to lead the ceremony. Lama Pema Wangchen, a young man then, attended the ceremony as one of the lay monks on one occasion. Galing Lopen struck up a conversation with Lama Pema Wangchen during the break, and the former was awestruck by how learned the young Lama Pema Wangchen was. So, Galing Lopen called all the monks and people together and said to them, “You have a great master among yourselves here, and yet you take all the pains to call me all the way from Galing. Lopen Nakulung (former name of Lama Pema Wangchen) is well qualified to lead all religious ceremonies and look after your welfare. He will benefit you all greatly in the future. I am also now quite old and I don’t think I can make it to your village from next year.”

It was only from then that Lama Pema Wangchen assumed a more important role and took in a number of followers and students. A number of existing Dharma practitioners in Bartsham became his disciples in addition to new ones joining. Among his most accomplished disciples are Lama Kunzang Wangdi alias LamaNyingkhu (1942 - 2018), a highly accomplished and multi-talented master, and the equally accomplished incumbent Bartsham Lama Ugyen Namdrol alias Lama Daupo who also studied and practised under Dudjom Rinpoche.

Bartsham's annual three-day festival of Chhoekhor in the 7th month of the Bhutanese calendar. (Picture courtesy: Bartsham community Facebook Page)

My uncle Ajang Wangchuk Dorji who studied as a kid under Lama Pema Wangchen recalls, “One of the greatest qualities of Lama Pema Wangchen was his humility and respect for other Lamas. He invited so many great masters and Lamas to Bartsham and let his own students and disciples learn from them. It was not just well known Rinpoches like Dungsey Rinpoche and Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, but others.”

He recalls the following Lamas being invited to Bartsham to conduct religious ceremonies when he was a kid: Hao Hao Lama (real name could not be recalled), Bazaguru Lama,  Trulku Karma Ugyen and Geshe Sangay from Tongmi Yangtse. In addition, elders recall that Lama Pema Wangchen gave practical advice and guidance to the people on all aspects of life. 

In particular, Ajang recalls that Lama Pema Wangchen invited Dungsey Rinpoche in 1969 to give Dudjom Lineage teachings, and Rinpoche stayed for about six months in Bartsham Dupchu Gonpa conferring all the important teachings.

Lama Pema Wangchen started the three-day annual Tshechu from 13th to 15th day of 10th month of the Bhutanese calendar with masked dances in 1966. This is the most important annual festival of Bartsham village to which people from most neighbouring villages used to come too. This replaced the one-day event called Dawa Tshechu that used to be held on the 10th day of the 3rd month of the Bhutanese calendar in the past.

I mentioned earlier that Chador Lakhang was constructed in 1977. However, completing all the intricate internal works, including the statues, carvings and paintings normally take a long time to complete. So, it was only in 1985 that all internal and external works of the Lhakhang were complete in every sense. To mark the occasion, Lama Pema Wangchen invited Dzongsar JamyangKhyentse Rinpoche, then only 24 years old, to preside over the first Vajrakilaya Drubchen held in Bartsham Chador Lhakhang. Since then, it has become an annual event.

It was then that Lama Pema Wangchen and the community leaders of Bartsham unanimously decided, with deep devotion and prayers for future well-being of the community, to hand over Chador Lhakhang to Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche for his care and patronage. Given the genuine love and devotion with which the offer was made, Rinpoche accepted it although it might have been an additional responsibility and burden for him. Since then, the strong ties of samaya between the people of Bartsham and Rinpoche remains unbroken to this day, and I think this is thanks mainly to the untainted prayers of our Lama Pema Wangchen.

Today, there is a thriving monastic school in Chador Lhakhang with many young monks supported by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s foundation. On top of that, Khyentse Rinpoche chooses Bartsham as the venue for some of his most important Dharma teachings in Bhutan as we have seen in recent years. This brings immense benefit to the people, not only spiritually, but also economically since many of Rinpoche’s followers from around the world flock to Bartsham for these teachings. 

It is thanks to Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s support and guidance that Bartsham Lama Kunzang Wangdi alias Lama Nyingkhu was able to build the new and bigger Lhakhang in front of the old Lhakhang. The new Lhakhang construction was funded mainly by the foreign devotees of Lama Kunzang Wangdi and Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche and was completed in 2018 just before Lama Kunzang Wangdi passed away untimely due to kidney failure.

The author in front of the new Lhakhang constructed in 2018 by Lama Kunzang Wangdi alias Lama Nyingkhu. Picture Taken in 2019.

The Chador Lhakhang compound with the view of both the old and new Lhakhang.(Picture courtesy: Bhutan Travellhari)

The Chador Lhakhang compound with the view of both the old and new Lhakhang. 

The present Lama of Bartsham, Lama Ugyen Namdrol alias Lama Daupo is an equally accomplished Lama like Lama Kunzang Wangdi. Devoid of any interest in worldly material pursuits, he invests whatever he receives in the form of offering from his devotees to Dharma activities. These are ultimately, the living legacies of Lama Pema Wangchen.

As the scent of a beautiful flower spreads far and wide and attracts bees from afar, so did the fame of our Lama Pema Wangchen’s spiritual accomplishments spread far and wide and attracted many followers from places beyond Bartsham. In 1974, His Majesty the Fourth King had just been formally crowned. Lyonpo Tamzhing Jagar, the powerful Home Minister who had served since the reign of the Third King, felt that the nation would need to conduct some powerful tantric rituals to cleanse any simmering obstacles for the well being of the nation. And his search for a master to conduct this ritual narrowed down to Lama Pema Wangchen. 

So, the Government sent messengers with the invitation to Lama Pema Wangchen to come to Thimphu. And in Thimphu, his Tantric accomplishments became even more well known. Needless to say that this brought Bartsham to the notice of higher authorities and might have helped in bringing developmental benefits to the village too. 

For one ritual, it is said that a drop of blood from an owl was needed and the Government sent soldiers into the jungle to catch one. But they failed to get one. When this was reported to the Lama, he said it was not a problem. Then an owl mysteriously appeared at the window of the altar room. So, it was caught and a small drop of blood drawn with a syringe and let free. Attracting the owl from nowhere was attributed to the Tantric power of the Lama.

Lama Pema Wangchen spent his time mostly in Thimphu conducting important rituals for the nation from the late 1970s until his death in 1990. While in Thimphu, he lived in his simple residence in Zilukha and this is where he passed away too.

A very elaborate funeral befitting the Lama of his stature and accomplishments was conducted at a peaceful hillock with a great view of the surrounding areas called Ridi Sirsa in Bartsham. Today, a Chorten dedicated to his memory stands there, where devotees still come to pray and offer their respects to this great man who uplifted and transformed his community within his lifetime.



1. Khenpo Phuntshok Tashi, Nyima Shargi Choglay, Sharwai Karma Namsum, Tshokye Dorje Foundation, Thimphu, 2013.

2. Oral Interviews of older generation Bartshampas

Restoring the only surviving photograph of Trashigang Lama Neten Sonam Dorji from Bartsham (circa 1901 - 1968)

  During the early to mid-twentieth century, when Bhutan was under the reign of the First King and the Second King, just before the country ...