Our reporter Jigme Wangchuk goes to visit the seat of great Khenchen Ngawang Thinley Lhundup in Thimphu. What he finds there is a painful story of neglect and dilapidation.
Lhakhang: Up the fantastically harrowing and jagged dirt road that winds up from the Zero Point in Babesa, Thimphu, the journey reels like a ride in a bad dream. And it goes on, the journey, like it will never end.
But it ends, and dramatically so, when at the top of the hill the sad monastery gate meets you like an unsolicited visitor. And then the specter shows itself.
The serene and the sacred has been broken, care and love has long abandoned the place. The great seat of the 67th Je Khenpo, Ngawang Thinley Lhundup, lies in ruins.
At the corridor of the only standing quarter near the lhakhang, a seven-year-old monk displays his skills. Making ritual cakes is no easy job. It requires hard training and perfection must be achieved if you must avoid the wrath of your uncompromising teacher. With him are two little monks. They have an assignment to complete before dusk.
Gratified with his effort, the little monk looks at the cake. His two friends are kneading the dough on a plank still.
“This is how we do it,” says the little monk, admiring his feat. This little monk is the Yangsi of the 67th Je Khenpo Ngawang Thinley Lhundup. He and his two friends, three of them, are being taught by the lama of Nyizergang Lhakhang.
This Lhakhang once housed the monks of Simtokha Dzong when the dzong was being renovated. Hostels and classrooms were built to accommodate the students and the teachers. It was then a thriving monastic school overlooking the booming city far below the ridgeline.
In 2011, the Lhakhang was badly damaged by an earthquake. It destroyed the hostels and classrooms. Four years on, the Lhakhang stands like an abandoned settlement in the middle of pine forest high up. The roofless hostels with gaping cracks sit like they have been frozen in the act of collapse.
But peace is here in all its totality. Only the broken houses give a haunted look to the whole establishment.
When efforts are being made to restore lhakhangs and choetens throughout the country, this lhakhang at Nyizergang has not yet received the attention it direly needs. Why? Questions can be asked. Answers come in complicated web.
No one goes to visit the lhakhang that remains locked most of the time. If anything could bring any good to this lhakhang, it would require another devastating earthquake to raze it to the ground.
“I think that will do some good,” said the caretaker. “We cannot rebuild it. And no one will come to help us build it.” His voice gives silence a weight too heavy it hangs in the air.
The little dogs scamper around his feet. He doesn’t talk. And then, he is gone. The little canines have left too.
Far north into the distance, Thimphu sprawls like a sleepless behemoth.
It will require quite a rattle of quake in the heart to look one more time at this solitary monastery atop a hill hidden deep in clouds of neglect and utter disregard.