At 7:00 am on 1st September 2009, eight volunteers from VAST headed to Kabisa in Punakha; thus, began the first trip of ‘Make a Wish’ Project. Twenty eight elders from Kabisa – the eldest aged eighty seven – were taken for a pilgrimage to Bumthang via Phobjikha and Trongsa. Despite their staunch faith and desire, many of them have never been beyond Wangduephodrang.
Our first stop was at Gangtey Goenpa in Phobjikha. While at Phobjikha, we were received by the Abbots of Gangtey Shadra, Khenpo Tandin Sithup, Tenzin Thinley, and 150 other young monks. We were given a grand welcome ceremony and which was followed by an informal discussion on Buddhist philosophy. The Khenpo distributed the red scarf to all before visiting the Sherda temples and attending their evening prayers. The Shadra sponsored the dinner/breakfast and provided a place to sleep with young monks sharing their blankets and mats.
On the second day, we visited Gangtey Goenpa, before heading to Trongsa. We stopped for lunch at Chendebji chorten. While the elders circumambulate the chorten, the young volunteers prepared lunch. That night we camped at the Trongsa View point.
Next morning we hiked along the ancient route to Trongsa Dzong, named the Magdue Trail. It took us about two hours at leisurely pace. Because the trail was narrow and damp the path was slippery and we were often attacked by leeches. A few of us were even stung by bees. However, we were relieved not to have encountered any bears during the hike, as was previously warned. The climb was exhausting. But as we drew nearer to the Dzong, every grunt seemed worth the while. The sky was clear and the Dzong towered high and majestic on top of the hill. The sight was breath taking. We visited every 23 lhakhangs inside the Dzong. Our next destination was the Trongsa Watch Tower museum, popularly known as the Ta- Dzong. The tour in and around Ta dzong was refreshing and enlightening. Ta Dzong was initially built to guard the Dzong from enemies.
By the time we drove to Bumthang, it was past 3:00 pm.
The two night camps, on the 4th and the 5th at Bumthang were pleasant. We pitched our tents at a ground few meters below Kurji lhakhang. There were settlements nearby, so fetching water wasn’t a problem. We visited ten main lhakhangs, most of which were located on mountain slopes.
Tamzhing Lhakhang was one of the ten we visited. Built in the 15th century by Pema Lingpa, a famous Buddhist saint, the lhakhang, it is believed, has never had to be restored since. Needless to say, there is an ancient feel to the temple. The paintings on the wall, originally done by the saint himself, is now faded, but remains priceless. Other lhakangs include the popular Kurjey Lhakhang, Jampa Lhakhang, Dorjibee, Pemsampa, Chakhar and Kenchosum.
The next day we headed for Mem-bar Tsho, the burning lake. In the early 14th century, Terton Pema Lingpa, a treasure discoverer, jumped into the lake and surfaced with a burning lamp with a statue of a Buddha, a skull and a religious script. This is how the lake got its name. The same day, we visited Karchu Dratshang and Jakar Dzong. Our lunch of “Jangbulee” (Bumtap’s special noodle) was sponsored by group of women at the dratsang. As we were heading for Chumey, we met the first rainfall of the trip. We visited the Nimalung Dratsang before the night halt. The rain was still pouring so, we couldn’t camp. The chumey gup came to our rescue by providing the village meeting hall for our night halt. While a few of us prepared dinner outside, the elders entertained themselves picking on each other with hilarious stories.
The 6th morning was cold and misty. As we started walking up the Tharpaling Dratshang, it began to drizzle which continued till we got back to our bus. The delicious lunch for group was sponsored by the Dratsang before we headed to Chendebji. This ride took more than 5 hours. By the time we reached Chendebji, it was past 7:00 pm. Many slept on the foot bridge that night.
Chendebji is located 41 kms from Trongsa. Legend has it that the Chendebji Chorten, built in the 19th century, sits over the remains of an evil spirit known to have harmed every souls passing the locality.
Our last camp was at Baylangdra, 21 kms from Chuzommsa in Wangdiphodrang. The ride was bumpy and cold. We visited more than 4 mini nyes before we headed for the main nye also known as Baylangdra, the next morning. The dinner and lunch next day were sponsored by asha lam and his uncle and aunts.
On 8th Sept. by 6:30 pm we dropped off all the elders at Kabjisa. Everyone headed home tired but happy. To celebrate the fulfillment to their wish, we volunteers hit a cozy restaurant in Messina, Punakha, had a hearty meal. By the time we reached Thimphu, it was 10:00 pm and drizzling. But the rain couldn’t dampen our spirits.
On behalf of all participants, I would like to thank all the sponsors and volunteers for making this pilot project a success:
- Khenpos and monks at Gangtey Sherda for treating us as special guests
- Mr. Yeshi Tshering of Bhutan Birding and Heritage Tour for providing a coaster bus for the entire trip
- Mr. Sonam Dorji the don of Nirvana Tours and Treks for providing the second coaster bus for the entire trip
- Tharpaling Dratsang for sponsoring lunch
- Mrs. Kila and her friends for special jangbuli lunch
- Chortenibu Lam and Aku for dinner and lunch
- Apa Dorji and Aum Namgay Bidha for the red rice to last for the entire trip
- Mrs. Karma Doma Tshering for red scarfs
- Mr. Tashi Tobgay of Bhutan Gateway Travel for tents
- Keys to Bhutan for mess tents
- Asha Kama for monetary donation
- Chumey Gup and Aum Sonam Om for the night halt
- Mr. Dechey Wangchuk for tea and snacks at Trongsa
- Asha Tandin, village volunteer
- Ap Tandi, Phakhakha, village volunteer
- Ap Tsi Dorji, Boeteykha, village volunteer
- Ms. Choney Pelzang, VAST volunteer
- Ms. Zuki Nima, VAST volunteer
- Ms. Kezang Choden, VAST volunteer
- Ms. Tsotso (Jigme Choden) VAST volunteer
- Mr. Dorji Wangchuk, VAST volunteer
- Mr. Tenzin Norbu, VAST volunteer
- Mr. Sangay Dorji, VAST volunteer
- Asha kama, VAST volunteer
- Mr. Pala of BHT
- Mr. Namgay of Nirvana