Tamchog Lhakhang is a temple that is seen by travelers along the Paro-Thimphu highway but hardly visited.
Every time I travel the Thimphu-Paro highway, I espy this beautiful temple located at a small hillock on the other side of Pachhu. One can also see a traditional bridge spanning the river at the base of the hillock.
I have also seen that chilli grows abundantly in fields around this temple, and farmers often leave the red chillies to dry either in the fields or on the road. But I heard that there isn’t any case of theft, because people fear the wrath of the guardian deity of this temple.
So last Sunday, Sonam and I decide to visit this temple. We pack a meal and taking some offerings for the butter-lamps and incense sticks we start from home by 10 am. After an hour’s drive from Thimphu long the dreaded fury-road (a nickname I give the Thimphu-Paro-Phuntsholing highway) we reach Tachog gang. Apart from two cars parked by the highway, the area is surprisingly empty. I drive down a small dirt road that steeps towards Tachogzam, the bridge.
After parking the car, I’m immediately struck by the enormity of the bridge, which seems miniature when seen from the highway, but towers over you as you reach its base.
But sadly the bridge is closed, the doors locked. Nailed to a tree-trunk is a torn-down public notification forbidding visitors to the Lhakhang due to renovations.
We ponder whether to heed the notification or take our chances. We decide to continue on, and if we are not welcome, we will make our way back. But we do see a small group of locals making their way up the hillock ahead of us.
So I carry our packed-lunch while Sonam carries the offerings. We cross the bridge. Like walking over any other suspension bridge, the structure moves with our step, and I am careful not to make sudden movements. The railings of the are adorned with multi-colored lungdhars, which flutters in the cool Pachhu breeze.
Crossing the bridge, we are greeted by a huge board with the portrait of the royal family. This sight is a blessing in this desolate landscape, because at this point you can’t see the temple on the hillock, just the barren climb in front of you.
Reaching the tower on this side of the bridge the door is open. We go in. There is a wooden staircase which leads to the upper floor from which the view of the whole bridge is awesome.
Thangtong Gyelpo who built the bridge is also immortalized on the mural inside this tower, overlooking his handiwork.
We start our climb after offering our prayers and wishes at this sacred setting. Wild blue flowers surrounded the landscape.
As we are about to summit the hillock, we are greeted by this strange rock formation. The first word that comes to my mind is ‘catacombs’. Sonam picks up a pebble and places it gingerly in one hollow. In ancient times, travelers would usually place pebbles or twigs on a mound at mountain passes tops to appease the local deities, and maybe also to show that they had been there.
Finally we are at the top. We see the temple.
The landscape here is beautifully eerie. Sonam remarks that the barren hills remind her of Lhasa. Now I understand that Thangtong Gyalpo must have felt homely here, so far away from U-Tsang, Tibet.
We go looking for the gate to the compound. From the window of the adjacent building we see an elderly women peeking at us. We ask whether the temple is open to visitors and she answers in the affirmative.
We find the gate and go inside the compound. We are met by an elderly man at the door.
Inside in the three-storied structure are the various statues and murals of numerous deities and gods. Kept on display at the top floor are Thangtong Gyelpo’s walking stick and few links of chains. To respect the sanctity of the temple, I refrain from taking any photographs inside the temple.
We ask the caretaker why visitors were not allowed. He laughs it off and says that he meant to take down the sign but couldn’t reach it, since it was nailed high up. He put up the sign as a safety measure so that foreign visitors wouldn’t get hurt while the additional construction of a proper gate and an annex building were ongoing.
After spending around half an hour inside the temple, we exit. The afternoon breeze is dry but cool to the skin. We decide to have our lunch at the base of the huge cypress tree on the front lawn.
As soon as we sit for lunch the complete silence is shattered by a loud chatter, as an entire family of Indians make their way across the lawn.
Our plan of resting there for an hour or so is defeated as we quickly eat our lunch and make our getaway. I have time for a last photograph of the Bridge before walking back to our car, and onward to Paro.
Three reasons why you must visit Tamchog Lhakhang
The first reason is purely religious and historical. If time is a luxury, the caretaker will take you though the entire history of the temple and the accompanying bridge. After all, he is the direct descendants of the Thangtong Gyalpo, who was a renowned mahasiddha. So this is a must visit for Buddhists and historians.
The second is the peace and tranquility. Tamchog is located far enough from the highway that people don’t have the time to visit the temple compound. The locals usually glance at it while driving along the highway, whereas the tourists just gaze at it from the road. So there is a relative peace at this place.
The third is the view. The Tamchog hillock offers a view that is unconditionally beautiful and unique, almost a highland view. No wonder Thangtong Gyalpo built a temple here. If you have time, you can also climb up higher in the mountain to get a birds eye view of the temple and its beautiful surrounding valley.
Photographs by KK Studio using Samsung Galaxy S8