Following is the itinerary for a pilgrimage to Bhutan my wife and I are making. The dates in Bhutan are Oct. 14-30. The trip begins and ends in Bangkok. Please PM me for further information. This is not a business, is not for profit, and we can only invite along 8-10 others. The emphasis of this pilgrimage is on places visited by Guru Rinpoche.
Oct 14: AM. Arrive at Paro from Bangkok via Druk Air. Drive to Thimphu and check into hotel. PM. Visit the Drubthob Nunnery for prayer and tshog ceremony there or at the Changlimithang Guru Temple. The Drubthob Nunnery is the residence of the current Tulku of the famous Tibetan Siddha Thangtong Gyalpo (1385–1464) also known as Chakdzampa, the “Iron-bridge (Builder).”
Oct 15 .AM. Tango Monastery. In the eighth century, Guru Rinpoche visited this place and identified it as representing Hayagriva. In the 12th century, Phajo Drugom Zhigpo (1184-1251), Who was an emanation of Avalokiteshvara and very important in the early spread of the Drukpa Kagyud sect in Bhutan, visited this place during a teaching tour. He had been instructed to meditate in a cave in this locale during a vision of Guru Rinpoche. While meditating in this cave, Phajo heard the neighing of a horse coming from the direction of Tango. At the same time, He witnessed the cliff in the form of Hayagriva (or the “Horse-headed” wrathful form of Avalokiteshvara) engulfed in flames. The Deity appearing before Phajo prophesied that a monastery meant for meditation would be built on this place. The prophecy also mentioned that Phajo would take as His consort Khandro Sonam Peldon and that the children of this union would be instrumental in establishing the Drukpa Kagyu school of Buddhism in Bhutan. Phajo eventually died at Tango at the age of 68. Later, Tango Monastery was founded by Lama Gyalwa Lhanampa in the early 13th century. In 1616, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal meditated in its cave. The monastery was built in its present form by Tenzin Rabgye, the 4th Desi (or temporal ruler) and nephew of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1688. Within this monastery, there is a self-emanated form of the wrathful Hayagriva.
PM. Visit with Lam Nikula and/or Guru Khentse Ozer Rinpoche.
Lopon or Lam Nikula is a senior disciple of H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche, Jigdral Yeshe Dorje, Whom He accompanied and served as personal secretary for many years. Lopon Nikula supervised the publication the Collected Works and the revision of the Nyingma Kama of Dudjom Rinpoche. He also served as umze and chopon, having mastered every aspect of ritual in the Dudjom tradition. Lopon Nikula now serves as a Dorje Lopon and Guru for the Court of the Royal Family of Bhutan. He is respected for his precision and perfectionistic perseverance in all his Dharma activities and He speaks fluent English.
Guru Khyentse Ozer also speaks fluent English, having gone to High School in Yuma, Colorado. Famed for His divinations and prophecies, He is also a well-respected Teacher. Guru Khyentse Ozer Rinpoche has a great sense of humor and is very self-deprecating. Check Him out on Facebook!
Oct 16 AM & PM. Thimphu Sightseeing (The exact details of this day are as yet unconfirmed, but we will try to include some Dharma activities.)
Oct 17. Drive to Dochula. This is a pass located at 10,300 feet above sea-level where there are 108 commemorative stupas in the distinctive Bhutanese style. We will then hike to Lungchur Zer Monastry (located at 11,800 ft) and then hike down to Trashigang Gompa to meet with Lam Kado. Lam Kado is the most famous meditator in Bhutan. Total hiking distance will be approximately 9 km. We will spend the night at the hotel on Dochula.
Oct 18. We will begin the day by driving 2.5 hours to our hotel in either Punakha or Wangdi Phodrang. We will then visit Punakha Dzong and then Chimed Lhakhang. Punakha Dzong is the most magnificent dzong in Bhutan where royal coronations are held. Chimed Lhakhang is dedicated to Drukpa Kunlek (1455-1529), the great Siddha who is sometimes called the “Mad Monk of Bhutan.” It is located on a round hillock and was built in 1499 by the 14th Drukpa hierarch, Ngawang Chogyal, after the site was blessed by the “Divine Madman” Who built a chorten on the site. In founding the site, it is said that Lama Kunley subdued a demon of Dochu La with his “magic thunderbolt of wisdom” and trapped it in a rock at the location close to where the chorten now stands.
Oct 19. We will drive 2-3 hours to the Bey Langdra Nay trailhead where we will hike uphill for 1-2 hours to this bey-yul or hidden land of Guru Rinpoche. While at the nay, we will pray, meditate, and say tshog. We will spend the night at the nay in either tents or or retreat cabins.
Bey Landra is one of the three holiest nay in Bhutan (the other two being Paro Taktsang and Senge Dzong [which is highly restricted; we tried but could not get permission to go there]). Bey Langdra is sacred to Guru Rinpoche, Gyalwa Longchenpa, and to Dorje Lingpa (a famous Terton) and has an important connection to Kyabje Chatral Rinpoche. According to sacred texts, Guru Rinpoche returned from Zangdokpalri for a seven-day sojourn in Bey Langdra. On His arrival, Terdak Langdrapa, a local diety, caused obstacles to the Guru. However, manifesting as Urgyen Dorje Gur, the Guru subdued the diety and appointed him as the protector of the treaure-teachings. It is said that Guru Rinpoche has hidden approximately 60 terma here.
Kunkhyen Longchen Rabjampa visited Bey Langdra in 1356 followed by his son Tersay Drakpo Ozer. Later in Shar Kunzaling, the seat of Kunkhen Longchen Rabjampa, Terdak Langdrakpa instructed Terton Dorje Lingpa to visit Bey Langdra. After visiting the place and staying there for seven days, Dorje Lingpa was disappointed after finding no spiritual indications. However, when just about to leave, a Dakini appeared before Him and instructed Him to look at the cliff. On the cliff, he saw Guru Rinpoche as an eight-year-old boy emanating from a rainbow. The Guru thus instructed him: “My son, do not leave. You are the destined treasure revealer.” The Terton then entered into a retreat. On the 10th day of the eighth month in retreat, the Guru again appeared to Him. The Guru instructed Him that, if one merely sees Bey Langdra, one will be freed from samsara. If one visits it, all defilements will be purified. If one practices Dharma there, one will find spiritual fulfillment and realize all the Yidam practices. If one makes offerings here, all aspirations for all lifetimes will be fulfilled. However, despite Guru Rinpoche and many great Tertons like Pema Lingpa and Sherab Mebar consecrating Bey Langdra, it remained hidden even to Bhutanese for many centuries.
In 1986, Lungten Tulku went to Yolmo in Nepal and approached Kyabje Chatral Rinpoche about Bey Langdra. In 1988, Kyabje Chatral Rinpoche visited Bhutan and petitioned His Majesty about the spiritual discovery. Chatral Rinpoche then stated that, although there are many sacred spiritual places in the world, the discovery of Bey Langdra is very significant. First, it has a very sacred legacy, and second, it has not been defiled over time. Chatral Rinpoche also remarked that all Bhutanese who could now visit the site had more merit than those who had passed away.
On Chatral Rinpoche’s instructions, a retreat centre named Drubdra Ozer Samtenling was constructed at the foot of the valley. In 2000, Chatral Rinpoche appointed Lungten Tulku as the destined Lama to construct a lhakhang in Bey Langdra. With limited resources and experience, Tulku constructed a small lhakhang there measuring 25 feet in length. The lhakhang housed a 10-foot tall statue of Urgyen Dorje Gur made in Punakha and sponsored by HRH Ashi Deki Yangzom and two six-foot tall statues of Khandro Yeshe Tshogyal and Khandro Mandarawa.
It was the desire to visit Bey Langdra that prompted Bob and Honora to arrange this pilgrimage to Bhutan. Along with visiting Paro Taktsang, it is the centerpiece of this trip. Few Westerners have even heard about Bey Langdra, much less visited it. Truly it is an unspoiled hidden country (bey yul).
Oct 20. We will drive back to Wangdi Phodrang, enroute visiting the Dechencholing Temple built by Jigme Kundrol, one of the four heart-sons of Kunkhyen Jigme Ling. From there, we will visit the Dargey Gompa also built by Jigme Kundrol. We will stay in a hotel in Wangdi Phodrang.
Oct 21. Today, we will drive 4-5 hours to Trongsa. Along the way, we will stop at view point and walk for approximately 2 hours on the ancient trail to the Trongsa Dzong and visit the Trongsa museum. We will stay overnight in Trongsa.
Oct 22. Leaving Trongsa, we will drive 3-4 hours to Bumthang. Enroute, we will see the weaving of the yathra (woolen blankets) at Chumey. After checking into our hotel, in the afternoon we will visit the Jakar Dzong. After that, there will be free time in Jakar village.
Oct 23. Today we will do the Bumthang valley hike, which is approximately 7 kms. We will walk from our hotel to Tamshing Gompa built by Pema Lingpa in the early1500s where one can still see original paintings. Here there is also a somewhat unusual Guru Rinpoche statue without boots and with eyes looking toward the heavens. Pema Lingpa is believed to be the next incarnation of Kunkhyen Longchen Rabjampa.
Then we will walk to the Kurjey Lhakhang. Kurjey Lhakhang was built in the 17th century. Kurjey Lhakhang was built in the 17th century by Chogyal Mingyur Tenpa, the first Governor of Trongsa who also served as the first temporal ruler. It was built on the site where Padmasmabhava left His body impression on a wall of a cave where He was meditating to subdue a local deity.
Next we will walk to the seventh century Jambay Lhakhang. Jambay Lhakhang is said to be one of the 108 temples built by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gonpo in 659 AD on a single day to pin down an ogress to earth forever. A supine demoness was causing obstruction to the spread of Buddhism and the temples were constructed on her body parts that spread across Tibet, Bhutan, and the border lands. The best known of these temples are Kyichu in Paro, Jambay Lhakhang in Bumthang, and the Jokhang in Lhasa, Tibet. Other lesser-known temples in Bhutan have been destroyed. The temple of Jambay Lhakhang was later visited by Guru Rinpoche and later restored by Sendhu Raja after Guru restored his life force. Jambay Lhakhang has been repaired and rebuilt several times over time. During the 8th century, Sendhu Raja who was the king of Bumthang fell ill and he invited Guru Rinpoche who brought Buddhism into Bhutan to cure him. Guru Rinpoche found out that the King’s illness was caused by the local deities, including the powerful Shelging Karpo. Finding the cause of the illness, Guru Rinpoche chased the deities into a cave and then meditated inside the cave for three months. Guru Rinpoche then subdued the deities including the powerful Shelging Karpo and left his body imprint inside the cave, thus giving the name Kurjey (body imprint). Beside the Monastery is a tall cypress tree, which is believed to have sprouted from the walking stick of Guru Rinpoche.
Later we will drive to Mebar Tsho where the great Bhutanese Terton, Pema Lingpa (1450–1521), retrieved a terma from the lake in front of a host of watchers. Based on a dream of Guru Rinpoche, Pema Lingpa embarked His career as a Terton in 1476 when He was 25 years of age. He was successful in locating many treasures of images and scriptures related to Buddhism throughout Bhutan which resulted in establishing many monasteries throughout Bhutan and Buddhism took firm roots in the country. Consequently, Pema Lingpa came to be known as the “King of Tertons,” a revered saint and teacher. Mebar Tsho is considered one of the most sacred sites in the region. Pema Lingpa took terma from the lake somewhere in the late 15th century. At that time, the Terton had a vision of hidden treasures concealed by Guru Rinpoche at the foot of Tang Valley. Since the people of Tang and the local ruler were skeptical about this, Pema Lingpa, holding a lit butter lamp in His hand, jumped into the lake, remained under water for a long time, and then re-emerged holding a chest and a scroll of paper in one hand and the butter lamp still burning brightly in the other. Thereafter, the lake came to be known as Mebar Tsho, “the burning lake.”
Oct 24. Today we will drive 5 hours to the Gangtey (Gangteng) Gompa where we will visit the temple. Then we will hike the nature trail (5 km).
Gangteng Monastery, also called Gangteng Sangngak Choling, was established in 1613 by the first Peling Gyalsay Rinpoche or Gangteng Tulku, Rigdzin Pema Thrinley (1564–1642), Who was the grandson of Pema Lingpa. During His liftime, the Terton, had come on a visit to the Phobjikha Valley to teach Buddhist precepts to the people and also to bless them. During this visit, after looking at the impressive mountains that surrounded the valley, He foretold that one of His descendants would build a monastery on the gang teng (the top of the mountain) and make it famous as the seat of the Peling (Pema Lingpa) tradition. This prediction came to fruition when a monastery was built by his grandson in 1613. Thus the spur of the mountain was given the name the Gangteng Sangngag Choling (meaning “The Place of Dharma of the Secret Mantra on the Top of the Mountain”). Rigdzin Pema Thrinley became the first Tulku of the monastery. It was initially built as a Lhakhang, a small village monastery, which was later expanded by His son, Tenzin Legpai Dondrub (1645–1726), Who succeeded Him as the second Tulku. It was built like a dzong (or fortress).
From 2002–2008, the Monastery was completely restored under the present Gangteng Tulku, H.E. Rigdzin Kunzang Pema Namgyal. The rebuilt monastery was consecrated by the present incarnation of Pema Lingpa on the October 10, 2008, graced by the fourth King of Bhutan. Gangteng Sangngak Chöling, as now restored, retains its original glory and is stated to be the resurgence of the Peling tradition.
Oct 25. Driving back to the Dochula Hotel, we will visit the Royal Botanical Park from where we will hike uphill (800 ft) to the hotel.
Oct 26. This morning we will drive 3 hours back to Paro. Enroute, we will walk across the iron bridge built by Drubthob Thangtong Gyalpo to the Tamchog Lakhang. Here we will eat lunch at the lhakhang and then drive to our hotel in Paro, stopping at Dra Karpo on the way. While nowhere near as well known as Paro Taktsang, the Dra Karpo is also an important pilgrimage place. Like the Paro Taktsang, it is associated with Guru Rinpoche Who brought Buddhism to Tibet and Bhutan. It is one of the many places in Bhutan where Guru Rinpoche is said to have meditated while He was in Bhutan. A place of Tsheringma (goddess of long life) below the temple is considered to be the gateway to the sacred place.
Oct 27. Today we will drive 1.5 hours to Chum Phug. Chum Phug or Chumophug is sometimes called “the second Pemakod.” At Chum Phug (phug means cave) there is a cave of Guru Rinpoche as well as the ruined walls of the hermitage where Guru Rinpoche used to meditate.
It is also the sacred place where Sharmo Kunzanngmo, in accordance with the prophecy by Drukpa Kunlek, attained the body of light ('od lus) after meditating. Then we will hike for 3 hours to the temple of Dorje Pham (Vajravarahi) where we will spend the night. Some of the important holy places and relics of Chum Phug include the place where Guru Rinpoche used to bathe, a meditation cave of Guru Rinpoche behind the cremation ground, a formation in the shape of the tiger mount of Dorje Drolo, a rock throne of Guru Rinpoche, the Guru's vajra and the Dakini's yoni, a footprint of Khandro Yeshe Tsogyal, the yoni of Yeshe Tsogyal, the yoni of Vajravarahi, the vajra of Hayagriva, a handprint of Guru Rinpoche, a seal of Guru Rinpoche, a blessed water source of Vajradakini of the East (shar rdo rje mkha' 'gro), a sow of natural rock which is a manifestation of Vajravarahi, a self-arisen Vajravarahi (image on a cliff), a body imprint of Guru Rinpoche, the wrathful face of Kilaya, the vajra of Guru and the yoni of Vajravarahi, another meditation cave of Guru Rinpoche where He subdued a demoness, and a footprint of Guru Rinpoche.
Oct 28. Once again we will return to Paro where we will visit the Dumtse Lakhang and Kyichu Lakhang.
Dumtse Lhakhang, an unusual chorten-like temple, was built in 1433 (some sources say 1421) by the iron-bridge builder Thangtong Gyalpo. The temple was built to subdue a demoness and so is chained firmly to the ground. Its three floors represent hell, earth, and heaven, and hold some of the finest murals in Bhutan.
The Jowo Temple of Kyichu is one of the oldest temples in Bhutan, originally built in the 7th century by the Tibetan Emperor Songtsen Gampo. It is considered to be one of the 108 border- taming temples he built. In the 8th century, the temple was visited by Guru Rinpoche and it is believed He concealed many terma here. Je Khenpo Sherab Gyaltshen wrote that, during the 12th century, the temple was looked after by the Lhapa Kagyu tradition and that, during the 13th century, it was handed over to a descendant of Phajo Drugom Zhigpo’s son Nyima. In his The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism: It's Fundamentals and History, H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche records that the Jowo Temple of Kyichu could not be seen and that Terton Pema Lingpa uncovered the temple and restored it as it was before. In 1644, the temple was taken over by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (1594–1651). From 1836-1838, the temple was restored and re-consecrated by the 25th Je Khenpo Sherab Gyaltshen. In 1971, HM Kesang Choden Wangchuck, the Queen of Chogyal Jigme Dorje Wangchuk, built a Guru Temple next to the old Jowo Temple which was consecrated by H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. Ever since then, the annual rites of great accomplishment for the Deities Vajrasattva, Palchen Heruka, and Vajrakilaya have been held in this temple for the well-being of the country under the patronage of H.M. Kesang Choden Wangchuck.
Later we will visit with and receive a tse-wang (life empowerment) from Dorje Lopon Ngawang Tenzin. Ngawang Tenzin Rinpoche is a highly revered teacher, scholar, and meditation master of the Drukpa Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism in Bhutan and the reincarnation of Drubthop Chenpo Jinpa Gyaltshen, a high lama who lived during the 18th century. His Holiness began a thorough study of Buddhist philosophy and sacred chant by the age of five. By 16, He had memorized all the chants, become a master of sacred dance, and memorized all the highly complex sacred designs used in constructing sand mandala. After completing His degree at Tangu Monastery in Bhutan, His Holiness furthered his study of Mahamudra and Dzogchen in Nepal and India with many great Tibetan Buddhist masters including the 68th H.H. Je Khenpo Tenzin Dendrup, the 69th H.H. Je Khenpo Geshe Gedun Rinchen Rinpoche, H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche, H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, H.H. Penlop Khen Rinpoche, and Chatral Rinpoche.
At 45, The Royal Government of Bhutan and the central monastic body recognized His Holiness as a master of Buddhist philosophy by appointing him Tshenye Lopon, thus making him responsible for the education of every Buddhist monk in Bhutan. Five years later, He was appointed Dorje Lopon, making it His responsibility to oversee the monasteries and monks as well as the monastic practice of the Drukpa Kagyu lineage in Bhutan. Dorje Lopon is a title given only to those who have achieved the highest meditative realization within Vajrayana Buddhism.
His Holiness radiates great peace, joy, love, and compassion to all beings, blessing all who are in his presence. Many have been very moved by these powerful yet gentle qualities.
Oct 29. Saving the best for last, we will hike to Taktsang, the Tiger’s Nest, where Guru Rinpoche manifested as Guru Dorje Drolo. Many great masters, such as H.H. Dudjom Rinpche, H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, and Trungpa Rinpoche, have meditated here and revealed terma. Lhalung Palgyi Dorje, one of Guru Rinpoche 25 disciples, is also buried here.
In the 11th and 12th centuries, a number of famous practitioners came to Taktsang to meditate. These include Jetsun Milarepa (1040–1123), Phadampa Sangay (died 1117), Machig Lapdron (1055–1145), Thangtong Gyalpo, and Phajo Drugom Zhigpo. A temple complex was first built at this site in 1692 around the Taktsang Senge Samdrub cave where Guru Rinpoche is said to have meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days, and three hours. Today, Paro Taktsang is the best known of the 13 tak-tsang or "tiger lair" caves in which He meditated. It is believed that Guru Rinpoche flew to this location from Tibet on the back of a tigress from Khenpajong in order to tame a tiger demon. The first sanctuary to be built in the area dates to the 14th century when Sonam Gyaltshen, a Nyingma Lama of the Kathog branch came from Tibet. The paintings He brought can still be faintly discerned on a rock above the principal building although there is no trace of the original lhakhang. Taktsang remained under the authority of the Kathog Lamas for centuries until the mid-17th century. In 1645, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel visited Taktsang with His seven-year old nephew, the monk Tenzin Rabgay. During the visit, the descendants of Sonam Gyaltshen offered the monastery to the Zhabdrung. It is said that the Zhabdrung instructed the young boy, who later became Desi (the secular ruler of Bhutan), to build a temple of Guru Tshangyad, which He was able to do almost five decades later. Tenzin Rabgye is believed to be an emanation of Guru Rinpoche. The Taktsang Urgyen Tsemo complex, which was rebuilt after a fire in 1958, is said to date back to 1408. On April 19, 1998, a fire broke out in the main building of the monastery complex which contained valuable paintings, artifacts, and statues. The fire is believed to have been caused by electrical short-circuit or flickering butter lamps lighting the hanging tapestries. A monk also died during the fire. The restoration work was undertaken at an estimated cost of 135 million ngultrum (the currency of Bhutan). The Government of Bhutan and the then King of Bhutan, Jigme Senge Wangchuk, oversaw the restoration of the damaged monastery and its contents in 2005.
Oct 30. Flight back to Bangkok and onward journey.