Into the Land of Thunder Dragon : Bhutan Travelogue - Tango University of Buddhist Studies

Whenever I look back to our Bhutan trip I feel a strong urge to slap my own face for wasting so much time at places where we shouldn’t have. We could have skipped Buddha point, we could have skipped the museum tour, and we could have skipped the handicraft stalls. Instead we could have devoted more time exploring the places of true importance – well, places that most tourists (read Indian tourists) skip owing to lack of knowledge and shallow mindset. I had information but I did not have a proper guide to chalk out a successful plan. And thanks to the great immigration office of Bhutan, our plan had gone haywire even before the actual journey began. Among all the monasteries and off-beat places in Thimphu, we only got to cover Tango University of Buddhist Studies or more popularly known as Tango Monastery. I consoled myself telling that perhaps the gods of Bhutan want me to come back again and hence journey remained unfinished this time. I chose not to argue with myself – destiny has surprised me enough in the past with sudden turn of events.

Usually early morning is the most ideal time to trek to Tango. But S and I were both dumbasses so we started after lunch. Kenchen had gone home while we were wasting time at the museum after finishing our lunch. He came back after a while and picked us up. Next stop – Tango Monastery.
Tango Monastery is situated at the outskirt of the main city area – about 14 kilometres to the north of Thimphu. So it would take us a while to reach at the foot of the hill upon which our monastery is situated. And while we are en route, let us have a quick look at the history of Tango Monastery. Tango was founded in the thirteenth century by Phajo Drugom Zhigpo, the same person who built Changangkha Lakhang. Tango means ‘horse head’ in Dzongkha. Legend says, during his visit to this place he beheld wrathful Hayagriva (Tamdrin) manifested as the Horse King. Lord Hayagriva told him that this place was meant to be a place for monastic teachings. He also prophesied that Phajo Drugom Zhigpo would be the pioneer of Drukpa Kagyu sect in Bhutan. After coming to Bhutan from Tibet, Zhabdrung Rinpoche came to meditate in the cave of Tango. While meditating he was attacked by the enemies. But it was his esoteric tantric power that saved his life miraculously. In 1688, the contemporary secular king of Bhutan or the Druk Desi Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye renovated the place and gave it the shape it currently stands in today. Currently the monastery is the residence of 7th Tri Rinpoche, a reincarnation of Tenzin Rabgye. Kenchen told us that the 2011 earthquake had caused great damage to the monastery and renovation work was under progress. I could not help wondering what had possibly incited the wrath of Lord Hayagriva. Recently a branch of the old temple had been built at the foot of the hill. When we reached the new monastery complex the sun had hidden behind the clouds and the entire area was wearing a veil of dreariness. Evening prayer had already started there– we could hear faint sound of ritual instruments coming from that direction. The monastery also comes with a residential complex for the monks. The hanging red uniforms in the white backdrop of the buildings created a beautiful picture of contrast. The backyard of the monastery was kept to store woods. Kenchen pointed us to another monastery building atop a hill on the other side of the road – the meditational centre where the monks are supposed to get enrolled after finishing their course at the current monastery. They must live there for next three years to learn meditation. I swear I saw murmuration of a flock of starlings on our way. S was too busy to take his siesta so he missed it. We left the new complex behind and went on for about five more minutes until we reached the foot of the hill. The gushing sound of a river was coming from distance – must be our Wang Chhu. From now on we had to walk our way up to the monastery. I checked my watch. It was 3.45 pm as per Bhutan time.

The sound of the river started to faint as we began our ascend and very soon it disappeared completely. At first we could spot our car waiting in the field below, now it was only thick layer of trees blocking the view. We looked upwards – no sign of any building caught our eyes. Just thick, dense forest. A feeling of atonement coupled with a sense of adventure swept over me. Om Mani Padme Hum.

Resting stops kept appearing en route on regular intervals – small wooden cabins adorned with colourful prayer flags hanging dangerously from edge of the precipice. The entire area looked so deserted that we had a feeling that we were the only people up there. The Lord probably listened to us and appeared to keep us company in the form of a black, furry dog. He accompanied us for some time and then disappeared into the woods. Still no sign of the monastery. S asked me anxiously whether we were going in the right direction. I hid my own feeling of trepidation and assured him that we would reach our destination no matter what. However, the actual problem was something else. It was past 4.30 and our time was running out.

We reached a chorten when we saw two people coming down from the opposite direction. They assured us we were on the right path and the destination was not too far from there. But it was not the distance but the increasing steepness of the path that started getting on our nerves. Sometimes the road was getting so steep that I was feeling a sudden surge of nausea. We had been walking for one hour at a stretch and our knees had begun to give in. I felt a burning sensation inside my lungs as if they were going to explode any moment now. My body started to send me all sorts of signal that I should immediately halt. I admonished myself for feeling so weak and told myself that our physical body is nothing but a delusion; it’s the mind that truly matters. And my mind commanded me to keep on walking.

When I first caught the glimpse of the white wall and the red windows peeking out from behind the woods I realised how often we give up on our goals even after coming so near to it. It was only 10 minutes ago I wanted to stop and go back. And now I was standing at the door of Siddhidhara – the holy place blessed by the wrathful manifestation of Avalokitesvara and by Guru Padmasambhava.

The entire monastery seemed deserted except a pack of dogs that came to welcome us gleefully and started a heated discussion among them after a careful inspection. It was most likely our unusual appearance that had rendered them confused. I was quite disheartened after having discovered the main temple closed. However I circumambulated the entire perimeter and sought blessings of Lord Tamdrin before starting our journey back to the base.

I had thought it would be the same lonely journey through the dark forest this time also. But to our pleasant surprise we found ourselves bumping into the monks who we had earlier reckoned to be vanished from the monastery. We stopped for a while to chat with a group. One of them was from Darjeeling. He told us about their daily chores at the university – they wake up by 5 o’ clock in the morning every day and go down to the new monastery by 7. Then they stay there all day and come back up by 5 after having finished the evening prayer. We observed with great admiration and awe that some of them were carrying supplies on their back. This is also a part of their training. None seemed to be very bothered about the heavy loads on their back though. They seemed more engrossed in their smartphones. I wonder whether Lord Hayagriva prophesied about this also.

I promised Lord Tamdrin if he ever let me come back to his land in this lifetime, I would visit Tango Monastery again.

To be continued