Wednesday, June 6, 2018

TSHERINGMA DRUPCHU

The small spring located at Tangsibji village in central Bhutan is considered the holy water of goddess Tsheringma. The spring sprouts out from a small catchment area from the middle of a meadow located on a hill believed to be the citadel of the local deity Dragpa Gyaltshen (also known as Seju Gentse or simply Agay Yosey).
The hill believed to be the citadel of the local deity of Tangbibji
The residents of Tangsibji village revere the deity as their khelha (natal deity), yuelha (village deity), and dralha (protector deity). In earlier times, He is said to impregnate local girls and His offspring were known for their super human strength. Due to the reverence to the deity, the areas surrounding His citadel have very minimum human interference. However, the entire villagers use the meadow as a grazing ground for their bulls for few days very year.
The outlet of the drupchu is located few meters below the source on the Trongsa-Thimphu national highway
As per oral history, a tsipoem (lead singer) from Tangsibji was commanded by the king to come and sing at his palace. The palace is located at a day’s journey at Kuenga Rabten. On the last night before her journey, she dreamt of a woman instructing her to visit the source of the spring (known as “Ba-Khey-Thong-Sa”, place where the bulls drink water), take a head shower, and drink the water before starting her journey to the palace. At dawn, she followed the instructions given to her in her dream, and journeyed to the palace with her troupe.
It is said that during the performance of the Mangde Tangsibji Zhyem (classical song believed to have been originated from Tangsibji), her melodious voice even made the king weep. As a reward for her voice, she was gifted with wetland (used for paddy cultivation) and other gifts by the king.
Later, when the Padseling Trulku – a reincarnate priest held highly by the locality – visited the village, the tsipoem narrated her dream and the outcome to the trulku. Based on significance, the trulku confirmed the spring water as the holy water of goddess Tsheringma.
Goddess Tsheringma is believed to be a mountain goddess who is the head of five Tshering sister goddesses. These goddesses were believed to be: war deities, if high officials seek blessings of power; gods of wealth, if people seek blessings of wealth; gods of speech, if youths seek eloquence and pleasing voice; and others.
Even now, the village dance troupe visits the drupchu to take head shower and invoke the local deity before they venture out to perform at important occasions. The dancers would perform the Tangsibji Zhyem as an offering to appease and seek protection and guidance from the local deity.
The common believe is that if the Tsheringma Drupchu is the first drop of water a child drinks, the child will grow up with a melodious voice.

LONGEVITY BLESSINGS AT TSELUNG NYE

Tselung Nye – the place of Longevity Blessings – is considered a sacred place of longevity blessed by Padmasambhava and other highly regarded masters. The site is serenely nestled between mountains and surrounded by mixed coniferous forest, with a small stream following nearby.
The picturesque valleys along the hike trail
While the site is connected with motorable road, we had to hike from Gidakom hospital since the road was undergoing some major maintenance. We can either hike along the road or choose to hike the ancient trail. The nearby villagers often use the trail and it follows a small stream. Various stupas, village houses designed in ancient Bhutanese architecture, the pleasing austerity of the surroundings make the hike exceptionally pleasant.
Just a few meters from the parking lot, you will come across a spring water – believed to be blessed to give long life by the thousand dakinis. Further up, an imprint of the skull of the celestial beings is located on a rock below the main temple.
The main temple at Tselung Nye
The main temple is located on a small flat ground, draped beautifully by colorful prayer flags and prayer wheels. Although the main temple was built around 1802 by the 32nd Chief Abbot of Bhutan, Tsheltrim Gyaltshen, various masters and noble families had contributed relics in later years.
The statue of Padmasambhava – considered the main statue and relic – was built by the first Haphu Trulku. It is said that he have an imprint of the letter “Om” on his thumb, thus making every statue he built precious. Paro Penlop Tshering Penjor offered the statue of Avalokitesvara in his eleven-headed form (Ekadasamukha). The temple houses various statues of both peaceful and wrathful deities.
There is also a small stone seat believed to be the resting place of His Holiness Tsheltrim Gyaltshen outside the temple. Few meters below the temple, the actual hermitage site of Padmasambhava is located. A small house that can accommodate two people at a time has been built to house the relic. You can sit and say your prayers inside it.
The holy spring believed to give blessings of longevity
The imprints of resting place, bathtubs, riding horse, crown and footprints of Padmasambhava and his consorts were located in the nearby surroundings of the temple. The skull of Lhacham Pemasal, daughter of King Trisong Duetsen, filled with holy water of longevity blessing stands adjacent to a holy lake. The meditation cave and the holy spring water of Khandro Namkha Dolma, consort of the Divine Madman, are located few meters from the temple.
The site has been visited and blessed by various masters like Terton Drukdra Dorji, Je Kuenga Peljor, Ngawang Choegyel, Peling Thuksay Dawa Gyaltshen, and others.

FLOATING STATUE OF CHUMPHU

Chumphu in Paro can be reached after about four hours hike from the nearest road point at the cremation ground of Chumphu Nye. The hike follows the riverbank through the forest with lots of shade and cool breeze, making the hike quite moderate.
The hiking trail follows the small stream
You will come across several imprints, which documents various activities of Guru Rimpochhe (Padmasambhava) and Dorji Phamo (Vajravarahi) on huge rocks and caves as you climb along the hike path. After two hours or so, you will arrive at a small stupa, which is believed to be the standing on the site from where Vajravarahi offered mendrel (mandala) to Padmasambhava. Mandala offering is a powerful method for accumulating extensive merit in a short time in Buddhist practice. It is said that the merit accumulated by the devotee depends on the purity and quality of offerings that the devotee imagines.
After few meters of hike, you can choose two paths: the longer one and a shorter one. The longer path leads across various waterfalls, ponds and cliffs. There are also various holy springs, which were blessed by Padmasambhava, Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara), and Vajravarahi. Thus, drinking few sips of water from these springs is believed to purity your soul and gifts you longer life. You will also come across various meditation caves of Padmasambhava and his consorts, as well as highly regarded Buddhist masters like Terton Drukdra Dorji.
The stupa stands on the site where Vajravarahi offered Mandala
Once you cross the stream several times, you will arrive at the actual temple of Chumphu. The temple is renowned for housing a statue of Vajravarahi, which is suspended in mid-air. The commonly held belief among the devotees is that the statue is in fact the actual Vajravarahi, which remained frozen at Chumphu after She arrived there from Tibet.
Nearby the main temple is another small mediation center of the 9th Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot of Bhutan) Shakya Rinchen who lived during the sixteenth century. His robes and prayer items are placed in the center. The main temple is also built during his time.
The main temple which houses the floating statue of Vajravarahi
You can also hike further to visit a sacred lake and the famous Tsari nyugma (“the bamboo of Tsari, Tibet”), which is believed to have been brought from Tsari in Tibet.
Since Chumphu is considered the second “Tsari”, the merit of visiting Chumphu is equivalent to a pilgrimage to Tsari in Tibet, which was a holy place discovered by Tsangpa Gyarey.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Few Shots












Saturday, September 12, 2009

Castles in the Air

"CASTLES IN THE AIR: Experiences and Journeys in Unknown Bhutan," an article written by John Claude White for 'The National Geographic Magazine', and published in 1914 gives an interesting account of pre-monarchic Bhutanese life. He writes in detail about Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuk and the way of life in BHutan. He also gives a detailed description, along with images, of Drugyel Dzong. Well, I am not going to get into the nitty-gritties of what is being written here; that's why I have uploaded the original article for you to read. I hope you will have a good read!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Chili: An obsession among Bhutanese


Imagine if all countries were asked to send one person for a gathering at a certain place and showcase a talent which will distinguish themselves from all the others. What could that lone Bhutanese possibly do? Showcase Buddhism? Lozees and Tsangmos? Zhundras and Boedras? Dramestse Nga Chham? Well, what about ema-datse and our ability to consume spicy chillies?

After all, ema-datse is considered our national dish and just the sight of chillies is enough to send shivers down the spine for those foreigners. So here is a rule of thumb – the more chillies you add to your dish, the further they [ foreigners ] will stay away from your food. I think the affinity for spiciness is more of a conditioned rather than an innate characteristic for Bhutanese. As little toddlers, the number of times you hear that you are handsome or beautiful is in proportion to the amount of chillies you eat; And toddlers can do anything just to hear that they are good looking.

Foreigners often say that chili is used as a vegetable – not a spice – in Bhutan; If only they knew chili is the taste of Bhutan. Two or three chillies and a pinch of salt is all we need to have a hefty meal. [If you need prove for this statement, flashback to your school days!] It is hard to imagine Bhutanese dish without chillies. Bhutanese eat chillies whether raw or cooked, minced or roasted, fresh or dried, but no Bhutanese dish is complete without it. It isn't just another vegetable – or fruit if you want to get real scientific – we eat everyday; it is an integral part of our culture and life.

It is hard to believe that South America is the actual homeland of chillies. Countries like Bolivia and Ecuador are home to dozens of wild chili species which are believed to be the ancestors of all the world's chillies. Scientist believe that people in South America have been using chillies for at least 8000 years based on the discovery of traces of chilies on ancient milling stones and cooking pots from Bahamas to southern Chile. The evidence gathered from the study of potsherds from archaeological sites shows that Americas began domesticating chilies more than 6000 years ago.

After the discovery of American continent and the Caribbeans, chilies spread around the world rapidly. In 1492, Christopher Columbus encountered cultivated chili plants by the Arawak Indians in Hispaniola , and mistakenly called them “peppers.” Pepper, which belongs to the Piper genus, is a spice which is native to the Indian subcontinent, while chili belongs to the Capsicum genus. The mistake is attributed to another mistake Columbus made by falsely believing that he reached India when he landed on the West Indies. He later wrote that those people “deem it very wholesome and eat nothing without it.”

Columbus took chilies to Spain and introduced them to other Europeans. Soon the Portuguese traded them to Africa from their trading post in Pernambuco, Brazil. Within 50 years, Pernambuco chilies were cultivated in India, Japan, and China. India could be the only possible place from where Bhutanese got their first chili seed. Without written records about it, it will be hard to say when chillies found their place in the Bhutanese cuisines. But I think it is safe to speculate that Bhutanese got the taste of chillies only during the late sixteenth century – at the very earliest.

Chili have many varieties and it ranges from very mild bell peppers to the Naga Jolokia, the hottest chilli. Naga jolokia is a inter-specific hybrid found in Nagaland, Assam and Manipur. The spiciness of chilies is attributed to a heat generating compound called capsaicin. Capsaicin stimulates the neural sensors by affecting the taste buds, nerve cells and nasal membranes of tongue and mouth. The sensors also detects rising temperature due to the heat generated by capsaicin and it notifies the brain. The brain then releases endorphins, and increases the heart beat and perspiration rate. The flow of adrenaline is attributed to the enticing experience while eating chilies.

According to an article titled 'Hot News about Chili Peppers', published in the Chemical and Engineering News ( Aug. 2008), capsaicin alters the way our body uses the energy produced by the hydrolysis of ATP. Normally, the energy generated is being used by SERCA proteins to move calcium ions to and from Sarcoplasmic reticulum, a special type of endoplasmic reticulum found in smooth and striated muscle fibers . The sarcoplasmic reticulum releases calcium ions during muscle contraction and absorb them during relaxation. In the presence of capsaicin, the conformation of SERCA is altered and hence most of the energy is being released as heat energy.

Scientist believe that the spiciness in chilies have a evolutionary purpose. Fruits in general needs to lure birds and animals for a successful germination. But at the same time, they will have to keep away predators. Capsaicin is produced by a gland near the stem and the rate of production increases as the fruit ripens. In an experiment conducted at the University of Washington, rodents ate the mild chilies but avoided the hot ones. Interestingly, chilies have no effect [spicy affect] on birds. However it is found that capsaicin slows the digestive system of birds; this gives time for the seeds to germinate. An in-depth study of chilies in Bolivia revealed that capsaicin also protects the fruits from fungal inflection. It is observed that the more spicier ( more capsaicin ) the chili is, the less fungal inflection it suffered. It is also observed that the more moisture the place has, the more spicier the chilies grown. This is primarily because the growth of fungus is more prevalent in moist places.

While the reasons for the popularity of chilies in Bhutan is entirely up to wild speculations, these characteristics of chili might have contributed to it in small ways. It is quite natural for people to cultivate fruits and grains which grows well and have less predators. Since the practice of shifting cultivation is common in Bhutan, and the capability of chili to keeps away predators naturally, it might have been an idle plant to cultivate [ If this little theory of mine sounds stupid, just forget it]. While some people believe that the cold weather of Bhutan might explain the romance of Bhutanese with chilies, I am left wondering why didn't the people living in the Appalachian mountains eat chilies like we do. The weather is much harsher there than in most parts of Bhutan and chilies have been introduced to them by the English as early as 1600's. Whatever the reasons might be, it is just simply stunning for Bhutanese people to not only incorporate chilies in Bhutanese dish, but also make it an integral part of it just within few hundred years. ( I think an even more interesting thing would be to know the Bhutanese dishes before the advent of chilies. )

The scale which scientist use to measure the spiciness of chilies was invented by Wilbur Scoville in 1912. A solution of chili extract is diluted with sugar water until a panel of trained tasters no longer feels the heat; the degree of dilution gives the Scoville rating. The unit for the measurement is called Scoville Heat Unit (SHU). Due to its dependence on humans to judge the saturation point, it is quite unreliable scientifically. Nowadays, high-performance liquid chromatography ( HPLC ) is being used to measure the concentration of capsaicin and other caspsaicinoids. The result is being processed with a mathematical formula to yield a result in American Spice Trade Association pungency unit. This unit can be directly converted to SHU. Bell pepper have a rating of zero SHU and Naga Jolokia measures 855,000–1,041,427 SHUs. Pure capsaicin measures about 15 to 16 million SHU.

Apart from its usage by Bhutanese as an integral part of dishes, chilies have several beneficial uses. Chilies were found to have an ability to reduce food spoilage and can also be used for medicinal purpose. Mayans were the first to use chilies in treating wounds, gastrointestinal problems and earaches. Capsaicins are also used in local anesthetics. The presence of chili in meals reduces the amount of insulin needed to lower the blood sugar level. Interestingly, chili is found to have an ability to lower obesity level; this explains why I am gaining weight now. While I am not sure about its truth, I heard from elders in villages that applying/rubbing chilies on the eyes when you have conjunctivitis will cure you from it. [ Try at your own risk. ] As is the case with anything, beneficial characteristics comes with destructive characteristics . The high consumption of chilies is the main cause of stomach ulcers and gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) . I heard that stomach ulcers is one of the highest problems associated with Bhutanese, correct me if I ma wrong.

While I will agree that people eat food to enjoy the taste - other than the obvious reason to supply energy source for our body - and not to torture themselves with capsaicins, we Bhutanese have a weird way of enjoying food. Perhaps Ruth Reichl, editor of Gourmet magazine, was completely wrong when he called Bhutan’s dishes the “the world’s worst cuisine.” As far as I am concerned, you know what's my rating, don't you?

[Reference: National Geographic Society Magazine 2009]