Tudrak Gonpa


Tudrak Gonpa is located on the top of a mountain, which is covered in dense forest. It takes around seven hours to walk up the mountain and reach the temple from Dangdung village, which is reachable by road. The temple stands by itself, with no people residing nearby. Appointed caretakers visit the temple from Dangdung village on occasion.


The name of the temple has historical significance. The temple’s original name is Tudrak, tu meaning “vagina” and drak meaning “cliff.” Behind the temple there is a rock believed to represent the vagina of Dorji Phagmo (Vajaravarahi), the highest female deity of Buddhism. However, today the temple is known locally as Deudrak, meaning the place of the cliff. The reason behind the name change from Tudrak to Deudrak was to avoid any shame associated with the sexual connotation of the original name.

Tudrak Gonpa was founded in the 16th century by the 4th Zhamar Karmapa, Lama Chodra Yeshi (1453-1554), when he came from Tibet to Bumthang. It is believed that the site was blessed by Guru Rinpoche while he was on his way to Bumthang. On the way to Tudrak, one can see rocks which represent the footprint, the resting place and the horse hoof of Guru Rinpoche. Zhamar Rinpoche took this same route to Tudrak, and there is also a hoofprint from Zhamar Rinpoche’s horse on a rock below the temple. After the foundation of Tudrak Gonpa, the 4th Zhamar Karmapa left for Bumthang.

After the 4th Zhamar Rinpoche left for Bumthang, venerable masters and Buddhist practitioners stayed at the temple. Among many great masters, in the 1970s Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso, the founder of the nunnery in Kuenga Rabten who was also from the Karmapa religious school, stayed in the temple for ten to fifteen years with nuns. However, when Khenpo was in residence, there were reportedly misunderstandings or conflicts which arose with the community, which is reportedly why Khenpo moved the nunnery to its current site in Kuenga Rabten.

During Khenpo’s stay at the temple, people from Dangdung resided nearby Tudrak temple with their cattle each summer. Near the temple, one can still spot abandoned houses in ruin. Today there is no household nearby the temple because of its remoteness from the main road and its lack of modern social activities in the area. The Dangdung community now rotates caretaking responsibilities for the temple on a yearly basis. However, the caretaker does not stay in the temple, but goes only once or twice a month to offer butter lamps and to perform prayers for the wellbeing of the community.

Most wall paintings in the temple were painted in the 1970s during Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso’s stay at the temple. Later, when Zang Zang Lam was the caretaker of the temple (date unknown), he renovated the temple and added additional wall paintings.

In 2014, the community received a budget of 700,000 Nu. from the local government to renovate the temple.

The temple is believed to be one of the most sacred and fearsome sites in the region due to its protective deity Palden Lhamo. It is said that if any people misbehave in the temple, they will meet misfortune in their life. It is said that in the past whenever people fell sick and died in nearby communities, a drop of blood would appear in the temple.

Architecture and art work

The monastery is a two-storey temple in traditional Bhutanese architectural style with wood, mud and stones. Earlier, the ground floor of the temple was used as a store and as attendant bedrooms. The first floor has three rooms. The first room is now used as a kitchen, the second is the lama’s bedroom and the third is used as the main altar room.

The main relic inside the altar room is Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion (Chenrezi). There are also small statues of the Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the Karmapa, and the Karmapa Zhamar Rinpoche, among others.

The temple’s wall paintings are elegant and colorful. The wall paintings represent the Eight Manifestations of Guru Rinpoche, the Buddha Shakyamuni and the thirty-five Buddhas of Confession, the Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the Drukpa Kagyu lineage, the Green Tara, and other wall paintings of Buddhist deities.

Social and cultural functions

Some functions of the temple have been abandoned by the community. During Lama Zang Zang’s time at the monastery, it is said that there was an annual fasting and prayers (Nyungne) for three days. People of nearby communities would come to the temple to chant the mantra of Avalokiteshvara. Villagers do not remember when this annual event was held for the last time, which suggests this practice did not stop recently. In the early 1980s, the Khenpo of the nunnery used to send nuns to do retreats at the temple. However, now there are no nuns in retreat at the site.

Currently, there are two major events held at the temple each year. The first is a one-day offering (Selchoe) to the protective deity Palden Lhamo on the 18th day of the 2nd month in the Bhutanese calendar. A second offering to the deity is held in the 7th month of Bhutanese calendar. For these rituals, the community collects cereals, one kilogram of butter, cheese and other necessary items from every household. On the days of these offerings, people go up to the temple together to receive blessings from Palden Lhamo. They pray for peace and prosperity, happiness and the social wellbeing of their community. People also pray to eradicate their sins and in hope of progressing towards Buddhahood.


Ap Namgay, Dangdung village, 2014

Tshering Dorji, former monk, Dangdung village, 2014

Ani Kechok Pelmo, nun, Kuenga Rabten Nunnery, 2014

Lopen Kuenzang Dorji, Senior Research Officer, Royal Academy for Performing Arts, 2014

Researcher & Photographer

Sangay Thinley, Lecturer, Institute of Language and Culture Studies, 2014

(Click on the Thumbnails to view the Photo Gallery)