Kuelbung Gonpa


Kuelbung Gonpa is located in Namthir village, which is about 4 kilometers above the Trongsa–Gelephu highway and 55 kms from Trongsa town. It then takes approximately 3 hours to walk to Kuelbung Gonpa along the Namthir village road.

The temple’s name, Kuelbung, is derived from its location, which was named after the forest where Lopen Dubthob Norbu Wangchuk facilitated the flow of water, after a request by the women of Namthir village. Kuel is an abbreviation of kuelma, “making a request,” and bung means “dense forest” in the local language. The temple’s formal religious name is Kuenga Choling, but locals call it Kuelbung Gonpa.


Although we have found no written records thus far, oral history on the origin of Kuelbung Gonpa does exist. According to Lam Tashi Wangdue, who has been serving as the lama for Namthir, Dangdung, and Bayling villages, the temple is linked to Lopen Dubthob Norbu Wangchuk, who was born in Kela village, in Tangsibji gewog and Trongsa district.

Although it seems like an advanced age, Lopen stayed in the village as a shepherd until he was 61, after which he left Bhutan and went to Tibet for Buddhist studies. There he consulted the Shamar Rinpoche (this could be the 10th Shamarpa Mipham Chodrup Gyamtsho, 1742–1793), studied Buddhist philosophy, and practiced yoga. As a result, he attained the Siddhi, meaning “great accomplishment,” which is why he was called “Dubthob,” Sanskrit for Siddha.

Lopen Norbu Wangchuk’s dates of birth and death are unclear, but we know that he was the contemporary of the first Petsheling Trulku Lhuendup Tenpai Gyaltshen (1718–1786). The Petsheling Trulku received instructions from Lopen Norbu Wangchuk, who was in retreat at Thangbi, 2 km from Yungdrung Choling, just below the Trongsa–Gelephu highway.

After returning from Tibet, Lopen Norbu Wangchuk made his residence in Tangsibji gewog, above Tashi Choling meadow at the top of Kela village, on the right bank of the Mangdechu river opposite Kunga Rabten. This residence indeed looks similar to Kuelbung Gonpa.

While Lopen Norbu Wangchuk was in retreat at Thangbi, the women of Namthir village requested that he find a water source for their wellbeing. Lopen thereupon checked a possible location at the top of Namthir village, but before he made the water flow he asked the women about the size of flow they were requesting. In reply, the women said that the dung dung sound of powerful water might create noise for the villagers. On the other hand, the char chir sound of gentler water would not satisfy villagers’ needs. The shaow shaow sound of an average-sized water flow would be perfect indeed, according to the women.

In accordance with their request, Lopen Dubthob Norbu Wangchuk built Kuelbung temple and fulfilled the villagers’ wishes. Even today, we can see the flowing water that aids villagers during the summer agricultural period; without this the villagers would face a serious shortage of water.

Architecture and Artwork

The one-storey Kuelbung Gonpa follows the architectural style of a Bhutanese house, with simple woodwork and stone. There was once a small attached building that housed a functional kitchen and two bedrooms, but it has since been destroyed.

Inside, the main statue is of Vajradhara (Dorji Chang), accompanied by statues of the Buddha Shakyamuni; the great Yogi Jetsun Milarepa (11th c.); the 1st Karmapa Dusum Khenpa (11th c.); the Sharmar Rinpoche; and two statues of Dakini Senge Dongma (the lion-headed one). In total, the temple houses fourteen bronze statues.

The skull of Lopen Dubthob Norbu Wangchuk was once kept in the altar by his first disciple, as per Lopen’s last will.

On the walls are paintings with gold, which represent the Buddha Aksobya (Mitrugpa) and his emanations. These paintings were sponsored by Ashi Peldon (daughter of the 1st king, Ugyen Wangchuck), who sponsored the reconstruction of the temple at the beginning of the 20th century.

Social and Cultural Functions

The temple originally belonged to the Namthir village community, but for more than three generations it has been cared for by a private family, so it is now deemed to be a private gonpa.

The caretaker used to do the lhamo ritual frequently, but because no one lives there anymore, rituals are no longer performed regularly; indeed, the lhamo ritual is now performed only once a year. A fasting celebration (nyungney) was also held in the temple for two years, but this ritual has since completely disappeared.


Lama Tashi Wangdue, head of the religious establishment (gomde), Bayling, Langthel
Ap Kuelbung Dorji, caretaker of Kuelbung Gonpa for more than 60 years, Namthir village, 2014

Researcher & Photographer

Tenzin Dorji, Lecturer, Institute of Language and Culture Studies, 2014

(Click on the Thumbnails to view the Photo Gallery)