Tashi Choling Gonpa ( Drametang lhakhang)


Tashi Choling Gonpa, commonly known as Drametang Lhakhang, is located near the village of Samcholing, which is 27 km from Trongsa along the Trongsa–Zhemgang highway. One can reach Tashi Choling Gonpa by vehicle to Samcholing Middle Secondary School in Dragten gewog, Trongsa, and then on foot for approximately 1½ hours up the mountain.

The temple is a two-story building built in the traditional Bhutanese temple style, with a small meditation room attached.


There seems to be no written evidence of when the first structure was built. According to oral sources, however, it is believed to have been constructed by Zhabdrung’s father, Yab Tenpai Nyima (1567–1619), in the 16th century, and he gave it the name Tashi Choling Gonpa. It is said that Yab Tenpai Nyima used this place and Chakar Lhakhang in Samcholing as his winter residences and Chorten Nyinpo in Bumthang as his summer residence.

The building underwent renovation twice after it caught fire in the early 20th century (the exact date of the fire is not known). The first renovation took place during the reign of the 2nd king, Jigme Wangchuck (1905–1952), under the initiative of Nyep Dawa Penjor, and the second renovation was in 2007. As a result of the fire, no important relics (rten) could be retrieved. Luckily, however, the wall paintings and table, believed to be of Yab Tenpai Nyima’s time, were undamaged, and the Samcholing villagers eventually donated clay statues to the temple. Behind the temple on a curved rock one can see the footprint of Guru Rinpoche, believed to have been imprinted while he was subduing a local demon.

After a 45 minute walk down from the temple toward an area of flatter land, one comes upon a place called Churi Khenpo. It is believed that when Yab Tenpai Nyima was grinding gold in the local watermill, some villagers from the nearby community of Rephey perceived that the lama was grinding sand, so they threw stones at him and chased him down the hill. After he ran about 100 m from the angry villagers, he apparently fell, leaving his handprint on a rock and a two inch hole made by his walking staff. Someone eventually painted the handprint because it had been difficult to discern. The remnants of the watermill can still be seen.

Today, locals refer to the temple as Drametang Lhakhang. It is believed that there were three lakes in the area; tang in local dialect means “pond or lake,” and hence the place was called Drametang. The temple was once used as a place to stay, meditate, and recite prayers; it never housed monks or lay practitioners.

Architecture and Artwork

The two-storey traditional structure is attached to a rock, which is partially incorporated into the building. The upper storey houses the main altar room, a guestroom, and a meditation room added on to the right side of the building. The lower storey is one common room. On the left side is a hut that once housed a kitchen.

The main relic inside the building is a clay statue of Guru Rinpoche, flanked by his two consorts: Khando Mendrarawa and Khando Yeshi Tshogyel. Some of the statues inside the altar include those of Buddha Sakyamuni; Zhabdrung Rinpoche; and Vajrasattva (Dorji Sempa). There is also a small chorten and one religious text (Domang).

The wall paintings were removed in 2006 for repair, but in the end the work was never done. The paintings are still in the temple, but they are not on display. Some of these paintings include the king of Naga, Naga Raksha (Lugi Gyelpo/ Na ga rag sha); Guru Pema Jungney; Guru Choewang (the 13th century great Tibetan “treasure discoverer”); Yab Tenpai Nyima; the four animal friends (Thunpaphunzhi); the great yogi Jetsun Milarepa (12th c.); a tiger; and flowers.

Social and Cultural Functions

Tashi Choling Gonpa enables the local community to perform prayer ceremonies and offer butter lamps. Villagers are welcome to stay overnight, but they do not, since the structure has neither electricity nor water. Kunzang, the caretaker who lives near Samcholing school, goes to the temple on auspicious days of the Bhutanese calendar to light butter lamps, give offerings (serkyem), and recite cleansing prayers. There are few visitors to the gonpa, other than a few cow herders who drop by to offer butter lamps during the summer.

Every year on the 4th day of the 6th month of the Bhutanese calendar (’brug pa tshe bzhi), the caretaker and his uncle host a tsechu prayer for one day. Usually the monks from Samcholing dzong are requested to perform the ritual, but sometimes it is performed by lay practitioners (gomchen) from the village. Their aim is to benefit all sentient beings and eliminate all misfortune in the community.

There have been many caretakers in the past who were charged with caring for the temple. During Gata Tshering’s tenure (he was from Tibet) in the mid-20th century, people used to donate clay statues to the temple. After his wife passed away and as he was old, he retired from temple service and returned a statue of Lord Buddha to Ap Drukpala, a now 90-year-old farmer from Samcholing, and the statues of Guru Rinpoche and Chenrezig were placed in the Samcholing palace.

Nowadays, the caretaker is chosen from Samcholing upon discussion in a local meeting, and the community provides rations for his service. Currently, the temple is registered under the government of Bhutan.


Geduen Rinchen (69th Je Khenpo). Lho’i chos ‘byung gsar pa (ལྷོ་འབྲུག་ཆོས་འབྱུང་།) Thimphu: KMT, 2004.


Ap Drukpa, 90, farmer, Samcholing
Kunzang, caretaker, Tashi Choling Gonpa, Samcholing


Sonam Jamtsho, Asst. Lecturer, Institute of Language and Culture Studies, 2014

(Click on the Thumbnails to view the Photo Gallery)