Terdrag / Terbrag Lhakhang


Terdrag Lhakhang is located approximately 3 hours by foot from Namthir village, which is 55 km from Trongsa town and approximately 4 km above the Trongsa–Gelephu highway. The monastery’s locale is called Phola Pang, referring to the pasture (pang) of the local deity (Phola).

The monastery’s name is spelled either “Terdrag” or “Terbrag,” with both names carrying the same meaning: ter means “religious treasure” and drag or brag means “rock.” The minor difference in the two spellings is simply due to localized pronunciations. The compounded word “Terdrag” (or Terbrag) stands for a rock with the shape of the sexual organ (bhaga) of the female deity Dorji Phagmo (Vajravarahi) and the site where Lama Ngawang Dundup discovered a religious treasure (ter). The lama’s dates and the monastery’s date of construction are unknown thus far.


There seems to be no textual record regarding the origin of Terdrag Lhakhang, but oral history still exists among senior villagers. According to Lam Tashi Wangdue, who currently serves as the lama for Namthir, Dangdung, and Bayling villages, a lama named Ngawang Dondup built Terdrag temple as per his vision. Originally from the Punakha monk body, he went to Tibet after being appointed the Gangri Lama, also called Gangri Dozin (head of the Drukpa monasteries of Mt Kailash). Historically, beginning in the 17th century, Bhutan owned monasteries in Mt Kailash (Gang Tise) in western Tibet, to which they sent a lama, the Gangri lam, from Punakha dzong. This practice lasted until 1959, when China invaded the area.

Lama Ngawang Dondup served his duty in western Tibet for some time, and he apparently came back to Bhutan with so much gold that people called him “Lama Ser,” which means “lama with gold.” He must have accrued this wealth before 1930, however, as from that date the Bhutanese government appointed a layman and not a monk as Gangri Dozin.

Lama Ngawang Dondup eventually came to the Langthel area and built Terdrag monastery at Phola Pang. There, as per his vision, he discovered an egg-shaped stone treasure on the top of the rock just below the monastery, and he placed this treasure in the temple. From then on the rock was called “terdrag” and the monastery became known as Terdrag Lhakhang. The lama is said to have had many disciples who were educated in the fine arts, but no names are available.

On the left side of the lhakhang, there are two holy springs, discovered by Lama Ngawang, Dondup, that flow only from the 5th to the 8th months of the Bhutanese calendar. The upper is considered as the male holy spring, and the lower is the female. Just below the springs there is a large stone with a hole in it where the horse of Lama Ngawang Dondup used to be tied.

Architecture and Artwork

The one-storey temple is built using traditional Bhutanese architectural forms with simple woodwork and stone. The courtyard is enclosed by a stone fence. There were once retreat houses around the main temple belonging to the lama’s disciples, but they have been destroyed.

The lhakhang’s main statue is the Buddha, accompanied by statues of Avalokitesvara (Chenrezig); Future Buddha Maitreyanath (Jampa Gonpo); and Lhamo Zhingchong Wangmo (a form of Palden Lhamo). Three statues were once stolen from the temple; unfortunately, that of Guru Rinpoche was never retrieved.

Social and Cultural Functions

The temple officially belongs to the community of Namthir village, but for more than three generations it has been looked after by a private family; it is now deemed to be a private lhakhang. The caretaker used to do the Lhamo ritual in the temple, but rituals are no longer performed, as no one lives there. Fasting and prayer celebrations (nyungney) were also once held in the 7th month of the Bhutanese calendar, but this practice has also ended.


Lama Tashi Wangdue, spiritual head of the religious establishment (gomde) in Bayling, Langthel
Ap Chokey, caretaker of Terdrag Gonpa for more than 50 years, Namthir village, 2014


Bray, J. (Summer 2012). Ladakhi and Bhutanese Enclaves in Tibet. Journal of Bhutan Studies, 26, 1–20.
Penjore, D. (2014). Forgotten Bhutanese Territories in Tibet. Retrieved from http://dorjipenjore.blogspot.com/2014/04/forgotten-bhutanese-territories-in-tibet.html.

Researcher & Photographer

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

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