Yangthang Monastery


Yangthang Monastery overlooks the collective Haa valley from an altitude of 3000 m (9839 ft), and faces the Yangthang village to the south and Haa town to the south-east direction. The monastery perched on gentle slope at the confluence of Talung valley and Haa valley lies at a distance of approximately 5 KMs from Haa town. The monastery (locally known as Yangthang Goenpa) is also visible from the Haa-Damthang highway; the national road is on the other side of the valley. Access to the monastery can be gained through a feeder road that diverts from the main Haa-Damthang highway. After a few meters from the highway, a baily bridge (Makha Zampa) over the Haa river connects the approximately 3.5 kilometres of feeder road to the monastery. The road also connects Chundu Central School and Talung village, areas that are on the way to the monastery. The monastery falls under Yangthang chiwog under Bji gewog, and the Bji gewog is one of the largest in Haa Dzongkhag in terms of land and population density.

The monastery lies inside a gated compound, and a Mani Dungkhor [1] is built next to the main entrance gate. In front of the main building housing the monastery/temple, an open ground serving a multipurpose function is located.

In the courtyard close to the main temple, the renowned Udumwara flower grows inside a protected wooden enclave. Udumwara is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘an auspicious flower from heaven’. The plant was believed to have been brought by a Tibetan Drupthob in the 15th Century. The Drupthob was on a lifelong pilgrimage and had promised to plant the last seed of the flower in the place he would end his journey. Yangthang Gonpa was where he was said to have ended his journey, before he returned to Tibet.[2] Udumwara is the flower and fruit of the Ficus racemosa (syn. Ficus glomerata).

The front courtyard is covered with stone slabs and is decorated with flowers planted in flowerpots around the yard. The two-storied temple of the monastery is built in a traditional Bhutanese architectural design. The front façade of the building facing south-west direction has two main doors for entrance. The top floor of the main building has three big windows painted in traditional Bhutanese style. The monastery and the main temple were renovated after it was partially damaged by 2011 earthquake upon orders from His Majesty the King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.

A two storied concrete building with attached toilets on the left of the main temple serves as quarters for student monks. A smaller one storied room in front of the main building is designated for the principal monk (Lam) of the Lobdra.[3] Currently, the monastery serves as a community place of worship alongside being a school for Buddhist monks. As of now, 26 monks are enrolled in the monastic school. Additionally, there is a small community of 6 households and some paddy fields behind the monastery.

The temple of the monastery has two floors, and both of the rooms of the temple contains places of worship with different adornments and statues. Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara) is the main statue in the ground floor of the Lhakhang (temple) because of which the temple is also called Chenrezig Lhakhang. On entering the ground floor of the temple, there is a shelf containing a complete set of Kanjur (The words of Buddha) and Tenjur (The commentaries) which are recited on the 1st day of 1st month every year in the Bhutanese calendar. Additionally, on the further right of the Kanjur and Tenjur there is a small statue of Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), Sangay (Sakyamuni Buddha) and a small Chenrizig with four hands. The main statue of Chenrizig and small statue of Dorji Sempa also locally known as Dorsem (Vajrasattva) is placed next to the shelf containing the Kanjur and Tenjur.

On the right wall of the ground floor of the temple, there is a wall painting of Mithrub (Akshobya Buddha) with protective curtains for the painting. However, the curtains are kept open as most of the funeral rites are carried out in front of the painting as Mithrub is very important for the death rituals. On the left side of the wall, there is a wall painting of Mithrub Lha Tsho (deities emanating from Akhshobya), and most of the funeral rites for the community are carried out in this room.

Next to this painting, there is a painting depicting the life stories of the Kagyu Linage masters including Jetsun Milarepa and his masters Tilopa and Naropa. Furthermore, there is a painting of Zhubdrung Ngawang Namgyal and the Eight Manifestations of Guru Rinpoche. There is also a wall painting of Ani Ma Pemo or Gelongma Pemo who is believed to have introduced the Nyungne (fasting practice).

A traditional Bhutanese wooden ladder climbs up to the upper floor of the temple which is also popularly known as DuSum Sangay (Buddha of three times) Lhakhang. Mar me mdzad (Dipankara Buddha/ Buddha of past), Sangay Shakya Thuba (Sakyamuni Buddha /Buddha of present) and Jampa (Maitreya /Buddha of past) adorn the temple altar of the upper floor. On the right side, there are statues of Tsheringma (goddess of longevity) and Zhenchey Om, two protective deities.

On the far side of the upper temple, there is another room called the Lama Lhakhang. It was the residence of the 36th Je Khenpo Yonten Pelzang (1869-1873) with his statue alongside a Tashi Gomang. According to the oral source, Drubthob Dondup (15th century) who brought the Udumwara flower, left behind this Tashi Gomang displayed in this part of the Lhakhang. The Lama Lhakhang is sometimes called as Zangtopelri Lhakhang because of the wall painting of the Zangtopelri representing Guru Rinpoche’s paradise in this room.


The monastery is popularly known for the mythical ‘Udumwara’ flower. According to oral sources, it is believed that the mythical flower was brought to the temple by a Tibetan Drubthob in the 15th century. The Udumwara flower is a celestial flower mentioned in Buddhist literature, often associated with the meaning of rarity. This plant and the mystical and mythical flower that blooms is revered by the people in the country, and pilgrims visit the monastery for a glimpse of this plant.

According to oral sources, in the past the temple was a small hut built as a residence and place of meditation for Baba Thinley Jamtsho (Tongdep). He was a Tibetan scholar who travelled to Bhutan at an unknown date. Similarly, a guidebook to scared places in Bhutan compiled by Bhutanese researchers corroborate that the Yangthang Zabdön Chöling temple was founded by Lama Thinley Jamtsho; disciple of a renowned 17th century Buddhist master Lama Drakpa Gyatsho.[4] Later on, the hut was renovated and rebuilt into a larger temple. This temple and the premises were later taken care of by the Draysang family of the village. Different generations of the family became the caretakers of the Lhakhang before it was handed over to the village community but the family still contributes towards the maintenance of the Lhakhang to this day.

The monastery serves the purpose of a communal meeting place, a monastic school, and a place of worship for the people of the community. After the damage from the 2011 earthquake, the temple was completely rebuilt and it was then presented to the Haa Monastic body.

Social and Cultural Functions

According to the previous caretaker of the Lhakhang Ap Kadi (2005-2016), the eldest and the successful men (drap) of the village would go to the monastery on the 30th day of the 12th Month of the Bhutanese calendar to make arrangements for 21 days of Mani Dungdup[5]. The recitation of the Mani would then begin on the 1st day of 1st month every year. A ritual performed in this temple during the Mani Dungdup is the making of Torma[6] on the 30th day of the 12th month in preparation of the prayer recitation that takes place for 21 days. In the past, these ritual figures (Torma) were made by the women of the village, and the community around the monastery would gather and make contributions for these annual rituals. Today all these preparations for the rituals are done by the monks of the monastery. Only during this Mani Dungdup, on the 1th day of the 1st month the statues of Tseringma and Zhenchey Om are brought out for the public to view and get blessings from. The deity Zhenchey Om is believed to have flown to the temple from Chorten Ranjung, a place above the monastery, but information on how Tseringma came to the temple is not known. A replica of these relics is kept in the upper floor of the temple during the other times of the year for public view. It is believed that these relics must adhere to cleanliness and purity, hence the death rituals for the community which is considered ‘polluting’ is many sense are conducted on the ground floor of the temple.

According to an oral source, before the beginning of the Mani Dungdup, local people of the village would lead a procession from the temple towards the top of the hill. This procession is led by the Lam of the monastery and is done for Shangna (Making offerings) in prayers for the successful conduct of the Mani Dungdup. The procession starts from the monastery towards the top of a hill called Shingkha Lungpa. Once the procession reaches the spot, a cleansing ceremony is performed and a red scarf is tied on top of a tree there.

In the past, the temple belonged to the Yangthang community. People of the community would make monetary contributions for the upkeep of the temple. Later the temple was handed over to the Haa Dratshang.

Significance of Zhenchey Om to the community

According to Lam Dorji (Current head of the monastery), Tseringma and Zhenchey Om are the protectors of the Drukpa Kagyu. The first person to establish the temple (Baba Thinley Jamtsho) prayed to these goddesses. Local people believe that the residence (Nyeka[7]) of Zhenchey Om is located about 30 minutes’ walk away from the temple towards the top of the mountain on whose slope the temple now sits on. The residence of Zhenchey Om is locally called Ana Dra. In the past people used to visit these spiritual places to worship these goddesses. In a popular story, once when the people of the village were performing a ritual at the Ana Dra, a snake curled inside the ritual Rim (Cymbals) that the people had carried with them. Once this cymbal along with other ritual instruments were brought back to the temple, the snake went into the temple. The people then took it as an omen that Zhenchey Om had come into the temple, and since then all rituals for the goddess are done in the temple.

Another sacred place is the Chorten Rangjung, believed to be the place from where Zhenchey Om came from. Locals believe that this sacred site is in a form a chorten[8] naturally formed out of rocks, wedged in the face of a cliff below Ana Dra. Currently, only three to four households from Yangthang village offer prayers to this sacred site and Zhenchey Om, but majority of people from Talung village pray to Zhenchey Om. Every year on the 8th day of the 1st month of Bhutanese calendar, people go and maintain this spiritual place and they have built a small altar there.


Bhutan has diverse cultural and traditional knowledge despite the relatively small population and space. The regional divide created due to the geographical location and isolation has presented the smaller communities of the country an opportunity to carve out their own unique identities. The Bhutanese identity has been traditionally grounded in the Buddhist religion and traditions, but the local diversities have added their own influences to these beliefs.

A study of Yangthang Goenpa is a testament of different cultures and traditions that have evolved in a place over time. Influences of local cultures, folklores, religion, and people have given the impetus for a unique story to evolve out of a small community such as Yangthang. Study of such places of religion in the country can provide a window in evolution of communities, religions, cultures, and people. These understandings of the diversity, no matter how small it is, can contribute to the knowledge of our country and people.


  1. Ap Kadi (Former Caretaker 2005-2016)
  2. Tshering Wangchuk (Current caretaker)
  3. Lam Dorji (Current Udzin of the Monastery)


Mrs. Kinley Dema, Associate Lecturer, College of Language and Culture Studies


Ministry of Works and Human Settlement. (2018). Yangthang, Report on the Study of Settlement. Retrieved from


Thinley, K. (2008). Seeds of Faith; A comprehensive guide to the sacred places of Bhutan. (KMT Consultancy, Research & Translation Unit. Trans). KMT Publishers. Volume 1.

Thinley, K. (2008). Dhed Pai Sa Boen. Gyalkhab Kyi Nye Dhag Tshug lag Khang Gi Chag Rab. KMT Press

Tshering, P. (2015, May 29). Udumbara, the Mythical Flower in Yangthang Gonpa? Passu Dairy. Retrieved from


[1] Room for prayer wheel

[2] https://www.passudiary.com/2015/05/udumbara-mythical-flower-in-yangthang.html

[3] Buddhist monastic school

[4] Thinley, K. (2008). Seeds of Faith. KMT Printing Press. P, 155.

[5] Recitation of the Mani prayers

[6] Figures made of flour and butter for Buddhist tantric rituals

[7] Spiritual residence

[8] stupa

(Click on the Thumbnails to view the Photo Gallery)