Nyebji Goenpa


Terbay (Wylie. gter sbas, Tibetan. གཏེར་སྦས) or “hidden treasure” monastery is located in Nyebji (Wylie. ner sbyis, Tibetan. ནེར་སྦྱིས) village under Sangbay gewog in Haa. The monastery can be reached through a 3-km farm road from the Sangbay gewog center. The gewog center is about a 68-km drive from the Haa Dzongkhag Headquarter. There are five households near the monastery (Gembo, personal communication, December 9, 2021).

The monastery has been well-fenced and has one single gate for entry and exit. There is a small stupa, a giant prayer wheel, and one small room for housing butter lamps in the south of the monastery. On the eastern side of the monastery, there is an apartment for the monks and the lama’s residence.


There is no written record of the origin and foundation of the monastery. The available history is based on the oral narratives probably  dating back  to the first half of the 20th century.

The monastery derives its name from the historical material, a pair of golden vessels (Wylie. shel dam cha gcig, Tibetan. ཤེལ་དམ་ཆ་གཅིག) unearthed after the villagers who were carrying out excavation works for the construction of the monastery. The villagers considered the golden vessels as “hidden treasures” (gter), hence they considered the temple’s site as sacred and named the monastery Terbay or hidden treasure.

As the region was under the jurisdiction of the Paro Governor, the villagers presented the items to the then Paro Governor Tshering Penjor (1902-1949). The governor was pleased and offered in exchange a large-sized Prajnaparamita Sutra calligraphed in gold. Considering the dates of the Paro governor, Tshering Penjor, we can conclude that the monastery was constructed in the first half of the 20th century. However, the village elders share that the monastery was established about 200 years ago. (Gembo, personal communication, December 9, 2021). Acoording to this information, the monastery would date back to a period between 1800-1820.

During the 19th century, the temple was one storey and smaller than the present one (Gembo, personal communication, December 9, 2021). The temple was just a Dugkhang (Wylie. sdug khang. Tibetan. སྡུག་ཁང་) which is literary translated as “assembly hall” (Lam Pem Dorji, personal communication, December 9, 2021 and it was looked after by the villagers. The monastery underwent major renovations later on. The first renovation took place in the early 20th century when the villagers felt the Dugkhang was too small and they needed a bigger space to accommodate people during ritual and other religious activities.

The newly renovated monastery held commemoration services and recitation of five Prajnaparamita collections (Wylie. ‘bum sde lnga. Tibetan. འབུམ་སྡེ་ལྔ).

According to an oral narrative, there was a man named Tobchen hailing from the village who had been in the service of Zhabdrung Jigme Dorji (1905-1931), the sixth mind incarnation of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, at Talo, Punakha. Due to his old age, he wanted to retire from the service and spent his last days in his village. When Tobchen was preparing to leave for Nyebji, Zhabdrung gave him a statue of himself as a gratitude for his service. Tobchen decided to offer it to the village monastery. However, soon the villagers were becoming sick and speechless. Tobchen thought that it might have been the result of his offering the statue to the monastery.  He retrieved the statue and  brought it back to Talo. Zhabdrung was surprised by the news and inquired Tobchen about the reason for returning the statue. When Tobchen narrated the story behind the villagers becoming speechless, Zhabdrung Jigme Dorji exclaimed and said that the villagers forgot to make offerings/libations to the statue. Hence, Zhabdrung told Tobchen to request the villagers to regularly make offerings/libations to the statue, and along with the statue, he also gave a statue of the Talo Gyalpo (Pehar) – spirit guardian of Buddhism in Talo.

Thereafter, Tobchen re-offered the statue and also instructed the villagers to make regular offerings/libations to the statue. After all the instructions were followed, the villagers were able to speak again and experience prosperity in the village. This practice is continued today (Lam Pem Dorji, personal communication, December 9, 2021).

The second renovation was carried out when the monastery was razed down by fire around five decades ago (estimated to be in the 1970s) (Gembo, personal communication, December 9, 2021), but there was only minor damage caused to the relics and the important items. Although the villagers enlarged the size of the monastery, it remained single storied as before.

The monastery enrolled monks after the second renovation but they resided in village houses and came to the monastery for studying purpose only. The first tutor was one Lam Pembo who was appointed by the Haa Monastic Body to guide the monks. The exact year of Lam Pembo’s appointment is not clear except that he took charge after the monastery was renovated. However, when Lam Pembo resigned from his post, the monastery was left without a tutor for several years and the monks were not able to continue their studies (Lam Pem Dorji, personal communication, December 9, 2021).

The third renovation was carried out in 2007 by Lam Tagki who served as the second tutor. The monastery was enlarged to a two-storied structure, a hostel and the Lama’s residence near the monastery were also constructed. Lam Tagki who served as Lam Neten at Haa Dzongkha volunteered to serve as Terbay Lam in 2007 and served until 2012 after his retirement as the Lam Neten of Haa.

Until 2012, the monastery was fully under the care of the villagers (Gembo, personal communication, December 9, 2021). The monastery was formally handed over to the Monastic Body (གྲྭ་ཚང་ལྷན་ཚོགས) in 2012. The Monastic Body appointed the current abbot, Lam Pem Dorji as the new abbot to manage the monastery. The monastery currently has 12 monks. Though Lam Pem Dorji looks after the overall management of the monastery, the responsibility of the temple caretaker (སྐུ་གཉེར) was continued by the villagers. The current temple caretaker is Gembo, 63 years old, who has been performing this role since nearly four decades. Before Gembo, the temple was taken care of by his father Tseptse and his mother Kanchi.


Architectural Style

The present monastery is a two-storied structure. The ground floor is used to accommodate devotees during the chanting of prayers, and also as a guest room for the devotees. The first floor houses the main altar and relics.

As one enters the first floor, in a clockwise manner, one can see the murals of Amitayus and his consort in union along with their retinue, Avalokitesvara with thousand eyes and hands, Vaiśravaṇa – the god of wealth and king of Northern direction, Yidam Tandin – the horse-headed meditational deity, the five wrathful Herukas and their five consorts, the twenty-one Taras, the great Kagyu masters, the Three Deities of Longevity, Vajravarahi, the Eight Manifestations of Guru Rinpoche, Buddha Sakyamuni and the assembly of the Great Glorious Vajrakumara.

On the altar, there are statues of Guru Rinpoche in the center, Amitayus on the right, and Avalokitesvara on the left. On the right side of Amitayus, there are smaller statues of Buddha, Zhabdrung, Avalokitesvara, Manjushri, and the Bum – the Prajnaparamita in Hundred Thousand verses.

Placed on the left side of Avalokitesvara, there are smaller statues of Zhabdrung Rinpoche, Manjushri, Zhabdrung Jigme Dorji, Tsheringma, Avalokitesvara, Buddha, and the collection of the Kanjur – the translated words of Buddha (108 volumes). There is a large-sized Prajnaparamita Sutra calligraphed in gold which is said to have been gifted by the then Paro governor, Tshering Penjor. There is also the shrine of Gyalpo (Pehar) – the spirit guardian of Buddhism who came from Talo.


Social and Cultural Functions

Terbay Goenpa does not have a specific festival, but still, villagers organize Kuchey’s (memorial ceremonies) and Nyungney’s ( fasting and prayers) during auspicious days.

– On the 14th till 16th day of the first month of the Bhutanese calendar, the monastery conducts Kuchey (Wylie. sku mchod, Tibetan. སྐུ་མཆོད ) for the King and Country. On the 30th day of the first month, the monastery coordinates Nyungney (Wylie. smyung gnas. Tibetan. སྨྱུང་གནས).

– On the 15th of the fourth month of the Bhutanese calendar, coinciding with the Parinirvana of Lord Buddha, the monastery coordinates Nyungney (Wylie. smyung gnas. Tibetan. སྨྱུང་གནས).

– On the 10th day of the fifth month of the Bhutanese calendar, coinciding with the Birth Anniversary of Guru Rinpoche, the monastery celebrate a Trelda Tshechu (Wylie. sprel zla. Tibetan. སྤྲེལ་ཟླ).

– On the 22nd day of the ninth month of the Bhutanese calendar, coinciding with the Descending Day of the Lord Buddha, the monastery coordinates Nyungney. In the eleventh month of the Bhutanese calendar, the monastery discusses and decides a day or days for Kanjur Daksar (Wylie. bka’ ‘gyur dag gsar. Tibetan. བཀའ་འགྱུར་དག་གསར) which is reading the Buddhist cannon for purification.

During those activities, there is no such budget from the Monk Body, so the villagers contribute money to organize the activities.


Lam Pem Dorji, the current abbot of Terbey Goenpa

Ap Gembo, the current temple caretaker of Terbey Goenpa


Rinchen Dorji, Associate Lecturer, College of Language and Culture Studies, Taktse, Trongsa


Thinley, K. (2008). Seeds of Faith: A comprehensive guide to the sacred places of Bhutan

(Vol. 1). KMT Printers & Publishers.

Wangmo, D. (1997). Of rainbows and clouds: The memoirs of Yab Ugyen Dorji. Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck.