Shelkardrag Lhakhang


Shelkardrag Lhakhang or “Crystal Cliff” (Shel- crystal, Drag-cliff) is located near Lungsukha village under Eusu Gewog in Haa.  Etymologically, shel refers to ‘crystal’ in Dzongkha, while kar means “white” and drag stands for “cliff” (Thinley, 2008, p. 165). Therefore, Shelkardrag is the combination of these three terms. The Lungsukha village (Lungsu meaning prophecy) got its name after Guru Rinpoche visited the valley, and prophesized about the place (D. Dema, personal communication, October 24, 2021). To reach the Lhakhang, one has to take the unpaved road past the Lhakhang Nagpo and continue to travel for almost 8km towards Takchu Goemba, after which one will reach the village called Lungsukha. From the white chorten of Lungsukha village, one can either walk for 15 minutes or drive for about 7 minutes along a new road to reach Shelkardrag Lhakhang.

The prominent landmark of the Haa valley is the Meri Puensum Mountains. The mountains are given spiritual importance where the locals believe that the mountains are embodiments of deities. To illustrate, the mountain in the far north is Jampelyang (Manjushri), the one in the center is Chana Dorji (Vajrapani) and the other in the south is Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara). The Shelkardrag Lhakhang is believed to be located at the heart of the Chenrezig and for the enlightened ones, it manifests into Chenrezig himself (S. Choga, personal communication, October 24, 2021).

The settlement in front of the Lhakhang is called Drang Goenpa. Chimi Dinkha is another place in the vicinity where a mermaid (Tshomen) called Dechen Gyem resides and is said to be Lhazin Dorji Zeba’s (local protector) secret wife (S. Yeshi, personal communication, October 24, 2021). In total one hundred eight mermaids (Tshomen) are believed to live in the areas surrounding the temple (S. Choga, personal communication, October 24, 2021).


In the 8th century, Guru Rinpoche identified the site (Shelkardrag) as a holy site (nye) of Chenrezig. There was a stone-throne (zhu thri) of Guru Rinpoche at a place called Bidungkha evidencing his presence and identifying Shelkardrag as a holy site. A chorten (stupa) has been built on the stone-throne now (D. Dema, personal communication, October 24, 2021).

Later, Lama Rinchen’s biography (Namthar) describes how the Lama had dreams where he was told to build a temple in the site, which would be good for the sentient beings. Following the signs, he is said to have built a Lhakhang on the site. However, the temple was destroyed by fire in 1995 and the new Lhakhang was rebuilt in 2017.

Some of the well-known religious figures such as Sungtrul Chogley Jigme Norbu (1831-1861) and Sungtrul Chogley Jigme Tenzin (1919-1949) have resided at Shelkardrag for about three years, chanting mantras. In addition, Sungtrul Chogley Jigme Norbu wrote the petition prayer or summoning prayer book (gsol kha dpe cha) of Lhazin Dorji Zeba (Thinley, 2008, p. 165).  In this summoning prayer book, a quote about Shelkardrag can be found which reads as:

rang byung lhun grub gru ‘dzin gnyis pa’i spo

It means that Shelkardrag is a self-arising (rang byung lhun grub), second abode (grub gru ‘dzin gnyis) of Chenrezig. Further, Her Majesties the Royal Mother’s (Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, Tshering Pem Wangchuck, Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck and Sangay Choden Wangchuck) grandfather, Yab Tsham Goesip spent his last hours at Shelkardra Lhakhang (S. Choga, personal communication, October 24, 2021). It is also said that when Rani Choying Dorji was pregnant with Azhi Kesang Choden Wangchuk (the Queen of third King) and was passing the Banyel village above Wangchuk Lodzong, the water pond by the cliff of Shelkardrag appeared as a pond of milk to her (Thinley, 2008, p. 165).

There are three important relics/ statues in the Lhakhang. The main statue is the Chenrezig, which is kept in the middle. To its left is a statue of Jomo Tashi Lhamo (Tsherim) and to the right of the Chenrezig is the statue of the local protector, Lhazin Dorji Zeba.

Although, all statues were made in 2017 (the old ones were destroyed in the fire of 1995), the statue of Lhazin Dorji Zeba is the one which had major changes compared to the old one. The reason stated was that the old statue did not precisely represent the deity as mentioned in his own personalized prayer book. Usually, most of the local deities have a fierce outlook, but the current statue of Lhazin Dorji Zeba has a pacified look because he is a manifestation of Chenrezig, who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. He has a white body with few red patches on his face. His body is covered in leopard and tiger skin and he wears a white scarf on his head. On his right hand, he holds a gem called Samphel and on his left hand, he holds a gem called Thukhar Zinpa. There are three gems, covered in fire, on his head. He wears jewels and rides a red horse.

Other relics include a statue of the mermaid (tshomen) Dechen Gyem, who is sitting right to Lhazin Dorji Zeba and is his secret wife. She holds a vessel (Bumpa) in her left hand and a sword (Reldri) in the right hand. She wears a necklace of human skulls.

The temple is attended by a lama and a monk. The lama is appointed from Thimphu Dzong normally for a period of 5 years. The first Lam was Tshering who served for three years followed by Lam Pema (seven years), Lam Machey Namgyal (five months), Lam Pema returned for another five years, Lam Dangpu Chonga (one year), Lam Dorji Norbu (five years) and the current lama is Lama Sonam Choga, who is originally from Haa, but lived in Thimphu since childhood, has been serving from 2017 onwards.

Some of the potential challenges, as pointed out by Lama Sonam Choga, are fire and land slide risks. Due to the presence of a dense forest in the surrounding of the temple, and for the fact that it was once destroyed by fire in 1995, the risk still holds. In addition, as the Lhakhang is located on steep cliff, landslide is another issue. In fact, at the time of the visit by the researcher (October 24, 2021), there was a landslide at Shelkardrag where the wall right in front of the Lhakhang was completely wrecked due to continuous rainfall for several days in Haa.

Architectural Style

The Lhakhang is a two-storied traditional structure built with stone, wood, cement and has CGI roofing.  It has a cupola and a gilded bell-shaped ornament, serto, on top of the yellow-painted roof. The Lhakhang is adorned with a red stripe along the upper walls, and the internal walls and congregation halls are decorated with painted and appliqué frescoes and murals. It has stairs made out stone that connects the Lhakhang to the Lam’s residence and to the entrance of the Lhakhang, where a prayer wheel is currently under construction. The second floor is the main Lhakhang and the first floor is used as residence for people during feast offerings such as Tshokors and Nyungneys.

Just below the Lhakhang is the lam’s residence which is traditional in style and is one-storied. It is lifted with three cement pillars from the ground.

Social and Cultural Functions

Shelkardrag Lhakhang does not have specific festivals such as Tshechu, but in the fourth and seventh month of the Bhutanese calendar, two to three Nyungneys are organized, which are usually sponsored by devotees. In addition, other feast offering rituals include Tshokor, which are funded by the government. One of the main prayers is Tsherim which is recited at the temple.



Lam Sonam Choga, current lam of Shelkardrag

Nima Tshering, Gup, Eusu Gewog

Daw Dema, Resident, Lungshukha

Sangay Yeshey, Resident, Lungsukha


Deki Peldon, Associate Lecturer, College of Language and Culture Studies, 2021



Thinley, K. (2008). Seeds of Faith: A Comprehensive guide to the sacred places of Bhutan (Vol. 1). KMT Printers & Publishers.

(Click on the Thumbnails to view the Photo Gallery)