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The great holy site of Dongkarla commands the view of both Pa and Wang. The view of Pa and Wang are but a companion to an aching heart. These haunting lines from a celebrated Bhutanese folk song sung by a grieving mother is a sweeping description of Neychen Dongkola, commonly known as Dongkola. The grieving and disconsolate mother presents a sharp contrast between the expansive view of Pa (Paro) and Wang(Thimphu) and her little sorrowful heart. Sitting atop a towering mountain between Paro and Thimphu valleys, Dongkola looks like a place specially lifted off the hills and valleys populated by mundane things and beings. And indeed, from that high standpoint, the towns and villages of Paro and Thimphu look small, dreamy, insignificant – almost a different world. If one could sit there for hours, still and meditative, soaking in the views of those towns and villages that look so distant and otherworldly, one could compose colourful fairy tales. And the place is face-to-face with snow-covered mountains, the citadels of the gods that are at once inviting, at once foreboding. They are Dongkarla’s distant cousins separated by a wide range of mountain relatives. In this sense, Dongkarla occupies a pride of place – high, lofty, sacred, commanding. And it’s the citadel of Dongkar Tsen, the unyielding guardian deity of Dongkarla. Dongkarla, the holy site blessed and sanctified by Terton Tshering Dorji, is far removed from human settlements. Before the 17.8-kilometre road went right up to the temple in 2012, an average person took about eight hours to walk from Shaba in Paro. Today, a narrow dirt road snakes across the mountainsides but the distance is yet to be conquered fully. At a number of points, gullies, loose gravels, and foot-deep powdery clay make the road treacherous for little groaning beasts that proudly race and honk their way across the towns. And it takes hours to negotiate those stretches. The faint-hearted behind the wheel would quit at the first such stretch. Yet, there’s adventure to it. It makes Dongkarla still far, still difficult to reach, high and lofty. On the day that 17.8-km road, paved and smooth, takes one to the place within minutes, travelling to Dongkarla would be like driving from Punakha to Wangdue. Dongkarla wouldn’t feel high, lofty, and intimidating. It could become a site for potluck picnics. Dongkarla was an ordinary mountaintop until the 15th century when Terton Tshering Dorji sanctified it. The terton (treasure revealer) was studying under Drubwang Rinchen Chodor at Medri Gonpa when he saw the mountaintop brightly illuminated every night. When he sent a monk to check it out, the monk saw a dark statue on the surface of a lake flanked by a couple of sambar deer. Subsequently, Drubwang Rinchen Chodor instructed Terton Tshering Dorji to build his seat there. The temple originally built by the terton is believed to have been three-storeyed. The two-storeyed temple today houses a number of sacred relics. Among them is about a foot-tall statue of Yidam Thongwa Donden, the statue that illuminated the mountain top before the temple was founded. The statue is believed to be a treasure revealed by Terton Pema Lingpa from Mebar Tsho in Tang, Bumthang. The chieftain of Chokhor asked Terton Pema Lingpa to prove that he was a treasure revealer by revealing a treasure from Mebar Tsho. Pema Lingpa said that time was not ripe to reveal the treasure but the chieftain insisted that the treasure be revealed immediately.

So, Pema Lingpa brought out a casket from the lake and presented it to the chieftain who, furious at the fake-looking treasure, struck it with his sword. And out came three statues from the casket and flew away to different directions. Yidam Thongwa Donden is one of them. It bears a small mark of the chieftain’s sword on its left shoulder. The temple also contains a big copper cauldron and the right hand of the thief who tried to steal it. One night, a thief made away with the cauldron from the temple but the day broke before he could cross the last choeten below the temple. So, he wanted to flee without the cauldron but his hand got stuck to it. The desperate thief cut off his hand and fled. That hand today hangs outside the gonkhang (inner sanctum) of the temple. Looking down from the temple, the villages of Paro remind one of Terton Tshering Dorji, that gem of a human being, who was born in the lower part of Paro. He grew up as an ill-tempered boy herding cows and often breaking their horns and legs. One day, he and a friend stole a cow and slaughtered it. Inside the cow, they saw a fully developed calf ready to be born. This moved young Tshering Dorji to tears. And thereafter the violent young man, despised by all, turned to religion and ultimately realized his destined role as a terton. And Dongkarla, high and lofty, can be a metaphor for the height to which a person can rise and the devout can climb.

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