This region that spans from 2,600-4,500 m is the religious heartland of the nation and home to some of its oldest Buddhist temples and monasteries. Tales of Guru Padmasambhava and the tertons (“religious treasure-discoverers”) still linger in this sacred region.
Bumthang Dzongkhag consists of four main valleys, Ura, Chumey, Tang and Choekhor. Choekhor is the largest of the four and is widely considered as ‘Bumthang Valley’. The valleys are broad and gentle carved by the ancient glaciers. The wide and scenic valleys draws a large number of tourists each year.
This dzongkhag is one of the most richly endowed districts in terms of historical and spiritual legacy. Some of Bhutan’s oldest and most venerated temples are found in Bumthang, including Jambey Lhakhang. According to legend this ancient temple was built by the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo in 659 A.D. as part of a chain of 108 simultaneously constructed temples in order to subdue an evil demoness that lay over the Himalayan region. It is the oldest lhakhang in Bhutan. There are numerous other temples and shrines worth visiting in Bumthang and many of them are linked to Guru Rinpoche’s visit in 746 A.D.
The fertile valleys of Bumthang are covered in fields of buckwheat, rice and potatoes. Apple orchards and dairy farms are also common sights here. This serene region is one of the most peaceful places in the kingdom.
Membartsho is a holy site, revered as the place where Pema Lingpa, Bhutan’s greatest tertön, discovered several of Guru Rinpoche’s terma in the 15ᵗʰ century. The pool in the Tang Valley, near Bumthang in central Bhutan is known locally as the Burning Lake, because according to legend, Pema Lingpa had a dream urging him to go to that particular spot in the Tang Chuu river. After standing on the rocks looking into the depths he discerned there was a temple at the bottom with many doors, one of which was open. He dove in and swam into a large cave where a woman with one eye handed him a treasure chest. As he took it from her he found himself back on dry land. The local citizens and the ruling Penlop were cynical of his claims, so he invited them to return with him and he would retrieve another terma. Holding a lit lamp, he told the assembled crowd, “If I am a genuine revealer of treasures then may I return with the treasure and my lamp still alight. However, if I am a devil, may I drown.” He dove in. After a while people became nervous that he was taking too long when suddenly he burst out of the water holding a statue, a treasure chest and the lamp in his hands was still alight.
The Jambay Temple (Tibetan: བྱམས་པའི་ལྷ་ཁང, Wylie: byams pa, Jampé Lhakhang) or Temple of Maitreya is located in Bumthang (Jakar) in Bhutan, and is said to be one of the 108 temples built by Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo in 659 CE on a single day, to pin down an ogress to earth forever.
It was divined that the supine demoness was causing obstruction to the spread of Buddhism, and temples were constructed on her body parts that spread across Tibet, Bhutan and the borderlands. The best known of these temples are Jokhang in Lhasa, Kichu in Paro, Bhutan and Jambay Lhakhang in Bumthang District, Bhutan.
Other, lesser-known temples in Bhutan have been destroyed, but it is believed that, among others, Kongchogsum in Bumthang, Khaine in Lhuntse and two temples in Haa District may have part of these 108 temples. Jambay Lhakhang was visited by Padmasambhava and restored by King Sindhu Raja after the former returned his life force.
It is believed that Sindhuraja the ruler of Bumthang at the time was at war with another King called Nawchhe(Big nose) and in one of the battles with Nawchhe, Sindhu Raja had prayed for the help of the local deities but it was to no avail and Sindhu Raja had lost his son in the battle. Enraged, Sindhuraja decided to destroy all structures belonging to the local deities, angered by this Shelging Karpo the local deity stole the sog (life force) of Sindhuraja, and thus Sindhuraja fell ill due to this and the local healers were unable to do anything. At this point one of Sindhuraja’s attendant sought help from Padmasambhava, who was residing in Nepal at the time, it is said that a cup of gold dust was offered to Padmasambhava, who then entered Bhutan through the route of Nabji Korphu via Mangde Chhu region. After he reached Bumthang, Sindhuraja promised him anything if he could cure him, Guru Rinpochhe then asked for Sindhuraja’s daughter Moenmo Tashi Khuedron. Shelging karpo at the time was hiding inside his cave, Padmasambhava had to lure him out of the cave to subdue him. Padmasambhava started performing a cham dance, but although it managed to attract the attention of most local deities it failed to lure out Shelging Karpo. So he then asked Tashi Khuedron to fetch for a pale of water in a copper vase and this source of water which Tashi fetched water from became a source of sacred water called Kurje Drupcchu which is considered to be sacred even now and believed to cure illnesses due to its holy powers. After Tashi Khuedron fetched the water, Padmasambhava used the reflection of the light of the Sun from the vase and directed it towards the cave that Shelging Karpo was hiding in, intrigued Shelging Karpo decided to step out and find out what this reflection was, and when he stepped out Padmasambhava immediately subdued and also had him be a protector of the Dharma. Padmasambhava made Shelging Karpo return the sog of Sindhuraja and thus Sindhuraja was healed. Padmasambhava also meditated at the cave and thus left a print of his body on the cave which is why it is called Kurjey since you can see the imprint of Padmasambhava on the cave
Ngang Lhakhang is a Buddhist monastery in the Choekhor Valley of central Bhutan. It is located not for from Draphe Dzong, which was the residence of the Choekhor Penlop who was ruling the valley before the Drukpa conquest in the 17th century. Also known as the “Swan temple”, Ngang lies on the right side of the valley. It is a private temple, built in the 16th century by a Tibetan lama named Namkha Samdrip, who also built Namkhoe Lhakhang in the Tang Valley. Today it is a residence and in 2004 was enlarged with four guest rooms.
Tamzhing Lhündrup Monastery in Bumthang District in central Bhutan is a Nyingma gompa in Bhutan. Its temple and monastery are remarkable for their direct connection to the Bhutanese tertön and saint, Pema Lingpa and his tulkus. It is now the seat of Sungtrul Rinpoche, the current speech incarnation of Pema Lingpa. Tamzhing consists of a deteriorating temple and a cramped vihara. It supports a body of over 95 Buddhist monks. In March 2012, the monastery was submitted for inscription on the list of World Heritage Sites; it currently resides on the tentative list
The building, which has since been converted into a museum to promote its conservation and to drive tourism to the village, was largely destroyed following an earthquake in the late 1800s. The residential quarters, the main temple, and the tower were all rebuilt, and the site continues to beckon visitors and religious pilgrims alike.
The origins of Ogyen Choling began with a visit to the remote Tang Valley by the illustrious philosopher of ancient Nyingmapa Buddhism, Longchen Rabjam (1308-1363), some seven centuries ago. He allegedly chose the site for the elephant’s head-shaped vista created by the Tang valley and the neighboring Kanyai mountain. In Buddhist mythology, the elephant symbolizes longevity. According to legend, a cave located towards the top of the elephant’s head served as Longchen Rabjam’s place of meditation, and so Ogyen Choling assumed sacred connotations.