Drametse Goemba

Eastern Bhutan

The biggest and most important monastery in eastern Bhutan, Drametse is an 18km, hour-long drive on a dirt track off the main road at Thungari. The rough road gains 1350m, and you'll need a 4WD vehicle if it's been raining.

The monastery was founded in 1511 by the granddaughter (some say daughter) of Pema Lingpa, Ani Chhoeten Zangmo, in a place she named Drametse, which means 'the peak where there is no enemy'.

The monastery has about 100 monks and gomchen (lay or married Nyingma monks), and is famous as the home of the Nga Cham drum dance that features in many tsechus; it was proclaimed a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by Unesco in 2005.

This is potato-growing country, and in autumn there are huge piles of potatoes waiting for trucks to carry them down to eventual sale in India and Bangladesh.

In the main chapel, to the right of a central Guru Rinpoche, is the gold funeral chorten of Chhoeten Zangmo beside a statue of Pema Lingpa that was fashioned by himself in a dream (and thus is a mirror image). The long box here holds a thondrol depicting Pema Lingpa, which is unveiled at dawn on the 15th day of the 10th lunar month (November) during an annual three-day festival. A thondrol – a huge thangka (painted or embroidered religious picture) – guarantees liberation (drol) through the sight of it (thon).

The middle floor has chapels dedicated to the protectors Palden Lhamo (Sri Devi) and the 'horse-necked' Tamdrin (Hayagriva). The upstairs Goenkhang Chenmo (Great Protector Chapel) is jam-packed with weapons, a stuffed lynx, a dead flying fox (that looks like it's been blown up with a foot pump), an assault rifle, and the three local protector deities of Pekar, Drametse and Tsong Tsoma. Make an offering to receive a sacred thread, be blessed by the phurba (ritual dagger) and then roll the dice to get a reading from an ancient book of divination.

The next-door Tseringma Lhakhang houses images of the long-life deity, as well as five versions of the Himalayan protector Tseringma, all riding different mythological beasts.

Finally, the Kanjur Lhakhang houses a box of sacred relics, including the cymbals used in all previous tsechus.

Visit Drametse on your way to Trashigang or Mongar and find accommodation and meals in these two regional centres.

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