Bakha Gompa

Eastern Tibet

On pretty Bakha Island in the middle of the Parlung Tsangpo sits Bakha Gompa, an 800-year-old Nyingma monastery which was previously the seat of power in Powo (the traditional name of the once highly independent region bordering Kongpo). The monastery is home to 11 monks and is reputed to have been built on the grave site of the illegitimate child of Princess Wencheng and Tibetan Minister Gar Tongtsen (who had accompanied her from Chang'an).

While the stillborn child of an illicit affair might seen an odd one to commemorate with a temple, Princess Wencheng is revered across eastern Tibet, where she is often seen more as a private missionary to the region than part of an official exchange between Lhasa and Tang China. Numerous locations in the east claim to be the meeting point of the princess and Songtsen Gampo, while legends claim she left the real Jowo Buddha statue, or other parts of her dowry, in eastern temples. Stories also recount the love affair with minster Gar that led to either the stillborn child buried at Bahka or a babe abandoned to its fate in a basket sent downriver.

The name Bahka in fact comes from basa, which means hiding place. Historically, lamas of the monastery believed themselves to be reincarnations of the dead infant, and scholars write that their dual Chinese-Tibetan origin may have been understood by Powo rulers as justification for their independence from both China and central Tibetan authority.

While the current Bakha monastery is small, the views of the surrounding mountains and river, to say nothing of the island itself, are near indescribably charming; this is a fairyland landscape and not surprisingly, the natural world here is infused with connections and manifestations to buddhist faith. Ask the monks to point to the Naga tree, as well as Elephant Mountain (which unusually is not a bad likeness to a profile of an elephant with a long stretched trunk).

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