Standing regally on the hill above the Punakha valley, Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten is a classic example of the amazing traditions and architecture of Asian countries. This chorten, however, is unique. Unlike other Buddhist institutes or colleges in Bhutan, it is not designed for community worship, monastic retreat or education. It is designed as a magical tool. It was built by Queen Mother Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck for heading off the negative forces and transmitting peace and harmony for all the living beings.
The architecture that sets this chorten apart is the golden spire and labyrinthine wall patterns. They are a fine example of the art and traditions of Bhutan.
What can you see at Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten
From the top, you can see a lovely Bodhi tree, well-tended gardens, two large prayer wheels in their special shelters, and a beautiful little temple. Like most Buddhist temples in Bhutan, there is an open space where people sit to pray, meditate or study. There's also a big shrine with a serene Sakyamuni Buddha behind the temple.
Walking through the north door, you are immediately faced with the multiplex wrath of Vajrakilaya, the most wrathful of protective deities. This is a huge 15 to 20 feet high sculpture, filling the whole room and encased in glass. It’s too big to grasp as one being; even the main heads are hard to see, being close to the ceiling and obscured by the dizzying detail of the various other manifestations.
There are 103 complete 3-D sculptures, each an aspect of the deity and emerging bodily from his main mass, all in brilliant colours. It’s inconceivable that something so complex and garish should be aesthetically balanced and coherent, but it is absolutely all that.
There is another shrine room, and another wrathful deity statue, not as overwhelming in size and complexity, but still ferociously powerful. Here, however, there is room to sit and meditate. In another stair to the third level, you will find the third wrathful deity, perhaps even more ferocious and energetic. His consort clasps his waist, totally subsumed in energy. She transforms his wrath into acceptance as fully as she can, but there is plenty more beyond her reach, so his potency reaches everywhere.
In each of these temples, the walls are also covered with a series of responding deities. There are more Yab-Yum figures, peaceful deities of all colours, each locked in an embrace with their consorts. The sexually-charged energy that starts with the wrath at the centre has now become available for peaceful enjoyment at the periphery.
Finally, the third stairway leads you to the temple’s roof! The view is fantastic. And here, at last, is a modestly-sized, classically-posed, golden Sakyamuni Buddha, facing southward toward the sun, peaceful and welcoming. Having survived all the transformational challenges of the wrathful deities, one can truly feel the peace.
It also makes a great photography spot in Bhutan.
How to visit Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten
It takes about an hour to hike up to the temple. First, you have to park the car on the west bank of the river and walk across a suspension bridge. The iron bed and steel cable look new, but the towers look old. No one knows exactly how old. The first iron suspension bridges in Bhutan were built over 500 years ago, around circa 1440 and five of those bridges are known to be still in use!
Despite the spiffed-up bridge, there’s nothing on the other side, but a narrow track along a little creek and through the rice paddies. It is very scenic. The way the terraces are built and the irrigation water channelled from the creek is pretty much the same in the South Asia region.
At the foot of the hill, the paddies end and the real trail begins. Here there’s a big prayer wheel in its little shelter. You can see many elderlies spin the wheels. Climbing up the hill is refreshing as the trail surrounds pine trees. You will get an excellent view of the valley.
What are the other attractions in Punakha, Bhutan.