Before going to Bhutan, I did very little research because of which my plan always got ruined. I was going to Punakha for the annual Teschu. While on the way, I came across a small settlement where one could easily spot murals of penises on the walls. I was intrigued so I asked around and my co-traveller, a resident of Punakha, told me about Chimi Lakhang. Punakha Teschu was going for 3 days and I decided to stop at the village on the second day and see this interesting place by myself.
That night, I decided to research about the place and found more interesting stories about this place. Chimi or Chime Lakhang is popular for the destination where villages have paintings of penises on every wall. A number of bloggers and travellers have written about this place and the stories are really interesting.
Chimi Lakhang is located near Lobesa, this monastery was built in 1499 by the Drukpa, Ngawang Choegyel. It is said that the site was blessed by the “Divine Madman” the maverick saint Drukpa Kuenley who built a chorten (which is a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics) on the site. Chimi Lakhang is visited by thousands of people who come here either to pray to become pregnant or to seek protection for children that they already have. According to blogs from Western tourists have claiming that they became pregnant after paying a visit to Chimi Lhakhang.
Women who come to the monastery seeking pregnancy are hit on the head by the presiding Lama with a 10-inch ivory, wood and bone phallus. The blessing also involves some ritual with Divine Madman’s bow and arrow. The women have to choose random bamboo scrolls that then tell the name of the child.
The legend of Divine Madman
A demoness called Loro Duem resided on a high pass called Dochu La and used to terrorise those who attempted crossing the pass. Along with her two more demonesses lived on two smaller passes. When Drukpa Kuenley heard of this, he hunted down the demoness at Dochu La and the three demonesses recognising Drukpa Kuenley’s power ran down the valley and the other two demonesses dissolved into the body of Loro Duem.
Loro Duem reached Lobesa where she transformed herself into a dog. Lam Drukpa Kuenley recognised that it was the same demoness. He killed it and buried it at the place where on mound of hill that he believed to resemble the breast of a woman. He made the demoness pledge service to the Buddha and become a protector of the dharma. She is now the local deity called Chhoekim who is the guardian deity of Chime Lhakhang.
Legends say that Drukpa Kunley battled and defeated the demon of Dochu La with his “magic thunderbolt of wisdom” i.e. his penis. This demon was jailed in a rock at the location where the Lakhang now stands.
The legendary village of Phallus
It was the mad saint who advocated the use of phallus symbols as paintings on walls. You’ll also see many carved wooden phalluses on house tops in all four corners. Traditionally symbols of an erect penis in Bhutan have been intended to drive away the evil eye and malicious gossip.
The hike to Chimi Lakhang begins from the village of Sopsokha. Any bus or shared taxi going to Punakha monastery will drop you here. Sopsokha has a number of murals depicting phallus in various shapes and forms. Not only graffiti but there are shops that sell phallus souvenirs.
A straight rugged path goes all the way to Chimi Lakhang. A large area with farms and hills make the whole place scenic. The main monastery is simple but views are really incredible.
While on my way back, it started to rain. I had to move forward to Punakha Dzong to attend the festival so I walked as fast as I could, waited for a passing taxi and hopped right into it.
Chime Lakhang is a place that one should surely visit during their time around Punakha. The culture shock or a learning experience will give you an idea of this country from more than a tourist destination.