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Bhutan: Burning Lake

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Burning Lake | Bhutan | Asia

[Visited: October 2009]

When my guide proposed to visit Burning Lake, I could not help but imagine a huge lake, surrounded by trees that are so abundant in Bhutan, with flames coming off the water. I did not even think this was a strange image, as I knew that the place has a deep religious place in Bhutanese Buddhism. I could imagine the place to have special powers. So, when we took the turn off the main road to Eastern Bhutan on our way back from Ura village, and started to climb on an unpaved road, I imagined we would climb much higher, and reach a large body of water. However, we stopped after a couple of minutes, and started to walk. OK, so we would hike to the lake - I had no idea how long it would take. Then, after a few more minutes, I understood we had arrived.

Picture of Burning Lake (Bhutan): One of the most sacred places in Bhutan: Burning Lake or Membartsho

Obviously, I had to readjust my image - what is called a lake, actually is a widening in Tang Chhu river. Water flowing down Tang valley is squeezed through a narrow opening in the rocks, and forms a wider, more quiet, part of the river. Rocks are hanging over Tang Chhu, and almost take away the view you could have of the river when you are standing above it. This place unmistakably is a sacred place - bright coloured red, blue, yellow, green and white prayer flags everywhere, hanging on lines from one tree to another and spanning the river. We scramble down to water level, and as this place looks like a great pool, I am tempted to jump into the water and wash off the sweat of the day, but this is strictly not done in Bhutan.

Picture of Burning Lake (Bhutan): Tang Chhu river running under prayer flags

The guide starts to tell me the story of this place. In the late 15th century, terton - incarnated disciple of Padmasambhava - Pema Lingpa had a vision that there were hidden treasures to be found at the foot of Tang Valley. These treasures had been indicated by Guru Rinpoche many centuries before. Pema Lingpa found a treasure - a sacred text which he translated, and which indicated he should return to the place. Since the local governor was skeptical about it, he held a butter lamp in his hand, told the crowd that he would only return with the treasures if he was right, with the lamp still burning. That said, he jumped into the pool we saw at our feet, remained under water for a long time, but when he resurfaced, he was not only holding another treasure, another sacred scroll, in his hand, but also a still burning butter lamp. Hence the name Burning Lake. Pema Lingpa would become the foremost important terton in the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Picture of Burning Lake (Bhutan): Tsha-tsha stones under a large rock in Burning Lake
Picture of Burning Lake (Bhutan): Burning Lake: rocks over Tang Chhu river
Picture of Burning Lake (Bhutan): Colourful prayer flags at Burning Lake
Picture of Burning Lake (Bhutan): Burning Lake, or Membartsho, the site where Pema Lingpa jumped down to find hidden treasures
Picture of Burning Lake (Bhutan): Burning Lake and prayer flags

Around the World in 80 Clicks

Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Burning Lake (Bhutan). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Burning Lake.
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