After driving up Wang Chhu valley for a while from Thimpu, we reached the trailhead of the walk up to Cheri Monastery at the end of the valley. This was my first full day in the country, and I was excitedly looking forward to finally starting to explore more. While our driver stayed behind at the small parking lot next to a bridge covered in prayer flags, my guide and I crossed the wooden bridge over the wildly flowing, light blue Wang Chhu river. We quickly walked up a path that was easy to follow and a little steep at times, passing a chorten roughly half way, before reaching Cheri monastery itself after around twenty minutes.
Cheri Monastery was founded by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the 17th century unifier of the Bhutanese nation state. Initially coming from Tibet, Shabdrung moved to Bhutan and promoted a distinct Bhutanese cultural identity - distinct, that is, from the dominant Tibetan culture. He established Cheri Monastery at the end of Thimpu Valley in 1620. Cheri, also known as Chagry Dorjeden, had been a sacred place ever since Guru Rinpoche visited it in the 8th century. Shabdrung added to its sacredness, and nowadays, it is a prominent teaching centre of the Drukpa Kagyu order. Like many monasteries, Cheri offers ample opportunities for people to go into retreat, and even in the 20th century, a new meditation centre was opened. Shabdrung himself spent three years in retreat, and later, regularly used it as a residence.
Prayer flags were hanging from long strings spanning the empty space between the monastery and the surrounding trees on hills. Not only could we hear the flapping of the flags in the wind, their prayers were flowing in the air, benefiting everyone who would be touched by the wind. After entering the main building, we proceeded past beautifully painted wooden prayer wheels, a small building next to the main monastery, where a monk was lighting butter lamps, before entering the building itself. Before explaining anything, my guide threw himself to the floor in prayer. Once on top of the building, we had a great view of the surrounding area and Wang Chhu valley below. Next, we entered a separate area of the monastery, with a sign saying that the demons threatening this monastery had been subjugated, and that a special permit was required to enter. Fortunately, my guide could produce one, and we saw this sacred place, giving access to the very spot where the Shabdrung had spent three years in meditation. The friendly, sacred atmosphere of Cheri monastery gave me a very good feeling of my visit to Bhutan - and I was looking forward to seeing much more of this unique country.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Cheri Monastery (). 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 Cheri Monastery.
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