Hiking

Bemri and Do-Chorten, on the ridges between Paro and Thimphu

Bemri, the hill of a hundred thousand dakinis

Distance: 4 km
Time: 2 hours

Bemri, located atop one of the mountain ranges between Thimphu and Paro, provides the view of both the valleys. There are multiple routes people take to get to this place. Some start from Bjela, visit Do-Chorten and then Bemri while some others start from Dongkola and then visit Bemri. Yet others start from Gida valley (closest starting point from Thimphu) and some others, like us, start from Neyphu goenpa. However, the routes from Dongkola and Neyphu are the most common ones. Both routes take approximately the same amount of time but the one from Neyphu is steeper.

It’s about a 6 km drive from Paro Shaba till Neyphu goenpa. Take the road towards Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary and then take the farm roads till the goenpa. The road is pitched only till the sanctuary but the farm roads are well maintained. After crossing the Neyphu goenpa, you have to drive till the end of the road to reach the base point. There’s another goenpa there as well but we didn’t visit the place since we were short on time.

Directions on the way to Bemri

Directions on the way

After the parking near the goenpa, you have to walk a few minutes back till the start of the trail. It passes through densely covered forests providing perfect shade and gradually gets steeper as you get closer to Bemri. The path till Bemri is wide and clear with a couple of signboards along the way. Just a little before reaching the temple, there is a small holy stream (Drupchhu) of the goddess Ekajati (Blue Tara); believed to have curative properties for 25 different diseases.

After the Drupchhu, it is a short walk till the temple. The lhakhang features a tiny two-storeyed structure at an altitude of about 3700 m above sea level; and is the religious seat of Neyphu Trulku, Yongzin Ngawang Drakpa. The place was originally called “Bomiri” meaning the hill of one hundred thousand dakinis; due to the footprint of a hundred thousand dakinis that can currently be seen on the rocks of a hill near Bemri. And just outside the temple is a rock slab that has the footprints of some dakinis and the Neyphu Trulku along with a stone piece considered to be a religious script.

The temple at Bemri

The temple at Bemri

The temple is usually closed and remains open only during auspicious days so do plan your trip here accordingly. The hill behind the temple has two meditation places that are considered to be very auspicious; and surrounding the lower meditation place, are the footprints of dakinis on the rocks, religious scriptures and other sacred sites. Since this site is also attributed to dakinis, it is another popular destination for female Buddhists.

The hill behind Bemri lhakhang, with the two meditation sites (one at the lower left and the other at the top)

The hill with the two meditation sites (one at the lower left and the other at the top)

The view of Bemri temple from the top of the hill

The view of Bemri temple from the top of the hill

From the hilltop, you can get a glimpse of Thimphu city on the right side of the upper meditation place. You can also get a beautiful view of the Bemri temple below. After taking a couple of photos, we walked down towards the wide meadow to have our lunch there. Even though it was dry, the autumn colors of the trees and the meadow provided a picture perfect setting, before continuing our journey to Do-Chorten.

Do-Chorten, the stone stupa monastery

Distance: 6 km
Time: 2 hours

From the meadow, there is a route that leads to Do-Chorten monastery. It is gradual and relatively flat in most areas. It takes about 2 hours from Bemri to cover the approximate 6 km distance. As you cross the pass between Bemri and Do-Chorten, the path is initially downhill following which there is an uphill climb for a while. After this climb, the route is straight till the destination.

Do Chorten Monastery

Do Chorten Monastery

Do-Chorten means “stone stupa” and it is named so because there are supposed to be 108 naturally formed stone stupas in the areas surrounding the temple. Additionally, a little below the temple, there is a huge stone wall that is said to be one of the naturally formed stupas. It is at this huge stone that Gyalwang Choje Kunga Paljor observed the eight different kinds of chortens known as the Desheg Chorten Gye (the eight stupas that represent the eight main events in the life of Buddha). A little below that, there are ruins of an old village and a small holy water that was discovered to serve as the water source to the residents of the area in the olden days.

The stone wall where the 8 different chortens were observed

The temple at Do-Chorten was also founded by Je Kunga Paljor in the 15th century. The local folklore states that when he was residing in Neyphu, the people chased him away after they lost faith in him. Following this, he left Neyphu with his attendant (disciple), along with his pet cat, dog and a cow. After reaching Do-Chorten, the Lama sent his attendant to buy meat with the instruction to buy whatever meat he came across. The attendant was unable to purchase any meat but he came across the dead body of an 8-year old so he presented it to the Lama, who then told him to cook the flesh. After having heeded to the Lama’s instruction, he offered the cooked meat to the Lama and gave the leftovers to the cat, dog and the cow since he was unable to eat it himself knowing that it was human flesh. When they finished eating, the Lama along with his pets all flew to the sky while the disciple was left behind. Realizing that it was because he hadn’t eaten the meat, he tried rinsing the pot in which the meat was cooked to drink the water. The disciple was then able to fly for a bit but he was unable to reach far. Then the Lama blessed the place and told his disciple to build a temple and that is the one seen at Do-Chorten today. The dead body that the attendant came across was manifested by the power of the Lama but he had not known that, because of which he was left behind. This is a popular folklore passed down orally from one generation to the next and even exists as a part of some historical books.

A 20-minute walk towards the top of the hill above the temple leads to the place from where the Lama along with his pets flew away. There, one can also see their footprints on a rock. The soil from there is now used in making medicinal pellets. The attendant monk at the temple shows the way towards this for people wishing to visit it. They were also kind enough to prepare tea and snacks for all the visitors at the temple. After visiting the temple, offering our prayers, we headed down to Neyphu instead of going back to Bemri. We got instructions from the monk and headed down to visit the huge stone wall with the chortens and the holy water on our way back to the base. The journey back down was roughly 6 kms and took about 2 hours.

The footprint of the Lama's cow above the Do-chorten monastery

The footprints of the Lama’s cow

There are many sacred sites (neys) in and around the area, but without proper guidance, it is difficult to find it by ourselves, although some of them have signboards nearby. So, we were only able to visit the ones we came across. However, for anyone planning a trip here, you can take a guide monk along from the Neyphu goenpa to ensure that you visit all the neys in the area. Also, the route back to Neyphu is a little confusing after about halfway down, with minimal direction boards so many have lost their way here. Thus, taking a monk along would help prevent this. However, there’s mobile network connection throughout so that helps ensure that you don’t get lost in case you don’t take a guide along.

Some people visit Dongkola, Bemri, Do-Chorten and Bjela all in one day since these places are along the same mountain range. But unless you are an avid trekker, it is better to visit these places separately. That said, Bemri and Do-Chorten can easily be visited in a day.

Your thoughts?

Bored during this pandemic? Keep yourself engaged by reading and find out places to visit with your friends and family once the situation improves. Stay safe peeps!

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