Overlooking the breathtaking valley of Chumey in Bumthang district, Tharpaling Monastery, or the place of liberation, is a beautiful complex attracting innumerable tourists and locals alike. It is believed to have been first established around 12th century by Lorepa, a Drukpa Kagyupa Master from Tibet. A fairly small building then, the monastery was restructured in 14th century by Longchen Rabjam, a master of Dzogchen and a great teacher of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism in Bhutan. Over the following years, Tharpaling was restored several times, most notably by the First King of Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuk, in the beginning of the 20th century, who established it as a retreat and monastic centre.
The main building of Tharpaling today houses two temples. The first one on the ground floor, called Tshongkhang, is embellished with the statues of Guru Rinpoche, Longchen Rabjam and Trisong Detsen, the eighth century Tibetan King who is attributed to have played a pivotal role in the introduction of Buddhism in the country. A small temple on the second floor is also worth visiting. While the principal statues here are of Guru Rinpoche and Longchen Rabjam, several beautiful paintings depict the paradise of Amitabha and one of Guru Dewa, a rarely-seen secret manifestation of Padmasambhava.
An active learning centre of Nyingmapa teachings, Tharpaling also houses a monastic school (Shedra) with about twenty cells for the monks. The assembly hall of the shedra is worth admiring with its inner walls, which are adorned with some colourful frescoes depicting the Sixteen Arhats and the lineage of Longchenpa and Jigme Lingpa, a Tibetan treasure revealer.
Just below the main monastery complex, one can see the Eight Chortens aligned in a linear fashion. Consecrated in 2001, they were built to commemorate the life events of Buddha.
The monastery today is a sacred pilgrimage site for Bhutanese, and is popular for yet another interesting reason, ‘The Great cannon of Tharpaling’. It is a massive seven foot structure of phallus carved out of stone in order to preserve the sanctity of the monastery.
Those interested in visiting the monastery must opt for a 30 minutes’ drive across the feeder road, which starts from the Gyetsa Village on the Trongsa-Jakar highway. However, during the summers, the road is cut off from all access due to excessive downpour. The only way to get here in such situation is via a 3 hours hike, starting from the Gyetsa Village, traversing all the way through Lamey Gonpa in Choekhor, and further crossing a pass above the Choedrak Monastery.