Chimi Lhakhang

The Chimi Lhakhang Monastery calls for at least one visit when in Punakha. This extraordinary temple is popularly known to be the fertility temple among many and is frequented by childless couples and others alike for blessings. Built in the 15th century by Lama Drukpa Kunley who was popularly known as the ‘Divine Madman’, the temple has a rollicking tale to tell.

The Tantric Buddhist saint is revered both in Tibet and in Bhutan, and known for his crazy wisdom. He is believed to have worshipped the phallus and sought to encourage monks to look above conventional morality, even in ancient days. Tales of his unorthodox methods of teaching are popular throughout town, and it is common to come across houses with paintings of phalluses on their walls for good luck.

On a hillock below the Metshina–Punakha road is the yellow-roofed Chimi Lhakhang, built in 1499 by the cousin of Lama Drukpa Kunley in his honour after the lama subdued the demoness of the nearby Dochu La with his ‘magic thunderbolt of wisdom’. A wooden effigy of the lama’s thunderbolt is preserved in the lhakhang, and childless women go to the temple to pray to a fertility goddess while mothers-to-be select their future baby’s name from a collection of bamboo slips, leaving with either Chimi or Kunley as one of their child’s two names.

There are a few monks at the Chimi Lhakhang, which is surrounded by a row of prayer wheels and some beautiful slate carvings. Murals to the right of the chapel depict events from Kunley’s colourful life; the section above the window depicts the three demons of the Dochu La.

The bodhi tree here is believed to have been brought from Bodhgaya, India. Make a small offering and you’ll be rewarded with a blessing from the lama’s wooden and bone phalluses and his iron archery set.

Most visitors take the 20-minute trail across fields from the road at Sopsokha to the temple (take a hat and be prepared for wind, dust or mud). The trail leads downhill across rice fields and on to the tiny settlement of field. It then crosses an orchard before making a short climb to Chimi Lhakhang. It’s also possible to start walking from Pana village.