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Myth, Legend and History Surrounding Dungsam Wangdi, Sonam between 2004-06 and 2004-08

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 Myth, Legend and History Surrounding Dungsam*
Sonam Wangdi*
Earlier the entire regions which presently fall under
Pemagatshel and Samdrup Jongkhar districts were popularly
known as Dungsam. The term is still used both officially and
locally. Two oral sources explain the meaning of Dungsam.
According to one source, out of many high hills surrounding
Pemagatshel, there are three conch-shaped hills. So the word
Dungsam originated from the three hills. In Sharchop dialect,
dungkar is a conch or simply dung, and sam means three; so
Dungsam literally means three conches.
The second source has it that there was a tsho, a lake, called
Dungtsho Karmathang on a hill above the present day Khar.
Terton Pema Lingpa (1450-1521) was known to have revealed
a ter (a sacred hidden treasure) from Dungtsho Karmathang.
Later when the lake dried up, humans settled there, and
these settlers became ancestors of the Khoche nobility in
Dungsam. Thus, they came to be called Dungtshopa - the
people of Dungtsho. So Dungsampa is the corrupted form of
Dungsapa; Dungsapa itself being the corruption of
Dungtshopa. The word Dungsam was recorded and widely
used since the time of the First Zhabdrung, Ngawang
Namgyal (1594-1651?), and the nearby villages happened to
be called Dungsam. In western Bhutan, a Dungsampa is
understood to be either from Dungsam Nganglam or
Dungsam Pemagatshel.
* I would like to acknowledge Late Meme Thinley (1925-2004) for the
interview, Mrs. Deki Tshering and Ms. Karma Denka, Education
Monitoring Officers, for reading the draft, my wife Bab Chum
(Dzongkha language teacher at Shali school), my parents Samten
Dorji and Kintu Zangmo for the support, and not the least to
+ Teacher, Shali Primary School, Pemagatshel
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
The regions was an independent political entity until they
were merged with Zhongar following the surrender of the
petty rulers of the regions to the Drukpa Kagyud force led by
the first Chhoetse Penlop Chhogyal Minjur Tenpa and Lam
Namsey who were acting under the command of the
Unsurpassable Lord, the First Zhabdrung.
Until 1970, Pemagatshel and Samdrup Jongkhar were known
as Dungsam Khoi Dung and Dungsam Kothri respectively. It
was His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche who thus christened the
two districts. Dungsam comprised of prominent villages like
Dungsam Dewathang, Dungsam Nganglam, Dungsam
Dechheling, Dungsam Khar and Dungsam Khoi Dung. It was
well-known as a trade route to India for the people of eastern
Bhutan. From the time of Zhabdrung it was recognized as one
of the four gateways to Bhutan: Shar Dungsamkha. The three
others are Pasakha in the south, Taktserkha in the north and
Dalingkha in the west.
Dungtsho Karmathang was blessed with the sacred visits of
Mipham Tenpai Nyima (1567-1619), the father of Zhabdrung
Ngawang Namgyal. By then the Dungtsho Karmathang had
dried up and a settlement had already started. Tenpai Nyima
founded the Dungkar Goenpa and fathered the son from a
virtuous lady. The son went to Tibet at a young age, only to
return to Bhutan to play an important role in country's
history. He was Tenzin Drukdra whom most historians
believe him to be a Tibetan. A mysterious epidemic struck the
settlement at Dungtsho Karmathang, and the people died
except for two khoche brothers who escaped to others places.
The ruins of Dungtsho Karmathang can be still seen
submerged beneath the earth today.
Khoi Dung or Khe Dung?
Before Pemagatshel got its present name, it was known by
two names: Dungsam Khoi Dung and Dungsam Khe Dung.
The former means the village of Khoi, while the Khe Dung
literally means the village of stool. The former name could be
 Myth, Legend and History Surrounding Dungsam
correct because when the Bangtsho Chhoje was the ruler of
Dungsam Khoi Dung during those days, the Khoipa were
considered as untouchables, and they were forced to work as
slaves. Most of the Khoipa or the untouchables were believed
to the captives brought from the Assam Duars. So, Khoi Dung
was the village occupied by the Khoipa under the rule of
Bangtsho Chhoje, and the Khoi Dung denotes the villages of
After the Third King abolished the serfdom, the Khoipa were
freed. It is said that after this reform, Bangtsho rulers even
lost touch with their underground fortress of Bangtsho
Chhoje at Kheri Goenpa in Lhuntshe. This underground
fortress now remains in ruins. Barma of Samdrup Jongkhar
who belongs to the lineage of Bangtsho Chhoje has
reconstructed a lhakhang at Bar Goenpa opposite Chungkhar
facing Zobel and Shumarthung. Geshey Pema Tshering who
was the previous incarnation of the 70th Je Khenpo, His
Holiness Trulku Jigme Choeda, had established his dhensa
(residence) at Bar Goenpa. Lam Pema Tshering passed away
there and a kudung chhoeten was constructed near the
junction of two zhunglam where traders from Zhongar and
Trashigang travelled to India. Kudung chhoeten was
renovated, and consecration ritual was conducted by His
Holiness himself. Lam Pern Tshering was supported by his
devoted patron, the then Zhongar Dzongpon Kunzang Wangdi
who came from Chungkhar Chhoje, a descendent of Lhasay
Tsangma. He was also related to Zhabdrung Ngawang
Namgyal through the offspring of Tenzin Drukdra.
Around the 16th century the great Nyingma Master Jigme
Kuendrel alias Jangchub Gyeltshen who was the core disciple
of the great saint Jigme Lingpa (eighteen century) returned
from Tibet and founded Yongla Goenpa as prophesized by the
Dakini. This sacred site was blessed by visits of many great
Buddhist luminaries like His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche
Jigdrel Yeshey Dorji, Terton Pegyel Lingpa, Lam Pema
Longdrel, Lama Dorji Gyeltshen alias Lam Phucha, Lama
Sonam Zangpo alias Meme Lama, Dungsey Rinpoche Thinley
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
Norbu, Nyulshu Khenpo, Lhalung Thuksey Rinpoche and
many others. Yongla Goenpa is known for its unfailing
protection against the southern adversaries. Indeed there is a
Rigsum Goenpa in the upper east
And Yongla Goenpa in the lower east
Are the two protections
Against Tibet and India
In 1970 when His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche conducted a
wang on a place where Pemagatshel Dzong stands today, the
Gup of Shumar Gewog, Ugyen Tshering requested Dudjom
Rinpoche to give a suitable name for Khoi Dung. Rinpoche
looked around the valley and wrote Pemagatshel on a piece of
paper and gave it to Ugyen Tshering. Since then Pemagatshel
was declared as the official name of the place and district as
well. If one stands near the Dzong and look around, one
would see the hills fencing the valley with Redrngla Goenpa in
the west, Kher Goenpa in the north, Yongla Goenpa in the
east and Dungkar Goenpa in the south and instantly one
would realize that the hills resemble a fully blooming lotus
(meto pema). Similarly, Rinpoche christened the then called
Dungsam Kothri as Samdrup Jongkhar.
After Pemagatshel became a new dzongkhag, the people felt
the need for a dzong. A proposal to build it in Yurung was
rejected by the people since it would entail additional tax and
labour contribution. The present Dzong was built during the
time of home minister late Lyonpo Tamshing Jagar, and
Parop Dorji was then the Dzongda.
The district is divided into seven gewogs: Chimong,
Chongshing, Dungmed, Khar Shumar, Zobel, and Yurung.
Shumar   is   the   biggest,   while   Nyaskhar,   Laniri,   Mikuri,
 Myth, Legend and History Surrounding Dungsam
Shemshem and Chimong are the remotest. Yurung is a
remote gewog without motor roads. It is shaped like the
palms of Lord Buddha. It has an old school built around
1960s where many senior civil servants got their education.
Khangma village which is located opposite Yurung is known
for a big chhoeten which is believed have been built with
assistance of khandom. Maize is the staple crop. The main
cash crop orange can be grown in almost all parts of the
region. Potato and chilli are also cultivated. Other vegetables
and cereals are grown both for consumption and market.
Who was Dungsam Ja Dungpa?
Not even the name of Dungsam Ja Dungpa is known, forget
about his life and family. The people who had some
knowledge about Ja Dungpa are long dead, and sadly those
histories are beyond retrieval. The present account of
Dungsam Ja Dungpa has been derived from whatever the
people could recount. Some readers may not agree with the
present account.
Dungsam Ja Dungpa is from Khangma. He lived with his
wife, two sons, sister and a maid called Ja Zam. He had a big
house and was known for wealth. It seems that the people
addressed him as Ja Dungpa, but not by his actual name. He
was appointed by Chhoetse Penlop to collect taxes from
Dungsam and Duars; so he was respected as much as he was
feared. Taxes collected in form of textiles, tea, salt, fruits and
grains were deposited either directly to Chhoetse Penlop or
Zhongar Dzongpon. He also functioned as the Governor of the
Duars (Ja means India and Dung is the Governor or Dungpa).
The whole stretch of southern plains of Assam and Bengal
bordering Bhutan was once under Bhutan until it was
annexed by the British India during the Duar War, 1864-5.
Dungsam Ja Dungpa must have been a loyal and dedicated
servant of Chhoetse Penlop. There are folk songs dedicated to
him and they are widely sung even today. There is no oral
information   on   who   preceded   him   as   Ja   Dungpa;   but
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
certainly no one succeeded him after his brutal death. By
then Pel Thongley's supremacy had been well established.
The Death of Ja Dungpa
Dungsam Ja Dungpa's sister was married to Pel Thongley
who had a castle on the base of Lha Nang Zor - a rhino horn-
shaped hill above the Urichhu on the way to Yurung. During
the marriage, Ja Dungpa gave a plot of land in Khangma as a
present and asked the newly-wed couple to construct a
house. But no house was built there.
Ja Dungpa frequented the Assam Duars for official work and
stayed there for many days. During one such visit to Assam
Duars, Thongley took advantage of his absence and started
an illicit affair with the maid servant. Ja Dungpa's maid was
an Indian who was believed to have been brought from Assam
Duars. This affair enraged his wife, Ja Dungpa's sister. She
failed to stop Thongley from continuing the affair. In the end
she suffered from mental disorder. The news enraged Ja
Dungpa too. The relationship between J a Dungpa and
Thongley was strained beyond reconciliation. When they met
occasionally, there was no former cordiality and warmth.
Further, growing supremacy of Pel Thongley added salt to the
injury and their hatred for each other grew so intense that
eventually they took to fighting where Ja Dungpa met a tragic
Another account has it that Thongley arrived at Dungsam
with a large force and built a gigantic castle. This instilled a
sense of fear and respect amongst the people. Moreover, his
sharp intelligence won over the leading figures and the people
of Dungsam. This event naturally made Ja Dungpa envious of
him. Later, Ja Dungpa came to know that Pel Thongley
wanted to marry his sister. The former approached him and
the marriage was accordingly arranged. But Ja Drung lied
that his maid servant, Ja Zam was his sister and Thongley
married Ja Zam. Ja Zam means an Indian girl. Thongley
believed and accepted Ja Zam. Ja Dungpa gave him a plot of
 Myth, Legend and History Surrounding Dungsam
land in Khangma as present. The actual intention of Ja
Dungpa to mend their relationship through a nuptial tie is
not known. Some say that he wanted to know Thongley's
weakness and then overcome his power. The others say Ja
Dungpa bribed the Indian girl to poison Thongley after the
marriage. Slowly, Thongley came to know his wife's identity
before Ja Dungpa could achieve his plan. Thongley took it as
an insult to his power, and the fight ensued between the two
in which Ja Dungpa was killed.
Carrying a dob (a wooden bucket), Ja Dungpa's wife went to
the spot where her husband was killed and collected his
blood. She mixed it with water and splashed it over the land
given to Thongley by her deceased husband. She cursed the
land with extreme anger and hatred. She prayed that
henceforth this particular land should not yield any harvest
and that any family trying to cultivate it should meet the fate
of her husband. This story has been transmitted orally from
generation to generation and nobody has ever dared to
cultivate the land. Today, the people of Khangma call this
land as monang sa, meaning the forsaken land.
After his death, Ja Dungpa's family was broken. Feeling
insecure to live near Thongley, they left their house to an
unknown place. The news of Ja Dungpa's death never
reached the authority in Trongsa, Zhongar or Wangdichholing
which were considered the seat of justice in the eastern
region. It was said that his wife decided to report it to
Wangdichholing, and left her house and properties. She took
whatever she could carry, but left her two sons inside a small
hut which she had built of twigs and leaves. The hut was full
of her lustrous gems and gold, hopes and aspirations and
virtually everything. It is not known whether she mother met
with the higher authorities in Wangdichholing or Zhongar.
Some accounts have it that she filed a case against Pel
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
How Two Son's Avenged their Father's Death
On the way, somewhere in Kengkhar, she cut a bamboo shoot
and planted it upside down in the soil and made a prayer
thus: 'You [bamboo] grow in the manner I have planted to
foretell that my sons can avenge the death oftheir father." So
praying so, she went to Kengkhar and settled there. True to
her prayers, the bamboo had grown in the same way she had
wished. People say the bamboo still exists, quite distinct from
the normal bamboo.
The sons grew up into a man. They became good archers who
could hit any target with unerring precision. They could even
hit an egg kept on a palm from a reasonable distance. This
skill increased the mother's confidence. The mother had no
doubt that her sons could really fulfill her wish. So, one day,
she blessed her sons and the boys set off from Kengkhar to
Lha Nang Zor. They were to make a fire on the top of
Khangma Poktor and let the smoke rise to signify that they
had killed Thongley.
The Coming of Thongley to Dungsam
At Kengkhar the mother kept on looking for any sign of smoke
coming from Khangma Poktor while her sons waited to shoot
Thongley. At last one of the sons hit Thongley and killed him.
This was what their father had wanted to achieve long time
ago, and this was what their mother wanted now. They
proved to be the true sons of their parents. The boys
immediately ran towards the top of Khangma Poktor, and no
sooner did they make fire than they went home. At Kengkhar
the mother upon seeing the smoke also ran to receive the
sons. They met at a place where the boys said that they had
removed Thongley from the earth (Thongley Ra mun ma rang
kang ti wa). The mother out of sheer excitement jumped three
times and shouted ra mun ma, ra mun ma, ra mun ma. Today
this place is called Kengkhar Munma. Nothing is heard about
what happened after that. It is believed that the boys
returned to Lha Nang Zor after a few years.
 Myth, Legend and History Surrounding Dungsam
There is an interesting story about Pel Thongley. One day
when a woman was crossing a bridge, a baby slipped out of
her hands into a river. She tried to rescue but to no avail. As
destiny would have it, a fisherman caught the boy in place of
a fish. The baby was no other than Pel Thongley - the great
great-great grandson of Lhasey Tsangma.1 The fisherman did
not have any child and he believed the boy was a reward for
his prayers. The fisherman's wife was so happy to get the boy.
They took a good care the boy as their own. The boy grew up
to become a healthy and handsome man. He was so
handsome that people were naturally attracted to him. The
boy was thus named Pel Thongley ^-^pr^^ij ag^-s^-afcp-
=i| ^ra^zrpjj Apart from this, no oral information is available
about Thongley's childhood. History simply has it that he was
the king of Dungsam and that he belonged to the lineage of
Lhasey Tsangma.
Pel Thongley was a handsome, brave, wise and talented man.
Being from the lineage of kings, he was destined to become a
king himself. He was accepted as garpa (medieaval court
attendant) by a Deb. His service impressed the Deb and won
his trust and confidence. Thongley was later sent from the
base of the golden throne as the pon (king) of Dungsam.
Thongley pledged his sincerity, loyalty and dedication to the
Deb and took his leave with a few servants.
Dungsam was then sparsely populated with a few scattered
houses. When Thongley arrived at Dungsam he urgently built
1 The oral account of genealogy of Pel Thongley begins from Nyathri
Tsenpo to Namla Thridhuen, followed by Bargi Tengnyi, Sala Lekdru,
Chhula Dheygay, Tshigla Tsen-nga, Tathothori Nyentsen, Namri
Songtsen, Songtsen Gyampo, Gungri Gungtsen, Mangsong
Mangtsen, Mangjay Lungnam, Thridhey Tsugten, Thrisong Detsen,
Muti Tsenpo, Lhasay Tsangma, Thongley Tsen, Thriten Pel and
Namkoe Dhey. Pel Thongley's father was Namkoe Dhey, and his
descendents were Yoebar, Tshawo Changpo and Bangtsho.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
his own castle. He thought of building on the land that might
not be of any use in the future.
Building of Lha Nang Zor Castle
Like his ancestor Lhasay Tsangma who prayed for a bridge
across Kurichhu, Pel Thongley also made a prayer to the god
to prophesize a place for his settlement. After crossing
Urichhu, he was climbing towards Yurung when he heard an
unfamiliar voice from the sky. He took it as a prophecy and
stopped to settle on that hill. He named it Lha Nang Zor - a
god-given hill. He began constructing a castle on top of a hill
resembling a precious rhinoceros horn. It is not known who
were carpenters and masons. From the walls of the ruins, it is
evident the castle was not the hands of professional
carpenters or masons. This could be one reason why the
castle did not last long. The masonry looks as if stones were
piled one upon the other.
The castle at Lha Nang Zor served the purpose of any other
dzong. It had been comparatively smaller than the dzongs
built by Zhabdrung. It did not have any feature of the
seventeenth century dzongs. Any way, it was from this hill
that the reign of Thongley brought stability, peace and
prosperity to the regions. Thongley was wise, just, humane
and efficient, so the people believed. Some older generation
vaguely recall their grandparents referring to him as Meme
The oral account is full of Thongley's hunting adventures in
the forest of the present day Shali. So he must have been an
avid hunter. One day he forgot to pick up his hunting bow
after taking a rest in the forest. The place was later called as
Shali which literally means 'a hunting bow'.
Likewise, Thongley is associated with the names of other
places. Shumar (shugmar) is the name of a place where he
seriously fell ill. Shug means seriously, marwa means fell ill.
Maan is a place where his physician arrived and treated him.
 Myth, Legend and History Surrounding Dungsam
During his reign from Lha Nang Zor, Thongley had two
groups of servants. Nangkorpa were the inner servants who
discharged the internal chores, while Chikorpa performed the
external duties. Later on, the place where Nangkorpa had
settled came to be known as Nangkor. The settlement of
Chhikorpa spread as Shumar.
Who Built Shalikhar Dzong?
The road from the north of Kheri Goenpa winds through the
villages of Gonpung and Gamung; then to Mongar and
Wangdichholing. Until the early 1960s, it served as the main
zhunglam between the centre and Samdrup Jongkhar. It was
traditionally trodden by officials both in times of peace and
civil strife; the local people travelled it for trade. It was
through this traditional route that Trongsa Penlop, Jigme
Namgyal led the Bhutanese troops to fight the British
aggression at Dewathang, then called Dewangiri.
It is not clear who built Shalikhar Dzong. But some oral
accounts attribute it to Thongley. Since Lha Nang Zor's castle
was pretty far from the zhunglam, Thongley failed to control
the travelers, especially during times of political emergency.
The existing code of protocol prevented higher authorities to
climb up to Lha Nang Zor and meet Thongley. It was also a
waste of time. Thus, this difficulty made Thongley to shift the
castle to a different location. Another oral evidence points
that after killing Ja Dungpa, Tongley built Shalikhar Dzong to
formalize and ease the tax collection, and then deposit them
to Zhongar and Wangdichholing efficiently.
While residing at Lha Nang Zor, Pel Thongley cultivated
nearby fertile plain where Shumar primary school is presently
located, as his kitchen garden. Later when Shalikhar Dzong
was built, its dzongpon continued the practice. The dzongpon
must have been Thongley himself because there is no logic for
other dzongpon to use this particular land which is far from
Shalikhar. This evidence also points that it was Thongley who
built Shalikhar Dzong.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
There is also a semantic evidence to prove that Shalikhar
Dzong was built by Thongley. The term Khar, was used
wherever the descendents of Lhasey Tsangma settled such as
Tsenkhar, Bengkhar Wengkhar, Domkhar, Chungkhar,
Kengkhar, Chaskhar, Jamkhar. Had the builder been others,
it would have been named Shali Dzong.
Zowo Ngan Tempa - the Great Builder
While the builder of Shalikhar Dzong cannot be ascertained,
Zowo Ngan Tempa was the master mason. He is from Shumar
Thung, a small village which is not far from Kheri Goenpa. He
was known to be quick and light-bodied. A unique chhoeten
built in Shumar Thung bears witness to his architectural
skill. This living masterpiece still evokes an echo of Zowo's
skill. A similar chhoeten is believed to be still intact,
withstanding the cruel test of time somewhere in the forest
near Tshelrngore. Had Kolokpo, the last Dzongpon
safeguarded Shalikhar Dzong, it might have stood as another
living masterpiece, much more glorious than the others. The
Dzong was later destroyed and both man and nature began to
encroach it. No other details are available about Zowo Ngan
Destruction of Shalikhar Dzong
One reason for shifting his castle to Shali must be purely
strategic. Thongley must have wanted a Dra Dzong (enemy
fortress) to watch over the enemy intrusion. This was why
Shalikhar Dzong was built on the top of a hill overlooking the
Several attempts were made to conquer the Dzong. There is a
story that once the Tibetans came from Tawang to Dungsam
through Trashigang. On the way to India they thought of
capturing Shalikhar Dzong and descended from the present
day Pangkhar opposite to Shalikhar Dzong near Chungkhar.
 Myth, Legend and History Surrounding Dungsam
When they looked up from the ravine, Shalikhar Dzong looked
as if it was hanging in the sky and thus, they exclaimed:
The Dzong of Shalikhar,
Is not on Land,
But in the Sky
So, they had to retreat and continue towards India. There is a
second story of an attempt to destroy the Dzong with a big
round boulder called the Pungdo of Masang. The stone is
believed to have been flung from Khangma to destroy the
Dzong. Luckily, the boulder landed just a few steps away from
the Dzong.
It is not known why the Dzong was under a constant threat.
The Indians also made a several attempts to destroy it during
the British rule, mostly by Kacharis, Assamese and Bengalis.
At that time Lama of Yongla Goenpa played an important
mediator role. But a friendship between the Shalikhar
Dzongpon and Lama of Yongla Goenpa abruptly turned sour.
It is believed that the Dzongpon once addressed the Lama by
his nickname Phucha. This Lama must have been Lama Dorji
Gyaltshen, son of Garpa Shesha. The Lama was mostly
known by his nickname, but he was never addressed so, at
least in his presence. The enemies took advantage of this sour
relation and advanced to the Dzong. The Lama who felt
insulted and hurt did not speak any good word in favour of
the Shalikhar Dzongpon. Out-numbered by the Indian forces,
the Shalikharpa failed to retaliate. Properties were destroyed
and religious images desecrated; statues were beheaded and
made into thab lung (oven-stones); religious texts were made
into carpets; countless valuables taken. The Dzongpon's few
attendants were killed, while his wife and her maidservant
escaped through a window and went to Shar - the present
day Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, India. Kolokpo is believed
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
to have committed suicide by jumping off from the third
storey. The enemies finally razed down the dzong to the
The Dzong was destroyed during the reign of Dzongpon
Kolokpo. It is not known what made the enemies to destroy
the Dzong. The people of Shalikhar neither have a dispute nor
instigate others to deserve such destruction. It is possible
that the Indians coveted Dzongpon's enormous wealth. After
the Dzong was ransacked, they took away a lot of properties
while a mountain of grains was burnt to ashes along with the
Dzong. It is believed that Peling of Wooling warned Shalikhar
Dzongpon about the Indians attack; but it seems the Yongla
Lama did not pass the message to Dzongpon.
There is another story about the downfall of the dzong and
this version has the same ending. But it begins differently
with the war between Bhutan and the British India in
The Bhutanese troops were led by the then Trongsa Penlop
Jigme Namgyal, the father of the First King Ugyen
Wangchuck. On the way Ugyen Wangchuck visited Kheri
Goenpa and Yongla Goenpa to offer prayers. When he lost his
way in the jungle of Yongla Goenpa, a white bird appeared
and showed him the way. It disappeared when he was on the
right road. During the war, the British positioned their gun at
the route used by the Bhutanese in direction of Yongla
Goenpa, and kept one gun operator on duty. But at night a
short black man would appear and reverse the position of the
machine. In the morning, the enemies were surprised to find
the operator dead. This happened for several consecutive
nights, but the British did not want to retreat. It was only
when Jigme Namgyal's arrow hit the head of their general
from a reasonable distance that they decided to retreat
nervously at once. Some jumped over deep ravines, while
others were killed. Some managed to live for some hours with
Bhutanese arrows either on the back or legs; some escaped
 Myth, Legend and History Surrounding Dungsam
After the British had retreated, Bhutanese forces returned
home and carried a tob (canon) seized during the war to
Wangdichholing. After crossing Shalikhar Dzong, they took
rest under a tree called Buramshing at the base of Kengkhar
near Drangmichhu. As they continued their journey, the tob
incredibly became so heavy that they could not carry it.
Meanwhile, the enemies followed them. It is not known what
happened to these Bhutanese, except that the tob became
miraculously lighter on the shoulders of three or four Indian
sepoys. Carrying the tob the Indians had crossed the
Shalikhar Dzong and took rest on slope of the opposite hill.
Dzongpon Kolokpo knew that the Indians had recovered the
canon from the Bhutanese and he, at once, fired his mendha
(gun power) from his chamber. The fire missed the target and
hit a stone on which one of the officers was resting. The scar
left by the mendha on the stone can be still seen even today.
The Indians were angered by the gunshot and they soon
surrounded the Shalikhar Dzong. The forces of Dzongpon
were numbered and the Dzong destroyed.
The One Who Cannot Properly Pronounce Words
Little is known about Dzongpon Kolokpo. He was Zhongar
Dzongpon before becoming Shalikhar Dzongpon. When he
was in Zhongar, it is believed that he asked his attendants to
bring a girl. The attendants went out and brought an ugly
lady. When the attendant reported that they could not find a
beautiful woman, he replied, "If she is ugly, cover her face
with a cloth and bring her in." So they did. Then he made his
attendant to witness his sexual intercourse with the lady. He
would ask him from time to time how it was progressing. The
attendant replied, lung ngig tsing chamkai joktang nufa
prusken nubia la (your genital is entering as if a potato is
squeezed in between two stones). Kolokpo exclaimed at last,
thum thai, thum thai. Actually, he should have pronounced,
thub thai thub thai' (leave it, leave it). The people believe that
he was bad in pronouncing words;   even when he was a
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
Shalikhar Dzongpon, he was known as Tal Toloe - the one
who cannot properly pronounce words.
During one of her rituals performed in 2003 the spirit of
Kolokpo spoke through a pamo (shaman) from Shumar
Gomchu, saying that he has taken rebirth as the Neypo
(serpent guardian) in the ruins of Shalikhar Dzong. In the
spirit's recitation, it said, "My body is so huge and long that I
can't even slide and move to have sun light even for a while."
It is believed that a person who gets frightened while passing
near the ruins would become inactive and lose the power of
pronunciation. A serkem (libation) had to be offered to restore
the person. This is because Kolokpo himself was not good at
pronunciation. In 2001, Morong Rinpoche subdued the
Neypo. The Neypo transformed into a young man appeared in
Rinpoche's dream with the life-force (sog) of a pregnant lady
who was admitted to the Pemagatshel hospital and requested
the Rinpoche to follow him. The Rinpoche knew the intention
and followed Nyepo. After reaching the ruins, he subdued the
Nyepo, and asked it not to bring any more suffering to the
people. The life-force of the pregnant lady was restored. Since
then, nobody has fallen victim. It is said that Phag Zipa - the
caretaker of Kolokpo's pigs also mispronounced words like his
The Ruins of Shalikhar Dzong
The ruin of Shalikhar Dzong is located to the north of
Pemagatshel Dzong. The nearest villages are quite far from
the ruins: Gonpung and Serkhangpa lhakhang in the north,
Dur Dur in the east, Khari in the south and Senang in the
west. It can be reached from Nangkor and Je Brangsa, but
the shortest and the easiest route is from Kheri Gonpa along
the tractor road. Until 1960s, this route formed a part of the
main zhunglam between the central government and
Samdrup Jongkhar, passing through Wangdichholing,
Zhongar, Shalikhar and Dewathang.
 Myth, Legend and History Surrounding Dungsam
The main entrance gate - gorekha - faces east in the direction
of Dur Dur. To its left is Chungkhar separated by a deep
ravine. If viewed from below, Shalikhar Dzong looks like
Trashigang Dzong as seen from Chagzam. To its left is a
village called Senang on the slope separated from Khangma
and Lha Nang Zor by Urichhu.
It must have been a big dzong built with lots of human labour
and difficulties. The courtyard walls are about five meters
high, and the stones used were of good quality. The walls of
the ruins were intact in late 1960s before the local people
removed the stones as zur lung (stones used in sides of a
house) and transported them for building Shumar Dzong. The
Shumar Dungpa was then under Zhongar Dzongpon. Shumar
Dzong was also later destroyed and its old timber was used to
construct the office of the first Dzongda Parop Dorji before
Pemagatshel Dzong was built. The people of the nearby
villages continued to carry away the stones for constructing
private houses. This further deteriorated the ruins to an
unrecognizable shape. Some people believe that these stones
are limestone, while others say that they are marble. There
are rumours of mining the whole ruins.
At the base of the ruins there is a small valley which looks
like a dried lake. One source has it that it was a pond for
keeping ducks, while another oral source says that is was
Dzongpon's pigsty. The former seem farfetched because there
is no sign of an enclosure at the other end, and more over,
water was scarce during those days, and more surprisingly
even today.
The place has only one drinking water source in Dewpari
some kilometers above Dur Dur. A long canal was dug to
bring water from a small reservoir. Where it was difficult to
dig canal, bamboos were used in absence of modern pipes.
Long cylindrical bamboo containers called gongdong were also
used both for carrying and storing water. People had been
using gongdong until late 1980s, and they are still being used
in some remote villages.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
There was a big mani dungjur (prayer-wheel) in the corner of
courtyard as one enters the courtyard from gorekha. The
courtyard looks like an undulated plain. There is no trace of a
prayer-wheel today. The courtyard floor rises gently as it
nears the utse (copula). The walls of the three storeys utse
have been pulled down while removing zurlung in the early
1970s. The bases of surrounding walls are covered by dried
leaves and bushes. Not many people dare to approach it
except for some brave cattle herders.
There is a square plateau-like leveled field as one moves on
straight. It must have been another courtyard or the floor of
another room. The walls are intact on either side. This is
followed by rows of several blocks of ruined houses. While it
is difficult to even guess how long it took to construct
Shalikhar Dzong, it took only a few hours for the fire to bring
it down. The ruins sleep quietly under bushes unknown to
most people.
Per Khe: The Evidence of Iron Work
People believe that there is a deposit of perkhe (iron residue)
on a slope that stretches down to Senang. There is a local
story about a blacksmith's house called gartsang. It is not
sure whether iron-ore was mined before or after the
construction of Shalikhar Dzong. If there was a mining
activity before, iron nails must have been used for
construction. However, iron had been used to make weapons
and household items. Not a single piece of wood can be found
which might otherwise reveal some evidences of use of nails.
Nothing can be said about the materials used for roofing
Shalikhar Dzong had played an important role in the
country's history. It served as the enemy-fortress to watch
any external intrusion into our country from the east. It had
been used as the half way terminus by the travellers between
Zhongar and Dewathang. From this place also spread one of
 Myth, Legend and History Surrounding Dungsam
the four highly respected nobilities in Dungsam called
Shalikhar Choeje originated from this place. The other
nobilities are Choeje of Dungkhar, Chungkhar and Bangtsho.
These four nobilities are considered equivalent to other
nobilities of the other parts of the country like Dung nobility.
While Choeje of Chungkhar, Bangtsho and Shalikhar all
belonged to the descendents of Lhasey Tsangma, Dungkhar
Choeje is believed to be a mixture of Gya clan and Dung,
tracing its root to Tenpai Nyima, the father of Zhabdrung
Ngawang Namgyel and Barkey, the son of a Naga King of
Makulung Tsho respectively. Today the descendents of
Dungkhar Choeje have spread to Dungsam and their nobility
is now called Khoche.
Meanwhile, there is no one who claims to be descendants of
Shalikhar Choeje in Pemagatshel. Some elders believe that a
few descendants of those who ran away during the downfall of
the Shalikhar Dzong must be surviving in Tawang.
A Myth about the Pungdo of Masang
A several stories of failed attempts to destroy Shalikhar Dzong
are still being narrated. The most interesting one is about
Masang who threw a pungdo to destroy the Dzong. A pungdo
is a big round boulder, an equivalent of a modern day sport,
There were two Gyelpo - Thinley Zangpo and Norbu Zangpo -
who were brothers. The former resided somewhere on a steep
cliff of Pangkhar, and the latter on a cliff between Guyum and
Mande. Their abodes were separated by a crow fly distance of
two kilometers. It is said that the two brothers could
communicate with each other until the building of Shalikhar
Dzong on a hilltop disrupted their direct communication
(conversation), and their welfare also declined.
So one day, Norbu Zangpo invited Masang from Zhongar
Chaskhar to help him destroy the Dzong. Masang agreed and
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
ordered that Norbu Zangpo should cook him one mon (80 kg)
of rice and a pig for his meal. He further instructed a lady
from Yurung to do the cooking. But the lady from Yurung hid
one thigh of pig and one khaw (roughly 1V2 kg) of rice. She
thought that Masang cannot eat such a huge quantity, and
secretly kept them for herself.
When Masang arrived, he unbelievably gourmandized the
whole food, and did not leave anything. He then took an aim
and threw a big boulder towards Shalikhar Dzong. However,
the boulder missed the target by a yard, and landed at the
foot of the Dzong. The failure was attributed to the lady of
Yurung who hid a thigh of the pig and a khaw of rice;
otherwise the Dzong would have been destroyed.
Another story narrates that the Dzongpon of Shalikhar Dzong
levied heavy taxes on the people living under his jurisdiction.
Particularly, the people of Khangma, Yurung and beyond had
to carry back-breaking loads while depositing taxes to the
government. So they thought of removing their Dzongpon.
But they found it difficult either to assassinate or fight
against their powerful Dzongpon. Then, someone spoke about
a giant called Masang whose fame and strength was well
known in the vicinity of Zhongar Chaskhar. All of them
agreed and Masang was invited. Masang ordered the hosts to
arrange him a feast of one whole pig and a mon of rice. The
people requested a lady of Yurung to prepare the meal. She
agreed. From here the story is similar to the earlier one,
except that pungdo was thrown from Khangma.
Who was Masang Then?
Long, long ago Brokpa of Merak and Sakteng assassinated a
Tibetan Deb called Yabu Zangpo and ran away via Tshona
Sewakhar. On the way, they prayed to the gods above for
protection. Their prayer was answered. The god-king, Lhayi
Jajin Wangpo ordered the god-son, Guseng Langling, to come
down in disguise, and so he did.
 Myth, Legend and History Surrounding Dungsam
Guseng Langling landed at Lho Dungtsho Karmathang in
Pemagatshel. It is not sure whether the Brokpa asked for any
help from Guseng Langling. But it is said that he ruled the
under-world of Dungtsho Karmathang (Luyul/ Muyul) for
sometime. There, he was called Mu Tsan Lhanyan Chhenpo.
He traveled from Dungtsho Karmathang and reached a hilltop
from where he clearly saw Wangsengla. Reaching
Wangsengla, he saw a beautiful lake called Mukulungtsho
where he built his palace and reigned over both the underworld and humans. Guseng Langling could transform into
both human and the serpent king, klu.
One day, a young, beautiful Sharchhop girl made her way
down to Dungsam Khar as a bride to the Khar Gyalpo. At
dusk, she reached at Mukulungtsho and took refuge at the
lake shore. As fate would have it, the serpent king Guseng
Langling slept with the girl. When she reached Dungsam, she
was already pregnant. She later gave birth to an illegitimate
male child. So, the child was named Barkey - born from the
middle without a father. But she alone knew her son's father.
Barkey grew up and attained his youth. One day, he made his
way to India for a trade and reached the lake of Nyey Tsang
Long. Since he was the son of a Lha Tsan, the inhabitants of
this lake did not allow Barkey to proceed further. The evil
serpent (klu) of this lake was his father's enemy. Desperate
and annoyed, Barkey returned home and questioned his
mother about his father. The mother at last revealed his
identity, 'You are the son ofthe Lha Tsan of Mukulung Tsho."
Barkey immediately went to Mukulung Tsho and called for
his father. A young man attired in a silk robe came out of the
middle of the lake, and replied, 'Yes, I am your father. What
can I do for you?" Barkey narrated in detail about the evil
serpents of Nyey Tsang Long Tsho. His father gave him a
locked box, and asked him to open it only when he reached
the lake of Nyey Tsang Long. So Barkey returned. On
reaching Threphu, Barkey opened the box a little. No sooner
did he open it than the serpent of different shapes and sizes
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
started to come out. He quickly closed the container and
hurried down. On reaching the lake he opened the box.
Incredibly, thousands of serpents rushed into the lake and
the next moment it dried up. In the middle of the dried lake
was a copper bowl lying up-side down. The young and
curious Barkey went there and opened it. Instantly, a maid
servant of the klu who had remained hidden there hit Barkey
on the forehead with a copper ladle. Unfortunately Barkey
ended his life there. His brain was eaten by a fish and his
spirit too entered the fish and thus, he was transformed into
a fish.
The fish followed Bronolachhu below Khar which joins
Drangmechhu, also called Gongri. Then to Zhongar
Meilpachhu and finally it reached the river of Chhankhoi
where it got trapped in a fisherman's net. The fisherman was
a widower. He did not kill it but took it home alive since it
spoke human words. He kept the fish in a wooden tub full of
One day, when the fisherman returned home from his work
he was surprised to discover that someone had fetched water
for him. At another day, a fire was burning in his oven. He
wondered who it could be. So, the next day, he pretended to
go out and watched secretly.
To his greatest surprise, a young man appeared from the
wooden tub and removed his scales. The young man started
to burn fire, fetch water and prepare meals. The fisherman
thought of adopting him as his son and instantly picked up
his scale and threw it into the fire. Thus, this is how Barkey,
once again resumed his human form. He was named Repa
Tobchhen - a giant with long hair.
This giant, Repa Tobchhen was Masang. He was also called
Chhali Masang because his wife was from Chhali. He also
lived in Chhali for sometime. His footprints can be still seen
on stones in Chhali, Gonpung and Gamung and Dagor.
Masang liked to play archery, and there is a long rectangular
 Myth, Legend and History Surrounding Dungsam
stone slab in Gonpung which is believed to be his target. The
other target is at Kengkhar Brongphu, which is about half
day's walk from Gonpung. Thus, Mansang's archery range is
incredibly long. He is also known to have constructed a bridge
using a long single stone-slab somewhere in Bumthang.
Repa Tobchhen alias Chhali Masang built a castle in
Yutungla and ruled ever Bumthang Ura and Zhongar. As
Chieftain he overburdened the people with the work of cutting
and leveling a hill between Chhali and Zhongar so that he
could see Chhali and enjoy early sunlight. This task enraged
the people and they secretly discussed to get rid of him. An
archery match was arranged at Kabithang and Masang was
invited. Masang knew about the plot, yet he could not decline
the invitation. He went to Kabithang only to be hit by an
arrow which pierced through his heart. Before he died, he
said, "There will come a time when you will remember me; so
look for me in Yarlung Drogme Chhey (Tibet). I will be reborn
there for your benefit." So Masang died, leaving behind many
remarkable episodes and stories that people still love to
narrate and listen.
Chorten Norbu (2003). The Garden of Mind Stretching Historical
Accounts ofKhardung Gyalpo, The Centre for Bhutan
Studies: Thimphu, 2003.
Gelong Ngawang (2003).The Lamp Which Illuminates the Origin of
Royal Families, Thimphu: The Centre for Bhutan Studies
Lopen Pema Tshewang (1994). History of Bhutan, Thimphu:
National Library of Bhutan
Sherab Thaye (NA). Drugi Tamjuedang Sung, Thimphu: Bhutan
The 69th Je Geshe Geduen Rinchen, Lhoyi Choejung Losar
The Centre for Bhutan Studies, Papers Submitted for the
International Seminar on Bhutanese Studies, Thimphu:
The Centre for Bhutan Studies


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