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The myth and the mystery of Aja Nye
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Aja Nye: A three day walk north of Mongar
Aja
Sacred Aja's value and merit shall transcend all human imagination; A mere visit shall bring peace and hapiness; Visualization alone will lead to enlightenment; Aja is comparable to the western heavenly abode...

Thirteen centuries after Guru Rinpoche made this prophecy the "value  and merit" of this sacred Buddhist site in Mongar district still holds amystical attraction to many Bhutanese.

Located at an altitude of more than 2,500 meters a.s. (base camp area at about 2,450 meters above sea level, measured with a GPS by Jennifer Chandler, 2012) the sacred hidden place attributed to Guru Rinpoche is a three-day walk from Mongar dzong. Its gorges and mountains are dotted with Nyes (sacred sites).

The history of Aja Nye - The legend of Guru Rinpoche

The history of Aja Nye dates back to 850 AD when, according tolegend, Guru Rinpoche knew that the demon King, Khikharathoed,exiled from Tibet, was trying to settle in Aja. After suppressing an evil spirit whom he had chased all the way from Tibet at the Gomphu Kora Nye in Trashiyangtse Guru Rinpoche traveled throughTormijangsa, crossing several gorges and mountain peaks to reach Aja.

At the site, Guru Rinpoche subdued many local evil spirits anddemons but found it difficult to suppress Khikharathoed. According to religious interpretation, Khikharathoed escaped from the wrath of the Guru and moved to Khempajong in Kurtoe where he established his demon kingdom.

It is believed that Guru Rinpoche spent more than three months hiding sacred Nyes to be rediscovered in the future. Among the several sacred spots, the most popular site is a small cave on the bank of Aja Chhu where Guru Rinpoche meditated for three months. Depicting proof of the attainment of perfection, the last letter "Aa" in the Chokoey alphabet was miraculously imprinted in white on the reddish-brown rock in the cave after Guru completed his meditation.

Thus, the cave derived its name Aja from the 100 Aa printed on the inner wall of the cave. 
"Today, though not all the letters are visible, those printed boldly can still be seen," said the prinicpal of the Zorig Chusum Institute in Trashiyangtse, Lam Kezang Chophel, who has considerable knowledge of Aja as he was born and grew up in Yarab, a day's walk from Aja.

There is also a spring water (Menchu) near Aja Chhu believed to have medicinal values. People frequent the place to bathe in the pungent smelling spring for medical purposes. It is believed to have acurative effect on 18 diseases such as tuberculosis, bodyache, ulcer and whooping cough. Located in the same vicinity is another stream called Awa Chhu. Legend has it that the stream that falls from the rocky cliff came into existence after Guru's walking stick was implanted in the rock. The stream falls on a rock basin forming a pool, where it is believed the Guru had taken bath. The pool accommodates nine people and a bath in the pool is believed to purify a person. All visitors sincerely take a dip in the pool which is also believed to be warm in winter and cool in summer.

There also exists Tsa Awa Doti, a kind of grass considered sacred and believed to have medicinal values. It is believed that Guru Rinpoche planted the grass. The place holds a host of other religious sites and symbols including Guru's foot prints, body prints, the print of his seat, prints indicating the subjugation of evil, Khando Dowazangmo's foot prints, 108 retreat caves of Guru Rinpoche, and the foot prints of Lam Karma Jamyang who discovered the hidden sacred sites. They are located in mountains, bamboo groves, meadows, gorges, and dense forests.

It takes a minimum of three days to complete visits to all these Nyes. "It will still be incomplete if one doesn't visit Phuning, considered the heart of all the Nyes in the area," said Lam Kezang. This place is aday-long walk from Aja and houses various religious sites attributed to Guru Rinpoche. Located at an altitude of 4,500 meters, it is also a meditation centre for learned Bhutanese lamas. There is a smallmonastery built by Lam Sonam Zangpo. All the Nyes are miraculous and the moment you get there your spiritual senses are heightened as if you are in a heavenly abode, "Karpo, a staff of Mongar dzongkhag who visited Aja Nye several times.

According to Namthar (religious history), all the sacred Nyes of Aja were discovered by Lam Karma Jamyang, a disciple of the Ninth Karmapa. Guru Rinpoche had actually prophesized that it would be discovered by the Ninth Karmapa. Old age, however, had deterredhim and he had instead instructed his disciple Lam Karma Jamyang,the incarnation of Jetsuen Jampelyang, to reveal the Nyes.

Lam Karma Jamyang traveled through Trashiyangtse from Tibet and, upon reaching Tagmolung, having lost his way in the dense forest, could not establish a base to begin his task of discovering the Nyes. That night a tiger approached the helpless lama, made three rounds around him, growled, and disappeared. Taking it as an auspicious sign, the lama followed the tiger's paw marks the next day and reached a place called Dechenphodrang. The tiger appeared again that night and growled in four directions, leaping three times. The lama then established his base in Dechenphodrang and discovered all the Nyes following the tiger's paw marks. The popular Aja is therefore also known as Tak-dong Nye

lotus flower
In order to build a monastery in the area, the lama collected timber but could not proceed further as there were no stones in the area. A local serpent King (Naga) rescued the Lam by providing him with stones for construction and also offered a Nangten, a self-created Jangchub Chorten. The hill housing Dechenphodrang resembles a lotus flower and the monastery is called Pema Yangdzong.

Among the three monasteries located within the Aja area, Dungkar Choling Lhakhang is considered the most sacred. It is believed that the Buli Trulku of Bumthang, Khachab Namkha Dorji, built the Lhakhang under the instruction of the 15th Karmapa

According to oral sources, Buli Trulku saw a vision of three goddesses who approached him and promised to provide the stones. When construction began, blocks of stones like volumes of religious texts appeared and, upon completion, disappeared like a rainbow.).

Resembling a conch-shell, Dungkar Choling Lhakhang was fully renovated by Buli Trulku's son, Lam Dorji Tenzin, in 1963. It is presently maintained by Lam Dorji's daughter and his nephew. The legend of Guru's visits to the eastern part of the country does not end here. 

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The history of Aja Nye - The legend of Guru Rinpoche

With the demon King Khikharathoed still at large, Guru's prime objective had not been accomplished. Therefore, the Guru left Aja and proceeded towards Lhuntse through Phuning in pursuit. Through clairvoyant powers, Guru Rinpoche knew of the threat posed by Khikharathoed who had moved to Khempajong in Kurtoe. Guruwent to Khempajong in the guise of a dark-complexioned man and presented himself before Khikharathoed. Calling himself Haranagpo,and claiming to be an enemy of religion and Guru Padmasambhavain particular, he offered to join forces with Khikharathoed agains Lhasa.

After the disguised Guru demonstrated his powers by imprinting 18 foot steps on a large slab of stone, Khikharathoed accepted him as an ally. It is believed that the foot prints, though not located, exist even now. Later, Guru Rinpoche proposed the construction of a flying object out of wood. "The Tibetans are very proud of their Samye monastery, but if we build a flying object it would be more marvelous than Samye,"Guru had suggested to Khikharathoed.

The flying object - built in the shape of a Jachung (Garuda) - was built to carry 500 people. As a demonstration, he invited the King,ministers, and the senior courtiers to take a ride. The object took off a midst a big gathering of people. Some time after being airborne, Khikharathoed realised that he had been flown out of his kingdom. Guru Rinpoche then hid Khenpajong as a Beyul (a sacred hiddenland) after which Khikharathoed tried but never found his kingdom. He is believed to have then settled in Tang, Bumthang.

King Khikharathoed's legend says that Marjenmo, one of five consorts of the Tibetan King, Thrisong Deutsen (during the 8thcentury), was furious that the King had neglected her for three years and became involved in an affair with a goat and a dog. She gave birth to an abnormal child whose mouth resembled a dog and the head a goat. People called him Khikharathoed in reference to his physical deformities.

Marjenmo wanted her son to become the King, deviating from the law of primogeniture, and had one of the other sons of Thrisong Deutsen killed. She was exiled for this and Khikharathoed, already seen as an enemy of Buddhism, was exiled upon Guru Rinpoche's recommendation.

With a huge circle of courtiers and attendants, Khikharathoed established himself in Lhodrag Kith, in south Tibet. Bent on destroying Samye monastery and seeking revenge on Guru Rinpoche, he raised an army but lost the war against Lhasa.  Guru Rinpoche was invited to Tibet, on the suggestation of Khenpo Bodhi Sato, when Samye monastery was being built during the reign of King Thrisong Deutsen. The monastery could not be built until Guru Rinpoche had subdued the disruptive evil spirits.

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Aja Nye - Popular site for pilgrimage
Meanwhile, with the efforts made by the Mongar dzongkhag and the local communities Aja would likely become a popular site for pilgrimage in the near future. The community of Sheri Mukhung improved and widened the mule track from the point of a 10kilometre Yadi-Serzhong feeder road leading towards Aja Nye earlier this month.
"Two guest houses, one in Yarab and other in Aja, are being constructed by the local people for the benefit of the visitors and the pilgrims," the Mongar dzongrab, Tapo, told . 

"Aja which is a day's walk from Yarab is one of the highly revered Nyes in eastern Bhutan, deeply associated with Guru Rinpoche." Besides the 10-kilometer feeder road already constructed from Yadito Kafu, the dzongkhag is also planning to build and improve mule tracks to help visitors reach the Nye. "With the introduction of helicopter services within the country we are expecting many visitors but as far as the foreign visitors are concerned, we will allow only a few," said Tapo. 

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Aja Nye  - Best season
The best season to visit Aja Nye is between April and October. "But there are some people who still visit between November to January as long as there is no snow," the dzongrab said, adding that anestimated 700 local people visited the sacred site last year.  There are three routes connecting Aja, from Mongar, Lhuentse and Trashiyangtse.
Contributed by Kinga Dema for KUENSEL, Bhutan's national newspaper, 2004

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