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Dungkar: Birth Place of the Royal Family
Dungkar, the northern-most village of Kurtoe, has long been renowned not only as the birth place of Bhutan's royal family but as a land blessed by Guru Rimpoche, and the site of several nyes (sacred places) such as Rinchen Bumpa and Belyul Khenpajong. According to Lam Neten of Lhuenste Rabdey, history has it that Guru Rimpoche meditated in a Dra-phu (meditation cave) on the face of a steep cliff overlooking Dungkar - what we now know as Rinchen Bumpa - from across the Kurichhu river.

A little further south, nestled higher up in the mountains, it is believed that there is a hidden sacred abode of Guru Rimpoche, which will be revealed at a pre-ordained time, for the preservation of the Dharma.

Dungkar was also visited many times by Terton Pemalingpa, the great treasure revealer of Bhutan, who lived in the 15th century.

Lhuentsedzong: wall painting
A lhakhang built by Pemalingpa on a flat stretch of land near the riverbed of Kurichhu, is known as Goeshog Pang (meadow resembling the spread wings of an vulture). Goeshog Pang is one of the most sacred sites in Kurtoe. Pemalingpa also built two sacred chortens, the renowned Phu-Sangda Chorten and Dha-Jangchub Chorten, and brought forth a drup-chu (sacred spring) which still flows today from under a tree near the house of the Dungkar Choejey (hereditary nobles).

The Dungkar Nagtshang was founded as a centre for the Peling tradition in the later half of the 16th century by Drekha and Lankha, the twin sons of Pemalingpa's grandson, Kuenga Gyaltshen.

According to legends, the three older brothers of the twins were approached by the powerful local deity, Aum Wangchen Zangmo, to establish the centre, opposite her abode, on a ridge shaped like a Dungkar (conch). Hence the Nagtshang and its surroundings are known as Dungkar.

In keeping with the purpose of building the Dungkar Nagtshang, as a centre of the Peling tradition, rituals dedicated to Goempo Jatsha is performed even to this day, on the first day of the eleventh lunar month, culminating in a three-day Tshechu (mask dance festival) from the ninth day to the eleventh day.

The dances are all Terchhams (treasure dances), that were once choreographed by Pemalingpa himself.

The family members of the Dungkar Nagtshang, being descendants of a great personage like Pemalingpa, are known as Dungkar Choejey.

Two prominent sons of the Dungkar Choejey were Pila Goempo Wangyel and his older brother, Pala Gyaltshen. Pila, who was born in 1782, went to Gangtoe Goemba to stay with the Gangtoe Trulku Sizhi Namgyel. He led the army of Zhabdrung Jigme Drakpa when the Zhabdrung and Sungtruel Yeshi Gyaltshen were in conflict. After living in western Bhutan for several years, he returned to Dungkar and lived separately at Khetangbi Nagtshang on a hill overlooking the Dungkar Nagtshang.

Pila had five sons, one of which was Jigme Namgyel, born in 1825, who became the dynamic and powerful Trongsa Penlop. Jigme Namgyel successfully led Bhutanese forces against the British in Dewangiri, and laid the foundation for the emergence of the Wangchuck dynasty and the start of a new era of peace and stability in Bhutan after many years of internal strife and conflict.

Khetangbi Nagtshang was rebuilt and expanded during Jigme Namgyel's time by his sister, Ashi Tshewang Dem. It has since been known as the Jigme Namgyel Nagtshang and is looked after, today, by the Lhuentse Rabdey. Religious ceremonies in keeping with the traditions established in the time of Pila Goenpo Wangyal and Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyel are still being performed to this day.

Contributed by Kesang Dema and Rinzin Wangchuk, Bhutan's National Newspaper, April 2007
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