Pemagatshel, meaning “Blissful Land of the Lotus”, is located in the southeastern part of Bhutan. The Dzongkhag covers an area of about 1022.11 square km with elevation ranging from 1000 to 3,500 meters above sea level and experiences an average annual rainfall of 1500 mm to 3000 mm. It shares its border with Trashigang Dzongkhag in the north and north-east, Mongar Dzongkhag in the north and north- west, Zhemgang Dzongkhag in the west, Samdrup Jongkhar Dzongkhag in the east and the Indian state of Assam in the south. 87.65% of the total area is under forest cover, comprising mainly of coniferous and broadleaf species. The climate of the Dzongkhag is hot and humid during the wet season and moderate cold during the dry season. Land holdings are dominated by Kamzhing with negligible wetland farming.
The Dzongkhag has second highest level of poverty (26.9%) after Lhuentse Dzongkhag. The high level of poverty are mainly due to lack of access, remoteness, limited income generating opportunities, land fragmentation, shortage of labor, crop damages by wildlife, shortage of water and steep & unstable terrain. As a result, the National Rehabilitation Programme (Kidu from His Majesty and one of the targeted poverty intervention programmes), was implemented in the Tenth Plan. The 44 households from very remote places such as Waphai (17 households), Chongmashing (8 households), Borphu (10 households with 2 from Rikzor & Bargonpa), Namkhari (5 households), Bainangwoong & Phashiri (4 households) were relocated to Khenadrang at cost of Nu. 33.732 m. The beneficiaries were provided with land and transitional support such as temporary shelter, essential food supplies, agricultural inputs, health and education services, capacity on sustainable livelihood, free construction material etc. While the impact assessment of the programme is scheduled to be done by the end of 2013, the initial assessment reveals that the programme has made significant socio-economic improvements in the lives of the beneficiaries. Similarly, rehabilitation of 51 households in Borangmo under Nganglam Dungkhag is ongoing and the planning and design for rehabilitation in Tanzama have started to accelerate poverty reduction in the Dzongkhag.
The Dzongkhag is divided into 11 gewogs, namely Choekhorling, Chongshing, Chhimoong, Dechhenling, Dungmaed, Khar, Nanong, Norbugang, Shumar, Yurung and Zobel gewogs. The Gewogs of Dechhenling, Choekhorling and Norbugang are under Nganglam Dungkhag which was merged to Pemagatshel Dzongkhag in the year 2006 from Samdrup Jongkhar Dzongkhag. Further, Choekhorling is the youngest gewog in the Dzongkhag.It was established as per the Executive Order CCM/4/06/432 dated 20/11/2006 issued by the Prime Minister of Bhutan bifurcating from the Norbugang gewog. Unlike most other Dzongkhags, Pemagatshel is one of the only Dzongkhags with only one dialect. Sharchop is the mother tongue of all the Pemagatshelpas.
A Brief History
PEMAGATSHEL (Blissfull Land of the Lotus)—A Brief History
One of the holiest shrines in Bhutan is the Tengey Riwo Perbarling, founded by Lam Jigme Kuendrel in 18th century. Constructed in 1780s, it is popularly known as Yongla Gonpa and is located at about 12km above the Pemagatshel Dzong. During the Duar War with the British in 1865, Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyal visited this lhakhang and sought blessings and protection. Records show that the British were driven away from Dewangiri (present day Deothang) with a firing by Jigme Namgyal from the Gonpa.
Back in 1969, Lam Sonam Zangpo of Yongla Gonpa invited His Holiness Chabje Dudjom Rinpoche to bless the people of Pemagatshel with “Rinchen Terzoe Wanglung”. It was believed that the present site of the Dzong was a haunted place and needed some spiritual intervention for the benefit of the people. His Holiness was received at the present site of the Dzong to give blessing and teaching to the public. Prior to Rinpoche’s visit, the place was known as Khedung, meaning the village of Kheps (‘Khe’ for Kheps/slaves and ‘Dung’ in local dialect meaning village). However, some people express the meaning in other way, such as the village of the black cuckoos. His Holiness, then, renamed the place as Pemagatshel, meaning ‘Blissful Land of the Lotus’, after analyzing the shape and landscape of the place that resembles lotus flower. However Khenpo Phuntshok Tashi, Director of National Museum of Bhutan and late Lopen Choeten Norbu, in their respective book “Nyima Shargi Chogley, Sharwai Karma Namsum” and “The Garden of Mind Stretching Historical Account of Khardung Gyalpo” states that His Holiness Chabje Dudjom Rinpoche administered “Peling Kabum Wanglung” and named the place as Pemagatshel as the empowerment of the Kabum of Terton Pema Lingpa was done here.
Pemagatshel falls under Dungsam Dosum area of the erstwhile Zhonggar Dzong. Hence, Dungsam was prefixed to Pemagatshel and it is popularly known as Dungsam Pemagatshel to the present day. Prior to the establishment as an independent Dzongkhag, Pemagatshel was administered from Zhongar Dzongkhag through sub-divisional office in Shumar, known as Shumar Dungkhag. The people of Pemagatshel had to travel for days to reach the Dzongkhag head quarter at Zhonggar. People had to construct wooden bridge over Dangmechu twice a year. Realizing the hardships of the people, the Royal Government declared Pemagatshel as an independent Dzongkhag in April 1974.
Erstwhile Shumar Dungkhag comprised four Gewogs viz. Zobel, Shumar, Khar and Yurung. However, with the increase of population and expansion of developmental activities, the bigger Gewogs like Khar and Yurung were divided into various gewogs for effective control over the jurisdictions. Thus, Dungmin Gewog was segregated from Khar Gewog and Chongshing and Chimung from Yurung Gewog. In 2006, as per the resolutions of the 86th National Assembly, Nganglam Dungkhag (comprising three gewogs of Chokhorling, Dechhenling & Norbugang) under Samdrup Jongkhar Dzongkhag and Nanong Gewog under Trashigang Dzongkhag were clubbed under Pemagatshel Dzongkhag in order to enhance the development activities in the villages and to facilitate the implementation of the government’s initiatives related to elections and democracy in 2008.
THE MYTH OF SHARLIKHAR DZONG
No record reveals when and who built the Sharlikhar Dzong. Sonam Wangdi, who wrote “Myth, Legen and History Surrounding Dungsam” in Journal of Bhutan studies points to Pel Thongley, the great grandson of Lhasey Tsangma who was exiled to Bhutan in 9th century, as the builder of Dzong. The reason for the assumption of Pel Thongley as the builder of Sharlikhar Dzong was that the term “khar” was used which was associated with the castles built by Lhasey Tsangma and his descendants. The castles built by Lhasey Tsangma were Jamkhar, Tsenkhar, Wengkhar, Domkhar, Kengkhar, Chaskhar, etc.
The ruin of Sharlikhar Dzong stands on a place through where the “Zhunglam”, the main route, runs. This was the route used until 1960s by layman as well as government officials both during peace and civil strife. Jigme Namgyel came to Yongla Gonpa, from where he was said to have shot an arrow against British during duar wars in 1864-65, through that route.
History of Bhutan reveals that Pel Thongley was once the ruler of Pemagatshel area. His castle was in present day Lhanangzor, which means godly-gifted hill or ridge. The oral history, as noted by Sonam Wangdi, has it that Pel Thongley, like his great grandfather Lhasey Tsangma who prayed for a bridge across Kurichhu, prayed for a prophecy for a place to build his castle. He heard an unfamiliar voice from the sky right after crossing Urichhu which he took it as a prophecy to build his castle there and did it accordingly on the ridge that resembles rhino horn. Therefore the place was called Lhanangzor.
Sonam Wangdi also assumes that Sharlikhar Dzong could have been constructed at the present location strategically to reach himself to the travelers and other tax payers. Supposedly, the Lhanangzor castle was too far a location to be reached by higher authorities or quite difficult for him to collect taxes and deposit it further to the higher authorities.
The clear history of the destruction of Dzong is shrouded in mystery. Some historians pointed to British India who destroyed it in 1864-65 during the time of duar wars while others just pointed to Indians as the main force that destroyed it.
One story has it that Yongla Lam used to play a mediator role in those times. But during the time of Dzongpon Kolokpa, the relations between Dzongpon and Yongla Lama became sour which was known by the Indians and took advantage of it. Dzongpon Kolopa was said to have addressed Yongla Lama by his nick name “Phucha” which was actually not addressed in his presence. Supposedly Yongla Lama was Dorji Gyaltshen, son of Garpa Shesha. That addressing the Lama with nickname attributed for relations becoming sour. Peling of Wooling actually warned Sharlikhar Dzongpon about the imminent Indian attacks but that message was not passed by Yongla Lama to the Dzongpon. So the Dzongpon could not retailiate as he was not ready to fight against Indian forces.
Enormous wealth of Sharlikhar Dzongpon could have been the very reason for the Indian’s attempts to attack the Dzong. Whatever it was, the Dzong was ransacked during which statues were said to have beheaded and turned into ovenstones; religious texts were made carpet and numerous valuables taken. Dzongpon’s attendants were killed and Dzongpon Kolokpa himself committed suicide by jumping off the windows of third storey. However, Dzongpon’s wife and her maid servant were believed to have escaped through window and went to Shar, the present day Tawang.
Tibetans were also said to have attempted to attack the Dzong out of envy. Even the believed-to-be local deties had attempted to attack the Dzong. Thinley Zangpo and Norbu Zangpo, two brothers, who resides at Pangkhar and Guyum respectively were said to have enraged by the construction of Dzong in between them as it disrupted their direct communication.
So they invited Masang from Zhongar to destroy the Dzong for which Masang told them to prepare food of 40 kgs of rice and a pig for his meal. Masang was believed to be “Mimaying” (spiritual manifestations) who could lift all the heavy loads. Masang arrived ate all the food she had prepared. However, the “pundo” stone, which was flung to destroy Dzong, missed by a yard. That failure was attributed to the lady who hid rice and meat. Otherwisee the Dzong would have destroyed thereof.
THE NAMES OF PLACES ASSOCIATED WITH PEL THONGLEY
Like in the case of Lhanangzor, there were other incidences attributable to getting the names of places as may be perused as hereunder that were noted by Sonam Wangdi based on oral accounts.
Pel Thongley was believed to be an avid hunter. One day, while on a hunting adventure to the present Shali area, he had forgotten to pick up his hunting bow after a rest. It was picked up by a servant. As his hunting bow was left and picked up from there, the place came to be known as “Shali” which means hunting bow. In another instance, Pel Thongley fell seriously ill at the present day Shumar. From this instance the place got its name “Shugmar”, “shug” means seriously and “mar” means fell ill.
During his rule from Lhanangzor, Pel Thongley had two groups of servants – Chikorpas and Nangkorpa. Chikorpa performed external duties while Nangkorpas performed internal chores. Thus the place where Nangkorpa had settled came to be known as “Nangkor”.
Dungsam Jadungpa was the most powerful figure at the time when Pel Thongley resided in Lhanangzor castle. He was, as the name indicates, the administrator of Assam Duars and responsible for collection of taxes.
Pel Thongley married sister of Jadungpa who in turn gave a plot of land at Khangma to construct a house. Given that Jadungpa was required to go to India frequently, Pel Thongley took advantage of his absence and started having illicit affairs with Jadungpa’s house maid “Jazam” who was from India. Though became aware of that affair, Jadungpa’s sister could not stop her husband’s affair. She rather suffered mental disorder that enraged Jadungpa and led to sour relationships beyond reconciliation culminating to fight between them that resulted in death of Jadungpa. Another account has it that Pel Thongley, who came with large force and built Lhanangzor castle and won the hearts of leading figures and nearby people, was offered to marry Jazam, house maid of Jadungpa, lying that she was his sister. Thongley accepted her with belief. Jadungpa had bribed his maid to poison Thongley. Pel Thongley slowly came to know his wife’s identity and intentions and felt insulted. As a result the fight broke out and Jadungpa was killed. Jadungpa’s wife, taking a wooden bucket, went to where her husband was killed and collected her husband’s blood. She then mixed it with water and splashed it over the land given to Pel Thongley praying that that particular land shoud not yield any harvest and should meet the same fate of her husband whoever tried to cultivate it. Thus the place came to be known as “Mon Nangsa”, place where prayers had been made. After the death of her husband, she and her two sons left for Kengkhar leaving behind all their properties. Two sons were trained in archery to avenge the death of their father. After they came of age, having perfected in archery to the extent that they could hit egg on a palm with precision, they were sent to Lhanangzor with an agreement that they would smoke from Khangma Poktor should they able to kill Pel Thongley. Their mother’s wish was fulfilled. They smoked after ending the life of Thongley. So mother came to receive them and at the meeting place they were believed to have told that “Thongley ra mun ma rang kan ti wa” (Thongley has been removed) that made their mother to jump shouting “ra mun ma, ra mun ma, ram un ma” sheerly out of excitement. That place came to be known as “Kengkhar Munma”.