June is a good month to be out and about in Bhutan, especially for nature lovers. The balmy Himalayan summer days create the perfect conditions for the hillsides to burst forth in vibrant hues. It was one such beautiful day last Saturday when the students undertook their first field exercise (FEX) to the sacred landscape of Tango-Chari in the northern reaches of the capital, Thimphu. The drive through the verdant landscape along a swift flowing river provided the perfect backdrop to the introduction of the somatic forms of the Buddhist ‘concept’ of ney. Trees, mountains, lakes, streams, and rocks that the Bhutanese consider imbued with spiritual potencies are designated as neys. Beliefs like these have helped conserve our landscapes for centuries.
Our first stop was at Pangrizampa where one of the biggest Himalayan cypress (Cupressus tortulosa) trees in the country stands testimony to the ney concept. It was on this tree that a raven guiding the Zhabdrung (founder of the Bhutanese nation-state) to Bhutan from Tibet perched, foretelling the establishment of his lineage in the ‘Southern Land of the Cypress,’ as the country was often known before ‘Bhutan’ became commonly used. Next, we stopped at a Guru Rinpoche rock-painting, where the functional role of the ney in nature conservation was further explored.
After a scenic lunch by the Wangchu, students visited the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Park (JDWNP) Office and heard about the rich biodiversity of the area, within which the Tango-Chari sacred landscape is also located. The group then hiked to Tango Monastery. Arrayed along the way were a variety of old trees; a couple species of oak, hemlock, blue pine, acer, and rhododendron. The understory was a flurry of wild buckwheat, several species of anemone, dock, snake plant, etc. At the end of the hour-long hike to the Monastery, a serendipitous meeting with the reincarnated lama of Galsey Tenzin Rabgay (1638-1698), Bhutan’s 4th temporal ruler who built much of Tango as it stands, was a fitting finale to the student’s first FEX this summer.