Outside Tamshing Lhakhang, groups of monks run through time-honored steps in the sunshine as they prepare for the annual Tamshing Phala Choepa, an early autumn festival. Tamshing Lhakhang is one of Bhutan’s most important monasteries and an air of history permeates the place. Bhutan’s famous terton Pema Lingpa built it in the early sixteenth-century, and of all the places in Bumthang that enjoy close associations with him, Tamshing Lhakhang has perhaps the closest tie.
A coat of chainmail forged by Pema Lingpa sits in a huge heap to one side of Tamshing’s dim inner kora. Worshipers hoist it onto their shoulders and carry it around the kora three times for good luck, while others settle for spinning the huge prayer wheel that sits to one side off the main courtyard. Inside the main chapel, three thrones and three statues sculpted by dakinis sit at the lhakhang’s heart, surrounded by timeworn frescoes said to have been painted by Pema Lingpa himself. These gilded thrones are provided for Pema Lingpa’s three incarnations — of body, speech and mind — all of whom gather at Tamshing for important ceremonies.