Trace the footsteps of the Divine Madman on this hiking trail
There is no better way to connect spiritually with Drukpa Kuenley, the “Divine Madman”. The trail will take you downhill for about four hours, ending in the beautiful Punakha valley.
Bhutan is a land of enigma, but few aspects are as bizarre as the Tibetan saint Drukpa Kuenley, who walked the soil of Bhutan during the 15th-16th century. The Tibetan lama was nicknamed the “Divine Madman” for understandable reasons.
Drukpa Kuenley was known for his unconventional and unorthodox teachings. He exposed the preconceived notions of society, taking to task the establishment which included the monastic community. Most famous of all is his phallus—you read that right. He used his phallus to enlighten beings and subdue demons. His phallus was so powerful that it earned the name “Thunderbolt of Flaming Wisdom”.
One day, he used his “thunderbolt” to defeat three demon sisters who were terrorising the three mountain passes—Chelela Pass, ThrumshingLa, and Dochula Pass.
Now, the trail Drukpa Kuenley took to the site where he faced off the demons has been revived. And you are invited for the hike.
The trail starts from Dochula at an elevation of 3,000 m. The hike is about four hours long, depending on your fitness level. It takes you downhill and finishes in the beautiful valley of Punakha.
The best time to hike is approximately early spring or late autumn.
The trail was born from the efforts of the Trans Bhutan Trail organisation, who are in charge of reviving old, traditional hiking trails that the ancestors of the Bhutanese people used to take. Although Bhutan closed its doors to the world during the Covid-19 pandemic, they continued to work on their tourism, improving their facilities, including their trails. As such, we have the Trans Bhutan Trail to thank for this cleared, brand-new, and comfortable trek.
What to expect on this trail
Taking this trail might help you connect spiritually with Drukpa Kuenly.
Furthermore, other than a scenic view of the valley, you will also come across wild berries. A bonus!
However, the best part of this trail is meeting the local Bhutanese and experiencing their hospitality.
When you approach the end of the trail, you will see houses with murals of phalluses on the walls.
There is even a store with a sign announcing “Fertility Handicraft”. A large wooden phallus the size of your arm costs about $200. There are also phallus keychains, phallus paintings, phallus necklaces, etc for sale. Selling these products is how the locals make a living. You have got to be impressed by how the community has crafted a livelihood from their belief.
The significance of the phallus to the people of this valley is obvious, especially if you keep walking and arrive at a simple-looking house called Chandana Lhakang, which can be translated to “where the arrow landed”.
Khandu, a descendant of Drukpa Kuenley says of Chandana, “Chandana is an important historical site in the history of Druka Kuenley as it was his primary residence in Bhutan.”
According to legend, Drukpa Kuenley shot his arrow of destiny from Tibet, and it miraculously landed on a ladder of this house. Until today, the ladder has been preserved, stored sacredly at the altar of the house.
Nearby is a paddy field shaped like the moon and the sun, made by Drukpa Kuenley as a blessing to the people of the valley. It is referred to as “yang shu” which means “a blessed paddy field”. A water source can be found next to the paddy field, believed to have been blessed by the great saint too.
This field is considered auspicious by the locals. They have a tradition there, where the men and women of the village come together to celebrate every harvest with a feast.
End your hike at Chimi Lhakhang
Of course, a trip to the Punakha valley is not complete without a visit to Chimi Lhakhang, the fertility temple that was built in honour of Drukpa Kuenley. People travel here from near and far to pray for a child.
In the temple sits a giant phallus wrapped in a ribbon. The worshipper carries the giant phallus and walks around the temple three times—and they will be blessed with a child.
Does this sound plausible to you? Well, there is evidence. You’ll find a photo album of the miracle babies in the temple, pictures of couples who struggled to conceive but managed to get pregnant after a visit to the temple.
But not all visitors to Chimi Lhakang are there for fertility blessings.
Khandu, a native of Punakha valley and ardent worshipper of Drukpa Kuenley is a frequent visitor to Chimi Lhakhanag. He does so to offer his first maize harvest and pray to the great saint, thanking him for blessings and protection.
The people of the valley depend on the blessings of Drukpa Kuenley. They believe that the saint protects them from natural disasters when they make offerings. The valley has not experienced a hailstorm or windstorm in 60 years—and the people are very grateful.
Find out more about the Trans Bhutan Trail Tour Packages.