In the last few years, travel restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic fueled the growth of domestic tourism and local pilgrimage in the country. Sacred sites in remote parts of the country became dream destinations for many Bhutanese. One such site is Rangtse Ney in Haa. The increasing number of devotees visiting the site has helped contribute to the growth of the local economy in Gakiling Gewog. Drawing inspiration from this trend, locals there are now developing basic infrastructure at another sacred site in the gewog which is believed to be Khandro Dorji Phagmoi Cave.
Located close to 20 kilometres north of the famed Rangtse Ney, the naturally formed Khandro Dorji Phagmoi cave is found on the base of a hill.
There is no written history to elaborate on the sacredness of the cave. But locals have been transmitting the story of the cave orally for generations.
“This is the Dorji Phagmoi Cave. Legend has it that it was first recognized as the sacred cave of Dorji Phagmo by a nun called Anim Pema who hailed from Shaba village of Sangbaykha Gewog,” said Wang Tshering, Gakiling Gup.
The cave is mysterious for a number of reasons. No one knows the physical depth and the vastness of it.
Exploring 10 minutes into the cave one can come across a stream as strange as the cave is. It flows without any source or an end in sight. It is believed to help people breathe better as they go deeper into the cave.
Not many know the details inside the cave as of now but people say that there are many naturally formed structures resembling religious figures and artefacts. Among those is a figure that resembles Buddha and a pig-like structure which visitors revere as Dorji Phagmo.
“We are hopeful that many people will come to visit the cave here and if they do that will come as an opportunity for us to improve our livelihoods. We have plans to start small businesses including hotels, restaurants, and provide vehicle and guide services as well. This will give us opportunities to make income,” said Tshering Dorji, a resident.
“I have entered the cave three times, so far. Our forefathers used to tell us that we must visit the cave for its sacredness. If people, especially foreigners and local pilgrims visit this sacred cave, it will help us transform our living standard and improve the local economy,” said Pema Tshering, another resident.
Gakiling Gewog has already initiated the development of basic infrastructure for visitors’ convenience.
“We have identified two households to operate as farmhouses to provide logistics for visitors at the Yokha village, which is near the site. We have a farm road that is almost 12 kilometres from Dungkhag to the road diversion near the site. Then we have a 200-metre long footpath till the ney. So, we are maintaining the road by laying the base course and constructing proper drainage,” said Gakiling Gup.
For adventure seekers, the cave is not the only source of attraction in the area. There are two lakes just a few metres above the cave formed from the Rangtse river, which flows next to the hill where the ney is located.
Should all go as per people’s wish, close to a hundred households in Tanga and Yokha villages will be direct beneficiaries of the sacred pilgrim site. Today, they depend on cardamom, other agricultural produce and daily wage for a source of income.