The iconic structure of the south is battling with landslides, as experts warn of unstable landmass in the area where the structure is relocated
By Tashi Namgyal
TheKharbandiGoenpa, the Lam (Abbot) and his contingent ofmonks are the repositories and the arsenal of religious and spiritual munitions, catering to the needs of almost 70 percent of both urban and urbane Phuentsholing population. Apart from locals who visit in droves to offer prayers, the architectural grandeur of the Goenpa attracts hundreds of visitors every day from the neighbouring Indian towns as well.
However, the sanctity of the renownedGoenpa located on a hill overlooking the vast plainshas been completely shaken and disturbed by a chain of landslides which has caused damage to properties, and to the affairs of the Dratshang headed by 59 year-old Lam Karma and around 20 monks who have to spent sleepless nights during monsoon seasons.
The Dratshang occupies a total area of 27 acres. The erosion is gradually creeping inwards. Already 3 acres of the total land is lost to erosion and landslide, according to Lam Karma.
“More land and property are prone to disasters. If another slide occurs, the Five Chortens (Stupas) which stands right beside the road will be washed away, apart from the road which is already half-eroded,” he told Bhutan TODAY.
Prime Minister (PM) Dasho Dr Lotay Tshering said that he is aware of the landslide issue and has talked with the Thromde and other authorities to work on it.
“KharbandiGoenpa holds very dear to His Majesty’s heart,” Lyonchhoen told Bhutan TODAY. “His Majesty always makes it a point to visit the Goenpa whenever His Majesty travels south.”
“We will be very happy to help with the reconstruction of the wall which is some 300-400 meters,” he said, adding that since the problem is a persistent one, proper plans need to be executed in the long run.
“In the meanwhile, the Lam can always approach us for short-term measures.”
Phuentsholing Thrompon Uttar Kumar Rai acknowledged that the landslides occurring at Kharpandi is a “disaster and quite big ones”. After consulting with experts from every field, he said that the Thromde was left with two options -short term and long term measures.
The Thrompon said that experts have pointed out the entire landmass was unstable. “For that, we need to do rigorous research and come up with solid and permanent measures. It will take time but the wait will be worthwhile.”
Pointing out budget constraint as the main impediment to any public work, he said that the public offices can only function with the budget approved under the Plans. “Since this kind of work does not come under planned activities, the Thromde is seeking support from external sources specifically,” he said.
“Under the short term measures, we construct drainage systems and quite recently covered the sliding area with tarpaulin sheets in order to stop rain from seeping into the cracks,” the Thrompon said.
Major landslides took placefrom 2003, according to Lam Karma, who took charge from 2006 and instantly raised ‘The’ landslide issue with concerned government agencies.
Upon approaching the then minister of works and human settlement YesheyZimba in 2010, the Lhakhangsecured Nu 5 million from the government to do mitigation and restoration works.
The money was used to construct iron wire mesh wall at the base of the slide area on the decision of experts although the Lam advised for a concrete retention wall.
“After some time, all the iron meshes we used were taken apart piece by piece and stolen by miscreants from across the border at night,” Lam Karma opined.
Then in 2017, the National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) - a project aimed at reducing climate change vulnerabilities in Bhutan – assured support.
“We don’t know the amount but retention works were executed at the base of the slide area which was completed by that winter,” Lam Karma said. However, that very same winter, erosion on the same spot washed away the hostel where the monks of the Goenpa put up.
A new Nyekha (Shrine) was constructed in 2018 which alsofellprey to erosion the same year, according to accounts shared by Lam Karma.
The head abbot said that he requested the Dzongkhag administration and Thromde office for assistance again this year. He was assured support by both but before anything could be done, the recent landslide occurred.
Meanwhile, expressing their solidarity for the safety of the iconic structure, some Phuentsholing residents proposed crowd funding while some are looking for immediate measures on how to atleast bring down the frequency of landslides on that area.
“The Goenpa is our solace in times of grief and whenever we need divine guidance. We cannot bypass what we see and everyone must come together to help the Dratshang,” a resident, 47 year-old Tshering Wangchuk said.
“Seeing people robed in red and working at the landslide area brought tears to my eyes,” a Desuup on frontline duty in Phuentsholing said. “I will talk with my superiors and try to amass a team of volunteers to help mitigate the landslide.”
FACTS ABOUT KHARBANDI GOENPA (As narrated by Lam Karma)
KharbandiGoenpa was built in 1967 by Her Majesty late Queen Mother AshiPhuntsho Choden Wangchuck, the wife of Second King, as a private monastery. Her Majesty also used the Goenpa as her winter residence and offered Thukmen prayers for 1 hour every afternoon until her demise in 2003.
It is said that the Goenpa was consecrated by five great masters like the 68thJe (Khenpo)Thrizur Tenzin Dendup, ChabjeDudjom Rinpoche, ChabjeDilgoKhyentse Rinpoche, ChabjeDzogchenPonlopKhenpoDorje, and ChabjeJadrel Rinpoche.
ChabjeDilgoKhyentse Rinpoche conducted empowerment and verbal transmission of the Treasure of Oral Instructions at the Goenpa.
With its strategic location, the Goenpa has also played a significant role over the years in attracting tourists from the nearby Indian towns and States, further cementing the spiritual impact at creates.
The Goenpa has also been actively engaged in conducting Kurim for the country since 2019. The Lam and 20 monks recite Kurim prayers for 7 hours every day. Statues inside the Goenpa have awed artisans from other countries who replicate the designs back in their home country.