Perched atop a promontory with sweeping views of Thimphu Valley is Changangkha Lhakhang, a neighborhood temple that has served locals daily since its construction some 800 years ago. Ringing the outside of its whitewashed fortress walls are metal prayer wheels with black and gold script, waiting to be spun day or night. Inside, butter lamp offerings flicker ceaselessly in the courtyard. Two giant prayer wheels hold space at the entrance to the inner sanctum — where no shoes or picture taking are permitted.
All day long until it closes at 5, parents approach the inner sanctum to ask protector deity Tamdrin to bless their children, or to request auspicious names for their newborns from the four resident monks. Ngultrum and sacks of snacks, biscuits, incense, and whiskey are offered in exchange.
On entering, everyone bows to the portrait of the king. Then they turn around to bow three times before the centerpiece of the sanctum, a mesmerizing outsized statue of the thousand-armed deity of ultimate compassion, Chenrezi (Avalokiteshvara), whose mantra is the renowned “Om mani padme hung.” Lama Phajo Drukgom Shigpo, the Tibetan immigrant who chose the site and built the temple, was an emanation of Chenrezi. Visitors in a quiet state may be able to feel the vibe of compassion that permeates the place. Winds blowing up from the valley below tauten prayer flags to send these blessings onwards.
Not long ago, the government-owned utility, Bhutan Power Corporation, lit the temple from below with white lights that make the upper walls of wood appear burnt orange. Window recesses are lit in artery red. The gold roof with its fierce protector dragons caps the scene. Now, at night, Changangkha is a beacon that can be made out from a long ways away.