Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of pilgrims from across the country rushed towards Mongar District in Eastern Bhutan to a place called Aja Nye. According to the local villagers and porters, the place has never witnessed this many numbers of local pilgrims. They acknowledge the pandemic for boosting domestic tourism in the country.
Aja Nye is a popular sacred pilgrim site in the Eastern part of Bhutan. According to the ancient scripts, it is believed that a pilgrim would take no less than 3 months to visit all the sacred sites to pay homage.
A rock inscription at Aja Nye reads;
Value and merit of sacred Aja shall transcend all human imagination;
A mere visit shall bring peace and happiness
Visualization alone will lead to enlightenment
Aja is comparable to the western heavenly abode…
The place hosts Guru Rinpoche’s footprints, body prints, the print of his seats indicating the subjugation of evil, Khando Dowa Zangmos footprints, and 108 retreat caves of the Guru. They are located in the mountains, bamboo groves, meadows, gorges, and dense forests. Legend has it that Aja was discovered by a renowned Buddhist master with a divine tiger acting as his guide.
The trek to the sacred site runs through bamboo groves and meadows and sometimes through dense forest crossing mountains. The initial hike to Aja Nye is often very grueling due to its ascend uphill. However, the journey in itself is the most beautiful part of the trek which will be a lifetime experience and also an opportunity to connect with nature. On the trail, one will encounter golden langur and diverse birds welcoming the pilgrims. Bhutanese believes in the superstition that if merchants encounter golden langur on the way of the journey, the business would turn out to be successful.
At the sacred site, although the trails are muddy and steep, nowadays, iron ladders have been installed for pilgrims’ safety.
Sacred Sites and Highlights
Aja Chhu Cave
The Guru meditated here for three months. Exactly 100 sacred “Aa” letters are imprinted in the cave, thus the name Aja was derived for this reason. It seems almost impossible to believe that there could be 100s of ‘Aa’ inscribed on the rock but truth to be told, it can be seen clearly. Many pilgrims actually cry out of devotion at the site.
Aja Chhu Menchu
Possess medicinal values with curative effect on 18 diseases such as tuberculosis, body ache, ulcer, and whooping cough. Nowadays local guides are operating the hot stone bath. After a long day hike, pilgrims relishes the dip in the medicinal hot stone bath. Some believers trek all the way to Aja Nye annually to soak in the Aja Chhu Menchu.
The stream falls from the rocky cliff that supposedly came into existence after the Gurus walking stick was embedded in the rock. The pool underneath is warm in winter and cool in summer. Towards winter despite its cold weather in the mountains, pilgrims make sure they dip in the pool once to cleanse their demerits.
Phuning Nye is considered the heart of all the sacred sites in the area and is also popularly known as the ‘Heart of all Mountains’ on the planet. The sacred site however falls under the Lhuntse district. It is believed that those pilgrims who come for the pilgrimage to Aja Nye must end their spiritual journey at Phuning Nye for the Nye is considered the crown of all the sacred mountains. Many Buddhist pilgrims yearn to trek to Phuning Nye and Aja Nye once in their lifetime.
The best season to trek to these places are in the month of April and October. Currently, tour companies are selling various Eastern Pilgrimage Packages to boost Domestic tourism in Bhutan. Blessings amidst the Pandemic!
The Article was first published on DailyBhutan