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Located at an altitude of more than 3,500 metres above sea level the sacred hidden place of Aja Ney is attributed to Guru Rinpoche. More than 100 pilgrims across the country visit the sacred site annually.
The entire pilgrimage to Aja Ney would take a week to complete. The sacred Aja Nye holds a host of religious sites and symbols including Guru’s foot and body prints, Khando Dowa Zangmo’s footprint, 108 retreat caves of Guru Rinpoche and the footprint of Lam Karma Jamyang who discovered the hidden sacred site among others.
The Aja Ney has also a Menchu. Many people visit to soak in the Menchu as it is believed that it can cure 18 diseases such as tuberculosis, body aches, ulcer and whooping cough among others. “We can also see a pair of Jachungs and in the wings of Jachungs it is believed to have 108 butter lamps, 108 lakes and 108 Tsa Tsas. It also has a pair of golden fish,” explains Kezang Eden, one of the guides at the site.
There is also a stream, which falls from the rocky cliff at Tshekor. It is known as Aai Chhu. The stream falls on a rock basin forming a pool, where it is believed that the Guru had taken bath. “This stream came into existence after Guru’s walking stick was implanted in the rock. The stream falls on a rock basin forming a pool, where it is believed the Guru had taken bath. A bath in the pool is believed to purify a person,” says Sangay Yeshi, another guide at the Ney.
Among the several sacred spots, the most popular site is a small cave on the bank of Aja Chhu where Guru Rinpoche meditated for three months. The rock that bears 100 sacred syllables ‘Aa’ is said to have been imprinted in the cave after Guru completed his meditation.
About 800 pilgrims across the country visit the sacred site of Aja Ney annually. People as far as Aurnachal Pradesh in India also visit to seek blessings and to offer their prayers. “Six of us are visiting the sacred site today. We have heard from our grandparents that there are many sacred sites in Bhutan. So we are very happy to visit all the sacred sites,” says Dhendup Pelzang, a pilgrim from the Indian town of Tawang.
Meanwhile, Kezang Eden and Sangay Yeshi are the only two people who can guide the pilgrims at Aja Ney. Although there is concrete evidence of Guru’s visit nobody knows when Guru visited the area and why? Not even the guides themselves.
Without a concrete background, some pilgrims go back unsatisfied. Many pilgrims said if the government could appoint a Lam for Aja Ney. “It would be better if Monggar Dzongkhag could build a temple and send at least 5 to 6 monks from their Rabdey. So that they could perform prays and other rituals here,” says Sangay Tshering, a pilgrim from Lhuentse.
Lam Kezang Chhophel, 58, was brought up at Aja Ney by his late father Aja Lam Dorji Tenzin. According to him Guru Rinpoche had actually prophesised that it would be discovered by the Ninth Karmapa but due to old age instructed his disciple Lam Karma Jamyang to reveal the Neys.
“I heard from my father, also with less historical background, that in 8th century when Ugyen Guru Rinpoche visited Tibet he came to Bhutan to subdue one demon, the demon, which was supposed to be in Gomokora and after subduing the demon he went back to Tibet. So on the way to Tibet he visited Aja and blessed the sacred place. He also mediated there for three months,” says Lam Kezang.
Abi Kezang Eden today completes five generations in Aja Ney. Her main source of income is through alms and guiding the pilgrims. She said if government could provide the guest house with solar lighting system. She also sad a road till Yarab village will also attract more pilgrims. “Many pilgrims, even if they want to visit Aja Ney, they can’t as they have to pay huge amount for porter and pony,” she adds.
However, many pilgrims at Aja Ney are against a road to Aja Ney. One of the pilgrims Chencho Norbu said such sacred sites should be preserved and protected. “In my view I think we should not construct roads. The charm of visiting the Ney is carrying your own belongings and accompanying with local people and climbing up or going down. I think that is very healthy.
In many ways I think we derive strength of going up to the Ney and once we are there we are blessed, happy, content and we return happily,” he says. According to the Minister for Agriculture and Forests, Dr. Pema Gyamtsho, the Department of Forest and Park Services would maintain the sacred sites in future. “So definitely we need to look into that and I’ll be discussing with my friends and also with the concerned agencies like the Ministry of Home and Cultural affairs and see how we can help.”
Aja Ney falls under protected areas of the Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary. The Chief Planning Officer of the Ministry of Agriculture, Tenzin Chophel, said eco-tourism will be the solution for the benefit of the people living within the park areas.
Meanwhile, the Agriculture Minister who visited the Ney said it was indeed a spiritual healing. “It is a sacred site blessed by Guru Rinpoche and I think such site like Aja is very important for not only practicing Buddha Dharma but also promoting this faith, so for the followers of Buddhism and practitioners and also for the potential believers of the faith I think we have to really maintain and protect such sites.”
It is believed that the merit gained by chanting one Baza Guru or Mani in Aja is equivalent to thousand times in other places.