(This nice offbeat hike will take about two hours, depending on your stamina. There is a well-laid path and the climb isn’t very steep as well. The pathway to the monastery is lined with pine and rhododendron trees, colorful prayer-flags, cute resting spots, prayer wheels, Chortens and meditation huts. Since the place sees very few visitors, the surrounding areas are so very tranquil and peaceful and that in itself serves as reward enough for deciding to visit the monastery. Once you get there, over and above being hugely impressed by how the monastery is beautifully maintained, you will also be surprised at just how hospitable the monks (who inadvertently offer you tea and snacks) are.
Tango Monastery is one of the highest Buddhist Learning Centers in the kingdom. The site is said to have been visited and blessed by Guru Rinpoche as well, but much earlier than Phajo, sometime in the 8th century. Legend has it that the monastery is located on that very sacred site where Avolokitesvara revealed himself in the wrathful form of Hayagriva. It is said that Phajo Drugom Zhigpo, (a Tibetan Buddhist Master who played a crucial role in the early spread of the Drukpa Kagyud School of Buddhism in Bhutan) heard the neighing of a horse coming from the direction of where the monastery is located today. The legend goes on to say that the God Tamdrin/Hayagriva appeared before Phajo and prophesized that a monastery built at the site would greatly contribute to the spread of Buddhism in the region. Tango’ which literally translates as ‘Horse Head,’ derives its name from the natural shape of the rocky projection, upon which the monastery is located.
Amongst others great Masters who blessed the site with their visit, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal is also said to have meditated in a cave at the site sometime in the 17th century. Back then Bhutan had been frequently invaded by Tibetan forces. It is maintained that the Zhabdrung’s meditating in the cave to solicit the assistance of his guardian deities was hugely successful and resulted in the invading forces suffering a crushing defeat following which the temple was offered to the Zhabdrung. In response, the Zhabdrung is said to have carved a statue of Chenrezig (avalokiteshvara) out of sandal wood and installed it as the main relic.
Though founded as early as the 12th century by Phajo Drugom Zhigpo, the current structure was formally established only in 1688 by the Fourth Desi Tenzin Rabgye. It is maintained that the monastery was built within a period of just two months. Today Tango functions as a university of Buddhist studies and also serves as the residence of Gyalse Rinpoche, the Seventh Trilku (Reincarnation) of Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye . As an interesting side-note, today, the young incarnate is currently undergoing his religious studies at the very monastery that he is believed to have established during his former lifetime.
The Monastery underwent a complete renovation in 2016. A new Buddhist college campus was built at the base of the Tango hill in 2016 to replace the ageing Meditation units in the area.
Destined be a place conducive to great meditative accomplishments, all the Spiritual Masters, including the Je Khenpo (Head Abbot and Spiritual Leader of the country) have to complete their religious training at the monastery. After completing their training which takes no less than nine years, the monks spend three years, three months and three days in solitary retreat in the many hermitages in the vicinity of the nearby Cheri Goemba.
Of the many important festivals held in the monastery is the ‘Yarney,’ or ‘Summer Retreat,’ held on the 15th day of the 6th month of the Bhutanese calendar. During the retreat, the monks and nuns are restricted by a boundary marked by pebbles all around the monastery which they are forbidden to cross. They remain within the boundary for a whole one and half months, during which time they focus on their spiritual practices of reciting, studying, reflecting and meditating. The Yarney is observed at that time of the year when millions of small insects and worms emerge into the open ground (forced to surface because of the rains), during which, moving around would result in countless being trampled underfoot. The primary intent is to avoid the bad karma that is to accrue from killing those insects (albeit unintentionally) and to use the time in to continue spiritual practice with renewed focus. The observance of the ritual enables the monks to deepen their practice while being sheltered from the rain for the duration of the wet season. So the end result is that the insects are safe from random feet and the monks are safe from the elements.
The practice owes its origin to the time when the Buddha walked the earth and all monks depended on alms for a living. Seeing that even during the months of summer, the monks went around begging for alms, non-believers are said to have criticized the monks saying that they were killing so many insects by trampling them. The Buddha, therefore decreed that from that moment on all the monks and nuns were to remain indoors during the peak summer month. The retreat became a permanent fixture on the Buddhist calendar and is a vibrant practice continued more than 2, 500 years since. )