GREAT FIGURES OF THE MISSIONARY WORK – Bengal and the Kingdom of the Dragon (55)

  • Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

From the testimony given by Estevão Cacela, we can deduce that the Jesuits traveled with Shabdrung to different parts of the kingdom before lodging definitively in Chagri. Father Cacela reminds us that “in these mountains, and in others, we accompany him two months until we arrived at his house in that mountain, where he normally he lives among his favourite lamas.”

As the Portuguese priest rightly points out, the palace had been purposefully erected to lodge the king and some of his monks only. It was located in a rustic place which was difficult to access, because “to make a house there calls for a lot of work to flatten some space in the mountain range, which is very steep.” In this way, Shabdrung defended himself against the aggressions of his adversary, lord of a territory “eight days journey from there, the greatest of the Potente kingdom, ruled by a lama called Demba Cemba.” Now, it was precisely this sovereign that Estêvão Cacela and João Cabral sought to contact, though they could not entrust their purpose to the king of Bhutan.

According to the Buddhist annals, the site was first visited by guru Rinpoche in the eighth century and five centuries later by Phajo Drugom Zhigpo, the Tibetan lama responsible for introducing the Drukpa lineage in Bhutan. In 1620, when he was only 27 years old, Shabdrung would spend three years in strict retreat in Chagri and would reside there for various periods of time throughout his life. It was there that, in 1623, the first monastic order of the Drukpa was officialized. Situated just a few kilometers north of Thimphu, this inviting place stands out for its serenity and the magnificent views. In the tiny paved road, the only one that connects Chagri to the capital, we came across groups of young students of both sexes. Sangay let us know that it is Shabdrung’s birthday, and therefore, a national holiday. We could not have visited the place on a better occasion! Assuming ourselves as pilgrims, like the other visitors, we had lunch on a green meadow at the foot of the small, but much sought after hill. Once again I realize that the Bhutanese food has some resemblances, in taste and appearance, to the stews I used to eat back home. This is the case with “jasha maru” (chicken dish). It is important to emphasize the extraordinary appetite of the Bhutanese for the spicy. In none of the multiple menus is the chili pepper dispensed with, specially in the popular emi datshi,” a delicacy composed of green peppers washed down with hot sauce and melted cheese. It is, so to speak, the national dish of the country. This penchant for spice is certainly due to the Portuguese merchants who from the Bengal plains brought to those Himalayan dominions new and exotic products.

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