High above the Laya village of Gayza, on a cliff below Mount Kangzengla overlooking the fork of the Zamtongha Chu, there's a monastery called Dung Goempa.
The Sakyapas established this lhakhangem and a Lama came from Tibet each year to perform the rituals. After the Chinese invasion, the Lama was imprisoned in Tibet and the goempaem abandoned.
Laya region is famous and blessed because it was the first place in Bhutan to welcome Shabdrung, the 17th Century Drukpa lama who united the warring tribes of Bhutan into a Buddhist theocracy. After he was driven from Tibet, Shabdrung crossed the border into the Laya village of Gayza and then stopped in neighboring Lungo, but the Lungo people turned their backs on him. Next, he went down to Gasa but received the same hostility. He came back north and took shelter in a cave near Dung Goempa. A family from the Laya village of Tongra found Shabdrung and invited him to their house. He blessed this family. The family still lives in that house and they are the richest people in Laya.
The early religion of Laya was Bon. The astrologers and shamans are Bonpos. Now they mix in some Buddhism. In the old days they practiced animal sacrifice, but many high Buddhist Lamas came to Laya to give teachings and now the Bonpos have stopped killing.
These Bon deities are the spirits of nature. They can help us or harm us in this life, they can bring great wealth or cause great suffering but they cannot lead us to enlightenment. They cannot even become enlightened themselves. They must be reborn as humans to attain enlightenment. That is why human rebirth is so precious.
Ngawang Drakpa, Lama of Toko Goempa, Laya
From BHUTAN: Hidden Lands of Happiness, by John Wehrheim (Serindia 2011)