Aja Ney is one of the most sacred pilgrimage destinations in Bhutan with over 100 sacred Neys (sites) of Guru Rinpochhe. It is believed that one good deed done in this place is equivalent to a 1000 good deeds and one chant of prayer is equivalent to another 1000.
How to Get there
It takes a one and half day travel to Mongar district. From the highway towards Trashigang, you take a detour towards Shermung village. A 2 hour bumpy farm road drive then takes you to Yarab village and then you need to walk for 6 hours to Aja Ney valley.
The Walk to Aja Ney
The horizontal trail is relatively easier than most treks in Bhutan. It takes you through dense forests, bamboo groves and steep slopes overlooking rapid rivers. As you arrive closer to the valley, you’ll see scores of ancient stupas scattered along the trail.
The Hermits of Aja Ney
Aja Ney is basically a home of hermits. There are several sacred sites around the valley that have clusters of hermit meditation homes and temples.
Although there’s been a fascination about this elusive sacred place, many don’t realize that there are people who have lived here for generations. As we made our way to the 3 solar stations, I came across several scattered huts and small cottages located on hill tops, and in the deep forests. And Galey sir shares that most of these households have lived in darkness for generations. This is the story of the people living in Aja Ney.
“Aja Ney has always been home to Tshampas who come to live a life of recluse in prayers. The huts you see spread across the valley are all Tshampas.” describes Dzongpoen Damcho Dorji, the Lopen taking care of Pema Yangdzong temple. Who are Tshampas? A Tshampa is an individual who has dedicated themselves to a long term meditation and committed to a life of isolation and prayer. But I realized I knew nothing more about this practice? Why do they do it? What makes one choose a difficult life in isolation?
I met Memey Jamba who has been living in Aja Ney as a hermit for more than 13 years. To him Aja Ney is the last home he wishes to spend the rest of life in.
“The most difficult thing to do in life is to learn to be still,” I remembered my father telling me when I asked him why he spends so much time meditating. I watched Memey Jamba praying as that memory came to me. Not many of us get to meet a Tshampa let alone enter his personal space of solace.
When I met memey Jamba I realized how we often romanticize the idea of being alone and to introspect. Like a lone poet in the mountains, staring at the stars alone in the wilderness. Practicing this kind of isolation in real life isn’t as spontaneous and romantic as we make it out to be. Memey Jamba says it’s difficult when he gets sick as he’s all by himself and without electricity, people here still need to go into the woods to collect firewood. It is a difficult life. So why commit yourself to this? For Memey Jamba chanting prayers is all he knows he says. “It is a blessing to perish in this holy valley than anywhere else.” I realized the answer isn’t a simple one.
A Spiritual Experience for Everyone
Truth be told, I am not a religious person and I do not share this in arrogance. In fact I’ve always been envious of & fascinated with the act of submitting one’s self to a higher power. Having said that, I do not approach new places with a skeptical attitude either and I think my years of traveling in my country have taught me that. Who am I to question or intervene carrying my version of logic into other people’s iterations of what faith is?
But it is in these iterations that I slowly begin to connect with…I don’t know what to call it…maybe a different understanding of a higher power. The energy around us feels different here. I cannot explain it. Aja Ney is a universe in itself – for many it is the ultimate holy land, a culmination of Guru Rinpochhe’s sacred hidden treasures, seats of meditation and victory over malevolent spirits.
But to some Aja Ney can also be a haven of fantastical stories that shape who we are. As you walk along the trails you’ll see countless shrines and sacred sites and each shares a story. There’s a stone with knee markings near a river that describes how a demon hid from Guru Rinpochhe beneath the bark of a tree. Another shrine has strange markings on stones that resemble the letter Ah from the Dzongkha alphabet. Every rock, every tree and every stone that falls on the sacred site has a story and if you want to make a pilgrimage visit to Aja Ney, you’ll need around a week to visit and listen to what each story that comes with the sacred ney. The pilgrimage tour is worth it either way.
Aja Ney Eco Guest House Price: Nu. 100 per person per night
Tip: Rural guest houses don’t come equipped with sleeping arrangements so carry your own sleeping bag, toiletries, towels, etc.
Contact 77223313 to book your room, horse, porter for your trip to Aja Ney.
Please note: The guest house does not operate like a homestay or hotel so make sure you arrive on the exact date as per your booking as rooms are often given based on who arrives first.