A gradual climb from Paro makes its way through the mystic alpine forests leading to the picturesque Haa valley on the western fringe of Bhutan. With an approximate population of 12,000, Haa is one of the least populated Dzongkha (district) of the country.
Haa gets its mythical appeal from the three sacred mountains which rises sharply from the middle of the valley. These three mountains are of utmost religious importance to the people living in the valley and are together known as ‘Meri Puensum’ or the ‘three brothers’. The sanctity of Meri Puensum comes from the belief that they are the abode of Jampelyang (Manjushri), Chana Dorjee (Vajrapani) and Chenrezi (Avalokiteshvara) – the three protectors deities of Haa valley. They are also known to be the Gods of wisdom, power and compassion.
Ap Chungdue is the local deity of Haa and is a form of Chana Dorjee (Vajrapani) which is in the middle of the three mountains. The story of the ‘Meri Puensum’ date back to 8th century when Guru Padmasambhava subdued the three deities and bounded them by an oath to protect the Haa valley forever. Since then, Ap Chungdue is worshipped as the guardian deity of the valley. Coming of Guru Padmasambhava in the valley also saw the dawn of Buddhism in the region. History depicts that prior to the advent of Buddhism in the valley, the people of Haa who are also known as ‘Haap’ were followers of the animist shamanistic beliefs. And animal sacrifice was an important element of their religious rituals. Some of the shamanistic traditions can be witnessed even today.
Associated with the sacredness of the place are the two temples Lhakhang Karpo – the white temple and Lhakhang Napko – the black temple. These temples were built around the 7th century and are located at the foothills of the Meri Puensum mountains. There are many legends associated with it the origin of the temples. Some believe that once when Ap Chungdue was not religiously worshipped by the locals he got offended and showed his face to the people with one side being white and other black. While the white side showed compassion, black depicted anger. Another legend believes that during the 7th century two pigeons, a black and white, which carries the origin of both the temples.
The story of the ‘Meri Puensum’ dates back to 8th century when Guru Padmasambhava subdued the three deities and bounded them by an oath to protect the Haa valley forever.
Locals believe that Guru Padmasambhava’s blessings are always on the three sacred mountains of Meri Puensum. Special prayers are offered twice a year where traits of some of shamanistic rituals of the pre-Buddhist religion can be seen.
Sacredness of Meri Puensum makes it one of the many naturally conserved mountain patches of Bhutan where use of any of the forest resources are considered inauspicious.