In a distance of about half an hour drive from Chamkhar town, we’ll come across a small lake to the south of Tang Valley. It’s nestling among rugged deep gorges. This lake is Mebartsho, literally meaning the Burning Lake.
The lake is above Bumthang main road connected by a feeder road. It doesn’t take even 10 minutes to get there. However, many people travelling Bumthang through this same route don’t stop for this lake.
The ‘Burning Lake’ is just a small clean water lake along a running stream of Tang valley. It won’t look like a lake for onlookers; it’s a small and less attractive lake. It doesn’t have many characteristics of a good lake.
Therefore, some tourists after visiting it complain for including Mebartsho in their travel plan. They say it’s hard for them to consider the ‘Burning Lake’ as a lake. But it’s just that those tourists don’t get into its historical background and mystical stories.
History of Mebartsho – Burning Lake of Tang
The place of Mebartsho or Burning Lake was historically known as Nya Ring Brag (meaning Long-nosed Cliff in local dialect of Bumthang). Today, we can relate this to presence of numerous sheer cliffs around it.
However, this name remained as it is until Tertoen Pema Lingpa visited this place and revealed numerous hidden treasures that would aid him in spread of Buddhism in Bhutan from the lake sometimes in 15th century.
Tertoen Pema Lingpa is one of the Bhutanese treasure revealers born in 1450. He discovered numerous treasures out of this lake with a butter lamp still burning. This lake then became Mebar Tsho, the Burning Lake.
However, some historians of Bhutan claim that the name of this lake as ‘Mebartsho’ is a derivative of the name of Tertoen Sherab Mebar. He also discovered treasures from the lake just like Tertoen Pema did after 2 centuries.
They argue should the name of this lake was derived from the life event of Tertoen Pema Lingpa, it would be either ‘Terma Tsho’ or ‘Pema Tsho’. Therefore, this still remains as an arguable topic of Bhutan history.
Tertoen Pema Lingpa and the Mebartsho
Tertoen Pema Lingpa was one of the reincarnates of Guru Padmasambhava. He was prophesized to discover the hidden treasures of Guru. He was then to contribute in the spread of Buddhism.
One day Tertoen Pema had a vision of treasures of Guru Padmasambhava being hidden in the pond of present Mebartsho. When he shared the interpretation of the vision, the local chieftain and people of Tang Valley didn’t believe his claims.
When he told that he will prove that his vision and he is a true emanation of Guru Padmasambhava, people gathered near this pond. He said his prayers and then with a lit butter lamp on his hand, he jumped into that deep pond.
He came out of the pond after a while holding a chest and a scroll of Buddhist scriptures with butter lamp still burning. The name of the lake as Mebartsho was coined from this instance. The crowd was amazed. His popularity went far and wide.
On reading the message from the treasure box, people came to know the map of treasures hidden in other places across Bhutan and even in Tibet.
Atheists of Bumthang then gradually became the followers of Tertoen Pema Lingpa. He continued his journey of discovering more treasures of Guru Padmasambhava and teaching Buddhism.
Reasons to visit Mebartsho or Burning Lake
Bumthang is a paradise for the followers of Guru Padmasambhava and believers of his teachings. Bumthang has many religious places or sites that directly relate to some life events of him and his reincarnations.
Mebartsho or Burning Lake is one of such sites in Bumthang that is related to life of Guru Padmasambhava and his emanate disciple Tertoen Pema Lingpa.
Bhutanese visit Mebartsho or Burning Lake of Bumthang to offer prayers or butter lamps and hoist prayer flags in dedication to well-being of all sentient beings. It’s one of the popular sacred pilgrimage sites for Bhutanese in Bumthang.
However, tourists visit Mebartsho or Burning Lake out of curiosity. Some tourists end up on recommendation of their travel agent or tour guide. Some visit to experience spectacular surroundings of this lake as they have seen its images over internet.
Best Time to visit Mebartsho or Burning Lake
There is no official opening and closing timings for this lake unlike in the case of many tourist attractions in Bhutan. Indeed anyone can go there anytime.
When a French Tourist and his guide died drowning in this lake in 2015, the safety of Mebartsho visitors has become the major attention-seeking area of Bumthang District. Now there are concrete railings along the way for safe travel.
However, visitors need to be careful especially during monsoon season. The trail is through clay soil that becomes muddy and slippery with rainfall. You also must be careful while observing the lake or taking photos walking on its adjacent rocks or cliffs.
Tourism Council of Bhutan actually advises all tourists traveling there to taking Bhutanese guides. Otherwise a single slip would cost life like that of French Tourist. Moreover, nobody knows its depth.
Some Safety Tips for ‘Burning Lake’ visitors
I am not a professional travel guide or expert in this field. However, I feel some safety measures I know or learnt might be helpful for tourists visiting Mebartsho, the ‘Burning Lake’ of Bumthang.
- It’s much safer to visit the Burning Lake in winter than in summer.
- Be careful of muddy trails & slippery rocks if you visit it in summer.
- Don’t wear shoes or any other footwear having hard soles.
- Don’t stand & stare to swirling water for long. You’ll feel giddy & lose balance.
- Don’t visit the Burning Lake alone without friend or without a travel guide.
- Be cautious of your footings while taking its photos.
- It’s safer to take its photos by actually sitting on rocks rather than standing.
- Don’t ever try to go closer to the lake especially during summer.
- If you’ve a height phobia, don’t get on a rock to observe the lake.
- It’s safer to observe the lake in the posture of baby-crawl.
- If you are visiting it during winter, wear some warm woolen clothes.
I feel that the French tourist who lost his life falling off a rock and drowning in the lake could have avoided the accident had he just used some of the above safety measures.
In addition Mebartsho is sacred pilgrimage site for every Bhutanese as much as it’s close to the heart of every person of Bumthang District. Smoking in such place would be an act of complete sacrilege. Therefore, refrain from smoking at Mebartsho or in its vicinity.
In conclusion, Mebartsho or the ‘Burning Lake’ of Bumthang Bhutan may not look like a lake. But it offers its own share of natural beauty and historical mysteries that are worth experiencing and exploring.
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