The Chagpori Healers

homePart II – In 1948, a Tibetan lady doctor, Khandro Yanggkar from Chagpori, operated on the second king, Druk Gyalpo Jigme Wangchuck’s eye.

Khandro Yanggkar treating a patient Photo: Tibet Buddhist Resource Center

Khandro Yanggkar “In the [Tibetan] earth-mouse year (1948), the Bhutanese King Jigme Wangchuk lost his eyesight, so he sent a messenger to Lhasa to invite expert doctor Yangchen Lhamo to Bhutan, writes Theresia Hofer in her forthcoming article.
According to Hofer, Yangchen Lhamo operated on the king’s eye, “She opened his – the king’s – eyes” [spyan phye]. After the successful cataract operation, the doctor became very popular.

The physician stayed in Bhutan until 1951, and during the two years treated many more Bhutanese patients. She returned to Lhasa in the [Tibetan] water-dragon year (1951), writes Hofer.

There are three biographies and the one written in Tibetan tells us that upon her return to her homeland, she was sent out to operate on people’s eyes. “The late Director [of the Mentsikhang] Khenrab Norbu gave her a first position certificate for her skill in opening eyes [mig ‘byed lag rtsal], and together with doctor Ngawang Phuntsok sent her to eighteen districts, including Taktse, Reting, Mendro, Drigung and Sangri, to open people’s eyes [mig ‘byed]. He also gave them donations of medicines to take with.”

Who is Yanggkar and how did she come to Bhutan? According to one of her short biographies, she was the daughter of a monk, Jedrung Jampa Jungne. She was born in 1907 at Pemako and died in 1973 in Lhasa.

In Bhutan, Yangchen Lhamo became better known as Khandro Yanggkar.

Some of the retainers of the second king, who are still living, remember her.

Jojo Wangdi (83) remembers the lady doctor. He said that she first came to Paro and then left for Bumthang, where she lived till she returned to Tibet. According to Shatu (91), another senior retainer of the king, the king met the doctor during one of her visits to Bhutan. “I don’t remember the year she came, but I know she came with her husband, the renowned Tibetan monk, Chami Rinpoche. “They had came to Trongsa to administer blessing called Kachey to the monk body.”

Shatu’s contemporary, Dasho Botoe Karp (93), another senior retainer, said, “She wanted to meet the king. He remembers arranging the audience. Dasho Botoe Karp said, “The lady doctor was tall and very beautiful”.

Both the retainers remember her melodious voice that enchanted many Bhutanese. She sang the most beautiful Tibetan songs. Even the queens liked her songs and called her often to the palace to entertain them.

Shatu said that he personally served the Tibetan doctor. One of his daily rituals was to prepare and serve a drink to her every morning. Milk was first boiled and butter added in it with a pinch of salt before it was churned.

The lady doctor travelled wherever the king went. In Trongsa, she stayed near the palace of Threpung. When the king moved to the nearby palace of Kuengarapten, they had to build her a guesthouse. In Bumthang, she stayed in Kurjey monastery and sometimes in a temporary shed built in the courtyard of the Wangdicholing palace.

She kept all her medicine in a small brocade and labeled them. According to the doctor’s advice, the king refrained from eating salt and his meat was diced and boiled. However, the Tibetan story of how Khandro Yanggkar came to Bhutan differs slightly. One of her children claims that her mother was invited to Bhutan.

“In either 1952 or 1953, she [Khandro Yanggkar] was called to Bhutan by the then king, … At this time the king was suffering from eye problems and he called Khandro Yanggkar to come and treat him. He told her that he had invited many Western doctors to look at his eyes, but none of them could help. He requested her to stay at his court until he could again shoot an arrow right at the target, for only then would he be satisfied that his eyesight was perfect. Yanggkar […] went to help the king, and did, in fact, take care of his eyes until he could shoot an arrow accurately at the target.”

More than one western doctor had already seen the king’s eyes. In 1947, Dr Lloyd Ledger treated the king’s eye (refer to Haa dispensary article in Kuensel). Two years later, in 1949, Dr Hicks visited Bhutan. His diary from October confirms that Yanggkar was working as a doctor in Bhutan. In addition to Yanggkar, they were two Bhutanese traditional healers also serving in the court of the second king. The two were Drungtsho Penjor and Mahaguru.

In 1994, Tibetan historian, Tashi Tshering of the Dharamsala Amnye Machen institute wrote a short biography, (also translated into English in 2005).

Footnote: Traditional Bhutanese Medicine (Gso-Ba Rig-Pa): An Integrated Part Of The Formal Health Care Services by Phurpa Wangchuk, Dorji Wangchuk and Jens Aagaard-Hansen