A Testament to Bhutan’s Romeo Juliet Story
Just a km away from the Punakha Dzong, on the road between Punakha to Gasa lies the 3 storied Galem House. At the first glance, the Galem’s manor will strike you as another of those huge dilapidated Bhutanese homes that are crumbling away due to neglect. But look closer and you will see the unobtrusive signboard that reads “Heritage Site”.
You will also see awe and longing in equal measures in the eyes of young couples who frequently come to visit the Galem’s manor. For this is the site of Bhutan’s greatest love story, one that’s almost akin to the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet in its grandeur and pathos... the doomed love story of Gasi Lama Singwe and Changyul Bum Galem.
Galem was the daughter of the richest Farmer in Punakha dzonkhang and she lived in the (then glorious) three storied manor. Incidentally, she was also the loveliest maiden in her dzonkhang. Gasa Lamai Singye was a humble servant to the monastic order in Gasa.
The duo fell in love and nurtured dreams of spending their lives together. But every love story has a villain and in this case it was Deb the Chieftain of the area who fell for Galem’s stunning beauty. He communicated his desire to marry Galem to his assistant.
The attendant in turn was aware of the deep love between Galem and Singye but he pulled some strings to have Singye transferred to the Monastic Body of Gasa. After an unwilling Singye left, Deb’s proposal was communicated to Galem’s parents. Naturally the parents were overjoyed and insisted on Galem accepting the proposal even though she was unwilling.
Galem’s house with its rickety staircase….
local lore says that this is the very stairway
that Galem used to meet Singye
A desperate Galem confessed her love for Singye and let out the fact that she was pregnant. This shocking discovery provoked her parents to throw the unfortunate girl out of the house. A distraught Galem stayed for many days at the bank of Mo Chhu singing out plaintively to all passers-by and requesting them to pass on her message to Singye. Galem fell ill due to her pregnancy and poor health and legends say that even the Mo Chuu slowed its pace out of sympathy to the girl.
A passer-by was moved on seeing Galem’s plight and conveyed her condition to Singye who immediately tried to rush back. That very night Singye had a bad dream about his beloved and he knew that something bad had happened to her. When he finally reached Galem... she had perished and he was confronted with the sight of her funeral pyre.
Struck by despair, Singye jumped into the flames of the pyre and died bringing the tragic love story to an end. The deep pathos of their doomed love struck a deep chord in the hearts of people and their story was passed on from generation to generation…gradually gaining an epic reputation.
Galem’s House in its current stage of dilapidation
The 700-year-old house has been vacated since the last five years now as it is unfit for use. The floor planks creak loudly and the walls are sooty though the kitchen inside displays an impressive array of earthenware. The 46-year-old Aum Namgay Zam; one of the present descendants of Changyul Bum Galem lives next door after being forced to vacate the Galem’s manor due to its instability.
Galem's House from a distance
As of now…Punakha Dzonkhang Officials have formally communicated their intention of restoring the Galem’s house to its past glory and then preserving it as a heritage museum. The decayed timber will be stripped off and replaced with wooden shingles.
The cost for re-roofing alone will come to around 200,000 NU but the Punakha Dzonkhang official committee is firm in its belief that the Galem House will add considerably to the attractions of Punakha. Galem House is set for a renovation after almost 700 years of its construction.
Incidentally, the Galem Singye love story has been made into yet another movie by the Bhutanese Director Tshering Wangyel. The film “Sing Lem” ran to packed houses in Bhutan last year.