An Inner Journey on an Outer Pilgrimage
(A journey through the Himalayan range)

                        We meditated, we trekked, rested, laughed, shouted, faced difficulties,
Testing at all times, whether the mind would abide in its natural state.
That was the inner journey on our outer pilgrimage.

Dharamsala, Srinagar, Ladakh, Kelong we saw it all, for just talking about the taste of sugar is not like tasting it for oneself. It was a dream for Drago and me to lead our Buddhist friends on the footsteps of the masters of the past and to meet some masters in the present and to take the blessings from many holy sites. That being our motivation, finally in August 2007 the dream turned into a reality, with 19 members of our Buddhist group going on the pilgrimage.
As all falls within the law of interdependent relations such an organization could not have been possible without the help of family members in Delhi and Kashmir and some dear friends. We are grateful to them all. It took us almost a year to get everything organized.

 Drago and I having left from Zagreb before the group, picked up the group on 2nd august from the Delhi airport. Having no days to waste we traveled to Dharamsala  in Himalchal Pradesh by  bus on that very day .The bus in itself was amusing having seats below over which were cabins with small beds. We reached the Tibetan settlement in Dharamsala after 16 hours of traveling. Tired yet excited we looked eager to the days ahead. In the days that followed we saw the Tibetan Library-the main Buddhist study center in Dharamsala under the Gyelup school, visited the Namgyel monastery, Tushita center of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, saw the Men Tsee Khang-Tibetan medical institute, met personally the main teacher of the library Geshe Sonam Rinchen, climbed the mountain to see the places where great masters in the past such as our dear Gen lam Rim-pa had meditated, we were even welcomed by some meditators who although in silent retreat, were happy to give us a cup of tea in their humble meditation huts. The Tibetans with their smiling faces and friendly greetings of Tashi Delek spontaneously moved us from within. Yet the most precious and fortunate moments were the meeting with H.H the 17th Gyalwa karmapa Oryen Trinley Dorje in Gyuto Ramoche university located near Dharamsala.

H.H. Gyalwa Karmapa

Emaho!
O Lord, wearing the crown of all Siddhas,
Blessed by all the Dakinies,
Embodiment of all Buddha’s activities,
Lightening the darkness of ignorance by turning the wheel of Dharma,
Beholding you, blessed by your advice,
Thus is our good fortune.

H.H Gyalwa Karmapa blessed us and was happy to hear all the work in our center Padmasana, upholding the non-sectarian Mahayana tradition. He has promised to guide us and has given his support in a written document to us. We will continue to work under his guide lines. The 25 minutes that was spent in his presence inspired us beyond words.

Group picture with H.H. Gyalwa Karmapa

We also met with other Dharmic friends who although coming from other countries braved all kinds of problems to stay and further practice the Dharma in Dharamsala such as Lorrain Lester and Ani Boni. We thanked Lorrain for the help that she had given us in organizing the stay in Dharamsala.

Tibetan Library (Dharamsala)Tushita Meditation Center (McLeod Ganj)Meditation cottages in the hills over McLeod GanjGyuto Ramoche universityGyuto Ramoche universityNorbulingka InstituteNorbulingka InstituteNorbulingka Institute


For Drago in particular it was as though coming back home. A lot of memories surfaced as he had spent so many years studying in the Dialectic School, under the guide lines of H.H the Dalai Lama. It was under the Blessing of H.H Dalai Lama that Drago had come back home to Zagreb with me, to open the door of Dharma in a non sectarian manner.
As all things are impermanent, days passed by, as though in a flicker of the eyelid, and soon we were on a bus moving towards Srinagar the capital of Kashmir , also known as the crown of India’s Beauty. Knowing only too well of the Militant danger involved we however reached Srinagar safely, our destination being the Dal lake in the center of the city. Soon we were sitting in small Shikaras or boats moving towards our guest rooms which were beautiful wooden carved house boats on the Dal lake. With the lingering perfume of the wood itself, each boat a piece of art with its carvings, adorned with Chandeliers, luxurious sofas, we delighted our senses. We wondered at the contrast of the militant danger, fighting on the one hand and the exquisite beauty on the other .From the fine Kashmiri tea -kahwa , to the kashmiri handicrafts, floating markets on boats, floating gardens of lotus in the dal lake, mughal gardens, temple of sage Shankracharya, an old mosque in the city, we experienced it all. There was an abundance of army and a silent cry for peace by the local people. Years of internal fight had not touched the beauty of the place but had touched the people in different ways. Praying that this beautiful land will wear the jewel ornament of peace we moved on after 3 days. This was the last time that we had enough rest as the days ahead demanded lots of physical effort. Our last stop in Kashmir was to take lunch in Sonamarg, a beautiful picnic spot surrounded by high mountain and glaciers and a river.

Mughal garden - NishadMughal garden - NishadShikara ride on Dhal LakeOn the house boat (Dal Lake)After sun set (Dal Lake)Picnic spot Sonamarg (Kashmir)Horse ride in Sonamarg

 

Up the mountains towards Ladakh( one among the highest of the worlds inhabited plateaus) on a one way broken narrow road, on dangerous heights our cameras worked, photographing what was permitted in a hope to share with others. Yet what we really experienced cannot be told in words or shown in pictures. The idea of beauty took a strange turn from the green meadows in Kashmir to rather hard mountain ranges, barren, sandy, covered with stones. The stones changed their shapes and colors and hung as though ornamenting the rugged mountains. However between the hard mountains we often passed small villages surrounded with greenery as though the oasis in the desert. Remote yet not isolated, this Trans Himalayan land is a repository of a myriad of cultural and religious influences from mainland India, Tibet and central Asia. Ladakh is often called the land of the Buddha’s People. Rather fast we climbed up from 2585m Sonamarg to 3530 Zojila pass and downwards to Drass, Kargil. 2700m approx. Traveling by road on jeeps gave us enough time to acclimatize. As we traveled our spirits soared up. Mantras floated across our minds and lips moved automatically .In Kargil the local people were surprised to see us, telling us that we were the last group to cross from Srinagar side to Ladakh as one of the bridges had broken down due to the rising of the waters of the river Indus. Thus we presumed that our positive motivation on the Buddhist pilgrimage helped us get through. We halted a night in kargil, in a hotel.
Since the time we had entered Ladakh, we were stopped many a times in different military checkpoints to fill up details of our passport as a routine check .We had passed many military cantonment areas and were not permitted to photograph any of the bridges due to security reasons. The huge amount of security forces after the last Kargil war was most evident.

On way up from SonamargHard and rocky terrain (Ladakh)Green pastures (Ladakh)Play of sunset on rocks (Ladakh)Local tea stall

 

Visit to Phokarzong.on 12th of August- Like many of the readers now, perhaps we too would have not believed in all that we encountered had we not seen it for ourselves.  It was not in vain that Drago and I, had been as insistent on good physical health and motivation before the onset of the journey, as we were all about to be tested. On a very special request we had arranged to visit this very sacred Guru Rinpoche cave hidden high up in the mountains about 4000m. Not many people venture there and we were told, that we were the first foreign group. From the very base, to the top of the mountain we struggled on a narrow path, steep climb over rocks, crossing water channels, facing extreme heat, high winds, lack of oxygen, yet none of us were prepared to stay back. A Strange quiet took place inside and outside. We needed no teaching, no effort to be in touch with the nature of our mind-naked, spontaneous, spacious, awareness and clarity.  It was no wonder why Guru Rinpoche and many other masters had crossed this path. However we had a path to walk on among other facilities, but how did the ancient great masters cross these hidden paths, how did they meditate here? We were told that on this narrow path between two mountains, Guru Rinpoche also known as Guru Padmasambhava had conquered a female demon with his Phurba. As the battle took place the sword of the demoness made a crack in the mountain forming the narrow valley through which we trekked up. Tantric practices leads to pure visions, through the trek we were shown self appearing signs on the rocks identified by many great teachers. We passed the place of the 21 self originated Tara’s under the rocks, self originated prints of a conch shell given to Buddha Shakyamuni by the Gods, self appearing marks of scorpion, fish, deer and elephant, self appearing print of yogi Milarespa on the rock, self appearing rock in the form of  great Translator Marpa, print of Guru Rinpoche as he flew up the mountain to his cave, the white self appearing dakini script, self appearing mani mantra, the purifying water from the stream which makes the sound of hung and phet. Immesurable faith grew in us. Helping each other we reached the top of the mountain to a small monastery of Drukpa Kagyu tradition, headed by H.H Gyalwa Drukchen Rinpoche. Stopping to catch our breaths on about 4000m, we then walked across the mountain on the other side to the Guru Rinpoche cave. In the whole barren mountain, the only trees that we saw were a group of big juniper trees out side the cave. Our guide a monk from the monastery told us that the first set of trees was the place were Guru Rinpoche put his arrow, the second set was the walking stick of Guru Rinpoche and the group of 3 branches coming from one root was the tripod of Guru Rinpoche. Each of these groups of trees was sacred and had a number of prayer flags around them. Finally we were in front of a cave, the opening of which was high on the rock, and just approaching the entrance with unsteady wooden planks was an ordeal in itself. Half bent, in pitch darkness we entered aided with a few torches. On entering we moved 2 to 3 people at a time due to lack of space. While the temperature out was very hot outside, inside the cave it was very cold. We were about to see 3 inner caves of Guru Rinpoche located one above the other. This place was called Maratika cave. In the lower most cave we saw the foot prints of Guru Rinpoche on the rock and till today the tsampa that he had eaten. In the Upper most cave we saw a small statue of 4 armed Cherenzig, print of the Dakini’s breast, print of Guru Rinpoches hand on the rock, foot print of Kyabje Toldan Rinpoche a Drikung Kagyu Lama and a stream of water created by the Guru Rinpoche’s power , which only flows when the people with faith visit this cave. The middle cave which is the largest in size had the print of Guru Rinpoches rib and head on the one side. The entire ceiling had the shape of the inner organs of Guru Rinpoche. A chorten also called stupa(symbolizing the enlightened mind of the Buddha) containing the relic of Guru Rinpoche was there. On the side of this very cave was a smaller cave which had the vase of the Guru Rinpoche on the rock. Guru Rinpoche had spent 7 months and 7 days meditating in this cave. We were all told that H.H the Dalai Lama had meditated a night in this cave and H.H Drukchen Rimpoche had also meditated in this cave. Following their footsteps we sat in the cave reciting various mantras and meditating for sometime. It was as if Guru Rinpoche was present, just watching us. To some of us it was as though a direct encounter with the Guru himself. On coming out of the cave we were shown another opening on the rock, in which on auspicious Guru Rinpoche days drums and syllables can be heard. The mountains across the caves appeared in the shape of the Potala, 11 headed Chrenzig and the yidam Heruka on the left. Not finding any reason to talk, we silently descended the mountain helping each other, thinking even if we saw nothing else further we had achieved the reason to come on this journey.

TrekkingTrekkingPath between the mountains (Phokarzong)Self appearing Yogi Marpa on the rocksWhite mark is left by Guru Rinpoche's flight to the cave on the other side of the mountainView of Guru Rinpoche CavePrayer hall on top of the mountainGuru Rinpoche in shrine of the Prayer hallSelf appearing Dakini script on rocksOther small cavesJuniper tree - tripod of Guru Rinpocheself apearing print of dakini breastsStupha with relique of Guru RinpocheVase of Guru RinpocheOur group near Maratika caveDescending the mountain


We then drove across the Fotu-la pass at 4094m to Lamayuru were we slept for the night. Early next morning we were amazed at the tantalizing glimpse of the mysterious monastery of Lamayuru, set amidst the grandest landscape of a drained lake, and surrounding mountains.

Sunset view on way to Lama Yuru

Lamayuru Monastery-Lamayuru or the Yungdrung monastery is one of the oldest monasteries prevalent during the time of the bon tradition in Ladakh. It is said that there was a great lake in its place. The Arhat Nyimagung made a prophesy,“ may a monastery be founded in this place”, he then offered water offerings to the guardian naga serpent spirits. The corn grains offered as a part of the offering were carried by the waves to the edge of the lake forming a swastika. Later the monastery was founded there and got its name Yungdrung which means Swastika. We entered the monastery while prayers were being made to the deities Chakrasamvara and to Achi Choyki Drolma, and were told that it was considered auspicious. Among other things like the sacred statues and shrines, we also saw the cave where the great mahasidha Naropa meditated in the 11 centuary. Within the cave was a sacred statue of Naropa surrounded by mahasidhas Milarespa and Marpa. The Lamayuru monastery belongs to the Drikung Kagyu tradition, headed by Kyabje Toldan Rinpoche.
During the rule of the Dharmaking Jamyang Namgyel from 1560 to 1590, he invited Chosje Danma from Tibet to Ladakh. We were told by our guide that before Chosje Danma came to Ladakh he had put his hand in the Mansarover lake and found 2 stones. The first stone had the Mani mantra on it and the second had the carving of the mahasiddha Naropa on it. Chosje Danma then came to Ladakh to establish the Drikung Kagyu tradition in Ladakh.

Lama Yuru monasteryStupas in Prayer hallStatue of Marpa, Vajradhara, Milarepa & other GurusView from roof top (Lama Yuru)Residental area of monks (Lama Yuru)

Attitse meditation center- Mahasiddha Naropa after residing in lamayuru, went to Attitse to meditate there in a cave. We followed on the footsteps of Naropa. Attitse is a meditation center built around the cave of Naropa. We were fortunate to be there and meditate in that holy place, although for a short time. We then took the blessings from a unique speaking statue of the Buddha of action, Vajrapani, who stood with his mouth wide open. This Vajrapani statue was previously in the monastery of Lamayuru. During the time of one of the invasions of Pakistan in ladakh, the statue spoke to an old lady to take it to the Attitse cave. The old lady then put the statue in her bag and brought it to Attitse cave where it is kept now. There are forms of Buddha’s other than the Nirmanakaya forms that can appear to only those people with pure minds and with merit. These kind of people, like this old lady are able to have pure visions. Delighted and inspired with all that we saw, we departed.

Attitse Meditation CenterStatue of Mahakala & Achi Chokyi DrolmaSpeaking statue of VajrapaniIn front of Prayer hall (Attitsa)Statue of Mahasidha Naropa in his cave (Attitsa)

During our drive further, we passed by Ven. Nari Rinpoche’s meditation Center.

Nari Rinpoche's Meditation Center

Mulberg Champa- Before reaching Leh we briefly stopped at Mulberg Champa. As though an entrance door for Leh, Mulberg Champa is a carving of the future Buddha Maitreya on the wall, by the side of a road, overlooking a small monastery. This figure is in the old Kashmiri- Gandhara Style, dating back to the 7 or 8 centaury  A.D.  Two of its kind can also be seen in the Kargil valley. It falls under the care of the Hemis Monastary, of the Drukpa Lineage.

Buddha Maitreya on the rock1000 armed Avalokiteshwara in Prayer hallHeruka Chakrasamvara (Mulberg Champa)Side view of Mulberg Champa

During the following week we used a hotel in leh(3506m) as our base camp, moving in different directions everyday to visit the sacred sites. The capital city of Ladakh, leh, has a flourishing market, many guest rooms, travel agencies and all kinds of facilities. People of all different religions and culture intermingle here. Being a small town we were able to walk through it and orient ourselves very well.

Lunch in Leh


In the time that we spent in Ladakh we visited monasteries of all the schools of the Tibetan Buddhism. Ladhakh is the home for all the 4 Buddhist schools. In particular we found that the practice and veneration to Guru Rinpoche is very prominent and a sign of this is that the Guru Rinpoche’s representations are found in all the monasteries despite their different traditions.
Our Buddhist Society holds the blessing of both H.H Dalai lama and H.H Gyalwa Karmapa to run in a non sectarian way. In keeping with this aim we have called teachers of different Mahayana traditions in our Buddhist center in Zagreb and in this pilgrimage also, we endeavored to take the blessings from the holy sites of all the four traditions. The importance of the non sectarian tradition can be summed up in the words of Ven Garchen Rinpoche during his teaching in Zagreb in the month of October 2007 organized by Padmasana our Buddhist Sangha. Once when Garchen Rinpoche was asked to make a prayer of the complimentary nature of the 4 traditions the following Image came to him.
The tradition of the Gyelup is like the trunk of the tree, Sakya is the branches, Nyingma is like the flower that opens in the end of the branches and Kagyu is the fruit that comes from it. But running through all the parts of the tree is the water. Without this water of friendliness or compassion and love in our hearts, the trunk, branches, flowers and fruits will all crumble and fall. So Bodhichitta is common to all schools making the whole tree lively and beautiful.

Rizong Monastery- On the morning of the 13th of august we saw Rizong Monastery with its very strict discipline of the monks who inhabit the monastery. Being of the Gyelupa order the monastery had beautiful statues of Lama Jhe Tsong Khapa with his 2 desciples Gyaltsabje and kedrupje. Among other beautiful statues, was the big statue of thousand armed Avalokiteshwara. The name Rizong can be divided into two. Ri means mountain and zong means haven. It truly looks like a haven between hidden mountains, situated 76 kms from leh at a height of 3420m. Rizong was founded by Lama Tsultrim Nyima (1796-1872), the cave in which he meditated can still be seen, and contains a stupa with his relics. Interestingly Lama Tsultrim was married but his wife, his sister and son all renounced worldly life. His wife and sisters became nuns in the nearby Chulichan Nunnery. His son a recognized Tulku entered the monastery and became Rizong Sras Rinpoche-1. The current Sras Rinpoche, (also known as the next holder of the precious Ganden throne) is the head of the monastery.

View of Rizong Monastery

Alchi Monastery- On the 13 th of august we also visited Alchi gonpa built by the great translator Rinchen Zangpo approximately 900 years ago. It exhibits wooden architecture according to the ancient Kashmiri tradition making it a unique architectural piece. Just outside the monastery is the place where Rinchen Zangpo planted his own staff, standing now in the form of the oldest willow tree in Ladakh. The monastery has 3 main temples the Jamyang Lhakang where the main shrine is that of Manjushri in different colors of the Buddha Families, Rinchen Lakhang devoted to Rinchen Zangpo himself and the Sumtsag lakhang. On the walls of the monastery one can see unique representations of the ancient images of deities like Green Tara and Palden Lhamo. On the outside as one circubulates the monastery on the banks of the river Indus, one passes a lot of apricot trees. Ladakh is known for its rich harvest of Apricot trees.

Staff of Rinchen Zangpo (willow tree) AlchiGreen TaraWooden architectureOld stupas

On the morning of the 14th we took the invitation of joining H.H the Dalai Lamas teaching in leh. H.H Dalai Lama being our source of inspiration, we felt most fortunate. Any meeting with the Lord of compassion is full of blessing. H.H gave a commentary on the Lamrim which is a gradual path to enlightenment, emphasizing on the importance of refuge, crossing all the stages of the path, to the ultimate goal of Buddhahood. At the very beginning of the teaching H.H emphasized the importance of viewing the self as an illusion, as it is only such a view of the emptiness nature of the self that will make the motivation complete in terms of the method and wisdom. H.H also emphasized on the Bodhichitta, the enlightened mind.
The teaching itself drew crowds from all remote corners of Ladakh, wearing their traditional dresses, from the very young children to the very old men and women. Wherever we went we were greeted with a traditional Ladhaki friendly welcome, Julle-Julle. We were happy to be one with the people on this most auspicious occasion. However after the teaching I was most surprised how shy the Ladhaki people were as each time I tried to catch the face of any old women on my camera, they would instantly remove their big ladhaki hats and cover their faces with it. After trying endlessly I finally succeeded to get one old face on my camera.
After the teaching we briefly met and thanked Mr Thupstan Chhewang( Member of Parliament) and his wife Mrs Sarla who is the sister of the present young king of  ladakh. Mr Chhewang known well to Drago and myself had been so kind to help us throughout this journey. Mr Chhewang is very honored by the people of Ladakh due to his endless effort in working for their welfare and belonging to a very noble family. We also met briefly with the secretary of the Ladhaki Buddhist Sabha , Mr Lakpa, discussing some projects for the future and thanking him for his help in the organization of the trip to Ladakh. He had also provided us with 2 guides Tsewang and Mendrup who well understood our purpose of Buddhist pilgrimage and were a great help to us.

H.H. Dalai Lama's teaching in LehOld Ladakhi ladyPicture of H.H. Dalai Lama  with Bakula Rinpoche (above) Mr. Chhewang Thupstan with H.H. Dalai Lama & Bakula Rinpoche (below)


Within Leh we visited the castle of leh with a temple of Namgyal Tsemo built by King Tashi Namgyal (1500-1532).During the invasion of Hor army which got defeated by the ladakhi king, the dead bodies of the Hor army were placed under an image of Mahakala ,over which the temple devoted to the guardian dieties was built. In this way their evil spirits were crushed inorder to repulse further attack from the border. The palace has 9 stories and the entire building is built tilted so that if it collapses it will fall inwards and not on the outside. Unfortunately the palace is almost completely empty and under reconstruction.

Statue of diety Dukhar (Temple of Namgyal Tsemo)King castle of LehKing castle of LehPart of the castleView of a part of the Leh

   On the 15 of august we drove towards Likir Gonpa. On the way be stopped briefly on the point were the river Indus and Zanskar river meet. From this point of meeting onwards, the river takes the name of zanskar river.During the winter this gigantic river gets frozen and people walk on this river to Zanskar. Expiditions are made on this route.
One river meets another
There is no difference, its only water
Ones own nature meets with another
There is no difference, it is primordial purity.

Meeting of 2 riversIndus river

Liker Monastery- This Gonpa belongs to the Gyelup tradition. It is headed by Nari Rinpoche, the brother of H.H Dalai Lama. The hill on which this monastary is situated has a coil shape, believed to be the naga king. So the monastary is also called Klu-Khil , Klu meaning snake and Khil meaning coil. It was founded by Lhawang Chosje in 1088, who introduced the teachings of the Kadampa sect by the great Indian master Atisha. Within the monastery we saw the precious Statue of Buddha Kashapa and the 8 different types of stupas representing the various activities of the Buddha. Activities such as Buddha’s birth, enlightenment in Bodhgaya, teaching of Dharma, miracle powers, Buddha’s descent from Tushita heaven, reunification of Sangha, prayers by devotees for Buddha’s long life and Buddha’s maha parinirvana. We also saw the statue of Buddha Matriya in the Long ku form in the monastery and on the outside of the monastery is a huge statue of Matriya Buddha in the Tulku form. The Long ku form of Matriya Buddha represents Buddha in the Tushita realm teaching only the Bodhisatvas also called Sambhogakaya form, while the Tulku form of Buddha Matriya with a stupa on his forehead represents his manifesting among us ordinary beings also called the Nirmanakaya form.

Liker monasteryMaitreya Buddha in Longku formStatue of Buddha KushapaMaitreya Buddha in Tulku form

Throughout Ladakh we were amazed by the number of Maitreya Buddha Statues that we saw. In the castle of Basgo, 42 kilometres west of leh, on a hill of clay, built by the dharma kings Jamyang Namgyal and Singge Namgyal in the Serzang temple stands the copper gilded image of the Buddha Maitreya, 2 storeys in height. On the very top of the same castle in the Chamba temple stand the three storeys tall Maitreya Buddha made of clay. There is also a third smaller clay statue of Maitreya Buddha built by the Balti wife of the king Singge Namgyal. This temple Cham Chungtemple is in a shape of a mosque, as the queen was a Muslim before converting to Buddhism. Unfortunately this site, due to natural causes is almost entirely on the verge of destruction.

Castle of BasgoCastle of BasgoCopper statue of MaitreyaClay ststue of Maitreya

Phiyang Gonpa- This Gonpa belongs to the Drikung Kagyu Tradition, headed by Ven.Thogden Rinpoche. During our visit the monks were preparing for the celebration of the Drikung Kagyu birth year of Kyoba Jigten Gonpo considered to be the founder of this tradition and a reincarnation of the master Nagarjuna. The main protectors of this monastery are Achi Choki Drolma and Gyalwa Pehar.

View of Phiyang Gonpa

Spituk Monastery- The sight of the Spituk monastery was blessed by the Arhat Nyimagug. The famous translator Rinchen Zangpo came to this place and said that an exemplary religious community would arise here and so when the monastery was built on this site it got its name Spituk meaning exemplary. The principle statue is that of Lord Shakyamuni Buddha within which there is the sacred image of Amitayus originated from the nose blood of the great Lama Tsong Khapa. As we entered the monastery the monks were chanting the 21 Tara prayers. We moved from the main hall to the one behind were we saw the statue of Tara known to have spoken with H.H the Dalai Lama. Spituk Gonpa was headed by the late Bakula Rinpoche an incarnation of the 16th Arhat in the time of Shakyamuni Buddha. Bakula Rinpoche passed away in the year 2003. During the time of his cremation ceremony as his ash was being brought from Delhi to Spituk monastery a strange happening took place. A mongoose came and sat on Rinpoches throne in his room for 6 months until Rinpoche’s statue was built with his ash in it. Then the mongoose disappeared never to be seen again. Bakula Rinpoche from the Buddha’s time has been always shown in pictures to be carrying a mongoose in his hand. Although this sacred room where the mongoose appeared is locked and not shown to the public, on special recommendation and request we were allowed to see the room and take the blessing from the picture of the mongoose on the throne. Faith arose in us as we passed the 21 Taras in Rinpoche’s room to see his holy statue and the picture of the mongoose. For those of us who understood, we felt truly fortunate and amazed. Things that we had studied and heard off now seemed so real.

View of Main entrance to Prayer hall (Spituk)Monastery kitchenTara shrineView from rooftop of Spituk Monastery

On the following day we visited Matho Gonpa and the stok palace. Matho Monastery is situated in a remote area belonging to the Sakya tradition, built by the Tibetan scholar Dorje Palsang in the early 15th centuary. The monastery is headed by Khaling Rinpoche and contains a special shrine of the entire Buddhist Canon and also a shrine of the Lamdre Lineage of Lamas. Ke Dorjee also known as Hevajra is the main protector of this monastery. Interestingly enough the monastery still holds the old tradition of not allowing the women in the main protector room. This monastery is famous for the dance of the oracle Rongtsen Kar Mar once a year. These Oracles are in trance during that festival, make predictions, run on the rooftop blindfolded and cut their mouths and hands with sharp knives. However no traces of wounds are found the next day.

Monk signalizing for lunchStanding Tara with her 2 attendants

We also visited the castle of Stok built by King Tsespal Tondup Namyal in 1825. Inside the castle is a museum in which we saw shrines, jewels of the noble kings and queens, ceremonial dresses, pictures of the noble families.

Castle of StokHimalayan ibus (Museum stok)

On the 17th of august we visited the Chemday monastery and Shey gompa . Our plan also included the Takthok monastery of the Niginyma tradition and although we drove there, we were surprised that all the monks had left to leh to meet H.H Dalai Lama and so the monastery was closed. This did not disturb us, we took it as a sign that we will be back to Ladakh someday to see it.

All through Ladakh we encountered many rather funny messages on the side of the streets for the drivers. Such as, speed thrills but kills and be late mister but not mister late. We were entertained throughout the journey. Another sign that appeared on the side of many streets was the word ‘Hemank’. This stood for the workers or caretakers of the mountains who work in o degrees. In fact we crossed many workers who were renovating the badly damaged roadways. It was because of their endless effort in harsh conditions that made our journey possible.

 Chemdey Monastery- This is the branch of Hemis Monastary. After having founded Hemis, the great master Staksang Raspa founded this monastery. It has the one of the oldest Dukhang or prayer halls. The temple has photos and statues of the great Staksang Raspa. The Guru Lakhang is dedicated to Guru Padmasambhava. This 10 feet high statue of Padmasambhava was built during the reign of King Deldan Namgyal in the 17th century. This Lhakang also has statues of the 8 different forms of Padmasambhava representing his birth, his time as a ruler of Udiyana, as a monk, as a practitioner, as an apprentice, as a conqueror of heretics in India, as a tamer of demons in Tibet and as a teacher of Mahamudra. This hall also has representations of Bodhisatvas, protectors of Drukpa Kagyu traditions, pictures of great yogis like Shakya shri. Chemdey also has a Lama Lakhang with statues of Shambunatha also known as Staktsang Raspa, Duwang Rinpoche, Padmasambhava with two consorts Mandharava and Khandro Yeshe Tsogyal, Padmakarpo, Gampopa also called Dagpo Lharje,Tsokey Dorjey and many others.

Chemdey monasteryChemdey monasteryStatue of Guru RinpocheOne aspect of Guru DrakpoPicture of Yogi Shakya Shri

 Shey palace and Monastery.  The shey monastery is famous for the sacred copper gilt statue of Shakyamuni Buddha, three stories in height. It is renowned to be one of its kind, there not being any like it even in Tibet. The monastery was built at such a distance so that no one could recognize the figure to be of a man or a woman.  The monks of that village were not allowed join the monastic order in Shey due to fear of misconduct resulting from attachment.

Shey palace was the palace of the first king of Ladakh , Lachen Palgyigon and the winter palace of the king Senge Namgyel.  The wife of the King Senge Namgyel was from Turkistan, that being one of the reasons of the coming of the Muslims to Ladakh and the other reason, ladakh being a part of the Silk route. Shey was the oldest palace of the kings of Ladakh, followed by Leh palace and then the Stok palace.

Shey monasteryDuck pond in front  of Shey monastery

The one face that appeared on almost every corner of Ladakh and even in the small town of Kelong, was pictures of the head of Drukpa kagyu school, H.H The Twelfth Gyalwang Drukchen Rinpoche the current holder of the lineage of the spiritual transmission of the Indian sage Naropa. Drukchen Rinpoche having mastered the 6 yogas of Naropa, adorns on some special occasions, Naropas actual ornaments made of bone given to Naropa by celestial beings. For some liberation can be achieved by just getting a vision of the 6 celestial ornaments.
This lineage of the Drukpa tradition was introduced in the 13th century in the Himalayas by the great ascetic Gyalwa Gotsangpa, belonging to the lineage of the oral transmission of Milarespa. Gotsangpa meditated in a vultures nest high in the mountain were he undertook a pledge,
"You, the bird, the rock and I, the man, until I realize the oneness of the three, I will not leave this spot.”
Gotsangpa achieved realization fulfilling this pledge. Till today the yoga based on the 6 doctrines of Naropa is being practiced by masters and monks at the Gotsang cave, 2 kilometers in the mountains above the Hemis Monastery. We had the great privilege of walking up to the cave. On our way up we chanted mantra of Milarespa and other mantras. Not able to see our well hidden final destination till the last moment, we walked on a passage between the mountains, crossing a river, trekking over the rocks. Passing stupas made of loose stones and prayer flags we reached the isolated cave of Gotsang. It is in this cave that all the great masters of the Drukpa tradition have meditated. Even on that warm day the temperature inside the cave was very cold. The monk incharge told us that when the mahasidha Gotsangpa came to this cave it was too small. So Gotsangpa through his siddhi powers raised the roof of the cave with his fingers. We for ourselves were able to see his hand prints on the roof of the cave. Inspired by the Mahasiddha, we all sat and meditated for a while. On the front side of the cave is a precious shrine with statues of Marpa, Milarespa, Ganpopa, 14th Drukchen Rinpoche as incarnation of Gotsangpa, Abu Rinpoche and some pictures of famous masters. The monk was also kind enough to show us the small lakhang above the cave with a statue of Guru Rinpoche.
Feeling very blessed we descended towards the monastery of Hemis. From an aerial view the entire area where the cave of Gotsangpa is located looks like the auspicious symbol of a conch with the letters' He’ on it. That is how Hemis monastery got its name.

Path towards Gotsangpa caveView of GotsangHand prints on roof of GotsangShrine in the cave

Another important sage in the 16th centuary was Shambhunatha or often called Stagtsang Raspa. Stagtsang Raspa had meditated in a tigers den in Tsang province in Tibet. He came to Ladakh on the invitation of the king Senge Namgyal and it was then that the monasteries of Hemis, Chemde and Hanle were founded. Stagtsang Raspa had received visions of all the 84 mahasiddhas and later realized the rainbow body.
Hemis Monastery is know for the festival ( Hemis Tsechu )of the unraveling of the unique tapestry wrought with pearls that depict Guru Padmasambhava, in the year of the monkey of the Tibetan calender. This festival was introduced by Gyaltras Rinpoche the third who was the half brother of Panchen Lama in Tibet. At the very entrance of Hemis there are wall paintings of the 84 mahasidhas. Hemis itself has many sacred statues as that of the speaking Tara, speaking Stagtsang Raspa and other sacred statues and many beautiful paintings on the wall. It is the biggest monastery in Ladakh. We were told how Gyalwa Pehar became the protector of Hemis. During the time of Gyaltras Rinpoche a monk brought an object in hiding, from the Tibetan monastery of Samye to Hemis. The protector Pehar then a protector of Samye monastery in Tibet, followed the monk and came to Hemis. Gyalwa Pehar with wrath approached Gyaltras Rinpoche. Rinpoche conquered him and Gyalwa Pehar from that time took an oath to protect Rinpoche and the monastery of Hemis. The Guru Lakhang has a big statue of Guru Rinpoche  perhaps the biggest in Ladakh.

View of Hemis MonasteryView of Hemis MonasteryStatue of White Tara (Hemis)

Thiksey Gonpa.- Lama Jhe Tsong Khapa had prophesied that on the bank of the Indus river my teachings will come to flourish.. Jhe Tsong khapas own disciple Sherab Zangpo built the first temple on top of the Thiksey valley and later his nephew Palden Sherab founded the great monastery of Thiksey. Thiksey has a very big statue of the Matriya Buddha. Thiksey was established more than 530 years ago.

Thiksey MonasteryLodge in Thiksey MonasteryMaitreya Buddha statue (Thiksey)

In our short time in Ladakh inspired to see as much as we could we made our way to the Ladakh border, 208 kilometers away from leh, in jeeps crossing fields of sand and rocks on a bumpy terrain most of the time without roads. For those in our group who suffered from back and leg pains this was a test of their patience and courage. Through the journey if no realization dawned, at least the hard terrain gave the opportunity to realize and experience and remember Buddha’s first noble truth of suffering. Through these sand fields we occasionally sighted wild horses and some nomadic people. For a lot of the journey the sand was thrown up in the air by winds making the visibility to the bare minimum, at times even loosing the site of our other jeeps. After hours of endless driving we caught a glimpse of one of the highest lakes in the world, the Tsomoriri lake, it felt as though the earth and the sky met. Although tired we left our belongings in our camps set up on one side of the lake and walked past some fields (actually a sanctuary for rare birds) towards the lake. The length of the lake seemed endless, surrounded by snow peaked mystic mountains. From Green to blue color the lake reflected everything around it, just as the clarity and luminosity of the nature of the mind itself. Even at a height of 4553 m, we had only to close our eyes and hear the sound of the sea coming from the sound of the waves of the lake. Occasionally we caught a glimpse of a kingfisher bird. Dazed by the beauty a few of us trekked on the mountains above, passing stupas of loose stones and even prayer flags. At times we marveled at the mountain peaks and at times turning back the magnificent lake held us in awe. There were no need for words, a silence engulfed us and not threatened by the nature, just one with it we felt the peace. And then as though showing us impermanence, testing our inner peace, the weather took a drastic change. From the Scorching heat, winds moved in bringing a chilling cold, the friendly mountains now appeared wrathful, almost threatening. We all hurried back to our camping site, now for the first time aware of a growing hunger and tiredness. The friends from Ladakh who had put up our camps had also made us a lavishing unexpected meal at this altitude. Eating well we sought the company of our sleeping bags. The night turned out for most of the group to be an ordeal. Each of us dealt in our own way fighting with the freezing cold and to some was the added discomfort of the lack of oxygen. Unable to sleep for long we woke up to an early start.

By now many of our friends in the group were showing signs of tiredness. As though to inspire them further we visited the Korzot monastery on the mountain side founded about 135 years ago by Lama Kunga Lodos Snyingbo. While walking up we were quick to notice new snow on the mountain peaks, with empty spaces forming like images of the Buddha’s themselves.  That this area would be closed and isolated from the rest of ladakh in the month of September itself, if not earlier due to heavy weather conditions, was most evident. In the monastery, we paid homage to the main Statue of Buddha in the heart of who, is the sacred tooth relic of Kasho Buddha with a self appearing wisdom letter AH.

On way to Tsomorriri LakeRest in the jeepView of te lakeView of te lakeView of te lakeOur camps in TsomorririDinner in our dinning campRare bird sanctuaryKingfisher over the lakeFigure of Buddha on the fresh snowView of Korzot Monastery

With all of these describable and mostly indescribable experiences, we drove passed sand fields, a lake covered with blocks of hardened salt, dangerous curves, descending and ascending to a valley between mountains, we halted in Sarchu for the night. Tired from the tough journey, tonight for most of us, sleep came effortlessly, the camps were like luxurious hotels .Although the wind was blowing or rather howling it too seemed to have no effect on us and the next morning came too fast. By now our four jeeps with the labels from 1 to 4 had became our second homes, our constant companions during the pilgrimage. Driving in jeeps passing rocky mountains for the last time, we drove passed the Shingula pass known for medicinal flowers and then the landscape changed drastically giving way to the greenery of Himachal Pradesh. The mountains were rich with vegetation, lush green with beautiful waterfalls. The softness of the land captured our attention and a realization dawned that we had crossed Ladakh. There was wetness in the air that we had never felt even for a moment in our entire journey through ladakh. We reached the small town of Kelong on the mountain side where we slept in a small hotel. The sight of beds and a bathroom gave us the greatest delight, after spending 2 nights in a camp, this was the extra bonus.

Drive between Tsomoriri & SarchuDrive between Tsomoriri & SarchuDrive between Tsomoriri & SarchuDrive between Tsomoriri & SarchuDrive between Tsomoriri & SarchuTents in SarchuTents in SarchuDinner campDrive between Sarchu & KelongDrive between Sarchu & KelongHimalayan sheep


Out from Kelong about 60 kilometers we drove to one of the most holy sites known as Triloknath or Rewa Phakpa in Tibetan. To begin with we were a little surprised at the layout, which seemed like a small Indian village. The statue itself is kept in a building like that of an Indian Temple. This is a holy site known for a statue of the Buddha of Compassion, Avalokiteshwara. This particular White marble statue is known as a wish fulfilling statue venerated by people from different faiths. To the people who follow Hinduism this white statue appears as that of lord Shiva. We also saw Christian people making the sign of the cross in front of this statue. The temple contains 2 statues one a white statue known to have been brought from Bihar and the other a black Avalokiteshwara statue which has self arisen. Before going inside the temple, we circulated on its outside, moving a line of Mani prayer wheels, as though spreading good wishes and Dharma outwardly to all directions. As we went in the main hall we sat in prayers for a while and requested for the fulfillment of the most auspicious wishes. Each of us approached the Statue and made a humble offering and was given a blessing by the priest in a form of a piece of cloth and a mark on the forehead.
Happily believing that Buddha Avalokiteshwara would fulfill our wishes we spent the rest of the day walking through the small Bazar, marketplace in Kelong. Himachal woolen caps seemed to have fascinated a number of our friends.

TriloknathArea around TriloknathTriloknath


Next morning we drove pass the notorious Rohtang pass at the height of 3980m. As we approached the pass the rain started pouring but having tied our luggage well with protective covers over the jeeps, and having skillful drivers, we were comfortable. Unfortunately as we descended the mountains after the pass, the rain stopped and so did our vehicles. We found ourselves lined up on the side of the road between other vehicles. Judging from the length of line of traffic we knew that the blockage had been for a long time. We got out of the car and walked further to see what exactly was the cause of the traffic block. To our amusement we saw a small tractor pushing big busses and trucks, one at a time over a sharp bent where the road had been washed away due to the rains, leaving only soft soil on which the heavy vehicles could not ply. The traffic moving towards ladakh was able to pass, while all of us descending from Ladakh towards Manali just looked on. Although stuck in an area far from any village, the word of the road block must have spread to a far distance. Slowly venders with coconut, coffee and all kinds of other things joined us as though we were on a small picnic with a few rain showers. After about 2 hours or so the roads opened.
As we drove pass small villages, continuously descending the mountain range, we noticed the breathtaking beautiful landscape of a remote village of Kothi, before reaching Manali by late evening. We checked into a luxurious hotel for the night. Despite the late hours almost all of us moved around the town of Manali and had the delight of eating cakes and drinking good coffee and tea after many a days. Who would think that these small things could give us so much delight, while back home they were taken for granted.

Rothang passTractor pushing up trucks (near Rothang pass)Beautifull Himachal landscape


Early next morning at 5 am, we already were in jeeps on our long 16 hour drive to Delhi, through heavy traffic. Once in Delhi, we met for the last time to celebrate the end of our journey together in a night party where we ate traditional Indian food and sang songs.
Although this Pilgrimage had its hard moments, some due to the journey itself and sometimes disturbances between the people, the auspicious blessings outweighed all the problems. It also gave us all an opportunity to really get to know one another.
As all is impermanent, the pilgrimage is now just a memory.
But the imprints of all the blessings, we will carry with us.
The outer pilgrimage ended but the inward journey continues.

In the future Drago and I will be going to some of the other holy places in Ladakh, for a longer time to meditate. On that Journey we will pass through some sacred places meditating in each for a number of days. If any genuine Buddhist practitioner would like to join us, please do contact us directly on our number 4663028.

 

 Text-Reena Šmalcelj.