Excerpts from Relics – Pilgrimage to India and Nepal
January 1 ~ Bodhgaya, India
This morning, New Year’s Day, we were up at 3:00. By 4:00 a.m. I was walking through the already busy streets to visit the bodhi tree where Buddha Shakyamuni sat, touched the earth and changed the world with his enlightenment. From my luggage I took the tsa-tsas I had carefully wrapped so they wouldn’t break, clay images filled with the remains of my father, two dear friends and their parents as well, and I brought them along from home to set beneath the sacred tree as I walked past it on the pilgrim’s circuit, a stunned woman shaken to the bone. Hundreds, thousands of Buddhist and Hindu devotees circumambulated and prayed, walking clockwise around the walkway inside the great complex that houses the Maha Bodhi stupa and the famous bodhi tree. As we rounded a corner the sun rose, brilliant orange, and the garlands of marigolds draped over the ancient monolith lit up as if strings of beads on fire. The atmosphere is so incredibly holy it’s tangible. I offered candles, flowers, a bowl of bananas. Later during the day we walked through the town of Bodh Gaya to various monasteries, and waited our turn to pay respects to His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, the Dudjom Yangsi, emanation of Kyabje Jigdral Yeshe Dorje, and another highly esteemed Nyingma master, Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche. We offered katags, were given blessings, dudtsi, and beautiful pictures of the lamas. I felt their hands on my head.
”I’m going down to The Om,” I tell my roommate, Stephanie.
Having been to Bodhgaya before, she knew the place and tipped off the rest of us, a hole-in-the-way café – good, safe food, cheap, close, and you can change money there. A short walk back up the alley to the main road past the monastery security watchman in his green uniform and pert hat, past the half naked kids begging in small clouds of dust and the merchants with their carts layered with religious paraphernalia or oranges and bananas. I made my way through the frenzied traffic and around piles of trash to the local strip of shops. There is The Om.
I sit outside the restaurant on a low cement ledge. Now that it’s dusk the mosquitoes are taking control of the air. Two small Indian girls not three feet tall stand in front of me, tiny palms held out, smiling and talking and shoving their hands closer, closer… There is no stopping them. NO is a word they don’t acknowledge. Two more kids arrive and they all scrutinize me as I write, quieter now, curious, until two men suddenly appear, scolding the children. They turn, eyes wide, and scamper off. I resume writing.
The mantra in Bodhgaya is the horn, staccato, long and wailing, and beneath its shrill call drones the mumble of the ever-shifting crowd. There are countless rickshaws honking off key. The little English here usually consists of phrases that will sell something. Stephanie and I have had several long, halting conversations with the young Taiwanese nun who runs the “front desk” at the monastery, and she still doesn’t understand us. So, at this point, we haven’t paid for the first week of our room rental, a cost of approximately $10 each per day, a bit spendy considering the accommodations. However, our teacher Khenpo Namdrol Rinpoche, has provided meals for free in the basement along with the hordes of other dharma students from Taiwan and elsewhere who are attending this event. The few of us from the US pass in and out through the long halls like white ghosts as we silently nod and smile at the Asian residents.
I look up from writing in my journal to meet Shiva, one of the men who chased away the begging children. He owns another local restaurant that’s down around the corner, and though he is very polite and kind, I do not walk there for a meal with him as he requests. I hear Gyatrul Rinpoche’s voice warning me, “Be careful,” so I am. But Shiva is a good man; I can hear this in his voice, and he is telling the truth. Apparently his other passion (aside from restaurant management) is serving the poor that live in the streets of Bodhgaya. We talk about America. I tell him, “It’s an abundant yet strange country… People think owning things will make them happy and even though, to you, it looks like America is rich, many live in poverty, both in their stomachs and in their hearts. Half the marriages end in divorce.” He says he knows this; other foreign friends have told him. He wants to know if I would like to walk with him but I say, “No, I’m going for soup at the Om.”
Now at a table with two Tibetan monks I wait for thukpa, Tibetan soup, and recall today’s puja near the Bodhi Tree… It was a field day for photography – everywhere I look a photo opportunity presents itself. The great stupa towers above walkways strewn with garlands of marigolds and tormas ornamented with sculpted butter flowers in every color, all the usually open areas packed with monks and nuns bent over ritual texts, Tibetans, Bhutanese, and Buddhists of every description. I saw sadhus fingering their beads and staring out into space, Indian families walking from shrine to shrine, and here and there the few pale faces of Americans and Europeans. Unable to speak or read Tibetan, I couldn’t follow along with the main sadhana, but felt comfortable chanting through the text of my personal practice. All practices lead to the same place, so no problem there.
I sat in the cluster of our group on my small plastic tarp and took it all in. Sangye Khandro, just returning from a round of korwa, that long walk around the mandala complex surrounding the towering Maha Bodhi Stupa, approached me, smiling widely.
“You’ve got to go see the chodpas.”
“Really…” She knows my longing to experience “the real thing”. “Here? Now? You just saw some? Where are they?”
“Just walk the korwa and they’re right out in front of the main entrance to the temple.”
“Sangye, thank you… See you later…”
I was already standing up, I was walking, weaving across the sea of practitioners, hopping up over a stone wall, up some stairs and around on the wide walkway amid the current of burgundy robes and pilgrims in traditional dress. I came round the last corner and headed for the temple. My heart leapt in my chest. There they were.
Six elderly monks sat in two rows facing each other. They held their double-headed, green-skinned chod drums high in the air, vibrating in unison with the rhythm, the brocade tails swinging back and forth, all singing boldly, methodically, above the din. Oh my God. My eyes filled and my vision blurred. The monks’ voices were all I could hear, gruff, beautiful, haunting. Between them, set on a large wooden crate, a mound of food offerings: oranges, bananas, apples and mango, wrapped biscuits and candies, and beside that on the ground atop a saffron colored cloth, a copper mandala plate was piled with rice and three tiers of beaded rings, adorned with a norbu (jewel ornament), a traditional ritual offering. In front of each monk, a small box draped with a cloth held each pecha text. Incense burned, smoky and pungent in the air around them. At the head of their seating arrangement against the outside temple wall, a small makeshift altar was covered with red cloth. On it were several traditional offerings of torma, water offering bowls, and a main deity torma, much like mine at home, topped with an image of Machik Lopdron, the female Tibetan saint. Born in 1055 when the famous Tibetan master and poet Milarepa was fifteen years old, Machik Lopdron propagated the practice of chod throughout the land of snows. I sat nearby, listening to their entrancing and melodic puja, astonished and completely happy. It was a flash into my own aspiration, like a homecoming, like a gift. I’ll never forget it.
January 11 ~ Train out of Gaya, India
2:30 in the morning: I wake to the pitch black of Bodhgaya. Sleep is over. I lean into the hard cot, wearing my headlamp and read until 3:00, then get up. At 4:00 the six of us who have stayed at the Taiwan Temple are gathered inside the locked gate out front beside the small hill of our luggage, waiting for the others to pick us up in the rickety bus that will take us to Gaya Junction.
The train station is wall-to-track blankets wrapping mounds of people who have waited all night. We pick our way across the floor, careful not to step on anyone or their belongings, and stand with hordes of Indians and Tibetans on the platform. A man walks up and down the track, calling, “tea, tea!” and I buy some, filling my thermos for 32 rupees. It is way too sweet, but it is hot.
The moment the train stops we hurry to our second-class car. Some of us are tense, some just want to sleep, and our bags are quickly stuffed above and below the berths. Settling in for the six-hour trip, porters hand out rough pillows and sheets but I can’t think of sleep. The train creaks and heaves forward, slowly picking up speed. Soon, dawn revives the sky turning grey in the window where the world is flat and seems to be endless, a horizon disappearing into the Indian haze like breath on a mirror.
The train leisurely passes through fields prepared for the planting of rice, ditches full of water, crumbling, smoky towns full of men standing in the half-light around rubbish fires. The women are already carrying heavy loads on their heads or children in their arms. This so-called “express train” stops often and thus far does not live up to its name. We stop again at the first of what I believe will be a long run of tiny stations, another waking town, the same cracked plaster walls on the sides of ragged buildings sporting advertisements for “inner wear”. Huge white depictions of “wife beaters”, a slang American term for sleeveless men’s undershirts, and men’s shorts gape against loud red backgrounds. I wonder if all these wandering guys in wrap-around skirts and shawls actually wear them. Underwear is big, at least on the billboards, in India.
A thin brown man walks through the narrow aisle between the seats with what looks like an antique, dented up teakettle calling, “Chai, chai!” Perhaps he doesn’t care that everyone here is sleeping, except for me, nodding no. I have a thermos full already.
I am dreaming, awake, that I’ve found myself as an extra in the film Ghandi. I’ve stopped counting the number of times I’ve watched it sitting on my comfortable couch, wanting to be in this mysterious, rugged place, and now I sit on a hard blue bench in a train car, another part of the landscape just like everything else. Out the window, a thin white veil of fog clings to the fields, just above ground, like steam, unmoving. Wrapped in a long shawl, a lone figure walks barefoot between the tracks, only the eyes showing. The beings that live here: men, women, children, dogs and livestock, the huge oxen and small donkeys that pull carts packed with a handful of people and bag after bag of goods, every living thing must be tough as a callous to survive. It’s a hard world, abrupt, unflinching; there are no excuses here. You find a way or you are lost.
Yet this country has coaxed me for twenty-five years, much the way one is lured down a shadowy hall to a locked door. The key is my heart. Beyond the poverty and dust, the flat, endless distances, the deep black eyes of countless people you can’t have a conversation with, is a tremendous pulse, as if your own life has finally opened and there you find yourself. You are part of it. This discovery is made with delight and discomfort. As an American, I see myself both incredibly fortunate and ridiculously spoiled, my sensibilities now ravaged by suffering that is only observed; outwardly it doesn’t affect me, yet as I witness it I want to turn away and cry. But I don’t. I just walk by. Every time I have not put food or coins into an outstretched hand I’ve felt my heart shudder. But would it make a difference? This is the question we each repeatedly ask ourselves. The aspiration to be generous is always a benefit, yet the gesture seems as futile as offering crumbs to a starving giant.
Finally the train picks up speed and one on the adjacent track shoots past the window like a long dart, but our acceleration is brief and we stop at a cement platform on the edge of a town much like the others. Young guys walk up and down the aisles again, yelling, “Chai!” They come by every four to eight minutes, like American TV commercials. If you aren’t awake, you should be, and if you are, you should be drinking tea. It’s only human. Indian or Ingie, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or Christian, we all need our morning caffeine. “Chai, chai!”
January 13 ~ On the Ganges River in Varanasi, India
I was up and dressed at 4:30 this morning and an hour later four compact cars picked us up and drove through the dark, strangely still streets to Varanasi. We stopped abruptly at the far edge of the city, left the cars and walked down out of the night into dawn on the Ganges. Past the street and through twisted alleys, the steam from huge pots of tea drifted like fog through the shadows. Shrouded figures leaned against the walls of shops, still closed. As we emerged from the labyrinth of passageways, the beggars and peddlers of postcards, marigolds and rosaries began pushing their way, over and over, into our path, hands on our clothes, swarming everywhere we stepped. We bought some of the small cups, holding little candles and blooming marigolds, a traditional offering intended for floating, but even after our purchases the street merchants wouldn’t back off. “No, no buy!” We didn’t pause until we descended the many steep steps to the water. Until we stopped by the docked boats, I didn’t know we were going out for a sunrise trip on the river. Magic beyond my imaginings.
We watched the undulating eye of the sun as it opened, deep saffron on the gently shifting current. The water became wide and blue in the morning light. Our boatman rowed, rowed, rowed. The little bowls of candles and marigolds we had bought on shore for 5 or 10 rupees each were lit and set out, floating off with our silent prayers. I prayed for my mother, emptying a small bag of her ashes into the holy river, and my tears fell as the flowers disappeared. It’s been seven years since she left this world and due to her I am here. Later, the Tibetan monks on board chanted a practice by memory under the rising sun.
Across the water, on shore: indescribable Varanasi. The texture of the buildings is a brilliant, insane creation. Every shape turns into another: angular balconies seem to dangle below ornate pinnacles and domes; fancy iron fences line the courtyards of rooftop hotels; huge, livewire monkeys roam vaulted pavilions topped with stupas and arches, swinging and jumping between crimson towers. All of it, a maze of color reflected in the dark, polluted water – deep yellow, white wash, periwinkle blue. My heart beat harder at the sight of the soot filled ghats and the smoke and the huge stacks of lumber cluttering the platforms. “No photo! No photo!” demanded the boatman. You can take pictures from a distance, not up close, or you’ll pay a stiff fine, a reprimand; you’ll take home no photos from this sacred, outdoor mausoleum. Of course boats came up alongside us, selling packets of postcards picturing the scene; I waited to take pictures until we were farther out on the water. Sadhus in loincloths, men in the water up to their waists, deep in ritual, didn’t notice us. People bathed near the bloated body of a goat floating near the docks. Sangye Khandro pointed this out to me, “Look, there’s a corpse!”
It was bizarre, fantastic, so awesome I can’t adequately tell it.
We had breakfast back up on the main street where the food was so spicy I had to leave a full plate and reordered tea and toast. A heavyset Indian woman sat at the next table and watched me with disdain. Apparently I don’t eat properly. Determined, I picked at the food but just couldn’t keep it in my mouth, aside from the curd, otherwise known as yogurt.
A mad ride honking through the city took us back to nearby Sarnath. We spent the day at the great stupa there with the Tibetans, practicing korwa and making prayers in the places there where Buddha taught at Deer Park. I quickly scraped some dirt to bring back for a few friends who requested it, small stones and a chip of ancient brick. My eyes clouded with mist, more deeply realizing where I was and what had happened in that place… Now here I sit in bed catching mosquitoes with my bare hand to deposit them out in the hall.
January 19 ~ At Home in Pharping, Nepal
Rain. Just past dawn the gutters gurgled and began to spill outside the windows of my room. Up, dressed, after tea with powdered milk (using the new electric pot) and imported (by me) Indian peanut butter on white Nepali bread, my coat and pack on, I started out. Rajendra Mangrati was not on the steps of Family Guest House at 7:45 as we had planned. I stood under my umbrella until 8:00 and then walked the still quiet road down to the main thoroughfare. For half an hour I waited beneath the Fresh Market awning, not knowing which way to go to Dakshinkali, too shy to ask. Just wait, I thought, see what happens.
Rajendra finally came, walking with his yellow umbrella in heavy rain, a din on the metal roof of the shop where I stood.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry.” He looked at me guiltily. “How long you have waited?” He smiled, taking my hand. “I’m thinking you would not want to come in rain.”
“I’ve been ready for almost an hour. I almost left but I really want to go. Do you?” I avoided using his name; it was still escaping me. “It’s so kind of you to show me the way. I’m very grateful.”
“You are welcome! You are welcome! Yes, we can go. It is my pleasure. Did you eat? There we will get a coffee.”
So we walked together over the cobblestone street amid the curious stares of the neighborhood past shops now open, between the two and three story buildings made of brick that glistened red in the damp air, all built by the folks who live in them. The road became more of a trail as we left town. I took a photo of Rajendra standing in a field.
“Dakshinkali is older than Kathmandu, a thousand years this place, longer than.” He showed me a small shrine where the locals worship the elephant god Ganesh each morning, undoubtedly the music I hear in my room around dawn. I wondered where it came from. We stopped at a roadside shop for tea and hardboiled eggs, 5 rupees each and tea for 10, then slowly followed the usual route of the locals, taking a shortcut down the hillside on a steep stairway. The rain softened. Huge trees, species I’ve never seen, towered everywhere as we descended into a deep, wooded valley; far below us smoke rose in dissipating clouds.
Today is Saturday, the busiest day of the week here and a day off for many. It’s the favored day for devout Hindus to offer animal sacrifices to Kali, “The Black One.” Troma Nagmo, the Buddhist deity, is called the “Wrathful Black Mother”, and is said by some to have evolved from Kali in ancient times. Lama Tharchin Rinpoche refers to Troma Nagmo as “Vajra Khrodi Kali”, her name in Sanskrit, and though some Hindu traditions advise placating and requesting Kali’s protection with an offering of life, Troma’s ritual of chod calls for a visualization wherein the practitioner offers their own body, in order to cut through attachment, selfishness, self-fixation and all that goes with it, in order to realize and practice compassion for all sentient beings. Kinda different.
Of course I wanted to visit Kali’s shrine at Dakshinkali.
Rajendra led me first through a large dusty parking lot, past a gated barrier, then down a narrow lane into an open-air market. There were giant baskets full of live chickens, small corrals of goats, cages of “cocks”, as well as stalls packed with wreathes of saffron-colored marigolds and butter lamps for use as alternative offering substances. Like the displays in carnival booths, the locals sat on the ground selling costume jewelry, photographs of the image of Kali and her temple, trinkets, brilliant vegetables of all kinds, and large piles of grains. No cars were allowed. The locals certainly must be accustomed to pilgrims but I guess I was an eyeful; they really checked me out.
As we neared the outdoor shrine, long lines of devotees waited patiently for a chance to approach, women dressed in flowered skirts and shawls, men leading goats or holding roosters by the neck; only the males are offered for sacrifice. Rajendra led me down to the floor of the valley, across a bridge past the bizarre scene, and up a very steep ancient stairway. Though I had mixed feelings about it, from that spot we could easily see the rites. This wasn’t necessarily part of my plans, but there we were. Below us, two streams met and flowed together, a sacred place for Hindu worshipers, and there, open to the sky, was Kali’s shrine. A crowd surrounded the altar. As I watched, a rooster’s head was cut and tossed aside, its body twitching as it died. People bowed in prayer.
After a few more minutes and a couple of rounds of mantra on my mala, we climbed higher, up more cracked and worn steps to the most sacred shrine in the area, “Kali’s Mother”, as Rajendra called it. He told me I would have to take off my shoes. I hesitated, doubting if it were wise to leave my comparatively expensive western walking shoes out for some impoverished person to adopt in my absence.
“Do not worry, no one will take them.” He insisted.
In bare feet we climbed the last few muddy stairs to a hut-like platform. The hum of low voices filled the air and the atmosphere was heady and intense. Inside the hut, a triangular fire pit smoked in front of a shrine smudged with vermillion and layered with marigold wreathes. An image of Kali, one I had seen photographs of in many shops throughout Pharping, stood above an altar, deep red, wild, an expression of divine wrath. Men and women knelt there in prayer. Some wept. Their faces expressed such intense devotion I was shaken by it. I walked around the outside counterclockwise, expressing my own respect for such an obviously holy place, and Rajendra reached out and smudged my forehead, marking it with a red dot, a sign of blessing. He offered to go inside with my camera and took several pictures. I felt it was not my place to do such a thing – it’s a religious ritual, not a tourist attraction. Rajendra came back out and handed back the camera. At that moment I turned around to see a huge headless goat being carried off, hooves tied to a pole, the carcass hanging.
We walked back down the stairs into the classically grass roofed hut where we had stashed our shoes. I hadn’t noticed on the way up that it was a fully operational café! How unexpected is that! True to his word, Rajendra ordered up two coffees, mine the best caffé mocha I’ve ever had; an espresso machine out in the middle of nowhere – truly surreal. We sat, looking out over a fantastic view as a large family at the table beside us ordered lunch. It was like going out to eat after church.
Who says east and west are all that different.
January 23 ~ Pharping, Nepal
The unusual silence after midnight in Pharping rings in my ears, a dog barking under the hazy sky, the solitude of my room, the rumble of the teapot, thoughts. I’m happy here. I spent this evening with the neighborhood shopkeepers and Rajendra, huddling around the fire in the street out front. They ask all kinds of questions about my life, laughing and teasing each other and I tease them; they’ve made me feel so welcome and comfortable I feel I’ve come home. In the middle of the goings-on, Rajendra got a smile in his eyes.
“My friends, how would you like, a little, maybe, drink?” The guys looked about at each other.
“No, no, I am not.” Amrit shook his head seriously.
Prakash nodded, as did another friend of theirs I don’t know. Saila barely, but definitely, gave a look of affirmation. Who needs English anyway? Usually watchful and quiet, Shree Krishna turned to me, “I do not drink, I do not smoke. It is just my way. I am not thinking it is everyone. A little is not so much. But I will stay here.”
Rajendra turned to me, “And you, Julie, will you have a little, just a small drink? Just for company, for friends. Not too much, do not worry.” He looked hopeful, his smile widening. “Come on. It will not hurt you…”
“Well okay, why not?”
Rashendra clasped his hands together, eagerly announcing, “I’ll be right back!” and disappeared into the dark. The rest of us continued to talk. Minutes later he returned with a bottle of Chinese whiskey and four small glasses borrowed from a nearby restaurant. He passed around the glasses.
“Okay, I will also have a drink with you!” Amrit couldn’t resist.
We toasted each other; we toasted Pharping. We toasted religions and they toasted America. I suddenly thought to ask them for a song and in my honor, with very little encouragement on the part of Rajendra, they decided to sing some traditional Nepali tunes for me. At that moment I knew I was being given a treasure.
Their singing filled the dark road and the shadowy shop fronts and echoed past the buildings. Those fine men sang joyfully, with gusto, with abandon, swinging their bodies, thrusting out their arms toward me, forgetting the words only to laugh and hum the tune and go on. I have never in my life been serenaded, much less in such a pure, unassuming way. I couldn’t stop smiling. They each said, “We are really friends! We will never forget this night! It is the best.” Rashendra got up and danced in the street as they sang, clapping their hands in the road in the dark in Pharping.
From: “Julie Rogers” firstname.lastname@example.org
To: “my awesome companions”
Date: 02/19/08 06:45 AM
Subject: REPEATING MYSELF AT NAMDROLING
Dear loved ones over the wild blue yonder…
This is my third attempt to send an epic email. In fact, I almost lost this one… it may be my last until I reach Cochin next week on the final leg of this journey. It’s too hard…!! I received reports that the first one arrived empty, the second one evaporated before my eyes yesterday as I was attempting to send it (really annoying) and this one has to work. The email situation here is not unlike those in the other third world areas where I’ve been: haphazard at best. No wonder I resisted having an account. But it’s too hard to call you on the phone… HA!
I was mightily saddened to leave Pharping, my new home away from home. Nepal is a wonder. I’ve many stories and hundreds of photos to share… and the train trip from Delhi across the subcontinent to south India turned out to be rougher than I thought it would be. It was not romantic. It was not like the film ‘Darjeeling Limited’ with Adrian Brody. No. But my compartment “mates” turned out to be Indian Airforce men who were like my protectors and companions for the two days. We were lodged in a very small compartment – two narrow rock-hard bunks less than a yard apart – and when they first walked in I was so stunned my eyes started to water – IN HERE, SLEEPING ALONE WITH THREE INDIAN MEN FOR TWO NIGHTS? ARE YOU KIDDING? I silently had a cow (not a holy one). But we talked a lot and discussed culture and religion and, of course, America (everyone’s illusion.) By the end of the trip they wouldn’t let me out of their sight until I was safely on the bus to Bylakuppe.
At one point I was able to stand in the open back door of the train and watch the vast, flat Indian plains slip by, enveloped in a constant mist. Low brush, banyan trees, huge palms and occasional crops, some brilliant green, some leaning and golden. Out in the middle of nowhere a village would suddenly appear – colorful clay houses, shanty towns, women in bright, sequined saris and men in western shirts and slacks, the beggars and bare-footed kids, sadhus in white cloths with turbans on their heads. And of course the cows, wandering as they please since they own the place. I’ve seen folks washing their cows by the side of the road, not their cars. Who has a car? Gas prices here make ours look cheap.
The big challenge I’ve just passed through is that I got pretty sick on the train (the food looked okay and tasted okay but was not okay) and then developed another special little infection, so my waste system is officially wasted. I saw a Tibetan doctor and am taking prescription medicine that I brought, but I was down for the count for a bit. Strange dreams and an unfamiliar world make Julie’s like a surreal place…
When I got off the bus in Kushanagar, a small Indian town near the Tibetan refugee area, I had no idea where I was. I briefly stood on the side of the road with my massive bags, surrounded by busy Indians, fruit-filled carts, scrounging dogs, taking in the stares of the locals. Instantly an unknown Tibetan woman appeared. “Where you go?” she asked in a commanding voice. “Camp 2, house 100,” I told her. At that moment an auto-rickshaw drove up. She barked some orders at him and I was off. I made it.
I’m staying with Thubrig Dorje’s family (my friend from Ashland) and they are so kind, accepting me, a stranger, without question and treating me like an honored guest. I’ve been given a “private room” (a screened-in porch – it’s okay ‘cause the weather is hot) at the back of the house, so I know who goes and when they go to the outhouse. I can watch Thubrig Dorje as he lathers up to shave in the morning. That’s a sight.
When the communist Chinese invaded Tibet and began the atrocities in the late 1950’s, Thubrig Dorje escaped at the age of five through the Himalayas. Of his immediate family on he and his younger sister, Cholha, survived. In the early 1960’s this land was given to the Tibetan refugees by the Indian government. Thubrig helped to clear it, and at that time it was wild, a jungle. The Tibetans endured and sometimes succumbed to stampeding elephants, venomous snakes, died of rampant disease, but they created this settlement. It is lovely. Low, rolling hills of scattered crops and palm trees, clean little neighborhoods of handmade homes painted in pastels, prayer flags hanging everywhere, huge prayer wheels and conveniently located stupas dot the landscape, and the golden roofs of the temples stand like sentinels in the clear south Indian sky.
His sister, Cholha, is so hardworking… she starts before light and ends after dark: cooking, cleaning, churning butter, making the yogurt and cheese, homemade bread… very kind. Her husband, Choesang, is a sweetheart, somewhat older than her, a vegetarian. I asked why he doesn’t eat meat. “My mother said, no good!” He pointed to her photo hanging above the dining table and smiled. The lights go out at any given moment each night, and the running water is persnickety, but no one gets uptight about it.
Two days ago, here at Namdroling monastery in Bylakuppe, His Holiness Penor Rinpoche sat on the throne as a massive thangka the size of a 15-story building was raised, and annual event for Guru Rinpoche Day. The Tibetans went gonzo tossing white silk scarves, prostrating, praying. It was very inspiring to see the strength of their faith – a scene right out of the old country here. The temple itself is outrageous. Sort of reminds me of Orgyen Dorje Den in Alameda, in a way… Today I happily experienced at least 25 huge drums, much like the one at Tashi Choling that I occasionally have the pleasure to play, thundering through the spacious shrine room. The monks donned their brilliantly colored brocade costumes and masks, and danced.