Monday, November 20, 2017

Pictorial Description of Laya- The Land of Yaks & Nomads

I and four others, who shared a similar interest in exploring places, slipped out of our busy schedule in the mid of November 2017 to make our trip to Laya. I was always fascinated by the towering mountains, monstrous yaks and the peculiar costume of the Layaps seen mostly in magazines and documentary shows. 

Laya is a beautiful village located at an altitude of 4300 meters above sea level. There are 600+ households with over 1000+ inhabitants living a semi-nomadic lifestyle. Layaps agree that the shift in their lifestyle is mainly accredited to the sale of fungus (cordyceps) which fetches them over quarter million Ngultrums per kg. They are now connected with mobile network and electricity. What stands out with the Layaps is their warm heart and hospitality shown towards guests and visitors.

For any average hiker, the route is about 5-6 hours from the road-end meandering along the river. During the journey, one can enjoy the serene flow of the river as well as the gradual change in vegetation.

Yaks grazing on the meadows
Atop a ridge overlooking Laya village
A part of Laya village
Lake Kheyrikha- half a day's journey from Laya village.
Our cheerful hosts - Ap Tshering & his wife

Horses grazing on the meadows
Rocky ridge above Laya village
Mount Masangang hidden behind clouds
Mount Tsendagang at the peak of its beauty
Mount Gangchen Taag basking in the morning sun
Crystal clear river on the way to Laya

Monday, December 26, 2016

An Experiential Narrative of The Sacred Sites of Singye Dzong: Part - II

In this part of the post, I shall make an effort to elaborate on some of the significant Nyes (Sacred sites) with the details which I gathered from many reliable sources. Singye Dzong being the Thrinley Nye (activity site) of Guru Padmasambhava, one can see numerous bodily imprints of Guru Padmasambhava, Tachog Balaha a.k.a Gurui Chipta and  Khandro Yeshi Tshogyal  on stones and rocks. There are also drupchu (holy water), ritual objects and other holy imprints which can be seen distinctly even to this day.

At a place called Juli (between Tshikang and Thangkarmo), there is a drupchu of Guru Rinpoche. It is quite amazing to see the water coming out of the root of a half-rotten tree. The water is said to have originated from the tree-trunk when the tree was healthy and intact. It is believed to cure many ailments. As one moves further up from Thangkarmo, the imprints of Tachog Balaha's saddle and thread that secures the collar-bell are seen on the stone. Few minutes walk from Doksum, one can see the shape of a goat on the other side of the hill. It is said that the demon, which disguised itself in the form of a goat was subdued by Guru and its imprints left on the rock.

Rabney Zam
Of the many ters (sacred objects), the Rabney Zam, which is a low-lying bridge just before reaching Singye dzong stands as quite a miracle. This particular bridge is said to have been constructed and consecrated by Guru Rinpoche himself and thus do not get washed away, even when the stream swells up and flows above the bridge. This bridge has remained as a test of time. Other bridges en-route to Singye dzong have to constantly undergo renovation or a complete remake each season.

Eight dzongs and the peripheral Nyes:

Gawa Dzong:
The main relic here is five unique Phurba (Kila). It is said that upon the request of Khandro Yeshi Tshogyel, Guru Rinpoche  revealed these unique Phurba from a lake which now remains as the main relic. It is said that out of the five, one phurba is not complete in its form and design. The legend has it that, in future, these phurbas will again get its way to the lake and with the favourable cause and conditions, Guru Rinpoche will once again reveal these Phurbas in its complete form. There is also a statue of Guru known as Guru Sungjenma which came from Tibet. This statue is believed to have spoken of its destiny while at Tibet. Outside the lhakhang, one can see Rigsum Goembo and Drupchu. Guru's footprint can also be seen on one of the rocks. There is place for Driba Shubsa (removal of sins). Other important ters are 21 tara rock, Dungkar ter, Rock where 108 phurba were hidden, Terdom (Relic box) of eight dzongs, Guru's Uzha (hat), Dzambalai Bangzay, Chanda phu, Tandin (Hayagriva) Kingkhor  and many others. Behind the lhakhang, there is a huge rock called dochen Amolika atop which lies a pool of clean water. It is said that Guru Rinpoche used to bathe here. This is yet another miracle which is even seen today.
Pool of holy water atop Dochen Amolika

Duelwa Dzong:
At this dzong Khandro Yeshi Tshogyel manifested herself as an eight year old girl and meditated in this cave. She subdued a demonic crocodile, the form of which can be seen even today. The foot prints of Khandro can also be seen. There is a tshebum (Longevity Vessel) rock which is also known as Tsari Nyipa. Tsari Nye is a famous pilgrimage site in Tibet circling around the mountain called Takpa Shelri. The pilgrimage is divided into Tsari Kyilkhor and Tsari Rongkor, the latter being the most difficult. One can also see Guru's seat, Ser Nga (Golden drum),  Lha Wangchuk's Chagtshen (Shivling) and many others. Further up, one can pray at the wish-fulfilling cave at melam phu and reach a place where Guru witnessed the dance performed by the five dakinis on the plains of Zhemithang . Five trees have grown on the ground where the dakini dance was performed.

Namkha Dzong:
The hardest of all the dzongs to reach, there is a Driba Shubsa (removal of sinful obscurations) high up in the caves. The Nyes found below are self-arisen Hung on the rock face, Guru and his horse's seal and a cliff where bird-eating frogs were subdued.

Dorji Dzong:
There is a small lhakhang built in the recent years. One can see outlines of a sun and moon on the cliff. There is also Ro Ngedrup Zangpo, Seats of Guru Tsokhor sum and a small red opening on the cliff from where blessed ones can hear religious hymns.  

Pema Dzong:
This is the dzong where Guru and Khandro performed Longevity meditations. If one can descend from the cliff face without any difficulty, it is said that one can fulfil the wishes of our parents.

Rinchen Dzong:
This dzong is famous for having curative powers to remove our karmic obscurations associated with our birth, sickness and death. Ascending further up negotiating on the steep precarious cliff, one can reach a huge rock believed to be Zangdopelri.

Tsemo Dzong:
This Dzong had the tooth relic of Tachog Balaha, its golden saddle and a garuda egg. However, these relics have been moved to Singye Dzong for better care and custody. There is also a rock where demons disguised as one hundred garuda were subdued.
This peculiar rock is where 100 garudas were subdued

Singye Dzong:
This is the place where Khandro Yeshey Tshogyal meditated for several years in the cave with her spiritual companion, Acharya Saleh of Nepal. The demon Atsara Nagpo was subdued here.

There are eight duethrey (charnel ground) associated to these eight dzongs. It is believed that if one lies down on these charnel grounds and imagine to be dead and receiving the wangkur (empowerments) from Guru Rinpoche , it is not even required for a high lama to preside over the funeral rites during the actual death.
Besides these eight dzongs, there are also spiritual lakes high up in the mountains.

Terdag Lha-tsho

Tshokar and Gangla at the back
Tsho -Nak
 Other important places of visit are Rolmoteng and Phumachen which are also equally sacred. The last of all to be visited during the pilgrimage is Sangwai Druphu at Khomagang.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

An Experiential Narrative of The Sacred Sites of Singye Dzong: Part - I

Disclaimer: It is my earnest effort to contribute my version of "what's what" to the existing information pool about Singye Dzong. The figures and other decisive information mentioned herein in this write-up are truly my own experiential point of view as deemed factually appropriate to me and it may vary from the ones you have heard, seen or felt.  

Located at an altitude of over 3800 meters above the sea level, Singye dzong is one of the most sacred sites to be blessed by Guru Padmasambhava and his consort Khandro Yeshey Tshogyal. Guru Rinpoche and his consort subdued wrathful demons in this region and hid many treasures to be revealed by tertons at appropriate timesMany tertons (treasure revealers), accomplished masters and the likes subsequently blessed this place over the period. Terton Ratna Lingpa revealed "Zabter damchoe longsal nyigthig" treasure from Singye dzong. The most recent discovery of the treasure was in 1908 where Terton Zilnon Namkha Dorji discovered a treasure called Chimi Sogthig which is believed to be originated from Tshey pagmey (Amitayus) which has a power to cure diseases, prolong life and avert war & famine. This sacred text was recited for the long life of His Majesty the King Jigme Singye Wangchuck during Ngagyur Dorji Thegpai Moenlam Chenmo held at National Memorial Chorten, Thimphu in 2014.

Out of the five main Nyes (sacred sites) associated with Guru Padmasambhava, Monkha Neyring Singye Dzong is considered as Thrinley Nye. The four other Nyes are Kui Nye Drak yang dzong, Sungi Nye Samye Chimpu, Thuki Nye Lhodra Kharchu and Yonten gi Nye Yarlung Shedrak. Except for Singye dzong, all others are located in Tibet.  After the subdual of the evil forces, Terdag Zolha Rakey and his consort Thramenma were made the principal guardian deities of these hidden treasures. There are actually eight sub-divisional dzongs representing the eight manifestations of Guru Padmasambhava and they are Tsemo dzong, Rinchen dzong, Singye dzong, Gawa dzong, Duelwa dzong, Pema dzong, Dorji dzong and Namkha dzong

Although dzong literally suggests some sort of a gigantic fortress, there is no such thing as fortress or fortification of any kind in these dzongs.  These dzongs are just but huge cliffs and rocks as seen by the ordinary beings. It is said that, to those accomplished ones, this place is seen as Zandopelri zhingkham (paradise of copper-colored mountain). Except for Gawa dzong, Singye dzong and Dorji dzong, other dzongs do not yet have a lhakhang. Gawa dzong and Singye dzong houses the sacred nangtens (inner relics) and the principal deity is Dorji phurba (Vajrakilaya). There are eight dhue threy (charnel ground) to each of these eight dzongs. It takes one full day to visit all these dzongs and the sacred nyes. This trip is generally referred as Nangkor (Inner tour). It is believed that, one earns immense merit by merely making it there and has the potentials of liberating oneself from taking rebirth in the lower realms.

Going further up from these dzongs, there are various spiritual lakes referred to as lhatsho (deity lake). Tsho kar is Gurui lhatso, Tsho Nak is Phurbai lhatsho and there is also Terdag lhatsho and Yum Thramenma lhatsho. Tour of these external sacred sites is referred as chikor (outer tour).

Aerial view of Singye Dzong
The adventure:
Singye dzong is indeed a beyul (hidden land) even to this day and age. It can only be visited by no other than the true and the determined ones. Tourists are strictly prohibited from entering this restricted area. Even for us Bhutanese, we are required to obtain a travel permit from the Khoma gewog administration to visit this sacred area. The first thing the Dzongpoen does on arrival at Singye Dzong is, check our permit. It is handed over sealed and signed on the day of our return to be surrendered at the Tshikang army checkpoint. It is that serious and strict. 

Like any first-timer would do, anxiousness caught the better of me. My shoulders weighed even more heavier as we were only three men of the fourteen member team. Some had just got out of the ward and some were still on medication, but that did not deter our collective determination. I had to frantically look for any piece of information that could better prepare myself and the team. Like me, others did their part by collecting word-of-mouth information from the previous travellers. After surfing the internet for quite some time, I came across the Lhuentse Dzonkhag Administration website which provided a good deal of information about Singye Dzong. However, to utter dismay, my all time guide and the best bet for visualizing a new place - the google map, had little to offer. Khoma village was the last place to be labelled along this route. Ever since then, I felt the urge to put an update of these places in google earth/map. The first thing that I did upon my return is to geo-tag the locations and submit it to google team for an update. Though I received their e-mail confirmation, these locations are yet to appear online after verification. Hopefully, this should help future visitors.

Exact location of important landmarks
Journey to Singye dzong  takes three full days walk from the road-end at a village called Khoma (best known for Kishuthara - kira with exquisite patterns). Although, the journey is just moderately difficult, the footpath precariously cuts through slide zones and cliff faces at some stretches. Travelers have to be extra careful. One wrong step could be life-threatening if not fatal. However, on the whole, one could see notable efforts of the improvement made in the footpaths. Travellers generally opt to make the first night halt at Tshikang transit camp and the second at Thangkarmo transit camp. Though these camps can accommodate adequate travellers (approximately 30 pax), it would be always advisable to carry a tent during peak seasons.

Courtesy: Lhuentse Dzongkhag Administration Website
If you are a moderately paced walker, you could easily beat the duration indicated in the above map, like we did. We could always make it to the destination couple of hours earlier than expected.

In my next part, an elaborate explanation about the Nyes would be presented.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Master's Profound Heart Advice to His Disciple

This story is a real life account of a master's heart advice to his disciple, the latter being my father. I have been a witness to this episode and the narration produced herein is a first person point of view. I tried my best here to reproduce and translate his root Lama's advice given in Tshangla-kha aka Sharchokpa to its closest resemblance in English with an intent to benefit whoever reads it. Incase you find any contradictory views or distortion in the meaning, I am solely responsible for it.

Image Source: Google
Hidden high up in the woods, inside a small log cabin, my father remained seated on a fresh wooden flooring in a cross-legged posture with his head slightly bowed down in respect. His root lama, the great Yogi, had positioned himself in a relaxed posture of royal ease on a gently raised dais. The fragrance of the burning incense stick from inside the house was wafting slowly out into the woods and soothing the olfactics of all mortals and even the unseen forms. The birds had begun chirping in a ubiquitous tone with the breaking of the daylight, and the distant sound of the flowing river could also be heard from below the valley. As I was busy preparing sugar-free morning tea for them, I could not help myself from lending my auditory senses to the words of his root Lama. I would not say I was eavesdropping at that moment, rather, I still feel blessed to have overheard the initial part of Lama's pith instructions being given to my father.  

His Lama said in a soft tone "No matter how much learned you become, how much respect you earn in life, how many mantras you recite over time and no matter even if you spend several years in retreat, you would not have achieved anything if you are not able to tame your mind. What matters most at the end is to be able to recognize your mind and see your true nature of mind. The whole of Buddha's profound teaching ultimately converges into mind. While treading the path of a Buddhist practitioner, you must know your purpose. Always remember it." 

His Lama further went on by saying "Do not ever let your mind be swayed away by the winds of five poisons (དུག་ལྔ།) i.e attachment, anger, ignorance, pride and jealousy. Be always careful. Constantly examine your thoughts and contemplate on བློ་ལྡོག་རྣམ་བཞི།the 'Four thoughts that turn the mind to Dharma', no matter how many times you have heard it or how basic it may sound. It has to be a part of you throughout your journey till the end." The four thoughts for contemplation are:
  1. Precious human birth (དལ་འབྱོར་རྙེད་པར་དཀའ་བ།);
  2. Impermanence (ཚེ་མི་རྟག་པ།);
  3. The short comings of Samsara (འཁོར་བའི་ཉེས་དམིགས།);
  4. Karma and its consequences (ལས་རྒྱུ་འབྲས།)
He also reminded my father to always fill up his thoughts with ཚད་མེད་བཞི།, the 'Four Immeasurables' while carrying out his daily rituals and practices now and hereafter.The four immeasurables are:
  1. Loving-kindness (བྱམས་པ།);
  2. Compassion (སྙིང་རྗེ།);
  3. Joyfulness (དགའ་བ།);
  4. Equanimity (བཏང་སྙོམས།)
Just as I signaled them that the tea was ready, Lama took a break by saying "I am very happy to be here with you today but all I can do is only serve as a guide in your pursuit for self realization. Self realization has to come from within yourself. Do not seek it outwards. It is not something which comes from outside through some external force". He also used a metaphor by saying "A plant cannot be grown faster by someone pulling it from top. It has to grow by itself from within and obviously it is a time taking process. Just like the plant, I can only help you grow (realize) faster by nurturing you properly at the base instead of pulling."
"If you feel that it makes sense, whatever I tell you today, take it as a small advice from a simple Buddhist practitioner like me. Not that I know everything, requirement of a Lama is a must for a serious practitioner as you move further up. Since, you have considered me as your Lama, whether I am capable of it or not, thank you for that and for becoming a Buddhist practitioner." his Lama said. 

Finally, I served them the tea with great reverence and I headed back home leaving them undisturbed to continue from where they had stopped.

Such were the sublime and profound words of wisdom from his root lama which would definitely serve as a guide and reminder to everyone who follow the path.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Prime Minister of Bhutan on TED

Soon after our Lyonchen (Prime Minister) delivered a captivating speech at the TED Talks sometime in February 2016, I wanted to make a mention of it on my blog, but somehow, it took a while for me. Was it due to my overly busy schedule or my inexorable laziness? Either of it or both of it is to be blamed for this inordinate delay. As we say -"Better late than Never", I am finally doing it now as it would be quite unfair on my part to brush it aside. Few weeks ago, two of my friends; one South African and one Indian, forwarded me the link to this TED talk with much appreciations to our Lyonchen. I had then decided to post it here.

Titled "This country isn't just carbon neutral -it's carbon negative.", the talk can be watched on TED website as well as on Youtube. I have watched it over and over again. Every time I watch it, I learn something new from it. You can watch it right away on the video insert below.

As is customary to every Bhutanese, he begins by paying homage to our extraordinary monarchs who have shaped Bhutan to what it is today. The second obvious thing is to make a mention of Gross National Happiness (GNH). Bhutan is mostly known to the outside world for the famed philosophy of GNH and not touching upon this subject would make Bhutan's story incomplete.

Lyonchen, with his exemplary oratory skills, donned in a bright yellowish sersho gho, introduces Bhutan to the outside wide world as a tiny nation sandwiched between the two most populous countries. However, he says we are surviving. Not just surviving but thriving. Throughout his talk, the audience remains glued onto him. The crowd bursts into laughter when he says we have the biggest pocket on earth and draws out a cellphone and a book from his hemchu. Thank you, Your Excellency for making us proud. It is only through such forums that people know Bhutan as a country and not just another state of India.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Big-Ma Throws Her Mighty Fist on Bookstores

Rules, for obvious reasons, are framed, implemented and monitored, either to bring in decorum in the system or to provide a level playing field. However, at times rules are framed too stringent that it makes more harm than benefits. The Tobacco Control Act of Bhutan was one typical case, which went to the extremes of defaulters getting slashed with lengthy prison terms for selling few tobacco products. Ultimately, it had to be amended with certain relaxation on the penalty part.

The latest commotion is from the bookstore owners. The Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) Act mandates all the stakeholders to register internationally published books. According to those concerned bookstore owners, they say that every book they import should have BICMA registration number on the first page. The registration comes with a fee of Nu. 5 for every book title. This truly is Big-Ma's act which to many sounds illogical. Ever since I heard about this requirement, many questions have been circling in my head. Is it because our government wants to promote our indigenous books? or Is it to filter out certain books from reaching the readers? If it is all about banning those books perceived as having potential to sow discord in the society, BICMA could easily circulate a list of blacklisted titles with an order to refrain from selling such books. Wouldn't that be far more easier? Ofcourse, those involved in framing this act, must have thought a lot about it in their highest wisdom. The Act also mandates all book houses to submit a copy each of every publication ( brought down from three copies). I would imagine that a decade into the future, BICMA would be running the biggest library in the country.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Race Against Time

The Project. Yes, a project is always supposed to be time bound. It has a start and an end. The desired objective has to be fulfilled with the given resources and within the given time frame. This is my interpretation framed from the concepts of project management.

But, what is with the project? I narrate this, because of late, I have joined this mega-project, by far the nation's biggest hydropower project - Punatshangchu-I Hydroelectric Project Authority, a 1200 MW bilateral undertaking. I made up my mind to steer away from the operation & maintenance phase to the project phase to break the monotonous life and, more so, to complete the range of experience in this profession. I confided in my confidence in this field of interest and made my effort to push myself in here. As luck would favor it, I got my way into this project on a deputation term. (FYI: The selection was purely through a competitive process with no dirth of red-tapism involved.) :)

First few days or weeks into this new setup pushed me out of my comfort zone. Most things were new to me. The work culture was entirely at a different level. I had to fast-track my adaptation rate to ensure that no transitional lapses occur on assuming my post. It is little over a month now and I have learned to believe that black tea is the only tea and Hindi is unofficially an official language in this project. Despite all odds, I love this challenge. I have a tusker's task ahead to discharge my responsibilities in ensuring that this project completes on time. It already took its share of overruns for which this project has come under the zoom lens of many people. There is no time to stand and stare. It is a race against time. The completion date has been committed and it is time that we put on our blinkers and work tirelessly to spin the monstrous turbines.

It would have been a good way to relax and start the year by reading a good novel or to take a short break from work. However, I have little choice at the moment. As my wife flips over the pages of Monu's "Chronicle of a Love Foretold" taking a sip of her lemon tea in between, I am busy jotting down the important clauses from Document No. III of the Contract Package MEM-5. The weekend ends with a quite dinner. 
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