When in doubt, turn back

I grew up looking after cows. The job entailed herding the cattle into the jungles and leaving them there to graze – while I dipped my head in books or catch crabs in the stream. As the day passed and the Sun dropped towards the horizon, it was time to regroup the cattle and head them back home. Some cows, however, would have strayed off the herd and my job was to find them in the thick forest, where quite often I would lose my way.

“If you are lost, you should go back and find your own footprints,” my grandfather would advise me.  I followed him and never got lost – even once.

For over 40 years, I followed the same advice when it came to my life too. Quite often I got lost in the medley of wrong choices and decisions – and found myself in the thickets of confusions and lack of confidence to move on. So I often turned back and found my footprints – from the place and the path I followed.

Hence, it is nice to be back to where it all started for me. This is the spot, where 51 years ago, among these splendid mountains of memay Ralang, Tshong Tshongma and Serkemla, with the Vajra Dakinis (Dorji Khandum) presenting at my birth, I saw the light of the world. The auspicious nativity was however countered with the sad economic conditions at home. My family was poor, and had nothing. We lived in a one-room hut that had to be repaired with each passing storm. For much of my childhood, the piece of cloth I wore was the only one I had. I had no slippers or shoes. We scrambled for food and there was not much to be found. So my sisters and I would wait for our grandfather, who was a lay lama and was served with some meat and rice for conducting rituals and religious ceremonies in the nearby villages of Radhi and Chaling. He rarely ate his lunch and instead packed them for us at home. All along my father was away, drafted into the army, following the brief war between our neighboring countries in 1962. 

Nonetheless, the extreme poverty didn’t deter us from being happy. My mother had an endless supply of jokes and songs and stories. Some, she made them up. She was extremely talented. She taught us never to blame our misfortune on someone and instead smile against any adversity – and never to lose our sense of humor. My grandfather assured us that everything was temporary and that we would one day be back to our former glory. He used to tell me how our great grandfather used to launch long pilgrimage expeditions to Tsari Rongkor in Tibet – with 30-40 horses and several servants and porters. My mother and my grandfather also kept reminding us that we are descendants of “givers from top and not receivers of alms from bottom (a Bhutanese aphorism to mean noble families who are not only wealthy but generous too) – and never to forget this fact even later in life. I was also told that one of our ancestors came from Aja and was a great yogi while our great-grandma who was still alive and living with us was an ashi from Tawang. 

Today I stood here in silence for few minutes and paid tribute to my two greatest persons whose lives, characters, and optimism shaped me and my life – and the lives and the characters of all my siblings. From this ground, where three prayer flags stand today, like the wind, I fluttered away – launching my own expeditions into my own dreams and journeys. As years rolled by, I rose to positions of power and prominence. I did things that I wanted to do and achieve what I wanted to achieve. I travelled the world – and continue to do so. I have not only managed to come out of those miserable conditions but have personally helped hundreds of families to do so in distant places like Athang gewog. And of course I have tasted glory and fortune too. Yes, I have come very far. My grandpa was right. The condition we were in when we lived here was temporary. 

So, in life if you are doing well, push harder. But if you are getting nowhere, just turn around. Retrace your footprints. Trace your roots. And launch yourself again. You will appreciate from where, and how far, you have come; what kind of hurdles you have crossed and how many things you have achieved in your journey called life. It will give you the confidence to move on.

For, you and only you can find your path and walk your dreams.

Where the three flagpoles stand, stood our hut I was born. A chorten in the memory of my late mother and grandfather would be just as befitting


The view to the north – memay Ralang (that looks like a back of an ox) and behind it, in the distance is the Tshong Tshong Ma peaks
Yul Pemachen, the legendary kingdom from the Khandro Drowa Zangmo tale, is on the hill to the left of the picture – with cluster of pine trees. It is a 30-minute walk from where I was born. This village is flanked by Bartsham, Gongthung, Dremetse and Korila
Drung Gonpa (from the word, Drungpa) is now the official name of my native village. It was established by my great-grandfather
Here in Tongling Pam once stood the manor of my great grandfather, who was the Lord of the region
One of my 21 cousins receiving me in his house in Tongling Pam
They give me everything they have. Truly an humbling experience
More cousins and nephews paying visits with loads of gifts

One thought on “When in doubt, turn back

  1. Naiten wangchuk

    Ata, nostalgic writing. My meymey, who had been herder through out his life, used to make an offering of fresh milk on daily basis to Jomo, Dhangling and Tshongtshongma. The former two, I have seen but I was wondering about the location of tshongtshongma. Does it fall under Tashigang or Tashiyangtse? Can you mark it on your photo?


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