Taksha (lower Wangdue – Tsirang Highway), July 23, 2020
It rained. And it rained. The sky didn’t even take a breath for days.
I like rain – except when it brings down the mountains, or causes damages to life or properties – or when it physically blocks my path. The highway from Thimphu to Taksha was fine, but the farm road to Rukha – some 26 kilometers away, was blocked at several points. In two places I was told that it was impossible to even cross on foot. I was advised to wait in Taksha, while the entire chiwogs of some 42 households had mobilised to clear the boulders and landslides with bare hands – and assisted by just one bulldozer.
It is monsoon, and I know it is crazy of me to plan a trip into this area during this season. However, I had made a promise – and the next day was the best day to do that. Known locally as Drup Tshezhi (Literally meaning Fourth Day of the Sixth Month), the day when, some 2500 years back, Gautama Buddha gave his first teaching after attaining enlightenment. Thus, it is one of the holiest days in the Buddhist calendar.
And my promise was to donate and also install the statues of 21 Tara (Drolma Nisho Tsachi) in Rukha Pelden Lhamo Temple. Jetsun Drolma is the considered as the Peaceful Avatar of the otherwise wrathful Pelden Lhamo (Devi in Sanskrit). Having installed the statue of Pelden Lhamo there last April, it was time for her Peaceful Manifestation to also find a place in that sacred abode, so that the locals, and the nation at large, receive her blessings – especially during these trying times. I had promised to donate in honour of my daughter and my grandson.
Encouraged by my friend, Ngawang, who works as a forest ranger in the area, we set out from Taksha on foot, like in the good old days – braving the battering rain, landslides, leeches, sand flies, snakes, falling boulders, and slippery trails. Nine able-bodied men had come from Rukha and Samthang to carry the statues, packed in four boxes and sealed in plastics.
After two hours of walking and climbing, we got to Harachu where the entire hill had come down and it did look impossible to cross over. There were peebles, muds and even boulders that were continuously falling down. So, I pulled out some chhandru (blessed grains of rice), which my father gave me and told me to carry on every trip I made. As instructed, I tossed few in the air and recited the Chabdro prayers, and then I told the members to cross – one at a time. The mud and the boulders miracolously stopped falling. The villagers were amazed by my power and by my lack of fear. 😎😎😎
I was the last to cross. It wasn’t easy. Walking over slippery piles of pebbles that were sitting atop wobbling rocks is no fun. If the earth gave away it was straight down to the gushing river – which was at least 3,000 feet below. When we were all safe on the other side, we took a group photo to celebrate our modest achievement. We resumed our hike, covered more road – and crossed more slides – and every now and then dodged the falling boulders that were shooting straight at us. Interestingly, there were only laughter and childish joy – and looking out for each other in this otherwise treacherous journey.
After four hours we reached Samthang, where my local host, Tashi, had arranged the lunch, which we had at 4 in the afternoon. His house has been our permanent motel in the past, when we could only reach there, on foot, on the first day from Taksha. He and his family have been the sweetest in hosting us every time. Now, I am expected to drop by – in every trip, no matter how in a hurry I am. Tashi had also rallied the whole village to show up with shovels and spades to help clear the farm road falling within their village zone. Thanks to his team and the team at Rukha, the second half of the farm road was all clear for us to ride into Rukha on Boleros, owned by the villagers. It was a joy, albeit some slippery and scary stretches.
There were two more tea-stops before we got to Rukha. One was at Migtana, arranged by an amazing young health worker, Yeshi Dorji. He is a health assistant posted here and is respected by the community for his tireless round-the-clock service. Yeshi is also known to be very strict with personal hygiene and has gone out of his way to ensure that every house in the valley had a toilet and a wash basin. Yeshi is also very religious and contributes to the spiritual activities in the valley.
It was past 6 p.m. when we finally reached Rukha – our destination. The children and women of the village had lined up in front of the temple with khadar (white scarves) and with small baskets of rice and eggs to welcome our expedition in a traditional manner. The lama, Ugyen Tshering, was also there to receive us with a procession consisting of singing ladies accompanied by the sounds of religious instruments called Jaling. After making three rounds of temple, we entered and lowered our precious cargo. “Now it is your problem,” I told the lama, “You take on from here. I have done my part.” We both laughed. A huge air of relief filled the room – and reassured the atmosphere in the village. Everyone was worried for my safety. They all came to say hello to me and apologised profusely for the bad weather and the huge hardship I had to go through. “Well, it is because you guys have killed so many bears and musk deer that Jetsun Drolma wanted those sins to be cleared. So you had to carry her on your back through this rough weather.” They all laughed.
The next morning – on the Day of Drup Tshe Zhi, it was still misty as the Lama and his team started the Lhabsang Thruesel (Water Purification) ceremony. The national weather center had in fact predicted storm and more rain for the week.
I had spent the night at my usual place – belonging to Gup-drep Chokila, from where one can get the most terrific view of the village and the temple. I slowly got out of my bed, brushed my teeth, washed my face and headed for the temple. I could relax a bit because Ranger Ngawang had offered to play the sponsor for the day – sacrificing perhaps his two months salary to cover the day’s expenses.
The Installation Ceremony
After I sat down in the temple, the main ceremony – Drolma Yuldhog commenced. The monks chanted the mantras in deep basso profondo followed by blaring sounds of ritual cymbals and drums and horns. As streams of villagers came in and prostrated to the altar and made their wishes and offerings, it felt so surreal to watch these people – who were hunters-gatherers living in the forest until few years back, and are now just the first generation to practice the Buddha Dharma. And yet, from their faces and actions, their dedication and faith are no less than ours, who have been at it for several generations. I felt a deep sense of pride and satisfaction of having led them into a life of Dharma – and harmony with the natural world.
When the ceremony took a tea break, I went out of the temple to stretch a bit. Sitting in a lotus position is actually a torture for me. Outside, I found the day had suddenly brightened. The Sun had dug a large hole through the monsoon clouds – right over us, and just over us. Elsewhere it was still cloudy – or raining. Then, of course, there was the usual rainbow over Pekarphu – something we are used to.
Every time we do something good out here, the deities and the divinities seem to show up as a double rainbow over the sacred mountains of Pekarphu and Tsendaygang.
I put out my face towards the Sun (I think I was a sunflower in my previous life) and cherished the moment of brightness and the Sun after being for days in the battering rain. I closed my eyes and let the story of Tara (Jetsun Drolma) played on my mind like an old film.
Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion, was once looking down on the human world when he saw countless Beings going through immense sufferings. On seeing what he saw, a tear fell from his eyes out of compassion, which formed a lake and in which a lotus sprung up.
When the lotus opened, the goddess Tara was revealed.
Remembering our heroes
The day ended without the usual songs and dances. I thought it wasn’t appropriate as the Nation mourned the deaths of four soldiers in Gelephu. Celebrations can wait for some other time.
And so, as evening fell, I took off for another nearby village – Lamga. It is another place and another story – of community, friendship and partnership.
And the journey continues
A more formal consecration ceremony with public blessings and outside invitees called Drub of all the works in Rukha and Lamga will be organised as and when the Covid pandemic recedes)
Tara – Jetsun Drolma, is a favorite Buddhist deity, who is revered in all schools of Mahayana Buddhism. In the Himalayas, the deity is depicted as a female Boddhisattva.
The 21-Tara project is a very sacred spiritual undertaking, which few are blessed to achieve. The 21 Taras as per the Nyingma tradition are:
- Drolma Nyurma Pelmo; Tārā Turavīrā – Tara who is swift and courageous for development of Bodhichitta
- Drolma Yangchenma; Tārā Sarasvatī – Tara for music, knowledge and wisdom
- Drolma Sonam Chokter; Tārā Puṇyottama-dā – Tara who grants supreme merit for the force of merit
- Drolma Tsuktor Namgyalma; Tārā Uṣṇīṣa-vijayā – Tara who is completely victorious for long life.
- Drolma Rikje Lhamo; Kurukullā : Tara for magnetising people and wealth
- Drolma Jikché Chenmo; Tārā Mahābairavā – Tara who causes terror for destroying the power of harmful influences
- Drolma Shyenkyi Mitupma; Tārā Aparadhṛṣyā – Tara who is invincible for protection from hailstorms and lightning
- Drolma Shyen Migyalwa; Tārā Aparajitā – Tara, triumphant over others for repelling blame
- Drolma Sengdeng Nakkyi; Tārā Khadira-vaṇī – Tara of the Khadira Forest for protection from the Eight Great Fears.
- Drolma Jikten Sumgyal; Tārā Trailokavijayā – Tara who conquers the three worlds to have power over the world
- Drolma Nor Terma; Tārā Vasudā – Tara who bestows wealth for dispelling poverty and granting good fortune
- Drolma Tashi Dönché; Tārā Maṅgalārthā – Tara who brings auspiciousness for the auspiciousness of children, fame, rain and so on
- Drolma Drapung Jomma; Tārā Ripu-cakra-vināśinī – Tara who destroys the power of enemies for victory in war
- Drolma Tronyer Chendze; Tārā Bhṛkuṭī – Tara for protection from maligant spirits
- Drolma Rabtu Shyiwa; Tārā Praśāntī – Tara who guarantees perfect peace and for purifying harmful actions
- Drolma Barwé Öchen; Tārā Kiraṇojjvalā – Tara who is ablaze with light for dispelling spells and negative effects
- Drolma Pakmé Nönam; Tārā Aprameyākramaṇī – Tara of limitless subjugation for protection from robbers, thieves, animals and hunters
- Drolma Mabja Chenmo; Tārā Mahāmāyūrī – Tara to protect from, and to neutralize, poison
- Drolma Mipam Gyalmo; Tārā Ajitarājñī – Tara who is unconquerable and victorious for protection from quarrels and bad dreams
- Drolma Ritröma; Tārā Śabarī – Tara, Dweller in the Mountains, who protects from epidemics
- Drolma Özer Chenma; Tārā Mārīcī – Tara, ‘Rays of Light’, for restoring the spirits and energies of sick people.