Ladakh is a Life Changing Experience (Part III) – Pratyay Raha

We left the Lamayuru Monastery and hit the roads again. The specialty of Ladakh travel is the magnificence and variety of the roads. The roads in this part of the country are maintained and developed by the very trusted BRO (Border Roads Organisation). In this Ladakh trip, we’ve seen roads of a varied nature. Some roads were very narrow, snowy and slippery, some were rough and filled with boulders, some were flanked by mighty mountains on both sides, some were flanked by glacier faces, some had mountains on one side and open valley on the other. The most stunning moments were on the roads with the deserted and barren valleys on both sides, the huge, arid mountains at a distance and the breathtaking blue skies complementing and enhancing the beauty of the mountains and the valley.

The journey of the last few hours before reaching Leh was absolutely mesmerizing, my emotions were continuously getting entangled and now, even while writing there is a hurricane of emotions which are beyond my control. The open skies, unending horizons, mighty mountains, silence of the valley and the pollution free air transported me to a different world, a world where there is eternal tranquility. Once we reached Leh, we had a warm welcome from the hotel people (Hotel Khakshal) and the setting sun behind the range of snow-capped mountains surrounding the valley. The wonderful people felicitated and welcomed us by offering a Buddhist cloth. The light yellowish cloth was a gesture of love and respect for us.

Next morning, our first destination was the Hemis Monastery. Hemis is one of the largest and oldest monasteries of Ladakh. Once I entered the premises of the monastery, I was completely lost in a maze of scriptures, artefacts and stories. I got the opportunity to visit the Hemis Museum which in itself is a massive storehouse of historical Buddhist artefacts and showcases the lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Every year they organize the Hemis Festival to commemorate the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava. As per Tibetan Buddhist ideologies, he is considered as the second Buddha and the founder of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. Historical facts and sources say that there was a huge social and political hinderance during the establishment of the Buddhist religion in Tibet in the 8th century. King Trisong Detsen, the 38th king of the Yarlung Dynasty decided to build the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet, Samye. He invited the Nalanda University abbot Santaraksita who started building the Samye.

It seemed that due to certain social stigmas and operational failures Santaraksita was not being able to carry out the job of building the monastery single-handedly. This was the time when King Trisong invited the Buddhist master Guru Padmasambhava to take care of the obstacles and execute the building of the monastery along with Santaraksita. Both of them collaborated on this project and finally completed building the first Gompa (Monastery) in Tibet. After the establishment of the Gompa, Guru Padmasambhava introduced the esoteric practices of Tantric Buddhism in the Himalayan belt and surrounding areas including Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Ladakh, Sikkim, Chinese Central Asia, the southern Siberian regions such as Tuva and also Mongolia. The ideologies and practices introduced by Guru Padmasambhava later gave birth to the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. The Guru Padmasambhava is the second Buddha after Shakyamuni Buddha as per beliefs and is worshipped and celebrated in the Hemis Monastery, a Gompa which was formed before the 11th century and reincarnated in the 17th century by the King of Ladakh Sengge Namgyal.

From the Hemis Monastery, we moved to the Thiksey Monastery which was under the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. Here I must mention that Hemis Monastery follows the Drukpa lineage which is under Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, but still they have a huge statue of Guru Padmasambhava who is said to have established the Nyingma school of Buddhism. This is a clear indication that Guru Padmasambhava (also called Guru Rinpoche) was accepted widely across the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism (Nyingma, Kagyu, Gelugpa, Shakya) as a master of the varied philosophies and practices of the different lineages. Thiksey is a Pandora’s box and it’s a pity if one doesn’t get time or interest to visit this 15th century monastery. It’s filled with Buddhist Stupas, Statues, Thankas, swords and the most delightful part of Thiksey experience was being on the terrace of this age old Gompa. Thiksey has a huge statue of Maitreya who is believed to be the Future Buddha.

I was amazed when I entered the prayer hall of the Thiksey monastery. A small room behind the prayer hall was filled with statues of demonic protectors. There are six protectors in Tibetan Buddhism namely Mahakala, Manjushri, Palden Lhamo, Guanyin, Vajrapani and Cakrasamvara. The statues were really scary in the slightly dark empty room , they were standing tall, most of them had their face covered. We were informed the Faces of the protectors were uncovered during the festivals. These six protectors are called Dharmapalas. After getting soaked in Buddhist traditions and historical energies we moved to the Shey palace.

Shey palace or monastery is in ruins. It was built in the 17th century by the king of Ladakh, Delden Namgyal. It is famous for the huge statue of the seated Shakyamuni Buddha with a height of almost 39ft. Needless to say that I explored a lot and finally returned to our Hotel after a brief visit to the beautiful and vibrant Leh market.

That night a number of questions peeped out through different doors and windows of my brain. In the esoteric way of life, what are the practices? I had read in a book where The Dalai Lama mentioned about the Kalacakra Tantra which discovers and identifies the deep rooted philophisies of the mind and existence. My question is how does these practices impact a followers daily life? Does a common man study well enough to understand the depth of the processes or does she simply follow the run of the mill ideologies and tantric practices. I could feel a root of Baul philosophy hidden somewhere at the top of Mountains in the sounds of the esoteric practices, so my question is that are the two philosophies related and if yes, then how? All these thoughts got jumbled up in my mind as I prepared to leave for Pangomg Tso the next morning.

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