Released on 5th November 2009, Madhvi Sally of The Economic Times (India) gives an spectacular coverage on the Pad Yatra and His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa's Live to Love initiatives. Click to view Part 1 and Part 2 of the original article.
An invitation to cover news of a 42 day, 400 km walk across the rugged Himalayan ranges from Manali to Hemis monastery was why I arrived for the first time in More Pictures Ladakh, the Little Tibet of India. Though the journey ended, the spiritual quest had just begun...
Coming out of the single storeyed Kushok Bakula Rinpoche Airport at Leh, I was pleasantly surprised to be welcomed by a monk from the famed Hemis monastery with an auspicious 'katas' or white scarf, given at the start of any enterprise or relationship. In Ladakh and thousands of miles northwards in what are now other nations, this simple length of cloth indicates the good intentions of the person offering it. Appropriately it as offered to me again by my host (my schoolfriend’s mother) as I prepared to return to Chandigarh.
The journey to the monastery with youthful Indus River flowing on one side and the high-altitude, cold, barren, sandy desert on other coincided with festivities in the monastery, some as calm and composed as their daily prayers, others as bright and swift as their artistic skills. The sun played hide ‘n seek, clouds hovered over magnificent rocky mountains as chilly wind blew across the valley. I was dwarfed by the sheer magnitude of the spiritualism all around.
There were women who had walked from villages far and close by, monks from Benaras and Kathmandu, international and domestic tourists and even locals who had taken a day off to experience and hear the travel talk by their spiritual leader, the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa, the head of the 800-year-old Drukpa lineage. He is revered as the reincarnation of Drogon Tsangpa Gyare (founder of this Tibetan Buddhist lineage).
Following the yogic practice of walking and spreading the message of spiritualism and a clean environment, the spiritual leader along with 600 monks, nuns and students made the tedious journey over difficult mountain passes in 45 days. The journey gave the pilgrims an idea of the thousands of Indians who live in the high Himalayas away from the heat and dust of the plains’ urban sprawl. I was a not a part of the journey but would have loved to find out how the people reacted to their spiritual leader walking into the village!
When I met the 46-year-old Gyalwang Drukpa at the Hemis monastery, the depth of his involvement in and concern for people and our fragile planet — of which Ladakh is probably one of the most remote places — floored me. “Across all the valleys we traveled I met people who were fresh, in terms of spirituality, skills of living, giving love, and devotion to humanitarian causes,” he said. ”I thought they might have difficulty with their old style of living but I came to know that they were content with spiritualism and the spirit of freedom they enjoy.”
He did feel, though, that the remote areas needed many things, from proper roads and medical facilities to educational institutions. Their art also had to be preserved art, as they currently lay precariously scattered in the wilderness of the Himalayan ranges. But the most pressing problem was, well, us. “We collected 60,000 pieces of plastic across the Himalayas. The people were not told how important it is to keep environment clean! I shall like to make the padyatra again to boost the morale of my people,” he said.
There is clearly more to the journey than the mere crossing of miles and more to Ladakh than the bare, lunar austerity of its landscape. If the More Pictures bald mountains and miles and miles of sandy rocks bespeak a simplicity that is perhaps truth itself, the layers and layers of spirituality that invisibly cover them are equally tangible. And at another level still, are the lives of the people who have existed there for centuries and the monasteries that dot the landscape as proof of human existence.
Traditional music flowing from the courtyard of the 17th century monastery of the Ladakhi Dharma King Sengye Namgyal left me awestruck. To the accompaniment of traditional musical instruments including cymbals, drums and long horns, I saw monks called Chams practicing masked dances and sacred plays, their orange and red robes moving quickly in unison across the large courtyard. The next day, I saw them in their even more colourful traditional robes and large masks.
The two-day Hemis festival is celebrated to mark the birth anniversary of the Buddhist guru Padmasambhava. In fact there were even traffic jams on the 45-minute journey from Leh on the Manali-Leh road as locals took advantage of a government holiday to head for the festival which doesn’t just celebrate the victory of good over evil, but links local people of their ancient heritage.
The highlights of the festival, include spectacular masks worn by monks, representing various guardian divinities of the Drukpa order and religious rituals in a panoply of colour that truly makes Ladakh come alive! After the festivities, we made our way to the famous Pangongso Lake on the Indo-China border.
En-route Buddhist stupas of all sizes and made of all kinds of materials — mud, cement and even marble — dotted the roadsides and meadows. Sometimes, they were were innumerable ones in rows, at other times one stood alone. A structure covered in snow beckoned me to say a quick prayer for the arduous journey ahead over rocky, bare or snow-clad mountains and surprisingly green valleys.
After a difficult climb through snowfall in our SUV, I ran to get free tea being given out by an Indian Army soldier at the 17,800 feet Chang La pass. We really needed that hot cuppa as we had given a miss to the yak tea being offered earlier by nomads on the way!
The icy wind, the lack of oxygen and heavy snowfall made it difficult to be out in the open but the fluttering prayer flags in hundred of lines of yellow, red, orange, green at the Changla Baba temple surely carried my prayer to the Almighty for I reached safely! I saw these flags on fields and roads, houses and cliffs, even on motorbikes...
The culmination was sitting on the pristine white beach created by the 134 km salt lake. At that height, not only are the senses at a pitch due to the rarefied atmosphere but the colours, the sounds.... everything is accentuated. As the lake dotted with migratory birds changed colour from turquoise to azure to an amazing irridescent green, I sat back to ponder once again about my place in the cosmos. Ladakh does that to you.