Gesar's Birthplace at Rainy Season's End
The following dispatch was received in a phone message from Peter Volz of the Shambhala Office of International Affairs calling from Ganzi, in Kham, Tibet, at approximately 9:12 a.m. eastern standard time or approximately 9:12 p.m. in Tibet. The connection was not very good this time, but most of the dispatch could be understood. Mr. Volz called again at 5 p.m. EST, 5 a.m. on the following day in Tibet to add an addendum.
After providing the details, Mr. Volz added that he had just risen from bed and reported that the moon was just about to duck out of view behind the mountains in the dawning light. The previous night there had been a near total eclipse of the moon, which imparted an eerie beauty on the already stunning landscape. At the risk of repeating himself, he said that the “natural beauty of this place is not to be believed.” The western United States, while vaguely similar, is not nearly so awe-inspiring. On one of the many long drives through mountain passes traveling at about 15 kilometers/hour, the usual rate of speed, the Sakyong remarked that “The real star of this show is the view out the window.”
Having rested for several days, we left from the hotel in Jyekundo (aka Yushu) about dawn and arrived at about 6 p.m. in Sechen, home monastery of Sechen Kongtrul, Trungpa Rinpoche’s root guru. This is also the area within Kham where Gesar of Ling was born and Khenpo Gangshar, an important teacher of Trungpa Rinpoche, spent much of his time. We pulled into a breathtaking steep gorge, filled with caves and trees, a welcome sight. A traditional Tibetan camp was set up, which was a nice break from hotel living, although it was quite chilly. Eeep eep bork urk Rinpoche and then grrk reek ork drkk beautiful rrkk grekk eep. [Sounds of satellite transmission breaking up, which happened frequently during this call.]
In the morning we went to Gesar’s birthplace, which is about an hour and a half north of Sechen--beautiful greenery, following a river as is usual in Tibet, prosperous and healthy fields all about, a pleasant drive. At Gesar’s birthplace there is a temple, nothing dramatic on the outside but on the inside there are statues of 30 dralas and generals and female deities. All of them spectacular painted lacquer statuary in intricate detail. You felt “there.” Gesar himself is about 25-feet high on his horse. Looking in his face, you felt definitely that he is not a dead person. While the Tibetans did a sadhana in Tibetan, we performed the Gesar sadhana composed by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. Afterwards we were hosted very nicely by a rinpoche [name broke up in transmission] who lived nearby.
Back at Sechen, we went on about an hour-and-a-half hike straight up to Sechen Kongtrul’s retreat place, where he spent most of his time, practicing, seeing students, and teaching dzogchen. He and Khenpo Gangshar spent a lot of time together there, and Trungpa Rinpoche would have visited him in this spot. It is a ruin now, but one can appreciate the energy of the place and the tremendous view, mostly sky really. We practiced there for about an hour, which seemed like the practice highlight of the whole trip.
At Sechen, we also met Gangshar Rinpoche, the grandson of Khenpo Gangshar Rinpoche. We met his family, his parents, and he was our main host there. A very delightful person to spend time with. The last night we were there, his mother came into our tent and said, “Don’t go to bed.” After a time passed, we thought it was a Tibetan joke and nothing would ever happen, but then Gangshar Rinpoche came in and gave us a lovely little talk, emphasizing the connection with our sangha and giving us gifts and offerings.
When we left, they made massive offerings to the Sakyong—carpets, all of Mipham’s works in a huge bundle of texts, dorjes and ghantas, statuary, rupas, and more. Ten or more people filed into the tent to make these offerings. We had to completely re-pack in order to get back on the road.
Left Sechen early in the morning and went first to the famous Dzogchen monastery, one of the most prominent of the Nyingma monasteries, which sits in a little bowl at the end of a long valley. The glacial peaks around it are like Lake Louise writ large, peppered with caves where Mipham and Petrul Rinpoche among others did retreats. They are rebuilding a retreat center toward the end of the valley, which we visited, although we didn’t spend much time there. On the way out, we had lunch with the family of one of the tulkus from the monastery, including sampling some very nice liquor.
We left about noon and traveled for quite a while, stopping for a spell in the town of Manigango. It was one of the most intriguing places we’ve been, with the feeling of a kind of wild west Khampa cowboy town: a dirt road, horses tied up at saloons, a wind howling down the street. We fully expected to see Clint Eastwood walking down the street.
A few hours later we arrived at Cakrasamvara Lake, a stunningly colourful high alpine lake with glacial peaks rising behind it. The Sakyong suggested that someone swim. He was tempted, but in the end, at his urging Ethan Neville took the plunge and was promptly dive-bombed by birds who had been lurking above. On the way out, we went to a place where Guru Rinpoche had left a head-print in the rock.
Then, it took us about two hours to ascend to a pass between 15,000 and 16,000 feet in elevation. At its highest point, we stopped and shouted the warrior cry a number of times. Then we went down the pass for several hours passing a several-hundred-foot zone of amazing white rhododendrons. Then we followed the stream for several more hours as it became a bigger and bigger river, finally arriving in Dege, one of the main cities in Kham, where we spent the night at a truly challenging hotel.
Dege is famous for containing one of the top three Barkhongs (printing houses) in all of Tibet, and is well known to all translators. In the morning, we visited the Barkhong, where even today you can order texts, and then at about 1:30 we embarked for Palyul, Penor Rinpoche’s monastery. Most of the time we followed the Dri-chu River, a chocolate brown raging torrent. It’s such a powerful river that it sends out 25-foot-wide offshoots heading upstream that eventually re-join the main river. We traveled along the Dri-chu for about four hours before we arrived in Palyul, where we were surprised to see street lights in a beautiful little tree-lined five-block town. Palyul is at a much lower elevation than where we had been by several thousand feet. It has a bit of the feeling of a hill station, with beautiful gardens everywhere. It’s home to the most prominent Nyingma monastery in this part of the world, which has hundreds of branch monasteries. It has been restored and rebuilt to much of its original stature.
A very large number of monks and an equally large number of nuns lined the road waving khatas to greet us upon our arrival. Everyone filed through and presented khatas to the Sakyong. We then made our way up to the residence, where we were greeted by Khenpo Nhamdrol, Penor Rinpoche’s main khenpo and one of the Sakyong’s principal teachers, who was present at the Sakyong Empowerment and has taught at RMSC. He was teaching at the shedra there, which is home to 250 monks. The shedra was on break, so most of the monks were not there. Nonetheless, we were hosted in very fine fashion by the monks who remained.
Today was a very relaxed day of sightseeing. We went on a tour of the main lhakhong (shrine hall), which has gorgeous, thirty-foot-high statuary. The environs is probably the most fully developed areas we have spent time in. Apparently, this location was historically quite prosperous and formed an important part of the Dege Kingdom. Today, it is supplied with hydro-electric power from upstream and it has a very well-developed infrastructure. The weather is moderate here even in the winter and there are greenhouse gardens throughout the town. As it happened, we found a very nice ‘96 Merlot in a shop in town (no kidding).
We left Palyul and traveled to Ganzi, another major city in Kham. However, it is 15 ½ hours away. It was the second longest journey we had made on the trip after the 23-hour ride from Xining to Yushu. In the middle of the day, we stopped and held a Fourth of July picnic (US Independence Day) in an 8,000-acre field filled with billions of flowers as far as the eye can see. It was a lovely little picnic of Spam, canned pate, and ramen noodles.
Toward the end of the trip we went over a pass of at least 16,000 feet that lay below a gorgeous peak that was about 22,000 feet. It was such a stunning mountaintop that every single person in the party decided to have their picture taken with the Sakyong in front of it, a real Mt. Fuji photo-op kind of thing. We then traveled downward for over an hour, landing in the town of Ganzi, where an almost full moon was rising over the town. Behind the town was another massive mountain of about 22,000 feet. Sitting in front of it at the confluence of two major tributaries of the Yangtze, including the Nya Chu (Yalung), was a stupa. We stopped, got out, and drank it in. Even by the extremely high standards of Tibetan scenery, the entry into Ganzi was magnificent.
Today was a day of rest in Ganzi: shopping, lunch, napping, regrouping, doing laundry. We had a very nice goodbye dinner with Karma Senge Rinpoche, whom we mentioned earlier as the Vidyadhara’s nephew who had traveled for 15 years collecting his Tibetan teachings. He has been traveling with us since Surmang but will now depart from us with his attendant making his way back to Yushu and then on to Surmang and finally to his home at Kheregon monastery. It was a very nice evening with a lovely exchange of toasts. Adam Lobel offered one of behalf of the Shambhala delegation and Karma Senge Rinpoche responded beautifully, emphasizing our connection and wishing for a long-time good friendship with our community. He expressed how happy he was to meet the son of Trungpa Rinpoche and heart disciples of Trungpa Rinpoche. More than any other person he has preserved the legacy of Trungpa Rinpoche in Tibet, and it was wonderful to spend time with him. We all loved him and hope he comes over and visits us.
Tomorrow we travel from Ganzi to Pema, which is our starting point for our trip to Golok, our final stop, which includes Magyal Pomra. We may have to camp out tomorrow night, not being able to make the full trip in one day. We’re prepared to do that and actually most of us would prefer not to make it, so that we can camp out. The rainy season has ended here. It’s gorgeous, sunny, and warm. In a 24-hour period, the cool wet weather stopped and the dry warm weather started at about the 29th or the 30th.
No one has been voted off the island yet. Morale is good. Health is excellent. All is well.