“The road in front of you, which has been trodden by the feet of millions of pilgrims like you, is excessively steep and incredibly rough; and you, whose lungs have never breathed air above sea level, who have never have climbed anything higher than the roof of your house, and whose feet have never trodden anything harder than yielding sand will suffer greatly. Times there will be , a-many, when gasping for breath, you toil up the face of the steep mountains on feet torn and bleeding by passage over rough rocks, sharp shale, and frozen ground, when you will question whether the prospective reward you seek is worth the present price you are paying in suffering; but being a good Hindu, you will toil on, comforting yourself with the thought that merit is not gained without suffering, and the greater the suffering in this world, the greater the reward in the next.”
(From Jim Corbett’s “Man eating leopard of Rudraprayag”)
I had seen a picture of the monastery in the internet, some years ago and it had instantly captivated me prompting me that I should either paint it or make a model of it. I never imagined in my dreams that in a short while from then, I would be visiting and standing in that very place. During the recent visit to Bhutan, I decided that I should positively visit the monastery. The location is in Paro, a small town in a picturesque green valley surrounded by mountains. I made inquiries around about the prospects of climbing up to the monastery, perched on the edge of a precipitous cliff on top of a mountain. The replies were that the climb would be stiff if not impossible for a city dweller like me.
Ponies were available for climbing, but to me it had to be on foot. I glanced up at the monastery on top of the cliff and it was daunting whether the task I had taken on myself was achievable. Anyway, the die was cast and now there was no going back. The rough foot path gradually sloped upwards over gnarled tree trunks and over ground strewn with fallen pine cones. The narrow path soon got quite rough, very steep, with boulders and rocks and sharp bends. Birds of many varieties chirped all around, a cool wind blew and it started drizzling. All along the track, earlier climbers had built small cairns out of rocks and stones piled delicately one on top of the other.
Soon a pack of ponies crossed me carrying visitors to the monastery. An old man riding a pony, commiserated on my plight and commented that it was all for the enlightenment. I was strongly tempted to hold the tail of one of the ponies to ease my climbing. However, the pony shortly cocked its tail and deposited a load of steaming manure and I thanked myself for not having followed my instinct.
Views of the ground I left below could be seen through gaps in the trees and I found that things down there had got quite small in the past two hours that I had been climbing. The walking was for the most part alone, with only myself and nature to keep company with no human souls around. An hour more into the climb, I heard the most welcoming and wonderful sound of prayer chanting trickling down from the monastery somewhere high above my head. Then I had my first closer view of the most beautiful monastery, through a gap between tall cypress trees. The last stretch of the track was a huge U, the track first going above the level of the monastery and going down sharply hugging the perpendicular face of the cliff before raising sharply again to the monastery.
I was just in time to reach the prayer before it ended, sat with the group of monks clad in crimson robes, got the blessings from the head Lama who placed firmly on my head the Vajra for his blessing. The head Lama was the center of reverence and attention by those who surrounded him. After the prayer, I was proffered biscuits and a most welcoming cup of hot tea by a group of girl devotees, which helped me to recover my poise and bearings. All the exertions of the last two and half hours evaporated into thin air and I was filled with immense happiness and gratitude on having reached this most wonderful place in all of Bhutan. I also felt very humble reflecting on the immense dedication and faith that enabled those who had carried the huge, heavy rocks, timber and other building material to the tip of this precipitous cliff and built this most beautiful edifice of worship and prayer.
About the Author: Namachivayam: I am an engineering professional with a keen and insatiable appetite to visit places, meet people, and experience their culture and heritage. An associated passion is the sharing of such wonderful experiences with others. I believe that each such visit opens up new windows and makes one appreciate the most wonderful and amazing planet that we live in. I am on LinkedIn.
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