Chemre Gompa and Takthok

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July 15th 2012
Published: October 1st 2017
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After lingering at breakfast, we began again at 9:30am. We drove up the Indus, to Thiksey (which we had visited yesterday). From this point, we left the van and the main road and walked down a small dirt road/path, away from the main highway. It was a very pleasant walk: the air was perfect, a little sun, and the mountains in the distance were beautiful. We passed a few grazing cows and a clay quarry, where some men were creating adobe bricks for nearby houses. The walk took about 45 minutes, and we met the van again on the main road.

After our walk, we continued up the road, past the turn off to Hemis, to a valley whose name translates as "Nine Palaces" … as there used to be nine fortresses or palaces on the cliffs. The end of the canyon was almost 13,000ft high. As usual, there was little vegetation away from the stream, although we saw many fields of barely and wheat as well as a yellow flower.

Our first monastery visit was to Dak Tok (also written Tok Thog and Takthok), which is built into a cave where the founder of Tibetan Buddhism meditated. This monastery is the only one of the “old order”, which our guide said is more tantric than the other three schools of Tibetan Buddhism. (I know I'm becoming confused with all of these schools of thought and rimpoche.) The cave is apparently used only in winter for prayers. It was very dark, but we could see that money was attached to the ceiling of the cave, using candle wax. We also visited the summer assembly room. Here, we learned about the Bodhisattvas, like Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa, who have rejected enlightenment and the end of suffering to remain in the cycle of birth and death in order to do good in the world. With true enlightenment, you no longer are reincarnated, but it also means that you can no longer affect events in this realm.

From Dak Tok, we returned down the valley to the base of the Chemre Gompa. Before visiting the monastery, we took our lunch in a grove of trees along the stream. It was charming … as were the small group of girls who came to play tag among the trees. Less charming were the boys that came to beg for chocolates. But we told them we had no chocolate (which was true), and they went to bother another group of tourists who arrived a bit later. While we ate, we heard the sound of distant drums and music, which added much to the atmosphere.

After lunch, we drove up a very winding, dusty road to Chemre Gompa for the view. The monastery was closed because the new Rinpoche was being enthroned in a ceremony in the village. So we drove back down to the village to watch the dancing and singing. We learned that the new Rinpoche was a boy from the village, which was fairly unusual, so the monastery brought the festival to the village, so that the villagers could join in the celebration. We could see the Rinpoche at the far end of the yard, receiving scarves from all the villagers.

As the ceremony was winding down, we returned to the van and the drive back to Leh. I spent my time looking at the distant snow-covered peaks and reading the signs painted by the Border Roads Organization (or BRO), such as “Darling, I like you, but slow down.” And “I'm curvaceous, go slow.” They were delightful.

After a brief rest, we walked away from the hotel not down the road but down the winding alleys, towards the hills behind. A water course ran down the middle of the stone pavings, and it was fun to walk between (and sometimes under) the nearby houses in a narrow path. Our goal was the Shanti Stupa on the hill behind Leh, and we were able to find the route fairly easily. It was a long climb to the top, and we had to pause regularly to catch our breath. The view from the top was spectacular and worth the effort. We were also amused by a guy who walked near us, who was all about love.

Our hotel put on a “cultural show” in the evening: singing and dancing by a local group of singers and dancers. The costumes were elaborate (although the warrior helmets were made from construction hardhats painted silver), and the folk singing and dancing were folk singing and dancing. We sat on our balcony and enjoyed the show.


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