November 21st 2006
A Magnetic Islander's pilgrimage in Bhutan
Magnetic Islander and practicing Buddhist, Sharn Rocco recently returned from a fascinating pilgrimage to a country few travellers ever visit, Druk Yul, the land of the Thunder Dragon, known today as Bhutan. Sharn will be presenting a fascinating slide talk about her visit on Sunday 26 November at the Magnetic International Resort. Below is a shortened account of Sharn's visit to the mystical Himalayan kingdom.
As Druk Air flight KB 121 from Bangkok via Calcutta banks hard right, hovering as though the yogi pilot is holding a difficult asana, I feel I can reach out and touch the mountain beside me. We are lined up to follow the river into land on one the shortest international airstrips making the second most difficult landing in the world. As we come to a smooth halt relieved passengers offer a round of applause. It has been worth the airfare just to experience such skilful flying.
Like the Dharma, the rivers of Bhutan flow clear and strong over what I know from my childhood as lucky stones. Here they are white and, even from great heights, are visible below the surface of the rapid current, strewn to the sides and centre by ever changing eddies. Druk Yul, the land of the Thunder Dragon, as Bhutan is traditionally known, is mountainous. A rushing river or stream carves its way through each valley and waterfalls slash the mountainsides, cloaked in lichen-draped forests harbouring medicinal herbs and flowers in patches of dappled sunlight.
The beauty of Bhutan is relentless. Around every corner is a breath-taking vista, often punctuated by temple, stupa, Dzong or other holy site. To travel these winding roads with a Dharma teacher whose family lineage, both by birth and marriage, is steeped in the spiritual history of the land is a great privilege and joy. Everywhere we go people, young and old, come to seek her blessing and offer gifts and assistance - often from the neck of the Buddhas and deities at the heart of the awe-inspiring shrine rooms where we prostrate, make offerings, meditate and receive blessings.
Passing through customs at Paro airport, I join the que for diplomats to receive my visa. Officially we are travelling as guests of HRH Ashi Pema. At the counter I meet Andrey, the tall dark Russian who is one of the three other pilgrims travelling with Khandro Rinpoche. Outside, dressed in traditional Gho toped with wrap around sunglasses and baseball cap is our guide, Garab Dorji. A mini bus and Tashi, our driver, are waiting. Later tonight Khandro-la, her Australian attendant, Jane and Mitzi, long time Drukpa Kargu practitioner from Holland, will join us at our hotel.
Another of Sharn's images from Bhutan
Among many other sites of spiritual and cultural significance and auspicious, unplanned meetings and convivial gatherings, the two weeks of our pilgrimage will take us to the chorten of Dilgo Khentze Rinpoche; Paro Taktsang where Padmasmbava landed on the back of his consort Yeshe Sogyal who had transformed herself into a flying tiger; to Khanchen Dratsung, the flourishing monastery and temple established by Namkhai Nyingpo Rinpoche; Tampshing, the small temple and monastery built by terton Pema Lingpa in the 1450s and Mebar Tsho, the Burning Lake, where he entered the water to retrieve a terma left by Padmasambava in the eighth century - emerging with his torch still burning; Chhimi, the temple of Drukpa Kunley known as the divine madman, whose legacy is symbolised in the large brown penises (often with bows tied around their girth) that are painted either-side of the entrances of homes throughout central Bhutan; Kunjey, the large temple monastery built around the hillside where Padmasambava (Guru Rinpoche) meditated and left his body print in the rock; Drupchu where it is said that Padmasambava hit the rock with a stick to reveal a spring; Jampel Lhakhang (Temple of Maitrea) - built to fulfil a prophecy of the Buddha in 643AD by the King Songsten Gampo, the first King of Bhutan; and Cha Ri, temple of the first Shabdrung built on a high ridge at the head of the Thimphu valley.
Leaving Bhutan is a gesture of reluctance and one filled with inspiration and the wish to return. Khandro Rinpoche plans to lead a pilgrimage here every second year. May all those with whom I am interconnected, be among the many sentient beings who benefit from her practice. Om arr hung.
Slide/talk details: 5pm - 6.30pm, at Magnetic International Resort. This will be a fund-raiser for Khandro Thrinlay Chodon\'s nunnery in Zanskar. Admission will be $10.
Story and Photos: Sharn Rocco
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