Sunday, March 30, 2008

Day Trip to Tso Pema Lake and Guru Rinpoche Caves

On Thursday myself and Bagdro-la hired a jeep for the day to drive up to Tso Pema Lake and the Guru Rinpoche Caves.
We set off at 6am for the long journey north further into the Himalayas only stopping briefly for a road-side breakfast in the hills near Bir [overlooking Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche's Monastery].

Eventually, after winding our way upwards [for 4 hours plus] and climbing often almost vertical hills, we came to Mandi - a fair-sized town up in the mountains by a river. The feeling there was not so much of India, but being high up in Afghanistan or something. The people too were very different and i appeared to be the only white person around.
Even more shocking perhaps was when our driver turned to me and said 'Now we go up!'
I was thinking 'O my god... what have we been doing up to now?!'After another few hours of tiny roads and tracks, and the most stupendous views of sheer drops to the mountains and valleys below us, we arrived at Tso Pema. It is a large pond [small lake] surrounded by a few monasteries and many restaurants, guesthouses and small shops.


Here is some background information, taken from the Rigpawiki-

"Tso Pema 'Lotus Lake' in Rewalsar, India, where Guru Rinpoche performed the miracle of transforming the funeral pyre into a lake, after the King of Zahor attempted to burn him and Princess Mandarava alive.

As it says in A Great Treasure of Blessings:

Returning to Zahor, Padmasambhava took the royal princess Mandarava as his consort, and they then went to the Maratika cave, where for three months they practised the sadhana of longevity. The Buddha of Limitless Life, Amitayus appeared, empowered them with longevity, and blessed them as inseparable from him. They both accomplished the second vidyadhara level, ‘vidyadhara with mastery over life’.
The king of Zahor and his ministers arrested Guru Rinpoche and Mandarava and burned him alive, but he transformed the pyre into a lake, and was found sitting, cool and fresh, on a lotus blossom in its centre. This lake is considered to be the Rewalsar Lake, ‘Tso Pema’, in the present-day Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. Overcome with remorse, and in homage, the king offered Padmasambhava his entire kingdom, beginning with his garments and his five royal robes."


Despite the over-touristy feel of the place, i enjoyed walking round the lake's edge and soaking up the ambiance.
There are monkeys all over the place [...mental note to self: was bad idea to say hello to them...attack!...danger!...run away!...]

The lake itself is full to bursting with the hungriest fish i have ever seen - whoever stocked the lake with them couldnt have imagined their numbers would grow so much [...it actually seems very cruel to trap so many starving fish in one small area]

At one end, the trees are festooned with prayer flags and they, and a little grassy area, provide a nice spot to sit and ponder.
Meanwhile back at the other end where all the shops etc are, the first cave is actually underground right there beneath some buildings.
It is the Mandarava Cave-house and you access it by crouching down low and squeezing your way through gaps in the rocks until you find a doorway in.
An old Tibetan nun lives and practises in the cave-house and takes care of it. She was very sweet.
It is not actually a cave as we would understand it. A house [cell] has been carved out of the bedrock. It has a uniform shape and a doorway.
In all of the caves i visited that day, the camera could not distinguish many details in the darkness. But i did manage to get some ok photos - especially of the statues and shrines.
Here you can see Mandarava depicted as a young girl deep in blissful meditation.
On the way back out of the cave-house, the nun showed us some really strange markings in the rocks of the tunnel exit. It appeared as though Guru Rinpoche's body and trident had burnt their way into the rock itself.

Then we drove up to near the top of the mountain overlooking the lake and proceeded to walk up many steps to visit the various Guru Rinpoche Caves.

Guru Rinpoche [Padmasambhava] had spent a lot of time living and practising in the region. He been there on more than one occasion - he was there with the local princess Mandarava as his consort, he was there on his way north to bring Buddhism to Tibet in the 8th century AD, and he was there with his consort Yeshe Tsogyal especially in these caves on top of the mountain.
The entrances are very natural stone openings or spaces between two huge slabs of stone resting against eachother. Usually, we had to proceed carefully by way of some steps along the narrower openings which gave onto much larger
caverns within - sometimes even a series of cave 'rooms' interconnecting like some French chateau where one room leads to another and so on.
In the first cave there we entered a large room used by Padmasambhava and a smaller room behind it used by Yeshe Tsogyal.

See next intallment for more photos and info...

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