DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND. Netherlands Development Organisation

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1 DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND Netherlands Development Organisation Dolpo T H E H I D D E N L A N D

2 Dolpo THE HIDDEN LAND SNV/Nepal 2005 SNV/Nepal Bakhundole, Lalitpur P.O. Box: 1966, Kathmandu, Nepal Tel: +977-(0) Telefax: +977-(0) Website: Author: Dr. Namgyal Rinpoche Translator: Kevin Kopp Editor: Cherry Bird Technical Assistant: Kalsang Wangchuk Printed in Nepal DESIGN AND PROCESSED BY: Wordscape, Kathmandu

3 Foreword It was in the beginning of October 1999 that we had the first ever workshop of SNV s tourism advisers from several countries in Asia and Africa gathering in Kathmandu. The morning the advisers arrived in Nepal, we heard that Marjan Rens, our colleague in Dolpo, died on the shore of the Phoksundo Lake in Dolpo. Marjan had worked with community groups, women and men, in Dolpo for almost two years in the Karnali Local Development Programme. She would take up the role of organisational and institutional strengthening adviser in Kathmandu. Kees Vissers, her partner, and Marjan had gone trekking the Dolpo circuit to say goodbye to all the communities she had worked so closely with. Marjan was very dedicated in her work with all communities in Dolpo, but especially with the Buddhist and Bon Po communities in inner Dolpo. Kees, Marjan, Monique (my partner), and I had done the same trek the year before to explore possibilities to work with community groups on sustainable tourism development that would socio-economically and culturally benefit these communities. We saw considerable potential for tourism development in the Dho- Tarap valley and around the Phoksundo lake. The main issue remained how to get the local communities benefiting and taking control of the tourism development in their area. We could never develop a strategy together. After Marjan passed away, it was decide within SNV Nepal to honour Marjan s contribution to the socioeconomic development of Dolpo, through a small project. Seven monasteries along the Dolpo trekking trail between Sahartara and

4 Dho-Tarap were supported through small conservation activities, based on local participation. Today these monasteries can still all be visited while on trekking in the area. Namgyel Lama, the lama of Ribumba Gompa in Dho, one of the seven monasteries, visited SNV with a first manuscript providing an introduction to the monasteries of Dolpo, including the seven supported monasteries. Dr Namgyal Rinpoche wanted to publish the manuscript as a tribute to the monasteries in Dolpo, and to the conservation work done through the Marjan Rens Gompa Renovation Project. This booklet is the result of the joint efforts of Namgyel Lama and the Marjan Rens Gompa Renovation Project. This will be the concluding activity of the Marjan Rens Gompa Renovation Project. However not only the supported monasteries in Dolpo and this booklet will keep the memories of Marjan alive, but Kees and friends and family of Marjan also started the Marjan Rens Foundation. The foundation s aim is to finance small-scale development projects by and for women in mountainous highland environment. Besides, the foundation stimulates and facilitates anthropological research into farmers communities at high altitude, whereby a research pursuing a feminist approach is advanced. You can visit the website of the foundation at Several of the people in SNV Nepal that have known Marjan have moved on to new places and designations, but this does not mean that they have forgotten her. Also the communities in Dolpo and the few colleagues that are still in SNV Nepal remember her as the dedicated and strong community development worker, walking and working in the harsh but beautiful mountains of Dolpo. John Hummel SNV Tourism Advisor and friend of Marjan Rees

5 Foreword Voorwoord Bij het afscheid in Dunai zeiden we tegen onze kennissen en vrienden daar: dit is geen echt afscheid, maar een tot ziens, want natuurlijk komen we terug. Een week later, volkomen onverwachts, stierf Marjan en bleek het afscheid toch veel definitiever te zijn dan wie ook had kunnen denken. Na anderhalf jaar lang als programmaadviseur voor de Nederlandse Ontwikkelingsorganisatie SNV in het afgelegen Dolpa-district te hebben gewerkt, kreeg Marjan in augustus 1999 een nieuwe functie op het SNVkantoor in Kathmandu. Als afscheid van het district waar we anderhalf jaar hadden gewoond en gewerkt, besloten we nog een keer een trekking te maken door de prachtige bergen van Dolpa, een bezoek te brengen aan de mensen die we in de dorpen hadden leren kennen en waarderen en te genieten van de locale cultuur. Een week lang trokken we door de bergen, bezochten verschillende van de gompa s langs de Khani-Dho route en spraken met de lama s. Vanuit haar achtergrond als cultureel antropologe zag Marjan hier een uitgelezen kans om behoud van de locale cultuur te verweven met het scheppen van kansen voor economische ontwikkeling en versterking van de positie van vrouwen. Volgens haar zou in het SNV-programma meer ruimte moeten komen om samen met de locale bevolking de oude, vaak vervallen gompa s op te knappen en onderdeel te maken van het tourismestimuleringsproject van SNV. Precies een week nadat we uit Dunai waren vertrokken, arriveerden we bij het Phoksundomeer en sloegen onze tenten op aan de oevers van het

6 meer, vlak bij het Thasung Tsholing (Bon Po)-klooster. De volgende ochtend zochten we de spullen uit voor het laatste gedeelte van onze tocht. Terwijl ik nog bezig was de bagage te herpakken, bracht Marjan alvast wat spullen weg. Toen ik een paar minuten later bij haar kwam, lag ze in de armen van onze vriendin Maya op de grond en ademde niet meer. Ik ben oke, maar wil je alsjeblieft Kees roepen, waren haar laatste woorden geweest. Dankzij de ongekende inzet van de SNV-medewerkers zijn we een dag later terug in Kathmandu. Voordat we de volgende dag door zullen vliegen terug naar Nederland nemen de collega s afscheid van Marjan. Maar ze willen niet alleen afscheid nemen, maar ook een tastbare herinnering aan haar achterlaten. Denk je, dat Marjan het een goed idee zou hebben gevonden als we ter nagedachtenis aan haar een gompa-renovatie -project starten in Dolpa, vraagt SNV-directeur Tom Derksen? Het antwoord moge duidelijk zijn en voor u ligt het eerste resultaat: een inventarisatie en beschrijving van zeven gompa s in Dolpa, waar het Marjan Rens Gompa Renovatie -project zal worden uitgevoerd. Ik wil de onderzoekers Linda en Angad ontzettend bedanken, want naar mijn idee hebben zij uitstekend werk verricht en een stevige basis gelegd voor een succesvolle uitvoering van het project. En dat is belangrijk, want als er iets is wat Marjan belangrijk vond, dan is het wel dat wat wordt gedaan ook goed gebeurt! Kees Vissers, Amsterdam, 10 maart 2001

7 Introduction Set amid the high Himalayas, abode of the gods, Nepal has been called the kingdom where deities mingle with mortals. As one of the remotest corners of Nepal, Dolpo was, until recently, virtually unknown to the outside world. Only a few learned lamas understood the fascinating and complex culture, which has evolved over hundreds of years, with little external influence, from the Tibetan religions of Bon and Buddhism. The release of the Eric Valli film, Himalaya, which was made in Dolpo with a largely local cast and based on true experiences of local life, gave many people across the world the chance to learn something of this unique area, its spectacular environment and topography, tough and resourceful people and their religious philosophies and social customs. We hope that this book will act as a further appetiser, so that readers may gain a better understanding of the rich culture and natural features of Dolpo. Perhaps some of you will be moved to visit the area for the trek of a lifetime. Ribo Bumpa Gonpa, Dho Tarap Courtesy: TRPAP

8 6 DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND THE SNV MISSION CONNECTING PEOPLE S CAPACITIES SNV is dedicated to a society where all people enjoy the freedom to pursue their own sustainable development. Our advisors contribute to this by strengthening the capacity of local organisations. This book was written as a memorial to Mrs Marjen Rens, who was the SNV Programme Advisor for community development projects in Dolpo from 1997 to After her untimely death in 1999, the Marjen Rens Gonpa Conservation Project was established, through which funds raised by friends of Marjen Rens are dedicated to restoration work on selected gonpas (monasteries) in Dolpo. The overall aim is to contribute to conservation of the cultural heritage, a reflection of Marjen Rens passionate involvement with the people, land and culture of Dolpo. Information about the sacred places and traditions in Dolpo was provided by Dr Namgyal Rinpoche, a religious scholar, amchi 1 and resident of Dolpo. The Lamas of Dolpo wish to share their knowledge with people across the world, to help preserve the many temples and other religious sites in Dolpo and engender a sense a pride in their heritage among the people of Dolpo. Additional inputs came from SNV Nepal, which has been committed to supporting the needs of the Dolpa people for more than two decades and has a large collection of documents related to this remote part of Nepal. Mrs Marjen Rens courtesy: SNV 1 Doctor of traditional Tibetan medicine

9 The Hidden The mysterious and beautiful hidden land of Dolpo is situated far to the north of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, bordering the Tibetan plateau. The people of Dolpo therefore have strong cultural links with Tibet. To the east, west and south are the Nepali mountain districts of Mustang, Jumla, Mugu, Myagdi, Rukum and Jajarkot. The name Dolpo comes from the Tibetan word dol meaning overflowing, which refers to its abundance of natural and mineral resources and manifestations of religious significance. It is the largest of Nepal s 75 districts, but also the most sparsely populated, with the average population density a mere 3.7 per square kilometre, and some areas much less. The district lies in the trans- Himalayan region, and has an incredible altitudinal range, from just over 1,500 metres in the southernmost part, known as lower Dolpo, to 7,381 metres at the summit of the Churen Himal, the highest peak in upper Dolpo. The scenery, especially in Upper Dolpo, is extremely dramatic, with a maze of wide glacial valleys, precipitously steep slopes and high ridges, folded and faulted limestones and sandstones, moraine deposits, rock headwalls and peaks above 6,000 metres. The arid climate of these rugged areas is reflected in the sparse nature of the natural vegetation, and thus the majority of the population lives in the river valleys of Lower Dolpo, where the higher rainfall supports lush vegetation and forests. There are no motorable roads in Dolpo or any of the neighbouring districts and the nearest roadhead is a week's hard walking away. Thus the only direct access to Dolpo is by air from the city of Nepalgunj, in the western terai (plain) region of Nepal. It is a beautiful 30-minute flight in a bouncy little 18-seater aircraft, with a dramatic landing at Juphal, a village near the district DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND 7 Land Transport in Dolpo Dr Namgyal Rinpoche

10 8 DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND THE SACRED LAND OF DOLPO The many sacred and auspicious places to be found in Dolpo are evidence of its rich history. The founding fathers of Dolpo, which was originally part of Tibet, were famous religious scholars, such as Kunkhyen Dolpo Sangyes, Ngari Padma Wangyal, Ka Thog Tshewang Norbu, Drubthob Senggi Yeshe, Lama Nagpo Dzume, and Tadru Ogye Tendzin. They came from western Tibet over a thousand years ago and passed down the great traditions that nourished the development of a rich culture based on the three Buddhist sects (the Sakya, Kagyu, and Nyingma orders) and Bon. As a result of the myths that grew up and the historical events that occurred over the centuries, many temples, chortens and retreat caves still remain, although some are now in poor repair. The special wonder and miraculous powers associated with these sacred places built by our predecessors are said to transform all living beings; giving peace to those grieving and facing hardship, and bringing inspiration and immeasurable joy to those who believe and encounter them. Overcoming immense challenges, many Buddhist pilgrims travel to these remote sites to gain the benefits of their powers. With the advances in technology today, people from all over the world are able to travel to Nepal and we hope they may also come to the many wonderful ancient places in Dolpo. Dr Namgyal Rinpoche headquarters of Dunai. The beaten earth airstrip has a dip in the middle, a large rock at the end and is wedged against a rock face. The pilots of Royal Nepal Airline are skilled in these mountain flights, but cancellations can occur because of unsuitable weather. Thus a trip to Dolpo requires careful planning, and the willingness to wait, sometimes for days, for the right weather conditions. The remote high valleys and cliffs of northern Dolpo are associated with many myths and legends, as over the centuries holy men have been drawn to the purity of the wilderness, where they spent many years in solitary meditation. One such was Guru Rinpoche, the Precious One, also known as the Second Buddha, because of his great learning and wisdom. As an important religious personage within Buddhism, he has a special place in the history of Dolpo because of his visit. He was born in Afghanistan, reputedly not of a woman, but from a lotus flower, where he was found as a tiny baby by a kindly and devoted passer-by, who took and raised him as his own. Thus he was given the name of Padma Sambhava, meaning from the lotus flower. He studied in India and became a revered and respected religious teacher. Legend tells how he destroyed the three evil spirits, releasing the people of Dolpo from their tyranny.

11 DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND 9 Map of Dolpo Courtesy: TRPAP

12 10 DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND View of Kanzi Rova from Numa La Courtesy: TRPAP

13 DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND 11 GURU RINPOCHE'S DESTRUCTION OF THE THREE EVIL SPIRITS Long ago (around 700 A.D.), when Guru Rinpoche, the Precious Guru, also known as Padma Sambhava, was staying in Pharping, in the Kathmandu valley, the 35th great Tibetan King Trisong Deutsen invited Him to Tibet to teach the dharma (Buddhist religion). At that time, The Red Handed Demoness was very fierce and powerful in Tibet, working against the spread of the pure dharma practice. Guru Rinpoche used his powers to conquer her, but at her death, she gave birth to three new demonesses, who fled to the area of Dolpo. The All Knowing Guru went to Dolpo to subdue them. The eldest of the three demonesses fled to the valley of Tarap, with Guru Rinpoche in pursuit. On the way, she met a yak herder. Beseeching him not to reveal to anyone that she had passed this way, she gave him a turquoise stone and continued to Tarap. Later, Guru Rinpoche also met the yak herder and asked if a woman had passed this way. The man replied that no one had come. Guru Rinpoche asked to see what was in the pouch of his chuba (traditional Tibetan garment). As the man took out the turquoise stone, it immediately turned into a large snake. Thus Guru Rinpoche knew what had happened. He destroyed the serpent and went on to Tarap. Meanwhile the demoness had used soil carried from India in the folds of her skirt to dam the river in Tarap, filling the valley with water and destroying everything. As she sat meditating on her evil plans, Guru Rinpoche arrived and destroyed her. Then, with a sword, he cut a gorge, allowing the water to drain from the valley. The soil brought by the demoness from India is unique in Dolpo, and where the water was dammed a mountain pass formed, known as Kyezig La. The heart of the demoness is buried under the cliff beside the pass. On top of this spot thirty bundles of scriptures were placed. To this day water flows from the heart of the demoness at the centre of the cliff. It is said that if people take three sips of this water, all hindrances from evil spirits will be eliminated. The second demoness fled to the area called Phuksumdo. She filled the valley with water, submerging the whole village, so that the cats and hens of the village were perched on the tops of the prayer flags when Guru Rinpoche arrived. After destroying the demoness, He made an outlet for part of the water to drain away, leaving a smaller lake, and planted a "life-tree" in the centre of the lake, which still exists today. The Precious Guru remained there for some time to meditate, and his meditation cave can be visited to this day. The water of the lake is a very deep blue colour and has special qualities because of the minerals it contains. It never completely freezes over in winter. The third demoness fled to a place called Tidru, in the lower valleys, where the Guru caught and destroyed her. After his destruction of the three demonesses, Guru Rinpoche performed the blessing of the enlightened body, speech, and mind, and three stupas, known as The Three Containers, were constructed as a reminder and protection for the area. This story of Guru Rinpoche and his work in Dolpo has been transcribed here from oral traditions handed down. More details of this and other legends concerning Guru Rinpoche in Dolpo can be found in documents preserved at the Ribo Bumpo Gonpa. Dr Namgyal Rinpoche

14 DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND 12 Dho Tarap village Courtesy: TRPAP

15 DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND 13 TENZING NORBU LAMA Born in Bantshang, one of the most remote corners of Dolpo, Tenzing Norbu comes from a long line of traditional Thanka painters (religious painters), and for five generations his family has cared for the Dralung Gonpa. As a child he watched his father and other relatives at work on the intricate paintings, copying the designs in the sand and snow until he was old enough to use a bamboo pen and board. A gifted child, he was inspired by the legends and stories of his culture, and even his early paintings capture the life and movement of the figures and landscapes in a unique style. During the 1990s, Tenzing Norbu had the opportunity to travel and exhibit his paintings across the world, and his work was featured in the Eric Valli film, "Himalaya". Now he uses his work to help the people of Dolpo by promoting their culture and traditions and supporting the provision of educational opportunities and other development programmes. Life in Dolpo Its remoteness and lack of arable land mean that Dolpo has been left behind in terms of modern development. Poverty is widespread, as most families are unable to grow sufficient food for the whole year (at most they can grow enough for about five to six months), Tenzing Norbu Lama

16 14 DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND and need to supplement their subsistence farming. In winter, when conditions in the high mountain areas are too harsh and cold for human survival, many people from the high villages leave their homes and live in yak hair tents in the lowland meadows around the district headquarters of Dunai, where they survive by trading. Painting of a yak by Tsering Dawa Lama Educational opportunities and health care services are minimal, and the Dolpa people (known as the Dolpapa, from the Tibetan, pa, meaning people) have had to become selfsufficient and resilient. The languages spoken include Nepali (the official national language of Nepal), Dolpo, a local dialect of Tibetan, and Kaike, a minority language spoken in the Tiserong valley. The lack of contact with the outside world has left largely untouched a fascinating traditional culture and lifestyle, which has evolved in keeping with the landscape and local resources. As well as a fantastically beautiful environment, Dolpo also has a rich history and religious heritage, which make it a rewarding place to visit if you are willing to live without modern amenities, and trek over demanding terrain. Agriculture is the major occupation for the Dolpapa. Most households have only a small amount of land to grow crops such as potatoes, maize, wheat, millet, buckwheat, Tibetan barley, high altitude rice and native crops such as chino and kagumo. Animal husbandry is traditionally a very important economic activity, with the number of animals owned indicating the wealth, and thus status, of a family. Sheep, goats, cattle and yaks are taken up to the high pastures for grazing during the summer months and brought

17 DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND 15 back to the villages for the winter. Usually younger members of the family accompany the herds, living in temporary stone huts for the season. At higher altitudes yaks are of particular importance as they are perfectly adapted to survival in this harsh environment, and in fact are only able to live above 3,000m. With their thick bushy tails and heavy wool and hair coats they can live outdoors in temperatures well below freezing, and their short legs and small hard hooves are ideally suited to scrambling over the steep and rocky terrain. Their hair can be woven into warm blankets and clothing, their skin is used for leather and their milk forms a important part of the high altitude diet, both in liquid form and as a hard dried cheese. Dried yak dung is an important fuel for cooking and warmth, since firewood is scarce. Yaks also function as pack animals, and with their huge wide horns a group of loaded yaks, known as a caravan, is a dramatic sight. At lower altitudes, yaks are inter-bred with cattle to produce a tough medium sized animal that is more tractable and suited to lowland conditions than a full-bred yak. Trading is also an important part of the Dolpapa survival strategy, especially for those in the more remote areas. Caravans of yaks go up to the high northern areas and across the border into Tibet or other Nepali mountain areas to collect medicinal plants, salt Dolpopa Courtesy: SNV

18 16 DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND and other mineral resources, which are taken down to the lower areas to exchange for food grains and other essentials. Collection of medicinal plants follows a seasonal pattern and is now controlled by a system of permits in order to protect the resource from over exploitation. Yarsagunba, a strange combination of fungus and caterpillar, is a particularly high value crop, and is reported to fetch up to Rs.30,000 to Rs.75,000 ($440 to $1,000) per kg, for the local collector. SUMMER GRASS, WINTER INSECT The yarsa-gunba, literally translated as "summer grass winter insect", is an intriguing combination of mushroom (cordyceps sinensis) and insect. It is only found in Himalayan alpine areas at around 4,000 metres altitude, and is prized for its reputed aphrodisiac properties when dried and eaten mixed with milk or honey. Its strange lifecycle begins in spring, when the eggs of a lepidoptera moth hatch into larvae. As the caterpillars feed on prairie grass, spores of the cordyceps mushroom, transported by the wind, land on some of them. The mushroom grows upwards through the head of the unfortunate caterpillar and its root (mycelium) buries into the body. This strange animal-plant union remains alive, vibrating slightly, until its thin fleshy yellow stalk is identified by human gatherers in April/ May (the season for harvesting) or the caterpillar dries up, its resources exhausted by the fungus growing within. Taken from a description by Maureen De Coursey, Yale University Caravan of yaks Courtesy: Dr Namgyal Rinpoche

19 DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND 17 History A Glance at the of Dolpo Dralung Gonpa Courtesy: Tenzing Norbu Lama The original Dolpo people were a pure Tibetan race, who came from three different areas of the upper Ngari region in western Tibet. Little is known about its early history, but Dolpo was originally administered as a part of Ngari. Later, it came under the jurisdiction of the King of Mustang, acting as regional administrator for the Lama ruler of Ngari. During other periods, both the great King of Jumla, the district to the west of Dolpo, and the Ranag King of the Nangkong valley in Upper Dolpo ruled the area. At one time, Upper and Lower Dolpo were separated, with Upper Dolpo remaining under the rule of the Ranag family and Lower Dolpo under the Jumla King. All that remains of the Ranag rule is a ruin in the Panzang valley in Upper Dolpo, believed to the remains of a three-storey stupa or palace. The Mustang and Ranag Kings shared a close and long-lasting relationship, and in ancient texts, it is written that the Mustang King presented his eldest daughter in marriage to the Ranag King. The Hindu King Bikram Shahi of Jumla ruled Lower Dolpo around four hundred years ago, as part of the Sinja Empire. Despite his Hindu beliefs, the King allowed five lamas to come from Tibet to promote Buddhism in Dolpo, following the earlier work of four Tibetan lamas in Upper Dolpo 1. Many of the gonpas in existence today were founded by these lamas, who settled in Dolpo to

20 18 DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND "NGARI DOLPO" Beyond the boundaries of "Ngari Dolpo" (so called because the original Dolpo people came from an area called Ngari in Tibet) lie many significant holy places. Far to the south, in neighbouring India, is Bodh Gaya (Dorje Den in Tibetan), the place where the Shakyamuni Buddha received enlightenment. To the north are the ancient Tibetan cities of Lhasa (now the capital of Tibet) and Samye, site of one of the first great temples of Tibet, constructed by the great 35th Tibetan King Trisong Deutsan around 775 A.D. to promote the expansion of Buddhism throughout the Himalayan region. To the northwest is the holy Lake Manasarovar, and nearby Mount Kailash (Mount Tise in Tibetan), whose flanks are said to have extended out to form the peaks and valleys of Ngari Dolpo. According to the historical text on Tibetan history by Dudjom Rinpoche, "within the region of Ngari Dolpo there are the upper and lower parts; the boundary of each is nearly limitless, because of the immensity of the area; the upper and lower parts contain four great valleys, as though they were cut by a sword. The Dho Tarap valley, possessing nine doors (avenues of entrance), is the central gathering place for the whole region". fulfil their commitment to religious work. Over the centuries, other dedicated lamas and village leaders built many other fine chortens (stone monuments) and gonpas, in which beautiful statues and learned texts recording the philosophies and mythologies of the area have been preserved and handed down. Before the area was unified with Nepal, the people of Dolpo were self-governing, with the land divided into seven parts, each under a local leader. Now there are 45 named villages, although more half the population lives in scattered housing among the hills and mountains. Most of the larger villages are in Lower Dolpo and have grown out of ancient settlements where farming was possible. Dr Namgyal Rinpoche

21 DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND 19 Saldang village Courtesy: Nyima Lama

22 20 DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND LEGENDS ASSOCIATED WITH VILLAGE NAMES DHO TARAP: In the beginning, the valley of Dho Tarap was filled with water and was the confluence of the rivers of the whole area of Dolpo. At the time when the villages came into existence, the spirit of the lake controlled the area. Out of the water came a horse "ta" of the most excellent quality "rap". The place became known as Tarap. SALDANG: At the time when the place known as Saldang came to be, there was not enough water but there was enough land "sa". Since the land seemed to rise up "dang", the area came to be known as risen land, Saldang. The name for the whole valley is Nangkong. BIJER: Once upon a time, a mouse "byi" owned and occupied the land in the area that is now called Bijer. There was a Lama who had a plan to make the area peaceful. The Lama crushed "jer" the mouse against the cliff killing him. The place came to be known as Bijer. TINGKYU: The region of Tingkyu is shaped like the heel of a person's foot "tingba", thus the village was called Tingkyu. The name of the whole valley is Bantshang, which came from a group of Buddhist monks "Bande", who made their home "tshang" in the area, thus it became known as the monks' home or Bantshang. SAKARPO AND TSHARKHA: The area has white "karpo" ground "sa", and so is called Sakarpo. From the mouth "kha" speech comes and at that place there are salt "tsha" deposits. The village at the mouth of the river thus became known as Tsharka. BARRONG: The boundary "bar" between Tibet and the lower valleys "rong" came to be called Barrong. In Barrong is a place called Mukor, named after one of the four great snow-capped peaks, called Mule Gangri (Mt. Dhaulagiri), which was said to possess the qualities of Guru Rinpoche. RONG TSHO PUNGMO: Between Tibet and the lower valleys, there is an area of dense timber. Long ago, there were one hundred houses there. A demoness destroyed nearly all of these by covering them with the lake "tsho". The remaining houses were heaped up "pungba" on the banks of the lake, forming a village that came to be called Tsho Pungmo. The whole area or valley "rong" of the lake is now called Shey Phoksumdo. TISERONG: The village of Tiserong acquired its name from Gang Tise, better known as Mount Kailash. The flanks of this sacred mountain in Western Tibet continue without a break to the valley "rong" in southern Dolpo. Thus, the area became known as Tiserong.

23 DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND 21 A PARADISE The lush pure rivers of Dolpo are like offering waters. Every direction is full of various flowers and medicinal herbs. Many beautiful birds and wild animals roam about freely. The beauty of the environment inspires good actions and practice. The area is also a storehouse of many kinds of precious stones, minerals and medicinal herbs. DrLama Namgyal Environment The Dolpo Natural and Resources In summer the weather in Dolpo is very pleasant, with mild temperatures and clear views of the surrounding dramatic snow capped peaks, including Mount Dhaulagire, Tarap Mountain, and Crystal Mountain. The spectacular high altitude lakes are an additional attraction, and include Phoksumdo, Tso-Karpo (White Lake), Tso-Nakpo (Black Lake) Tso-Ngonpo (Blue Lake). In the ancient text of the autobiography of Guru Rinpoche, The Chronicles of Padma, Dolpo is noted for its rich spiritual and natural resources as a white cliffed treasure chest, a place of deep white crevasses with veins of coral, ochre peaked crags with outcrops shaped like lioness faces, dense forests like the under-feathers of a peacock s tail, pastures green as though spread with emeralds, fast flowing rivers like turquoise dragons on the chase, small streams foaming like a tapestry of small prayer flags, waterfalls like hoisted prayer flags, the clear Phoksumdo Lake, so blue it is as if the sky had fallen, lakes and pools the colour of lapis lazuli and pure springs. Dolpo boasts a highly diversified vegetation and is home to over 1,200 plant species. In the vast wilderness and forests there are juniper and birch trees, willow, wild rose bushes, barberry, ferns and rhododendrons and many others. Over 400 species of flowering medicinal and aromatic herbal plants can be found, including caterpillar fungus (yarsagunba), orchid, solomon s seal, lilac, wild asparagus, wild rose, aconites, meconosis, scrophulari, halenia, and dipsacia hookeri. These medicinal plants are an economically important but ecologically vulnerable

24 Kulha Palsang Courtesy: 22 DOLPO Tenzing Norbu THE Lama HIDDEN LAND

25 Dolpa girl, photo by Nico Smeets Courtesy: TRPAP DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND 23 resource, and their collection and sale is regulated by the government. However, large amounts are traded illegally and over exploitation of the resource is a major concern, which not only reduces its availability for traditional household and medicinal uses, but also makes the area vulnerable to ecological disturbance, creating species imbalance and increasing the potential for soil erosion on the steep and windblown hillsides. The diverse geography also supports over 30 species of mammal, including endangered and protected species listed in CITES, such as the snow leopard, grey wolf, musk deer, lynx, fox, blue sheep, wild yak, marmot, and wild dog. There are also 196 species of bird, including 35 of international importance. Minerals such as iron magnetite, calcium, pitch/bitumen, and many others are extracted and used with plant materials in the manufacture of medicines. Precious stones found in the mountains, such as turquoise, pearls and zhi (a back stone containing a white stripe) are prized by the women of Dolpo as jewellery, an indication of wealth and insurance against times of economic need. Snow Leopard Drawing by Tenzing Norbu Lama

26 24 DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND Traditional Medicine Dr Namgyal Rinpoche taking a pulse Courtesy: Palsang Lama Practitioners of traditional Tibetan medicine, called amchis, are still highly respected and widely consulted in Dolpo. This ancient system of healing, which has existed for thousands of years, is based on the herbs and natural products of Tibet and the high Himalayas. It is a rigorous discipline, requiring years of hard study to master the Gyud Shi, the Four Medical Treatises, and other texts, with clinical practice under the guidance of a master. Diagnosis is by pulse and urine analysis, and treatments are based on the amchi s assessment of the functioning of the three humours : wind, bile and phlegm. Imbalance of these is considered to be the cause of disease, and total health is understood as a balanced relationship between mind, body, spirit and physical environment. Based on the teachings of Buddha, this holistic approach to healing combines the body s need for physical wellness with the quest for spiritual balance and mental peace. A qualified amchi must also have knowledge of religious philosophy, astrology and traditional painting. In ancient times, lamas and monks from the monasteries provided all medical treatment, and health care was one of the functions of the local gonpa. People grew or collected their own

27 DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND 25 DOLPO MENTSI KHANG: TREATMENT AND STUDY CENTRE Construction of this centre began in 2002, with support from WWF/Nepal, under the Northern Mountain Conservation Project, and it began offering treatment from July It is intended to serve as both a treatment and study centre, with the aim of supporting the continuation of amchi skills and offering local young people the opportunity to study amchi medicine and gain employment. The centre is also a community resource, providing loans to poor people for skills development to supplement their incomes and promoting the cultivation and conservation of essential and endangered species of medicinal plants. It supports work to preserve local monasteries. Dr Namgyal Rinpoche (Chief Medical Instructor) medicinal plants for everyday use, and sick people could be treated by a helpful neighbour or a recognised amchi, without the need for payment. To this day, under a unique system of trust, amchis do not charge a fee for their services. Patients pay only what they feel is appropriate and they are able to afford, as a donation. Traditionally an amchi would travel to the home of a sick person to provide treatment, or people would come to his home, but recently, in an effort to support the further development and availability of this ancient system of healing, a number of new amchi clinics have been established. These include: The Dolpo Mentsi Khang 1 in Dho Tarap; The Himalayan Medical Clinic in Phoksumdo; The Yutog Norling Medical Association in Saldang; and an Amchi Clinic in Tingkyu. Visitors are welcome. Medicine Buddha Painting by Tenzing Norbu Lama 1 Literally house of medicine and astrology, including a training facility for amchis.

28 26 DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND Religion in Dolpo Today, the main religions practised in Dolpo are Hinduism, Buddhism and Bon, with Hinduism more predominant in the southern parts of Lower Dolpo, and the influence of Buddhism and Bon more apparent further north and into Upper Dolpo, reflecting their proximity to Tibet and the cultural links. It is said that in Dolpo pure religion is practised, and the hidden land is well known in the Tibetan Buddhist world for its rich religious traditions and auspicious places. Ancient historical documents make reference to a prophecy of Lord Buddha that in Dolpo enlightenment could be achieved through solitary meditation. The revered Guru Rinpoche bestowed his blessing on the whole area by his visit, and to this day, pilgrims travel great distances to see the imprint of his foot and many other auspicious manifestations (such as rock formations) and caves. These sacred places have been home to many lamas as they meditated and strived for enlightenment, and became bodhisattvas (enlightened beings) in order to help all sentient beings. Dolpo also boasts many gonpas, some of which are the oldest of their sect in the whole Himalayan region, dating back over 700 years. Tshowa Gonpa photo by Nico Smeets Courtesy: TRPAP

29 DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND 27 The three main sects of Buddhism practised in Dolpo are Sakya, Kakyu and Nyingma, with the latter, which is also known as the red hat sect and based on the mythology surrounding Guru Rinpoche, the most predominant. Although the Dalai Lama is of the fourth major sect, the Gelugpa (yellow hat), since the early 1960s he has been viewed among Dolpo Buddhists as their spiritual leader and overall authority, as a result of his efforts to identify common ground between the four sects (between which there was previously some intense rivalry and disagreement) and to integrate their different practices and The author's grandfather at a ceremony Courtesy: Dr Namgyal Rinpoche SOME DEFINITIONS Monk: Man who has taken religious vows Ani: Woman who has taken religious vows (nun) Lama: Master - monk who has studied to a higher level. The status of lama can also be hereditary Guru: Teacher, in the religious sense - highly learned Abbot: More learned lama, especially in philosophy. Often the chief of a monastery Tulku: Reincarnation of a lama or good religious practitioner Rinpoche: Translated as "precious", a reincarnate of a high lama, very learned Bodhisattva: One who has achieved enlightenment, but chooses to remain on earth to help others

30 28 DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND A NOTE ON TIBETAN BUDDHISM The essence of Buddhism is not about the existence of an omnipotent God, but focuses on the spiritual element within all human beings. The ultimate aim of practitioners is to achieve enlightenment and thus nirvana (eternal bliss) in the next world. All living beings are believed to experience a series of rebirths, through which they gradually progress towards this state. A good life results in a more favourable rebirth, while evil deeds may result in rebirth as a lower being. The Buddha's enlightenment is encapsulated in the Four Noble Truths (human suffering, the origin of suffering, the end of suffering and the way to end suffering). The Buddha gave teachings to guide practitioners, and the deities and spirits associated with myths and legends are believed to provide either support or hindrance to human beings, depending on whether they are positive or negative. interpretations of the texts. Tibetan Buddhism exits on two levels, the formal religious practices of monks and the daily rituals of lay people. Many of the activities associated with the latter have evolved from the old folk rituals of previous religions. These are influenced by the need to appease any evil spirits believed to reside in the ground, on mountain tops or in the home, so that daily life will not be disrupted by their anger. Rituals may relate to simple daily activities, like making tea or drinking chang (home brewed beer), or be performed when something more major happens, such as a new bride moving into her husband s home, building a house or beginning the new season s ploughing. The monastic side of the religion has evolved from a mix of ideas and influences, both within Tibet and from other countries, mainly India. Tibetan Buddhism is also sometimes called Lamaism, because of the important role played by monks and monasteries. Dolpo is one of the few remaining areas where the Bon religion is practised, and it has some of the oldest existing Bonpo monasteries. Bon and Buddhism have long existed side by side, although Bon was prevalent in Tibet before Buddhism was widely adopted. In its current

31 DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND 29 form, Bon appeared around the eleventh century. It represents an adaptation of Buddhist ideas within an older form of Bon, which had disappeared, and the original indigenous (animist) religions of western Tibet. It therefore places greater emphasis on the activities of spirits and deities and less on philosophy. Its origins lie in the mythologies of a Buddha-like figure called Tonpa Sherub, said to have lived in western Tibet. The key obvious differences between Bon and Buddhism are the Bon practice of circumambulating shrines in an anticlockwise direction (Buddhists move in a clockwise direction), spinning the prayer wheel to the left instead of the right, inscribing the swastika (lucky sign) to the left instead of the right, and chanting "Om Ma Tri Mu Ye Sa Le Du" instead of the Buddhist "Om Mani Padme Hum". There are also differences in details of the interpretations of some of the ancient teachings, style of dancing and costumes and masks used, and the style and use of colour for statues. As with the different Buddhist sects, the Buddhist and Bonpo religions have grown closer over the years, and members of the different sects and religions now even practise their rituals and celebrate festivals together within communities. BUDDHISM AND BON IN TIBET Tradition has it that Buddhism first came to Tibet in the 7th century, when King Srongtsen Gampo founded the city of Lhasa and married two Buddhist princesses, one from China and one from Nepal. The two princesses brought Buddhist teachings and established shrines and temples. These were later destroyed by the Bon high priests, and Buddhism was only re-established just over a century later, when King Trisong Deutsen rebuilt ruined temples, established new ones and invited Buddhist masters from India, including Guru Rinpoche, to teach the dharma. After this time Buddhism remained of central importance in Tibet, and the influence of Bon faded. Taken from The Book of Buddhas by Eva Rudy Jansen

32 30 DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND Sacred Places Many of the high places in Dolpo are associated with the spirits and deities and the magical events of myths and legends passed down through oral traditions. In caves and hermitages (small simple dwellings), hermits (holy men or ascetics who forsook normal life to pursue spiritual goals) meditated for many years. Sometimes disciples followed them and small communities grew up. The trails to these remote places are very difficult and some of the holy men were reputed to be able to fly through the sky. Tradition says they were the first settlers in Dolpo, attracted thousands of years ago by its remoteness from human influence and the harsh purity of the environment. Undertaking a journey, or pilgrimage, to a sacred place is an important religious activity for people of the Buddhist and Bonpo faiths. The effort and expense of the journey, especially if it involves some hardship, and being in a holy place in the presence of the spirits are believed to give merit and help the pilgrim on the road to enlightenment. Four pilgrimages are regularly observed in Dolpo, and considered to be of special importance: 1. The Shel Ribo Drugdra (Crystal Mountain Thunder Dragon Roar) is a site in the Crystal Mountain where the holy man Dupthop Senge Yeshe meditated and achieved enlightenment. It is undertaken every 12 years, in the Dragon Year of Shey Tsakhang Gonpa Courtesy: Lama Karma Tundup

33 DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND 31 the 12-year Tibetan calendar. The 25 th day of the sixth Tibetan month (July/August) and the new moon day (considered a time of fulfilment ) of the seventh month are considered especially auspicious dates. 2. The Bantshang Kulha Palsang (Glorious Master Site) is most important during the Serpent year of the Tibetan calendar. The 25 th day of the second Tibetan month (March/April), and particularly the new moon day, are considered especially auspicious dates. 3. The Tiserong (Sadu) commemorates the holy man Dhar Senge, who conquered the demons that dwelt in this mountain, which is important for its resemblance to the holy Kailash mountain (Tiser is Tibetan for Kailash). The 25 th day of the first Tibetan month (February/March) and the 25 th day of the seventh month (August/ September) are deemed particularly auspicious. 4. The Buddha Mountain near Dho Tarap was blessed by the Guru Rinpoche when he meditated there. The sixth Tibetan month (July/August) is the most auspicious time, especially the 25 th day and new moon day. Every 12 years, in the year of the rabbit, there is a particularly big pilgrimage. Kulha Palsang Mountain Courtesy: Tenzing Norbu Lama

34 32 DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND Festivals and Rituals Black Hat dance Courtesy: Kunga Lama Although celebration of certain festivals, such as Lhosar, the beginning of the Tibetan new year, is common to all practitioners of Buddhism and Bon, most gonpas and communities also celebrate other special festivals. These may include: summer pujas (rituals) to ask for blessings before or after the harvest or the annual rains, or for success in trading activities; winter pujas to clear out (exorcise) negative energy (which may come from spirits of the underworld) at the end of the year, placate the spirits and deities and prepare for the new year; celebration of events linked with a special deity which is important to the community; or prayers for the souls of those who have passed on. Some pujas are performed for a mixture of reasons, but all are intended to confer merit on the souls of whose who take part or contribute in any way. While the details of the ritual may vary, they usually involve a religious ceremony, with sacred music (using horns, drums and cymbals); ritual offerings of tsampa (roasted barley flour), tormas (specially shaped cakes made from buckwheat flour and butter), yak butter, and chang (locally brewed barley beer); and teaching or reading from the sacred texts. There may be feasting on special foods and masked dancing to depict myths and stories. These are very colourful events and a time of joy, and may last up to a

35 DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND 33 Dolpo Shey festival photo by Myima Lama Courtesy: TRPAP

36 34 DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND week or more. Sometimes a special puja may be requested and paid for by a family for a particular reason, such as a wedding or to ask for blessings for a special venture. On average the major gonpas have around three big pujas during the summer months, but there are also many smaller events. Most gonpas also have winter events around the end of the Tibetan year and the new year. The exact timing of these pujas is rather flexible and unpredictable, but the 10 th and 25 th days of the month are considered auspicious, and many gonpas perform special rituals every month on these days. Visitors are generally welcomed at festivals and pujas, and it is a great privilege to witness these events. Ceremony to overcome evil spirits Ribo Bumpa Gonpa Courtesy: Palsang Lama

37 DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND 35 Religious Buildings and Structures The most important religious buildings are the monasteries, known as gonpas, which are the centres for religious activities and rituals, and fulfil a role equivalent to the community church in western religions. Depending on its size and wealth, a gonpa may have anything from just two or three monks to over thirty, with an abbot or senior lama as the chief. Chortens (also known as stupas, from Sanskrit) are stone structures of varying sizes, sometimes in groups or lines, and sometimes single structures. They may have been built on an important religious site or in honour of a particular deity or to protect a place from evil influences. They are also often constructed in memory of departed loved ones and paid for by a family. Prayer walls, or mani walls, composed of stones that have been intricately carved with sacred words and decorations, known as mani stones, are also widely found. Again they provide protection from evil influences, sending out a silent prayer or blessing, and are places where travellers can receive blessings while passing Samye Choeling Gonpa, Saldang Courtesy: Nyima Lama

38 36 DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND Pema Namgyal Rinpoche Courtesy: Palsang Lama Dralung Gonpa Courtesy: Tenzing Norbu Lama

39 DOLPO THE HIDDEN LAND 37 Mani stone, mantra to the God of Peace through. Prayer wheels are also an important part of the Buddhist and Bonpo religions, and consist of hollow cylinders filled with manuscripts on which prayers and sacred chants are written. Some are small enough to be carried in the pocket and spun while going about daily life, to bring blessings and offer prayers, others are fixed and may be so large they must be strongly pushed or powered by water flow to make them turn. Most gonpas and other religious structures have a line of prayer wheels set into a wall nearby, which can be turned by worshippers and visitors. The majority of gonpas are constructed out of dry stone masonry or stone masonry with mud mortar, with mud plaster on the inside walls of the more important rooms, such as the lakhang (the main worship room) and painted red or white on the outside. Sometimes the outside walls are also partially plastered. In some cases later renovation work, especially for upper storeys and in dry areas, has used earthen brick masonry, known as popa, which is cheaper and easier to use but less durable, and should in fact only be used for inside walls. A third method is rammed earth masonry, known as gyang, which is stronger than popa, but less durable than stone. Timber, often transported over quite large distances, is used for internal beams and columns, and may be square or round.

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