Sacred Ladakh Tour – Sarita’s Blog

Ladakh Travel Diary (From 2nd September to 15th September 2018)

A pilgrimage, to visit and meditate in caves and monasteries where Enlightened Tantra Masters have lived and meditated in. 

Day One, 2nd September 2018:

I am on a Sacred Ladakh Tour organised by my friend Rahi. For those who don’t know Ladakh, it is high up in the Himalaya Mountains, in India, close to Tibet.

Today is the first day of our tour. We are 16 persons from 9 different countries. We set out from Dharamsala in two big vans suitable for mountain roads. Our goal today is to reach Rewalsar Lake, which has a cave nearby where the great Tantra Master Padma Sambhava lived for 12 years (during the 8th century) before he went to Tibet.

We stop for an abundant lunch at the Colonel’s Resort near Bir in the Kangra Valley, which has an exquisitely beautiful garden. We have with us a wonderful vegetarian / vegan chef (Arnava) who is making sure that all our dietary needs are taken care of. He is working with the chefs of the various guest houses or hotels where we will be staying and helping them to understand how to create gourmet vegan cuisine.

On the way, we stopped at a Tibetan temple and academy which has the look of a golden palace. We meditated in the enormous meditation hall in front of a huge Golden Buddha, before continuing our journey.

   

A Six Hour Drive up into the Mountains

The road from Dharamsala to Rewalsar winds its way up, up and higher up into the mountains, till finally we reach to a special lush valley which gives a feeling of stepping out of time. Due to the rainy season, there have been many landslides on this road and we have to travel slowly because of this. About half-way on this 6-hour drive, one of our vans gets a flat tire. Luckily, the drivers are expert in fixing it and we are on our way shortly afterwards.

Miraculously, no one had car sickness in spite of the twists and turns, probably because Arnava has prepared fresh ginger juice for us to add to our water bottles and sip at regular intervals.

We arrive to Rewalsar just as the sun is setting over the beautiful lake, which is dominated by an enormous golden statue of Padma Sambhava.

The Legend of Padma Sambhava

Tomorrow, we will go to meditate in the Padma Sambhava cave. I have been there once before and was blown away by the immense spiritual power of this cave. Padma Sambhava lived in the cave with his consort, the King’s daughter Princess Mandarova. Legend has it that the King was furious to find out his daughter was practicing Tantra with Padma Sambhava and tried to kill him with fire. When Padma Sambhava emerged unscathed from the fire the King bowed down and offered Padma Sambhava his kingdom and his daughter. Padma Sambhava declined the Kingdom and he and Mandarova left India and went to Tibet. His influence in both Tibet and Bhutan was enormous and indeed in Tibet he is known as the second Buddha.

Day Two, 3rd September 2018

Today we woke up to mysterious mists swirling in the mountain valley of Rewalsar. The enormous golden statue of Padma Sambhava sitting in meditation has pride of place above the lake which is in the centre of the village.

A Hidden Valley

We eat an early breakfast and then jump into the sturdy mountain vehicles which take us ½ hour up an extremely narrow broken road, reaching eventually to a hidden valley. The valley, surrounded by mountains, is a vision of paradise. There is a lake with abundant green foliage on all sides. A few humble guest houses dot the landscape and as we continue, we see the amazing green mount swirling with Tibetan flags which hosts the cave where Padma Sambhava used to live with his consort.

This sacred place is cared for by a community of Tibetan Buddhist Nuns. They welcome us barefooted into the cave and with a little donation, honour our request for our tour group to remain undisturbed in the cave for one hour.

A Group Meditation in Padma Sambhava’s Cave

I carefully place a large Tachyon Sunspot at the feet of the statue of Padma Sambhava, to magnify the already potent spiritual energy of the place. Then, once everyone has gathered, I give a short discourse on Padma Sambhava’s life and about the meditation we will be practicing here. Everyone chooses a partner and then we begin the one-hour

Satyam Shivam Sunderam Meditation.

In this Tantric partner meditation, we weave together the qualities of Godliness (the divine masculine) and Beauty (the divine feminine). Through this meeting, we experience the ultimate truth. To do this meditation in such a sacred place is simply awesome. The music which accompanies it inspires our group to let go totally into the experience, tasting the nectar of Tantra.

After this meditation, we visit another sacred cave and then a 3rd cave which houses the footprint of Padma Sambhava. Sensing into the footprint, I hear Padma Sambhava’s voice ringing down through the centuries: “My footprint on this earth is ephemeral but I am eternal.”

The Tantric Rainbow Body

I have read about Padma Sambhava’s life, and it is said that he and his consort attained the rainbow body together and through this, they have ascended to another dimension, of immortals, from where they continue their work. Perhaps it is for this reason that their spiritual energy is so palpable, as if they are just near-by.

Wikipedia says: “Exceptional practitioners are held to realize a higher type of rainbow body without dying. Having completed the four visions before death, the individual focuses on the lights that surround the fingers. His or her physical body self-liberates into a nonmaterial body of light called (a Sambhogakaya) with the ability to exist and abide wherever and whenever as pointed by one’s compassion.”

Drunk on the Divine

A great many people in our group are completely drunk on the divine as we journey back down the mountain to be met by a delicious vegan lunch.

After a rest, we walk around the lake and visit the spectacular Padma Sambhava temple, followed by a Shiva Temple. I feel full and overflowing with the immense gift of being in such a sacred place, where life centres around meditation.

Day Three, 4th September 2018

This morning after a delicious breakfast of fresh fruit and gluten free crepes made of chickpea flour, we set off for our first adventure, a visit to the Ardanareshvara Temple in Mandi. This is a cultural heritage site, meaning its presence is maintained and protected. Tucked away down a side street in the city, even google maps had difficulty in locating it. We have to resort to the old-fashioned way of locating the temple, by asking the locals.

Mandi was built in the 12th century at the confluence of two rivers. It was founded from a vision of Shiva who appeared to the local ruler and requested him to create a Shivalingam there. A great temple dedicated to Shiva was constructed and the city arose around it.

  

Meditating in the Ardanareshvara Temple in Mandi

When we arrive, the living presence of the Ardanareshvara temple deeply touches our tour group. We sit in meditation in the vestibule and drink deeply of Lord Shiva in union with his beloved Paravati. The meaning of Ardhanareshvara is profound. It is a depiction of God who is half man / half woman. It is symbolic of the union that happens within, when the right and left sides of the brain meet, which in turn switches on all the connecting wires of the corpus callosum. The meeting of the outer man / outer woman, through Tantra practices, is a portal into inner union; and inner union brings us into a state of oneness, leading to enlightened consciousness. By sitting in this temple and imbibing its unique quality, we are blessed. I am immediately drawn into oneness and can feel the living presence of the deity beyond time and space.

After 20 minutes of timeless absorption into oneness, it is time to go. We have a long journey ahead of us on rough mountain roads.

We pass though some of the most incredibly beautiful terrain in the world, tall green mountains with spectacular waterfalls cascading into a rushing river. However, this dreamscape is very unpleasantly interfered with by the overabundance of huge overburdened trucks and buses on the road. We crawl along for hours in one unending traffic jam, with horrible fumes from all sides.

The Span Resort in Manali where Osho Stayed

Finally, after 4 ½ hours, we reach to Kulu and then arrive to the Span Resort, where Osho stayed in late 1985 / early 1986 after his sojourn in the USA. This beautiful 5-star resort is on the edge of a magnificent river. Some of the staff of the hotel still remember Osho and speak to us about him fondly. They serve us a gourmet vegan lunch in the form of a huge buffet. After being thus pampered, we take a tour of the garden and are greatly blessed to be given permission to visit the room where Osho stayed. He gave four discourse series while he was here, which were then published in book form.

The Last Testament (volumes 4 and 5)

Phir Amrit Ki Bund Padi (1)

Light on the Path (1—7)

Some of us sit on the bench where he used to sit by the river while others sit on the terrace where he gave discourses to the few disciples who were with him during that time. I manage to sit in both of these places plus in the room where he slept. All three of the places definitely carry his fragrance. He left a part of himself here in the Span Resort, and we can still tap into his enlightened presence here.

Rahi (our tour guide and organiser) informs us that Osho very much wished to establish his commune at the Span Resort and there were measures being taken to buy it. However, some persons in government did not want Osho and his thousands of disciples to establish themselves in the area so the sale was squashed.  It is indeed a beautiful place, with large parkland and small cottages placed here and there in the beautifully maintained gardens. The sound of the river is ever present.

Banon Resort, Manali

We take to the road again and finally arrive to the Banon Resort in Manali, close to the old town. One of the owners of this resort has been my student of Tantra and we are welcomed warmly and given very comfortable rooms. My room looks over a vast garden. This is certainly a great place to unwind and rest deeply before the next leg of our journey.

We do some last shopping here in Manali, because we set off tomorrow for high altitudes and the end of shops, mobile phone coverage and trees!

Going Beyond the Tree Line

I had asked Rahi to provide us with a small shovel so we can dig holes when it is time to move our bowels outside and then cover the hole, leaving no trace, no fouling of the beauty of nature. He answered that we cannot hope to use a shovel because we will be travelling only on rocky land, at a very high altitude where nothing grows. This gives rise to an inner dilemma.

My father, bless his soul, taught his children (me included) that if we visit a place in nature, when we are ready to leave it, we should leave no trace that we have been there. He carefully showed us how to put out a fire, to distribute the ash and to then cover it with soil. He showed us how to wipe out our footprints, and last but not least, how to dig a hole to shit into and then cover it, leaving no trace, even down to the last detail, of placing a scattering of leaves on top, so it looks entirely natural.

I have always followed the indications my father gave. And now, these beliefs I hold so dear are about to be challenged by a landscape that offers no place to hide. I am very curious about how it will be to see for the first time, such a vast expanse of sky and a land that holds all the colours of the rainbow. I imagine we will be awestruck.

Day Four / 5th September 2018

Today began on a positive note with a delicious breakfast of fresh kiwi and apple juice, fruits and buckwheat porridge or non-gluten muesli with coconut milk.

An Unfortunate Illness In a Member of our Tour Group.

However, as we all gathered, preparing to leave, we came to know that one of the members of our tour was sick with loose bowls and vomiting.

This fact delayed our strictly calculated leaving time.

After a wonderful group bonding, we are off, waving happily to our wonderful host at the hotel. We have two new tour vans today with two new drivers, plus a pharmacist and a guide for the journey heading up towards Ladakh.

Just a few minutes into our trip, our ill companion suddenly clutches her stomach and out comes a projectile vomiting which sprays everything in its path. Everyone piles out of the two vans and after much deliberation it is decided she will go back to the hotel and when she is better, take a flight to Leh / Ladakh and meet us there.

3,979 Meters High

After this, our trip goes smoothly for some hours and we reach to the Rohtang pass at an elevation of 3,979 meters (10,500 ft.) We have some hot ginger tea on the way, together with the most delicious organic apples I have ever tasted, (provided by our guides who will be hosting us at the ‘Last Resort’ in Leh / Ladakh).

  

What Goes Up Must Come Down

Going down from the pass, the scenery is spectacular but the road is a mess. Huge petrol trucks are trying to come up and getting stuck in the mud and then sliding back down on a particularly hair – raising bend. This means everyone is stuck, as the road is too narrow to accommodate two-way traffic. In what could be a life-threatening situation, all drivers of all vehicles support the truck drivers to get unstuck, and slowly but surely all traffic unsnarls. Once we get through this really challenging bit of road, suddenly, we find ourselves on an almost highway, due to the efforts of the army to maintain a clear passageway.

The Rainbow Feast

As we continue on our way, we come to Sissu Village where a marvellous feast has been prepared for us by our guide and his staff: Fresh juice / non-gluten pakoras / lentil dal soup / brown rice / mint chutney / curried vegetables / and for dessert, fresh pomegranate. Just as we are completing our meal in the lovely dining room prepared by our guide, a huge rainbow appears arcing across the sky just in front of the window of the café. Everyone is very excited about this.

Another Tour Group Member Gets Sick

Thus replete, we continue the journey. All is flowing and we are enjoying miraculous scenery. It appears a giant hand of God has sculpted the mountain into colourful swirls. Just as we are passing an enormous waterfall, one of our tour group members feels the need to vomit. We stop for some time and then continue on our way in order to reach before dark to our destination. She continues vomiting into a bag for the entire journey. As we investigate the cause, it appears that it is probably altitude sickness combined with the fact that earlier in the day she had a snack at a food stall. She had noodles which must have had monosodium glutamate, a very unwise food choice since MSG is really bad for the body.  Rahi advised people not to eat or drink anything which was not provided by Arnava (our chef).

Because of the various set-backs, a trip that was meant to take 8 hours took 10 hours.

I am including all these details, just in case any of you dear readers are planning on taking a trip to Ladakh. There are many precautions to be attended to and it is best in my opinion to do such a trip with an expert guide. For example, at one of the check posts, we witnessed a Western couple on motorbikes being turned back because they didn’t have the necessary permits.

Jispa; the Hotel Padma Lodge

We finally reach our destination, the Hotel Padma Lodge in Jispa, next to a beautiful river. I never expected so much comfort in such a location. I have a big bed, wooden floor, big bathroom, coffee table and easy chairs in my room. After a simple dinner of soup and non-gluten rotis, it is time for bed. Tomorrow is an early 6:00am start. We will be crossing 4 passes, some of them very high and as there is a danger of flash floods, we have to go as early as possible before the sun melts the snow higher up.

Like any decision in life, we have to weigh the pros and cons before embarking on an adventure and ultimately, to follow our heart. To be in the presence of such landscapes as we are passing through is a great blessing. The higher we go into the Himalayas, the more my heart jumps for joy and my spirit expands.

Day Five / 6th September 2018

Ha Ha! We made it to Leh / Ladakh! Now, dear friend, let me backtrack through the harrowing ordeal of today’s journey. It took 16 hours, traveling through places that would appear to anyone in their right mind to be simply impossible to even think of traversing. However, it appears there are a great many people who are not in their right mind and therefore, these roads that cling to the edge of sheer mountain cliffs are travelled by: enormous trucks, buses, vans, cars, motorbikes and bicycles.

  

An Unforgettable Meal

We had one meal, namely a marvellous brunch, prepared in a tent café by the cooks travelling with us. It tasted utterly delicious, perhaps more so because of the extreme situation we found ourselves in. The brunch was piles of fresh hot idlily, (steamed rice cakes) with tomato chutney and a potato / vegetable stew. On such roads, one never knows if perhaps this will be your last meal, and so every nuance of taste is highlighted. I am sure I will forever remember the delicate blending of spices making the palette tingle and the tummy warm and happy.

Altitude Sickness

Another one of our tour group got very ill from altitude sickness. He is a dedicated smoker, and even through Rahi, our organiser, warned him not to smoke at high altitude, he laughed and carried on. Subsequently, at our brunch, he appeared rather like a squeezed-out wash rag, pale, feverish, with nausea and headache, and with head spinning to the point he looked like he was ready to pass out. This was only 4 hours into a 16-hour journey. He begged us to leave him there and that when he felt better he would go back. This of course was unthinkable, as we were at that point at a very high altitude and his condition could only worsen by being there. He was given oxygen and a makeshift bed was prepared for him to sleep for the rest of the journey in the back of the van.

‘Pagal Naalas’ Crazy Streams

And what a journey it was! The landscapes of ever-changing coloured mountains, bare of any trees or grass, just endless rock mountains and sand dunes with an occasional lake or waterfall fed by glaciers. At several points, we had to cross streams, and because of our early start, we were able to miss any sudden flash floods. In Hindi these are called ‘Pagal Naalas’, meaning ‘crazy streams.’

I used to think that a landscape without trees would be very boring. However, this Himalayan landscape is special. Something about it grabs you by the vitals and makes one want to sing for joy. Perhaps it is the sky, bluer than any sky you have ever seen. Perhaps it is the amazing artistry of the mountains, with so many shapes and decorative motifs, swirls, stripes, undulations, pointed towers, not to mention the sheer immensity, rising to unimaginable heights.

The Unsung Heroes of the Himalayas

The Indian Army is valiantly trying the impossible, making a proper paved road between Manali and Ladakh. In some places, they have achieved this and each place where the road is paved, it certainly brings a huge relief. However, in many areas, the relentless winter snows rip up all the hard work and we see big chunks of road which has been hurled as if by a giant, into the valley far below.

All along this road, we witness road workers huddled against the cold, their makeshift tents in some patch of land nearby and in their obvious poverty and sheer endurance, we see true heroism. One Australian woman who is with us to help as an experienced Himalayan traveller, tells us that these road works claim many workers’ lives. The cliff where they are working may suddenly collapse or a flash flood may come and take them.

She herself, has walked all the way from Manali to Ladakh and back, plus many other varied journeys deep into the mountains. She knows the Himalayas like the back of her hand. It is riveting to hear her stories.

Four High Passes in One Day

On this seemingly endless journey, we cross 4 passes, as we go progressively higher. Baralacha La (4,890 Meters / 16,043 Ft.) Naki La 4,740 Meters / 15,547 Ft.) / Lachung La, 5065 Meters / 16,616  Ft.) and Taglang La, 5,328 Meters / 17,480 Ft.).

For the first three, we jump out of the van and take photos, in spite of severe headache caused by the high altitude. However, on the last one, Rahi asks if we would like to get out and take photos, and everyone says; “No! No! Go on!” We can’t wait to start our descent into the Ladakh valley. At each pass, when we get out of the van, the most common feeling is that of levitation, as if we have become weightless and could simply fly away at any moment.

All along the road, there are humorous signs which actually do a great job of lifting one’s spirits.

Some examples are:

“Run on horse power, not on rum power.”

“Alert today, alive tomorrow.”

“Safety on the road, safe tea at home.”

“Let’s save the planet together.”

“Friends do not let friends litter.”

“Short cuts may cut your life short.”

“Keep your nerves on sharp curves.”

Leh – The Last Resort

We finally reached our destination, a beautiful 100-acre land called The Last Resort. It borders the Indus River, with glamping style accommodation in tents complete with big comfortable bed and attached bathroom. This place on the outskirts of Leh really feels like heaven! A feast is served to us in the large and cozy dining hall. It is actually a struggle to eat since it is offered to us at 10:30pm and my eyes are so sleepy I simply want to crawl into bed!

Tomorrow is scheduled as a day of rest. Halleluja! Sleep has never beckoned more sweetly.

Day Six / 7th September 2018

At the time of writing, I am huddled in bed with the rain beating down on my glamping style tent. It is dark with a depth of darkness which is a balm for the soul. There is no electricity. Something fell on the main electric line and cannot be fixed till some opportune moment which will probably be after the storm has passed. I am happy for the darkness because in our civilized world, there is an overdose of electric lighting, to the point that we no longer see the beauty of the night sky full of stars.

Our tour group has had such a beautiful day here in the Last Resort. Our friend who was sick and had to stay behind as we started our journey, took a flight today from Delhi to Leh. We were really happy to see her and to know that she is now in good health and great spirits.

The Indus River Walk

After the sweetest sleep and a delicious breakfast, we went on a really special walk through this vast property to the Indus River. Along the way we munched on sea buckthorn berries which grow in abundance here. The quality of nature is vast, and on this Ladakh plateau, there are swaths of green, highlighted even more by the starkness of the surrounding mountains. The river, which begins at Lake Mansarover in Tibet is a vital artery for the Ladakh villages, including Leh. In ancient times, it was the Indus River which defined the border of India and indeed, the name India is derived from the population who lived on the other side of the Indus River. Thus, they were known as Indians.

Lunch, Massage and Meditation

As we reached back to the resort, we were hungry and the staff had prepared an abundant vegan lunch. After lunch it was nap time and then we all gathered in the cozy dining hall and I guided everyone into an Ayurvedic Massage exchange. Luckily, Nitya also knows this massage and so she could guide the second exchange (which allowed me to receive as well). There were many groans of pleasure as aching muscles were ironed and stretched out.

After the massage we had tea break and then before dinner, I guided our group into The Bio Resonance Partner meditation. As there was no electricity, our meditation done by lamp light had a special intimate and sacred quality.

Tomorrow we are scheduled to go and visit a temple of peace in Leh and so we will have an early breakfast in order to be on the road before it gets too hot. The sun in Ladakh is piercingly hot but the weather can change rapidly from very hot to icy cold.

Rahi has planned for us to visit a few different monasteries and caves where enlightened beings have lived, here in the region of Leh.

My intuition tells me our adventure is just beginning.

Day seven / 8th September 2018

The day begins with a shock as our Himalayan expert suddenly faints on the floor of the dining room at breakfast. I immediately fetch my Colour Light Therapy set and give her a treatment to help her come back. I then give her Ito Thermie, a powerful Japanese healing method which uses special healing incense which is lit and put into metal holders and then massaged over the whole body.

Tears trickle from her eyes as we all gather round and offer her messages of love and support. After about half an hour she comes back to life.

  

High Altitude Symptoms, Physical and Emotional

During our journey to high altitudes, it has become clear that whatever a person has been repressing, physically or emotionally, is greatly triggered to come out. The body is overcome, trying to deal with the lack of oxygen and cannot handle either junk food or emotional overload. I have been busy giving people healing treatments for fever, nausea and over emotionality. As a group, we have learned to check in with each other and to deal compassionately when someone is overwhelmed by emotions and/or by body reactions.

The Shanti Stupa

We journey into Leh to visit the Shanti Stupa.

This Stupa of Peace is really a masterpiece. It was conceived in the 1980’s by a Japanese Monk and was completed in 1991. It sits on a hill dominating the city with its beneficent presence. We had to walk up 157 steps to reach to the summit of the hill where the stupa stands. The stupa depicts the life of Buddha, from birth to Mahaparinirvana. (This Sanskrit word is a way of expressing the conscious death experienced by enlightened ones.)

The founder of this Stupa tapped into the experience of true peace and created this temple as a way of beaming peace out into the world. In my experience, true peace is achieved when both past and future cease to exist in the mind of the meditator. We pierce through into present moment awareness beyond duality. This is the crucible of peace. As peace begins overflowing from the meditator, the whole world is benefitted.

Lunch in Leh

After meditating in this place, everyone scatters to wherever they feel drawn to go in the town of Leh. I am wandering through the muddy streets with Nitya, and we meander slowly to a café and enjoy a lovely lunch. They serve us fresh apricot juice which is simply divine. Several people from our group end up joining us in the same restaurant and there is a lovely feeling of camaraderie all round.

Leh is a mix of people, both Buddhist and Muslim. They live harmoniously side by side. It is interesting to note that the Muslims harass us to enter their shops while the Buddhists are very calm and loving and do not try to force us to buy anything. I am much more attracted by this laid-back approach to receiving customers.

A Magical Singing Bowl

I am drawn to go into a Tibetan shop which has many things brought by Tibetan Refugees, such as jewellery, clothes, sacred objects, etc. I don’t find anything I like, but then just as I am leaving the shop, I decide to play the Tibetan singing bowls as some look to be of a very high quality.

One attracts me in particular, which has a unique colouring and with sacred symbols as a motif on the outside and with a written mantra, Om Mani Padme Hum on the inside. I play it and am astonished how powerful and yet mellow the sound is. Suddenly the bowl jumps inside of me and decides to adopt me. I can’t put it down! I believe these Tibetan singing bowls (the ones which are really well made) are alive. They choose who they want to come home with!

After I buy it, the man of the shop, who speaks almost no English, explains to me how it works. He tells me in his language that it is a medicine bowl and can cure any physical, mental or emotional complaint. He tells me that you can put water into it, make the sound by gently hitting the bowl, chant Om Mani Padme Hum and then drink some of the water and you will be cured of any gastro intestinal problem. He shows me that you can sound it over any part of the body that has illness or imbalance, while chanting om mani padme hum, and the person will be cured. He is delighted when I tell him I am a healer, and I get the impression that a very rare and sacred object is now alive in my heart.

He furthermore tells me that this bowl is very ancient and is made of 20 different metals and gemstones such as gold, silver, turquoise and the list goes on.  I feel really touched that this bowl finds me worthy to be its custodian.

Kala Chakra Mandala

Nitya and I then go to a Tibetan Tanka shop and the young man minding the shop explains many esoteric things about the symbolism of the Tankas. Nitya buys a really special one depicting the Kala Chakra, painted in gold on a brown canvas. This Yantra helps to purify the atmosphere of one’s home, driving away negative energies and bringing good fortune on all levels.

Finally, we meet up with our group and get in our prearranged taxi to go back to the Last Resort where we are staying.

Meditation and Jokes

Before dinner we do the Nataraj Meditation. This fabulous dance meditation, devised by Osho helps us in manifesting the life we truly wish to live. There is much joy in the air as we begin our meal.

After dinner, Rahi proposes that we tell jokes or funny true stories. Laughter fills the air as people jump up to tell jokes. After a couple of hours of this we realise it is time for bed as we will be visiting two important monasteries tomorrow and need to be fit and rested. We are very keen to experience the vibrations of this place which was the home of the great Tibetan Tantra Master, Naropa.

Day Eight / 9th September 2018

Hemis Monastery

After breakfast we all pile into our vehicles to journey to the famed Hemis Monastery which has been in existence for at least 1000 years. It is here that they hold an annual Naropa Festival, 3 days dedicated to telling the life story of Padma Sambhava through elaborate costumes and sacred dance theatre. The monastery is famous for several reasons, one being the festival, another being an amazing and magical cloth decorated with precious gems in honour of Padma Sambhava. This cloth is unveiled only for a few hours every few years. People travel from far and wide to see it.

  

Tantra Master Naropa

The Monastery was home to Naropa for some time. He was a great master in a long lineage of Tantra Masters; Tilopa / Naropa / Marpa and Milarepa. Naropa is the master who devised a clearly described path to enlightenment for all monks to follow in this great Kagyu lineage, a branch of Vajrayana Buddhism.

  • The yoga of Mystic heat
  • The Yoga of the Illusory body
  • The yoga of the Clear, radiant light
  • The yoga of the Dream state
  • The yoga of the Bardo
  • The yoga of Transference of consciousness to a pure dimension of Buddhahood.

The Hemis Monastery and Jesus

The Hemis Monastery is also famous because it houses a vast and ancient library of treasured and ancient scriptures. One scripture which is highly controversial reveals the true history of the life of Jesus, particularly the so called ‘lost years’ when his whereabouts were unknown. In fact, he was studying in India.

He studied Jainism, Vedanta, Upanishads, Buddhism, Yoga and Tantra. Due to Tantra studies, he publicly rejected the caste system and for this reason, his life was threatened by fundamentalist Hindus and he had to escape from India. After the crucifixion in Jerusalem (which he survived) he went back to India and settled in Kashmir where he became a guru to the lost tribe of Jews who lived in Kashmir.

Jesus (known as Isa in those days) was under the patronage of a King whom he had helped by his healing gift. The King offered him a selection of possible brides and he married one of them, had a son, and lived to the ripe old age of 112. The tomb of Jesus is in Kashmir but is difficult to access because of the dispute between India and Pakistan in Kashmir. (For more information on this story: read the book, Jesus Lived in India and the documentary by the same name.)

Hemis Museum

The monastery is very impressive, with a huge courtyard and various meditation and ceremonial halls. It appears richer than other monasteries in the region. We first visit the museum which holds many ancient, sacred objects. It is truly fascinating to sense into the vibrations of the many statues, Tankas and ritual objects dating as far back as the 11th century. However, I am nonplussed to see that while showing great Tantric art such as Padma Sambhava pictured with his two consorts, the description states that Padma Sambhava is pictured with his two female disciples. I notice in all descriptions that the sexual component is carefully avoided even when showing blatant Tantric copulation scenes. I find this very weird especially given the fact that Tantric masters in those days did practices that involved sexual union with an evolved female adept. Not only that, many of these masters were initiated by Tantra dakinis (female Tantra Masters).

A Clown Show

After the museum, we go for meditation in the hall. We are excited to know that monks will be there chanting. However, the chanting is disappointing. The monks chant for a while and then stop, drink some coke, discuss loudly, then commence chanting again. While this is going on, another monk begins offering packages of junk food to the Buddha Statue. The packages of crisps and sweet biscuits make a loud sound of plastic being handled and this is very disturbing for meditation. Finally, they offer us a bag of some junk food or a sugar laden drink as a gift, blessed by the Buddha. Once outside, I make the comment, “That was a clown show!” everyone laughs as it was indeed a poor imitation of what could be a deeply sacred ritual.

One of Those Days Where Things Go Pear Shaped

Perhaps there is something in the astrological stars today that makes our day go pear shaped. We reach to the next place on our agenda, (Thikkse monastery) where we had reserved a meditation room for our tour group, only to find that the monastery is closed for two days. It is explained to us that the monks have completed 2 months silent retreat and are now having two days of revelry to celebrate their achievement.

We decide to have lunch and then to have some free time. Everyone scatters, some going into the town to do more shopping and some going back to the resort.

 Meditation, Pashmina Shawls and Shilajit

In the evening before dinner, we do the Chakra Sounds Meditation and this brings a feeling of peace and centring.

After a delicious meal, our host shows us his collection of highly prized Pashmina shawls. We women go crazy trying on many of them. He also shows us his very high quality Shilajit and gives me some as a gift. For those reading this who do not know what Shilajit is, it has been created by the extreme pressure of the Himalayan mountains rising up. Plant life was ground in-between the rocks and over thousands of years, the minerals in the rock and the minerals in the plant life merged. In some areas, this strange nutrient rich substance, oozes from the mountains. It is called the ‘sweat of the mountain.’ It is known to offer longevity to the person who consumes it regularly. I am overjoyed by this precious gift, as high quality Shilajit is not so easy to find.

People are eager to go to bed as we have to journey early in the morning in order to reach the beautiful Nubra Valley. We will have to cross a very high pass and this means a light breakfast and an early start for our 5-hour journey.

Day Nine / 10th September 2018

Khardung La Pass; The Highest Motorable Pass in India

According to the signs we see posted, Khardunga La is the highest motorable pass in India and perhaps even in the whole world (5,363 meters / 17,595 Ft.). Our journey goes smoothly all the way up to the pass. However, on the top of the pass there is a major traffic jam. This is not really a good thing, because it could be dangerous health-wise to remain on such a high altitude for more than a few minutes. We wait patiently and gradually the traffic unsnarls and we are on our way, going down into the Nubra Valley. When going over these high altitude passes the normal speed of travel is about 15 kilometres per hour. I can’t help but think back to times when people travelled these passes by donkey or horseback. Obviously, it would have taken weeks or even months to traverse these mountains.

    

We stop for an absolutely delicious lunch which was prepared at the Last Resort, brought with us and heated up in a roadside café with a stunning view of the mountains. We have kitcheree (a mixture of rice and dal which is very soft on the digestion), chutney and potato curry.

We are sad that the tour group member who smokes decided to quit the tour and is flying back to his home country. He gave several varied excuses why he is leaving. However, I sense the real reason is because at this high altitude his body could not accept smoking as it made him feel very ill. I sense that he wanted very much to continue with this addiction and so found some excuses why it was urgent for him to leave. He said he loved the people on the tour, but simply had to go. I am including this information in this diary in case any smoker is thinking of going on a tour to Ladakh, the roof of the world. It is better to quit smoking, at least for the duration of your journey to these high altitudes.

The Heavenly Oasis of Nubra Valley

The Nubra Valley is at the feet of the Karakoram mountain range. Here, there are swaths of oasis, surrounded by dry mountains. A confluence of two rivers (Nubra and Shyok) winds its way lazily through the valley. Here there is a micro climate with an abundance of willow and poplar trees, grain crops and fruit trees growing. It appears as a heavenly place. However, the pass is only open for three months of the year, so it is not an easy terrain to reach. Perhaps this is why it appears so heavenly—not much intervention from the so-called civilized world!

It is said that the Himalaya Mountains were formed by two plates of the earth clashing together which in turn pushed the mountains up. What used to be a sea bed now finds itself high up in the mountains. For this reason, we have Himalayan salt or coral, remnants of sea shells and mountains made of sand. Here in the Nubra Valley, there are vast expanses of fine white sand dunes, much as we would find at the beach or in the sea.

While travelling, we witness a sand waterfall, without the water. The wind is blowing fine white grains of sand down from the mountain top into the valley below in waves and undulations similar to how water cascades down.

Hunder

We arrive to our destination, The Himalayan Eco Resort in Hunder, set in a garden of flowers and meadow land with apricot trees. All around are stunning naked mountains. At night, around the bonfire, we sing kirtan songs and witness an infinite number of stars.

Day Ten / 11th September 2018

The day begins with a lukewarm bucket bath. I admit, I am really into hot showers. So even though I like to look on the bright side of life, a lukewarm bucket bath on a freezing cold morning, is not the best way to begin a day.

Hunder Maitreya Temple

However, the day becomes magical the moment we decide to hike up to the Maitreya temple on the hill near where we are staying. It is a 45 minute walk, first beside a bubbling stream with multi colours of flowers adorning the path. We walk in silence, absorbing the many colours and scents. Once we begin the ascent, the terrain gets quite dry. We see spectacular views of the mountains, while beside the path there are many piles of stones which are carved with sacred mantras. The path winds up, up and further up, till we arrive at last to a most charming temple with a huge statue of Maitreya in it. The temple is simple and uncluttered. The air sparkles and there is no one around to disturb our silent meditation. We have an exquisite 30 minutes of meditation before heading back to our resort, where we arrive just before lunch.

Diskit Gompa, Unrivalled Beauty and Ferocious Protector Deities

After lunch, we take the vans and travel to the Diskit Gompa, where there is a huge Maitreya statue. The Gompa appears to be closed but then, mysteriously, guardians appear with keys and allow us to enter. This Gompa was built in the 14th century. It was a site of a brutal attack by a Mongolian invader. The local people were so upset about him pillaging the temple that they rose up against him and tore off his hand and then cut off his head. The head and the shrivelled hand are still kept in the temple. Perhaps it is because of the trauma of the invasion that the temple has an abundance of wrathful protector deities. There is one whole large hall with statues of Kali, and numerous other fierce divinities. We meditate in the main hall with Buddha and then are welcomed into the hall that has a statue of Tara.

Goddess Tara

Here we do the Atisha’s Heart Meditation. Atisha was a devotee of the Goddess Tara, who used to come to him in his dreams and give him instructions for his path. The main gift Tara and Atisha offer to the world is the alleviation of suffering. In Atisha’s Heart Meditation, we first dissolve our own suffering through the heart principle. Then, we dissolve the suffering of those people we know. Finally, we dissolve the suffering of the world. This is an exquisite meditation which I am deeply grateful for.

The Goddess Tara is an important deity in my life. She has appeared to me many times in meditation and in sleep, bringing teachings and blessings. During this meditation, I am in awe to receive an energy transmission in the form of a cloth which has been woven with gossamer threads of all the colours of the rainbow. She drapes this over my body, informing me that I am an embodiment of the rainbow and all it represents. I am deeply touched to receive this gift and sense transformation on all levels, body, mind and soul.

After this, we journey to the nearby enormous statue of Maitreya on top of a hill near this monastery. Vismay sends up his drone to capture on camera from above, the spectacular beauty of this place.

  

Two Humped Camels

From this uplifting spiritual bath, we then journey to the sand dunes where there are many camels. It is nearing sunset and tourists are queuing up for a camel ride. These camels are distinctive because they have two humps and sport a thick mane of wool, protecting them during the severe winters.

Some of our group go for a camel ride, and some prefer to walk through the dunes. I decide not to take the camel ride because it really upsets me to see that many of them have a ring through their nose and this is attached to the rope that links them to another camel. I don’t believe in training humans or animals through pain as their discipline. Although I can appreciate the beauty and grace of the camels, I cannot be included as a rider because I don’t like to see them getting hit, and the rope pulling on their nose and other such ways the locals put them to work.

Local Dances

After the camel ride, we go to see a local dance show. The show highlights traditional dances from various parts of Ladakh. These are really charming and at the end of the show, they invite us to dance with them.

We are in great spirits as we head back to the resort. Our dinner of humus and falafal is very welcome and we enjoy it next to the bonfire. Later, we celebrate the birthday of Mitra and then head off to bed for an early night. Tomorrow, starting at 7:00am we will be going back the way we came, crossing the high pass of Khardunga La and then heading back to Leh.

Day Eleven / 12th September 2018

Woken at 5:45am, I stumble out of bed in the half light of a freezing dawn and have a lukewarm bucket bath, then pack my bag, getting ready to leave at 7:00am. Our breakfast is very light in order to make it easier on the body to traverse the Khardunga La pass. We are served fresh sweet lime juice and pomegranate. We do a blessing for the group, for the journey and for our vehicles.

Fresh Coconut Water in the Snow

Half way through the five-hour journey, we stop for fresh Coconut water which tastes like manna from heaven. It is a bit surreal to be having coconut water in the depths of the Himalayas, with a fine light snow falling on our faces. On our journey we see some interesting signs on the road:

“Plastic or planet.”

“Every day is Earth Day.”

“What you become is what you overcome.”

“Be clean, go green.”

 “Nature is our treasure. Help us protect it.”

“Stop using plastic, a silent killer.”

“Travel is still the most intense mode of learning.”

Our journey goes smoothly (thanks to our excellent drivers) and we arrive back to The Last Resort in Leh in time for a late lunch. It is great to be back! Of course, the internet is not working, as usual. However, today in Leh is very warm and I cannot resist a lovely long nap in my comfortable tent.

  

Group Bonding

Our tour group meet up in the late afternoon for a Shaktipat Tachyon Meditation. We then hold a group sharing about our inner and outer journey on this tour. This is a beautiful space and we end in a group hug.

Tomorrow, we will be visiting 2 important temples in the region of Leh and so everyone goes to bed after dinner in a timely manner

Day Twelve / 13th September 2018

Today is a special day as we are going to see the cave where Naropa used to sit and meditate. And after that, we will see the monastery where Manjushree used to meditate.

Fresh Apricot Juice in Ule Resort

We have a long 2 ½ hour drive to the Lamayuru Monastery. On the way, we stop for some fresh apricot juice at the Ule Ethnic Resort, a very classy place in the middle of nowhere. All around for many kilometres is simply desert, and suddenly, next to a river, there are poplar trees, apple and apricot trees, and the most charming hotel one could ever imagine, with individual cottages set in among the fruit trees.

  

Lamayuru Monastery and the Cave of Naropa

Finally, we reach Lamayuru, a very beautiful temple complex clinging to the mountain side. It was built in the 9th century. We have a great lunch of rice, dal, curry, chutney and non-gluten chapatis. The wonderful people from the Last Resort had prepared it and brought it to us at the monastery.

We enter the temple and are allowed to sit on the platforms usually reserved for monks. We imbibe the nectar of the transmission emanating from the small cave where Naropa meditated. I experience the essence of his teaching as being the middle way, inspired by the meeting of opposites and a deep acceptance of how everything is flowing in life.

Tilopa, Spiritual Master of Naropa

A quality of sublime equanimity pervades this space. I remember Osho commenting on Tilopa who was the Master of Naropa. He quotes Tilopa as saying:

“Mahamudra is beyond all words and symbols, but for you, Naropa, earnest and loyal, must this be said: The void needs no reliance, Mahamudra rests on naught, Without making an effort, but remaining loose and natural, One can break the yoke — thus gaining liberation.”

Tilopa offers Naropa 6 aspects of being, that lead to Mahamudra. (According to Osho, Mahamudra means the great gesture, arising out of the ultimate orgasm with the universe.

1) “Let go what has happened
2. Let go what may come
3. Let go what is happening now
4. Don’t try to figure out anything
5. Don’t try to make anything happen
6. Relax right now and rest.”

We continue our silent meditation for 30 minutes. Everyone looks like they have visited another world as we emerge from our meditation.

Alchi Monastery and the Story of Manjushree

Next, we journey an hour or so to reach to the next monastery on our itinerary; Alchi Monastery.

Manjushree, a direct disciple of Buddha, meditated here for years. His story is quite interesting. Osho speaks about Manjushree’s Enlightenment while meditating in Gautama Buddha’s presence. I paraphrase what Osho says here below.

‘Manjushree sat quietly under a tree. As dawn came, the tree showered flowers on Manjushree. A crowd of disciples gathered and looked at the tree in awe. It had blossomed out of season. Buddha said: “Don’t look at the tree, look at Manjushree!” Samantabhadra looked at Manjushree and instantly became enlightened as well.

Buddha asked Manjushree to get up and tell his fellow Sannyasins what has happened to him. Manjushree had been meditating in silence for 7 days under the tree and the tree had decided to celebrate his enlightenment by showering him with flowers.’

It is reported that Manjushree was a master of debate. He had a cutting logic and deep insight into spiritual reality. It is reported that once a man was asking him about what kind of person is eligible to attain Buddha-hood. Manjushree answered him by saying that only someone who has become steeped in passion can attain to Buddha-hood. The man was very shocked and asked how is that so, as he believed that only a pure monk who follows the path of renunciation can attain to Nirvana.

Manjushree answered:

“Without going into the great ocean, it is impossible to find priceless pearls. Likewise, without going into the ocean of passions it is impossible to obtain the mind of omniscience.”

Manjushree shocked fellow disciples and followers of Buddha when he helped a woman to become enlightened. (Buddha’s disciples were not supposed to have anything to do with women.) He also helped a prostitute to take refuge in Buddha and follow his path of meditation.

Naropa, A Reincarnation of Manjushree?

It is said by Tibetan Buddhists that Naropa was a reincarnation of Manjushree. It was interesting to meditate with Manjushree’s etheric presence after having meditated with Naropa’s etheric presence. I could feel Manjushree’s amazing will oriented dedication to the path of Neti, Net–(not this, not that.) He literally peeled away layers of whatever was in the way of his eternal nature. He was merciless, a fire of truth piercing through to the center of his being.

It was really interesting to feel the difference between him and Naropa. It appeared to me that if indeed Naropa was the reincarnation of Manjushree, that Manjushree learned something important on a spiritual level and thus evolved to have a more balanced approach in regards to meditation and enlightenment. The essence of Naropa was much more relaxed, in a state of total surrender to what is. This approach is a more expanded state of being in my opinion, and indeed, more Tantric. As Naropa’s Master, Tilopa said:

“The void needs no reliance, Mahamudra rests on naught, Without making an effort, but remaining loose and natural, One can break the yoke — thus gaining liberation.”

Alchi Monastary is really very beautiful, near the Indus River, with huge trees and ancient structures. It is almost a town in itself, with many small shops selling amazing Buddhist artefacts and jewellery, and with restaurants, etc.

After our sojourn at Alchi, we head back to the Last Resort for a much-needed dinner and bed.

Day Thirteen / 14th September 2018

Today is the last day of our Tour. It looks like everyone is in shock to imagine we will be going our separate ways tomorrow. Such a closeness has developed through sharing the agonies and ecstasies of this pilgrimage together.

  

Thiksay Monastery

After breakfast, we head straight to the Thiksay Monastery which is just on the outskirts of Leh. The monastery is similar in looks to the Potala Palace in Lhasa.

There is a temple space with the largest statue of Maitreya in the whole of Ladakh. It took 4 years to build it with monk craftsmen working continuously. It is made of clay and painted in gold. The features of the face and the body are very finely crafted.

The Story of Maitreya

Maitreya is known as the future Buddha. His coming was predicted by Gautama the Buddha. The time for his coming is in our present age, ie 2,500 years after Buddha. Usually Buddha statues sit cross legged but Maitreya is depicted as sitting in a chair.

Krishnamurti was prepared by Theosophists to become the vehicle for Maitreya. However, with thousands of people gathered for the event of Maitreya’s descent into Krishnamurti’s physical form, Krishnamurti rebelled and refused to receive the Maitreya. He then proceeded to renounce the very idea of the Guru / guide, saying that Truth is a pathless land and everyone has to create their own way. It is highly possible that he rebelled because he was sexually abused by one of his teachers (Leadbetter) and needed to break away from the torture of being connected in any way to the theosophists because of this.

Osho speaks on the phenomenon of Maitreya: (The Last Testament vol.3)

“Buddha declared before his death that he would be coming again after 25 centuries and that his name would be Maitreya.

Maitreya means the friend.

…What he meant was the ancient relationship between the master and the disciple will become irrelevant in 25 centuries.

…Then, the enlightened master will be only the friend.”

Meditating in the shrine room of the Maitreya is a really beautiful experience. I feel all the Buddhas of past, present and future within me. It is very powerful to be thus blessed.

Meditating in the Teaching Space of the Dali Lama

We then make our way to a Meditation room next to the monastery. This room is normally used by the Dali Lama to greet small gatherings. The persons in charge kindly grant us the use of this room to do a private meditation session. I give everyone a small amount of Ultimatium, the brand name from a company which offers the mineral Iridium (monatomic gold). This mineral is lighter than gravity and has the effect of causing a feeling of levitation. It is very good for meditation. (You can order this through Mother Earth Minerals.)

I guide everyone into Tratak followed by Unveiling the original face (the face you had before you were born—the face of your Buddha Nature.) This is a really special experience.

Leh Palace

After this, we go to the Leh Palace, which is an amazing architectural achievement from a couple of hundred years ago. It is a very sad fact that the genius who was the chief mason for this building received a ‘Thank You’ from the king in the form of getting his hands chopped off so he would never reproduce a similar building. I think this karma came back to the king a few years later when the castle was ransacked by invaders and the king had to move across the river.

Chakra Massage, Completion Ceremony and Party Time

Later in the afternoon, back at the Last Resort, I guide everyone into Chakra Massage with the 2nd exchange being guided by Nitya. Then Rahi guides everyone into a last ritual for completion of the tour. There are tears, laughter and hugs as we formally end the tour.

And now, it is time for feasting! We have a bonfire, and then a feast. A local alcohol drink is brought out and the laughter and general merriment continues late into the night. And as for me, well, I decline the alcohol and go early to bed since tomorrow a few of us will be leaving early to travel back to Dharamsala and to Osho Nisarga, the exquisitely beautiful Osho Center at the foothills of the Himalayas. Once there, (after a few days of rest) I will be teaching the Vigyan Bhairav Tantra Retreat.

Reflections on The Sacred Ladakh Tour

On reflection; this tour was really the fulfilment of a promise made to myself a long time ago. I am remembering what happened when I met Osho for the first time, one on one. The first words he said to me were; “Where have you been?” “With Goenka,” I replied. “And where are you going?” He asked. “To the Himalayas,” I replied. (Having hitchhiked overland to India looking for the essence of life, I had a vague idea I would find what I was looking for in the Himalayas.) He turned my world upside down when he said, “Come to Bombay, it will be good.” I followed his advice and remained in his community for the next 26 years. Now, 45 years later, I finally made it to the Himalayas! And what did I find? All the mysteries of heaven and earth are here for anyone who would like to search. Meditation is the magic key that unlocks the hidden treasures contained in these mountains.

I am remembering the download I received from Padma Sambhava while meditating in his cave. I heard him explain to me as follows: “People who live near to the sea, live for eating and drinking. People who live on the plains, live by law and order, moral codes and precepts. People who live in the mountains are free. This is why I choose to live in the high mountains. I love unbounded freedom.”

Yes, it is true, the high mountains offer freedom. The mountains are so vast, it brings awe and wonder, and a sense that anything is possible. I am so happy I took this tour, which has actually been a pilgrimage.

Each Being is on Pilgrimage in this Life

Hearing the stories of those who joined this tour is very touching. Someone’s son died and this person is still processing the grief. Someone’s wife is having an affair and he seeks new possibilities for their marriage. Someone has recently ended a relationship and seeks to find inner peace. Someone is praying for a deep Tantric relationship. Someone is searching for adventure. And the list goes on.

The Courage of the Local People

Yes, we are all human, frail and vulnerable. The mountains help to rewrite the script, creating a sense of infinite possibilities in life. The mountains give a sense of courage. When we see the people, who live here their whole lives, it is simply astonishing to witness their courage and good-natured way of being. They smile in the face of hardship. They chant Aum Mani Padme Hum with prayer wheels as a way of sending blessings to all beings. They build houses out of mud bricks. They have no heating during the long harsh winters. They survive and thrive on deep rooted spirituality. They build the most awesome temples made of mud which survive for centuries perched on the edge of a cliff. They honour the phenomenon of Buddhahood in all its forms.

The Dali Lama’s Blessing

When Rahi and Arnava went to see the Dali Lama for his blessing for this Sacred Ladakh Tour, he told them, “Bodhidharma travelled from India to Tibet and on to China. Those monasteries are highly charged. People go for tourism but not so many go to drink from the spiritual essence of the place. India is charged with spiritual energy and it is good to reconnect with this energy.”

 

Thank you to all the wonderful friends who joined this Sacred Ladakh Tour. You are amazing, courageous beings!

If anyone reading this would like to take a Sacred Tour in India, contact antarrahi@gmail.com

Photo Credits: antarrahi@gmail.com

 

 

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