India 2008 # 9: Caves, Hilltop Con-Men and Monastery Escapism

This morning, due to the Tibetan Monastery alarm system, I was up pretty early. There had been an influx of monks, lamas, etc, from Leh (way up in the mountains) and lots of them were little boys. I amused myself for ages watching them interacting with the monkeys. These monkeys, otherwise known to us as “The Thugs” can get pretty close sometimes, and some of the older lamas’ were actually throwing food to them. So there were a few close encounters. One little guy in a yellow t-shirt and marone robes would bravely tell a monkey off while doing a karate stance at it. Very brave in my eyes, as the monkeys were almost bigger than him and have pretty big fangs. This little guy, however, had a few smarts about him – as soon as he had told the monkeys what for he would run like hell. Funniest thing I’ve seen in ages.

We jumped on the local bus here that takes you up to the caves of Guru Rimpoche. (From what I understand, this is where he lived and meditated before taking Buddhism to Tibet.) This time it was us Westerners that had to stand in the bus aisle, hanging on to whatever we could. Usually we manage to get a seat but heaps of locals beat us to it this time. At least we didn’t have to go up on the roof though. Although I’m getting used to this mountain bus business, I’m not sure I could quite bring myself to do that on winding skinny one-lane roads with large drops over the sides. I’m just getting too old to be a stunt woman.

The caves are right at the top of the hill above this village. The hill has prayer flags absolutely everywhere – poles of them, strings of them, etc. The view down to the village is fantastic. There was a bit of confusion with finding the caves – or more, finding the caves together. Paul and Ernie went on ahead because they, disgustingly in my opinion, can zoom up hills without huffing and puffing and half dying. Leisa and I ascended in a more civilized fashion and when we got to a building near the top, we couldn’t see the guys. So we went further up and found a sign saying “Welcome to Padmasambava’s Secret Cave”. We poked our heads in, but there were a few stairs spiralling downwards and then a dead end. So we climbed up some more steps and got separated. I took flag photos then went back down. It turned out that we hadn’t quite looked round the corner enough when we got to the building and that was where the cave entrance was. So I ended up going in by myself while the others waited. It was pretty awesome. The beginning of it was lined in marble, with a glass display cabinet with various sentient-type beings in it. Then some narrow steps, dripping with water, led up to another, more natural bit of cave. I got up the steps and was looking into another cabinet when the lights went out. Did you know that caves are the epitome of darkness when the glowworms are off duty? Thankfully, having been a Girl Guide for a few weeks once, I had a torch in my bag. A little further in again was a really big statue of Padmasambava himself. How long it took whoever it was to build that thing in there I don’t know but it was a pretty impressive feat. I just had to aim my camera in the general direction of the statue and take a few shots with the flash on. The shots I did get made him look a little creepy – nicely atmospheric, I thought.

Back down the hill at the dhaba, we had chai and discussed the bus. We had been told in the village that the bus goes up at 2 p.m. and another goes down at 5 p.m. “Not so” said the dhaba men. “Bus not coming until 7 a.m. in morning.” So we had to fork out for a taxi back to town. This was okay actually, because the driver played some lively Indian music and we kept making him stop for photo sessions. And wouldn’t you know it – on one of these stops, the 5 P.M. BUS WENT BY!!! We’d been had by the scheming sods up the hill. Never mind, we had a great trip down and didn’t have to play squish or be bashed in the head by umbrellas.

Back in the village, we had a few drinks together then dinner at a dhaba. Yum – I love Tibetan food. Afterwards, Ernie and Leisa went to bed, but Paul and I were still feeling lively (it was full moon, after all) so we escaped over the monastery gate, feeling like a couple of naughty schoolkids, and went for a walk around the village. We were greeted very loudly by a large pack of village dogs, but once we stopped and let them sniff us and get used to our voices, they made a fabulous escort for our perambulating. We felt really really safe surrounded by our new friends. We bumped into the village policeman who obviously thought we were mad. Two Westerners meandering down the street in the middle of the night surrounded by most the village dogs. He didn’t seem to grasp the concept of a pleasant evening stroll complete with numerous canines, but he let us go on our way – no doubt rolling his eyes behind us. I was just glad I had a long top on so he couldn’t see the rip in my trousers where a sharp part of the monastery gate got me.

So, a pleasant time was had by all and we made a whole bunch of new friends in a very short time. Getting back over the gate, I was more careful and not one single spike got me this time. I felt rather triumphant about that. Not bad for a woman of my age, what?

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