A personal narrative of the journey to Singye Dzong- By Tshering Chuki Gyamtsho
Note: This article has been taken from the Megazine “VOYAGER” on a Mystical Journey, First Edition, Vol 01
An auspicious curve of rainbow bends from the heavens framing Lhuentse Dzong from where we set out on foot.
Soon we are singing jauntily from a mad jukebox selection of open-ended tunes from current western pop, Bollywood hits and popular Zhungdra songs.
The fact that only one person from the entire motley crew, namely Ap Yangku, knows the route is of little concern to us.
Having begun our day at seven in the morning, our feet thump bravely over Kuri Zam, bringing us in barely an hour to Khoma village. We are full of pep and quite proud of the progress we have made.
We wonder foolishly if this is going to be so easy.
Scratching madly at the things I cannot even see. I wait for Ap Yangku and the porters to arrive, bearing lunch. The river is long out of sight (although I can still hear the distant rumble) and all around is tress, tress and more tress.
After lunch, we meet some people from Denchung, a village of a mere 20 inhabitants. The afternoon tea is served by an ethereal waterfall that cascades towards us from dramatic cliffs.
A local man says, “When a rainbow is visible over the falls, it means the spirits are preparing their meals”. This is our first indications that we are now entering a landscape separate from the outside world.
Another hour’s walk brings us to Khomagang, our stop for the night. We are greeted by the aroma of fresh ground maize and the traditional offering of local spirits.
After the meal and refreshments, the villagers attempt to convince us that the local husk of a building with new roofs and incomplete walls is actually a guest house.
Whatever, I think, as I pass out for the night.
Several times I toss and turn, trapped in the kind of nightmares that make you cold while the distant Khoma river or some primal drum beats a constant rhythm to my fitful dreams.
In the bleary-eyed morning, I see the constant drumming that punctuated my sleep was really a downpour. Of course, every single person who had scoffed at our “Guest house” the previous night is now sheepishly ensconced within its half-finished walls.
After breakfast, with a lingering aftertaste of wood smoke we resume our trek, passing a military outpost at Tsikhang. Shortly after lunch, the rain comes down again, just as we had predicted. I am glad we have all taken the time this morning to wrap our cloths and bedding in plastic to keep them from getting wet.
Despite the dubious protections of a decade-old rain jacket I am soaked, from my pants to my shoes to my socks. The cold sets in and my feet ache, dispelling any illusions from the previous day of a leisurely stroll through the woods.
The afternoon tea break is the best cup of tea I have ever tasted in my life.
Another half-hour, we are back on the trail that brings us to our camp, a place called Thangkarmo. Here I have my first opportunity in the day to change into some dry cloths.
Despite the leaky roof, our crudely built “guest house” tonight feels like a five star luxury hotel. And, of course, everyone knows where they are going to sleep tonight.
Since it has been a long tiring day, we decide to break out a bottle of Jhonny Walker as a treat for the crew. Most of them have never tasted imported whisky and are ecstatic at the opportunity.
In the afterglow of some excellent whisky, we all settle in for the night.
Everyone wakes up rested and excited. Today we roll into Singye Dzong!
But first there are four hours of plodding through the mud.
Several times I slip over treacherous logs and land on my rear, getting myself wet and muddy all over.
We pass an amazingly massive and beautiful rock formation at Toktophu, with what locals consider to be holy water or drupchu dripping down its sides.
Lunch is at Doksum, “the place where three trails meet”
Ap Yangku, our normally hardy beacon of hope, has lost some of his normal cheer and appears somewhat peaked.
“It’s the altitude,” he says. “It makes it very difficult for me to walk. “And there, ahead of us, is the incomparable Singye Dzong,” Ap Yangku says with a flourish.” Bow your heads and offer your prayers”.
There is no magnificent fortress the usage of word Dzong normally implies.
The Lion Fort, it turns out, is no manmade monument but a unique geological formation. Of course I have gathered as much from the stories I have heard, but it is no less a shock.
What Ap Yangku is bowing to is a mountain, old and immense and timeless.
The surrounding valley is beautiful, every bit deserving of its reputation as a Beo Yul, a “hidden land” of perfection.
I feel every step, every bead of sweat, every single discomfort we have endured on the entire three day trek rewarded manifold.
Ap Yangku spurs us along the final stretch with a bit of tomfoolery. There is a sacred rock where we can leave our thumbprints so our parents will be blessed, he says. But we have to run, or it will not work.
So we run and wildly stamp our digits on the first interesting rock beside the trail, until he arrives, laughing all the way.
Near the main temple in the valley, the resident lama greets us politely and directs us to the nearby guest house.
When the porters arrive, they are carrying some yak meat they claim came from a fresh tiger kill.
Whatever the truth, the stew at dinner is delicious and tender and juicy.
All of us fall into a deep and peaceful sleep after three days of walking in the wilderness.
Breakfast holds a pleasant surprise outside our window. The mountains have donned a white mantle of snow during the night. In some inexplicable way, I feel as if Singye Dzong has done this just to welcome us.