I arrived when it was dark, so this picture is from the next morning:
Dzongkul Gompa belongs to the Red Hat sect of Tibetan buddhism. This is one of the
oldest sects, whereas Gelugpa; the one which Dalai Lama heads, is the newest. I don't remember whether
there were any pictures of Dalai Lama
in the monastery, but it is my impression that all the Buddhists
of the Indian Western Himalayas consider them selves as "Tibetan" Buddhists (even though not themselves
necessarily ethnic "Tibetan") and also acknowledge Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of
Avalokiteshvara, God(dess) of Compassion.
It is possible to exit/enter Zanskar via
a pass that is just a few hours beyond Dzongkul. Could be interesting!
Most of the Lamas at Dzongkul Gompa were
extremely friendly. Only one of them spoke a little English so we communicated by smiling and waving at each other. In many ways
you often have a more useful discussion in this way; you avoid all the usual crappy
discussions, and communicate about the things that matter instead, such as "when do we eat", "when is the ritual", "can I
take a photograph of this". There's only one answer to these questions, which can be translated
into "yes, no problem". Of course you don't really know what that means, so you just have to
wait and see.
The two small Lamas were in high spirits
in the early morning.
They loved blowing in the sea shells for the announcement of the
ritual that was about to begin. They lost their good humor though. It's not an easy job for a little
boy to be a Lama.
The small figures are made of tsampa,
which is roasted barley flour, mixed with chai, and with some
ghee to provide for the burning. Instead of sacrificing humans a
little tsampa is enough these days, if prepared according to the ancient wisdom.
The senior monks sitting in serenity
while a younger monk is pouring soup for them. The head Lama is sitting on a plateau in the center, looking - to say
the least - with impartial, objective scepticism at an utterly mundane Danish guy with a
The chant/ritual they performed is
called Chöd, at least that's what a Gelugpa monk informed me. He told me it was secret. When I came to Leh I looked it up in an old
book by an English guy called W.Y. Evants-Wentz, "Tibetan yoga and secret doctrines". (And since it was secret, this had to be the right book!)
Anyway, it said in the book about the
ritual called Chöd that it is about the Lama recognising the
illusion of the material body. And since the body is an illusion why not offer
it to the demons, if those sorry ghosts can feed on it. The lamas are blowing in a human thigh bone, beating
various drums and sounding
various bells, all the while continuing their sonorous chant. The
chanting took about 6 hours so it's understandable that they needed some salt tea and soup to sooth their necks.
I found it extremely interesting for the
first 4 hours or so, but then my interest gradually wore off. No, I didn't fall to sleep, but I realized that it might need some
conditioning to actually like ceremonies that long. The old monk sitting next to me also gave the impression that he would
rather watch television
after the first few hours had passed.
The test of a real sacred place in
There must be some source of water. Usually this was provided for by
the magic powers of the founder of the sanctuary. In the Buddhist tradition this is usually a highly acclaimed
Lama, whereas in the Himalayan "foothills" of Himachal Pradesh it's usually the work of one of the deities. If some "holy man" in India is trying to lure you to a place with out
water you know he's got something cooking!