Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Scaling Choedrag, one of the four holy cliffs of Bumthang

Photo of people climbing Choedrag, the holy cliff. Image source:

As a child, I was very active and agile. Climbing rocks and cliffs used to be my favorite adventure although the elder people in the family wouldn’t let me do it fearing I might fall down. I know I was not good at climbing trees but when it came to cliffs and rocks, I could climb them without much difficulty. Even the smallest crack lines on the rock’s surface would be enough for my hands to get a grip and I could balance my body quite easily as I pulled myself up. I often used to compete with myself on climbing some of the small cliffs and rocks in the village whenever elders were not at home. Probably because of being blind, I was not afraid of heights.

On 26th May 2002, I got the opportunity to scale the real cliff in Bumthang. Choedrag is one of the four holy cliffs in Bumthang blest by Guru Rinpoche during the 8th century. I was staying with my friend at the time and it was his father who organized the trip to Tharpaling monastery to observe the Para nirvana of Lord Buddha. My friend, his parents, a neighbor and I started our journey early in the morning. After parking the car at the road-head, we started walking up the trail that gradually led us through the beautiful natural scenery. The aromatic wild flowers in full bloom and different species of birds and animals greeted us along the way as we delved deeper into the woods. Since I and my friend were not accustomed to walking long distances, we had to pause frequently to renew our energy. After a few hours of tedious walk, we finally reached Tharpaling monastery where we offered prayers and received blessings. By then, we were already exhausted and took some rest before continuing further up to visit the holy cliff.

We were told that Choedrag represents a path to liberation (Tharpai Lam) and the one who successfully climbs it is believed to be liberated from all the sufferings and sorrows of this world. I had really wanted to climb it but when we got at the base of the cliff, I thought I needed to change my decision because I was told it was too steep and really high. However, my friend’s father gave the first attempt and he could successfully get to the top. That gave me some confidence. Backed by my strong belief in Buddhist philosophies, I lunged forward to give it a try. My friend’s mother and her friend were worried and advised me to stay back but I forced myself to go ahead with my plan. When I touched the wall of the cliff, I discovered numerous crack lines and crags which could easily hold me up. At the base of the cliff, I found it so easy to climb that I did not realize I should remove my shoes. Only after climbing a few steps up, I realized I had to remove them. Firmly gripping on the crack lines with my hands, I pushed off my shoes one by one with my feet and continued the climb. As I reached higher, the cliff’s surface began to get steeper and with the voice of the people on the ground growing fainter below my feet with each step, I was getting anxious. After sometime, the climb became so difficult that I nearly fell backward a couple of times. Every time I pulled myself up by one step, I had to lean myself towards the cliff without even making the slightest movement to maintain the body balance. Then after regaining the balance, I would stretch my hands up for another crack line or a crag to hold on to. Then again I would pull myself up and remain stuck to the cliff without moving for sometime to regain the balance. I learned this skill on the spot and found it very effective. People from below told me that I had reached a point of no return and that if I ever fell down, I would crush onto the cluster of boulders and rocks on the ground. The fear of tragic death forced me to continue and complete my ordeal. At the center of the cliff is the throne of Guru Rinpoche but I was told this part of the cliff was impossible to be conquered. So I was directed towards the right side of the cliff where I would get to the small flat ground on the top of the cliff. Finally my hands could reach out for some grasses on the edge of the cliff that led to the ground. Slowly and steadily, I kept on pulling and pushing myself across the face of the cliff until I could touch the ground. My friend’s father who was waiting at the edge of the ground pulled me up and I was finally standing on the ground, overlooking the cliff I had just climbed. It was a very enriching experience since it left me with a great sense of satisfaction that I could scale the Path to Liberation. Our driver was the last person to try but he had to be pulled up half way through the cliff. Fortunately we didn't have to worry about climbing back to the base of the cliff because there was a comfortable trail from the other side of the cliff.

I should really thank my friend Kuenga Dorji and his family for giving me such a wonderful opportunity to experience that beautiful moment in my life. The memories created on that auspicious day still hold a special place in my head. If I am given the same opportunity now, I am pretty sure I can’t make it because with age, I know I no longer carry that light and active body. I really miss those beautiful olden days.

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