What was so special about it, one might ask. Well, you just had to be there. It was the sense of presence that did it for me, a feeling both of release and utter bliss at the same time.
You may know from my earlier post Bringing Out The Buddhist In Me that our journey from Punakha back to Paro was delayed in Dochula Pass as Bhutan greeted its first snowfall of 2016. By the time we arrived in Paro, the sun was already setting, and we spent the evening by a wood fire nursing some Bhutanese whisky.
We set out at 9am the next day after a hearty breakfast of Bhutanese buckwheat noodles and momo in search of the life-size Floating Statue of Goddess Dorji Phamo (or Vajravarahi) at Chumpu Nye located 3,100m above sea level in Dochu Valley. Bhutanese regard their 5-6 hour hike up to this ancient temple a sacred pilgrimage and privilege. Legend has it that Goddess Dorji Phamo had flown from Tibet to this temple and turned herself into a statue there. In her statue form, one of her legs is crossed at the knees with the other standing but not touching the ground. Could she really be floating, I wondered silently?
As we made our way through some shaded forests, we met some men at work fixing electric cables who had fortunately cleared our path lined with snow at the early part of our hike. The incline was gradual, and it was a pleasant enough walk even if at times it seemed endless – easily conquered, we thought. No Buddhist pilgrims were out that day, possibly enjoying themselves in the snow with their family and friends, so said our guide Uday. Our driver Namgay took the chance to join us, as it had been awhile since he last went. We welcomed him gladly, and were particularly thankful later as it turned out our picnic was in his backpack!
The ground grew icier and thicker with snow as we trudged along for an hour. More walking albeit at a slower pace, and before long, we arrived at a suspension bridge which was well decorated with colourful prayer flags. Traditionally prayer flags are hoisted for happiness and merit, or to help guide the spirits of dead loved ones to the netherworld. Often found around bridges, tall trees and other places of spiritual significance, Buddhists hope the wind may carry their well wishes high or flow long into the oceans.
We took our time crossing here without thought to what would be a fairly steep descent and then ascent, and then descent and then ascent up to the temple. Had we known what was ahead, might we have dallied less? Probably not.
We were completely surrounded by nature at its element. Although the breeze was cool and the temperatures hovering around 8C, the sun was out and the trees basked in its glory. It was amazing to find sun beams literally shining on my companions as I looked back. Streams were gushing, and the glacial waters truly green. Nature at its best!
The next two hours were spent largely in silent focus as we navigated past some rivers, thin bridges, and muddy and slippery alpine terrain. Not to mention climbing some rather large boulders!
As we walked up paved steps towards Chumpu Nye, we were mesmerized by the snow-capped mountains which slowly came into view. How breathtaking it was, and we were blown away.
We stopped to turn the golden drums of the prayer wheel to give thanks for a safe climb. The total elevation gain in four hours was only 900m, but I was happy to be there. Our guide was greeted by the resident monk who smiled at us from ear to ear. It appeared that he was glad for the company with fewer pilgrims making the hike during the winter months.
As we were starving by then, we sought his permission to lay out our picnic. And so we sat on the ancient floors of Chumpu Nye, ate our burgers out of tiffin carriers and drank masala tea with French jazz music playing in the background with our eyes affixed on that majestic view, whilst the monk in his red robes chewed on betel nut listening to our laments of the steep ascent. I remember this moment vividly for it is forever etched in my memory. What was so special about it, one might ask. Well, you just had to be there. It was the sense of presence that did it for me, a feeling both of release and utter bliss at the same time.
The monk helped us light butter lamps before we entered the inner temple to pay our respects to the Goddess Dorji Phamo. In order to test the story of the “floating” statue, we ran a dollar bill past her upright feet easily, and immediately became firm believers in her aura and divinity. It is believed that wishes made here do come true.
Then the monk blessed us as he poured holy water into our cupped palms, from which we drank some and ran the remainder over our heads. Such a blessing ritual is common place in Bhutan – an act of purification to wash away all negative elements and other impurities.
Had I been less exhausted, I might have suggested we continue to hang around Chumpu Nye for a little longer, or visit the nearby Guru Rimpoche Caves close by. But by then it was close to 2pm and we had to make our way down. With our spirits fully lifted and feeling the world at our feet, we zipped down back to the car in about 2 hours and was back at the hotel for a nice hot cup of tea.
Before we took our leave of Chumpu Nye, the monk gave us each a talisman of a short thin bamboo piece carved into a pendant strung on a blessed red thread for luck and protection. It is a belief that the rather thin bamboo which grows in the forests of Chumpu Nye is a representation of Goddess Dorji Phamo’s long hair. Whether one believes in talismans or not, one does not treat lightly blessings freely given by holy men. I have carried his blessing with me every day since, and not a day goes by when I am not grateful for that unforgettable tete a tete with the snow-capped mountain view of Chumpu Nye.