Haut-Dolpo: the crystal mountain pilgrimage

- through Sophie Solere

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Every twelve years, when the full moon of the year of the dragon illuminates the valley of Shey-Gompa, in the Dolpo region of Nepal, the inhabitants of Tibetan origin, the Dolpo-pa, gather at the isolated monastery of Shey to complete the crystal mountain tour. An extraordinary pilgrimage, in a preserved region of Nepal.

In this month of August 2012, we are one of the lucky few from Kathmandu whose plane lands directly in Juphal. The airport has been refurbished, but the runway is still dirt. During my last visit, in 2004, the control tower had been attacked by the Maoists, there was not much left of it. As soon as the door is crossed, there is no longer a road or even a track, we begin our hike accompanied by a caravan of mules. Just like in the movie that "put Nepal on the world map", Himalayas, the childhood of a chef (1), the gods levy their tax.

We narrowly save one of our mules from the turbulent waters of the Suligad, but soon after I see a second one floating painfully between the eddies. It is already too late to intervene, a few moments later, she sinks into the impetuous waves taking with her a canvas mess tent (restaurant tent), a table and my bag. All I have left are the photographic boxes that I carry over my shoulder and my clothes for the day. I feel a little naked, but after the shock of the brutal disappearance of this equine soul, I take this forced destitution as a lesson in impermanence and decide that this loss will in no way change the nature of this trip. A little further, in the village of Ringmo, on the shores of the turquoise blue lake of Phoksumdo, I buy a yak hair blanket, covered with a beautiful pink fabric “made in china”. I'll wrap myself in it fully clothed every night.

The trail of the snow leopard

In 1978, Peter Matthiessen and his fellow biologist Georges Schaller made an expedition to Haut Dolpo, an expedition that is now legendary (2). In his story The snow leopard, the writer recounts the difficulties they had in finding the Kang-la pass that we are passing today.

Later, we reach the isolated and solitary monastery of Shey, where they stayed for long weeks to study the rut of the bharal (blue sheep). Did they know at the time that a pilgrimage took place there every full moon of the month of the dragon (most often in August)? And that this pilgrimage took on a mystical dimension every twelve years, during the year of the dragon in the Tibetan calendar. (see box) ?

This August 31, 2012 – which corresponds to the full moon of the month of the dragon – nearly a third of the population of Dolpo, an isolated valley in western Nepal, met in this valley at the end of the world. almost uninhabited the rest of the year. Many tents form a multicolored mosaic that brightens up the valley. Whitish smoke rises from the encampments scattered in a string along the Hubaiun khola, a stream much coveted by pilgrims for washing and cooking. In the distance, we see the amaranth red buildings of the monastery of Shey, which clash with the bold green of the valley freshly watered by the end of monsoon clouds. The atmosphere is at its height. Long caravans of horses loaded with packs arrive from all directions. Pilgrims exhausted by the days, even weeks of walking, are looking for a place to drop off their kit and set up the bivouac. I see inhabitants of the distant village of Mugu recognizable by their printed fabrics; they had to go through Tibet, because the path of the gorges, too dangerous, does not allow the passage of pack animals. Women compete in beauty. Most of them wear large earrings set with turquoise. A huge silver dorje (usually a religious object representing lightning or energy) in the form of a fibula holds a self-woven yak hair blanket over their shoulders. Some, coming from Tarap, a valley a few days' walk away, wear an astonishing two-sided silver headdress. Some men, their hair braided and turbaned in red like the Khampas of Tibet, begin a horse race. Children are also part of it, it's time for them to compete with their dancing skills. Dressed in mismatched uniforms, they proudly reproduce centuries-old steps. Many of the old ones see childhood friends, forgotten lovers and sometimes even have cataract surgery by doctors from the Nepalese army, who consult and treat for free for the occasion! A little further on, young women in traditional clothes begin a play. They mimic childbirth, then breastfeeding. The crowd is hilarious. These are young nurses who have come to raise public awareness of family planning.

It is said that “the pious man who makes this pilgrimage thirteen times can see, the thirteenth time, the summit of Kailash”. Venerated by Buddhists and Bons, but also by Hindus and Jains, the holiest of mountains, the axis of the world, the mandala of rock and ice, inviolate abode of Shiva and source of four of the most great rivers of Asia.

While the monks, dressed in resplendent brocade robes, begin a dance in the space reserved for them, Klaus Dieter Mathes (3), German Tibetologist at the University of Hamburg, specialist in Tantric Buddhism, explains to me the symbolism events in a few words: "The monks form a living mandala, which represents the universe. They thus sanctify the space. The dancers will then embody tantric deities who have come to transform beings from their ordinary state into awakened beings”. Marietta Kind (4), Switzerland, specialist in the Bon religion (see box), join us. Like Dieter, she took part in the previous festival, twelve years earlier, and bitterly regrets that the dignitaries good were not officially invited as in previous years: "This pilgrimage was once a Bön pilgrimage above all. It was only in the XNUMXth century, following the arrival of the yogi Senge Yeshi on his snow lion, that he became a Buddhist. »

The Kora

The first night is not yet over when already voices resound in the valley. The full moon illuminates a cohort of pilgrims on their way to the "Kora". This tour of the crystal mountain represents an initiatory journey during which the rituals are linked from place to place. In the valley of the divinities, they absorb a little crushed rock with medicinal and beneficial properties. Then, after passing a regenerating spring, the tree-shaped rock, the "Path to Hell", crossed the "Palace of the 21 tara" (Tibetan female deities), the "Little Flower Plain" and the small lake that brings fertility, they can finally pick up these sacred rock crystals that they will offer to their lama or to a loved one (5). When the day draws to a close, all have preceded me. I can't even find the seven-year-old girl who was crying at 5000 meters or the grandmother all bent over and all wrinkled who prostrated herself at the Dolma-la pass, at 5200 meters. After a dozen hours of walking, I end this purifying journey by visiting two hermitages set in red rock.

Next date: big brother Kailash

It is said that “the pious man who makes this pilgrimage thirteen times can see, the thirteenth time, the summit of Kailash”. Venerated by Buddhists and Bons, but also by Hindus and Jains, the holiest of mountains, the axis of the world, the mandala of rock and ice, inviolate abode of Shiva and source of four of the most great rivers of Asia. THE Mount Kailash, on the Tibetan Chantang Plateau, is also called Crystal Mountain (6). It is considered the big brother of the crystal mountain of Dolpo. Both are the home of Demchog, a tantric deity called Chakrasamvara in Sanskrit. Many Dolpo-pa dream of being able to make this pilgrimage “on the Tibetan side”. If they succeed, they will of course choose the month of the horse and the year of the horse for this, because just as the sign of the dragon is auspicious for the crystal mountain of Shey, the sign of the horse is auspicious for the mountain. Kailash. So every twelve years...

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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