The Journey to Chang Chub Ling
Reminiscences by Ven. Lama Lodu Rinpoche
After completing six months of preparatory training at Bhutia Busty Monastery in Darjeeling, I began the next leg of my journey in the company of about 20 Bhutanese monks who, like me, were headed for the three-year retreat that was to take place at Chang Chub Ling in Bhutan.
Together we traveled to the railhead at the bustling crossroads town of Siliguri in West Bengal, a few hours from Darjeeling. Having come from an isolated mountain village, I was startled and astonished by the crowds and the noise at the train station. My companions told me I would have to push and shove like everyone else if I wanted to get onto the train, so I dove into the sea of bodies and managed to find a spot on the floor next to the bathroom. So, at about three in the morning, with my sheepskin cloak under me for a seat, I embarked on my first train trip. I must have appeared strange and dirty because the normally talkative Indian travelers left me alone.
We traveled that night, next day, and all of the next night before reaching the Indian town of Gohati at about nine in the morning. There we got a bus to Godama, crossed the border to Dung San Tse, and then began the seven-day walk through the mountains to Chang Chub Ling Monastery in the Kurto region of Bhutan.
My Bhutanese companions had made this journey before and were used to rigorous travel. They would start out before dawn, rest and eat lunch at mid-day, walk until evening, stop for dinner, then continue on until well after midnight, making the most progress at night. For me, it was an ordeal. Even in the best of health, I would have found it difficult to keep up with these swift-footed mountaineers, but because I had been weakened by tuberculosis, I constantly fell behind, especially at night, and had to struggle to catch up.
When I would lag, one or another of my Bhutanese companions would often come back to help me. They were always cheerful and unbelievably strong. Each morning they did their individual practice and did Mahakala puja together every night before supper. Talking and laughing along the way, they seemed to enjoy the difficult journey.
After several days I was so exhausted that I collapsed. My body just gave out and I couldn't walk any more. It was night and I was alone in the middle of nowhere, far from any village and far behind my companions. I knew it was too dangerous to remain there—surely there were wild animals around—so after resting a few minutes I began to move again. Because it was a downhill path, I could use gravity to fall forward a little then drag my pack behind me. I went along like this for awhile and eventually came upon an encampment of nomadic herders with their cattle. I pointed to a butter churn to show I was hungry, and an old man brought me a big wooden bowl of milk. I also ate some roasted corn I had in my pack and felt some strength returning, enough to stand up and continue on into the darkness.
Soon I heard whistling. It was two of the Bhutanese monks who had come back to find me. They said there were tigers and elephants in this area and it was a wonder I hadn't been killed. With them supporting me, we walked until meeting up with the others, where they were camped in a river valley.
After a good meal and some sleep, I felt strong enough to head out with the group before dawn. I was fine for awhile, but when the morning sun hit me, my strength faltered and I fell behind once again. One of the monks came to get me and pointed at a mountain peak in the distance, saying, "That is Chang Chub Ling and right over there is the Chinese border, so if you don't make it to the monastery the communists will probably get you." In spite of the unsettling joke, his words gave me the confidence that I would make it after all. I thought if I hadn't died yet, I would surely get to my destination.
What took me two days of travel and every ounce of strength I had left took the Bhutanese monks only a few hours. Several of them made the trip to Chang Chub Ling and back several times, visiting with friends and family, and then taking turns to come back and help me through the remaining mountainous miles. I'm sure it was a duty none of them particularly enjoyed. They were talkative and fun-loving young men and it must have been very boring to trudge along beside someone who could hardly manage to walk, let alone chat, since we spoke different languages.
Chang Chub Ling had been given by a Bhutanese princess to the 16th Karmapa as a gift. His Holiness Karmapa sent Kalu Rinpoche there to develop the Kagyupa lineage at this ancient monastery and to build two retreat sites there. He named the sites Naro Ling, where the basic practice was the Six Yogas of Naropa, and Nigu Ling, where the basic practice was the Six Yogas of Niguma.
When I finally arrived, there was a festival honoring and welcoming my group to the monastery. There was abundant food and a wonderful atmosphere of homecoming. I remember feeling amazed that I, a complete stranger to these people, could be welcomed like a family member. Of course this was because I came with the recommendation and blessings of His Holiness Karmapa and His Eminence Kalu Rinpoche.
Even though I was greatly enjoying our happy arrival, throughout those festive days there was really only one thing on my mind: the three-year retreat. I felt I could hardly wait another day.
Lama Lodu Rinpoche's Autobiography