Getting There, Waiting To Begin

Tuesday December 2nd

Today we drove from Bhubaneswar to Rigon Thupden Mindolling Monastery, Chandragiri District, Orissa. The drive started with our driver being a bit late and hard to find at the hotel as he spoke no English. Also, his cell phone ceased to allow him to answer it. Its jingle persistently called him while the four of us and two hotel clerks jammed a patchwork of baggage into the back of the Tata Sumo truck taking us southward.

Bhubaneswar seems to be a typical mid-sized Indian city with people everywhere, businesses in a colorful chaotic cobble at every corner. We soon were on the highway and passing truck stops thick with cheap hotels, stone carving businesses and roadside Hindu temples. One temple had an entry arch that was the mouth of a wrathful blue-faced god with black moustache, sharp white teeth and bulging eyes.

Palm trees and farm land with round piles of hay being harvested soon predominated our views. The air in this region is hot and hazy, but not densely polluted as it is back in Delhi. The farms we were seeing, by the way, are not like farms one passes on the road in North America’s mid-west. These farms are small. Everything is meticulously planted, tended and harvested by hand; there are no combines to be seen. Women in dirty saris work beside men in sleeveless shirts in the hot sun. People carry straw on their heads, unfinished highway lanes are used for drying grain.

As we moved further south in what was to be a seven hour drive we saw short steep hills rise amidst the little fields, towns and tiny hamlets. No hill was more than five hundred feet high, and most were well-vegetated humps like walnut halves or jagged bits of green flecked dough rising in the fields and rice patties around the highway. White sea birds, like small egrets appeared here and there in the grasses.

At first the highways were surprisingly flat and smooth. This gave way to more and more battered black top. By Berampur, the last major town on the way to the monastery, the roads were getting unpredictable with potholes and sections of dirt. Sometimes traffic came towards us on our side of the highway even though the other side was open. Sometimes there was just one dirt lane with the occasional vehicle pulling aside.

We finally entered Chandragiri district. Kristine said the sign was that we were actually rising into some of the forested hills we’d watched from the road. At a certain point I noticed we were driving stretches without seeing any people or domestic animals—unusual in India. The road was mostly dirt, unpaved and sometimes we were in forest. Because we were so remote our driver began regularly asking for directions. It was getting dark and usually one doesn’t want to get lost in the dark in India.

After being passed by two Tibetan kids on a motorcycle who waved to us, we knew we were close. We entered the first of the five Tibetan camps and got directed to the monastery. Several people directed us to a dirt road that drove through a five minute stretch of brush that rose above our line of vision on either side. The driver was a bit agitated, but when we got to the monastery ten minutes later we’d learned we’d be sent on the short cut.

After arrival we met Sonam Palmo, a kind and elegant Tibetan woman wearing a grey chuba and is in charge of transportation. A troop of teen-aged monks were hauling our baggage into the guesthouse and we were soon enjoying rice, warm dhal and panir for dinner, puzzling over how safe it was to eat the hot green chilies. Pema the cook, in from a Tibetan camp in North India remarked that this place was ‘remote’.

Wednesday December 3rd

We woke up to see our surroundings. The guest house is next to the monastery, a much bigger monastery than it was at the wedding I am told. As you enter you walk into a large—like the size of a city block—courtyard framed by two story residence buildings, white with red trim. The second floor of these buildings around the courtyard accesses the rooms by a running balcony. Many of the western students—Ripa and Shambhala sanghas—are  housed at the far end of the courtyard facing the monastery. There are surprisingly beautiful gardens outside the monastery too.

Actually, the courtyard narrows with a second row of buildings closer together in front of the ornate main temple building, the center of this valley with more steeply humped green hills in front of and behind the building. More on the main temple in later entries.

The four of us went say hello to His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche in the morning. We spent a few minutes chatting after offering him khatas. His Eminence was very well, jovial and warm as usual. Earlier we’d met the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo in the main monastery court yard. They’d come over from His Eminence’s residence in order to see how preparations were proceeding at the monastery.

The rest of the day was spent having a short tea with Kaling, the Sakyong Wangmo’s attendant, who lives near the Ripa family compound, and unpacking while preparing for the start of the event.

Thursday December 4th

The first event in the day was a meeting with the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo who were staying in the Ripa family compound until the rooms for the dignitaries in the main temple were ready. Everywhere there is activity in preparation for the Rinchen Terdzo. The monastery is nearly finished and besides the Rinchen Terdzo there is the upcoming opening of the monastery which may involve a visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, so there is a lot of movement of objects, small piles of construction materials stowed here and there, as well as monks carrying brocade couches to and fro. It has the feel of the start of a major program at a center in the west, but a lot bigger.

Patricia and I met with the Sakyong to go over a few things about our stay here. One is furthering Nalanda Translation Committee’s work on Gesar texts for the Shambhala sangha. Rinpoche made connections for us with people who’ll be able to help with this. More to follow on that. Also we were asking questions about the lineage of the Rinchen Terdzo and the Vidyadhara. This too is forthcoming.

After the Sakyong we met with Jigme Rinpoche who gave an amazing overview of the Rinchen Terdzo including more about the Vidyadhara. I am busily transcribing this to get it up on the web as soon as possible. The day continued with a lot more meetings with people who will be helping us during our time here—Lama Gyurme Dorje, Mapi—a French Ripa sangha member and translator, Tsering Namgyal—a Tibetan graduate of the Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies in Varanasi, and so on. Very busy day.


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