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TW(&W)M - 2 - Tara's Footprint

INDIA | Wednesday, 20 January 2016 | Views [387]

The second morning in Pelling entailed a relatively early rise to have breakfast and pack before a 10.30 shared jeep would take Mafa and I to Lake Khecheopalri, a sacred lake for Buddhists and Hindus alike some two hours distant. 

Unsurprisingly the promised taxi ended up arriving at around 1pm allowing us a short stroll up the road to Pemayangtse and down a track that gave me the mild shivers in anticipation of meeting a much talked of bear.

The ride to Khecheopalri once again was twisting and beatiful as we wound our way down and then up the river valley. Stepping out of the taxi Mafa greeted a young Canadian, by name Guru Dial (Guru) with whom she had previously travelled from Darjeeling to Gangtok and who had just walked to the lake from Yuksom. More of that later. 

The three of us paid our fare and walked the prayer flag and stupa lined path to the lake, where I stopped to enter a small Buddhist shrine/shack. I was pleased to see a picture of Chetrul Dorje Rimpoche, another of Sangharakshita's teachers, who had recently died in Nepal.

Joining Mafa and Guru we walked along the jettee to the lake, joined by play fighting dogs who later followed us to the shore of the lake a little further along before finally disappearing. After a short time there we returned to the ticket booth where we were joined by Bajachuck (?) the son of the homestay where we were to spend the next three or four nights and which was reached by yet another punishing 20 minute climb up the hill.

Sonam and Pala's homestays are part of a hill top village with, on a clear day, a good view of Kanchenjunga. The village also has a gompa/ monastery and Pala is a lama and one time cook to the Dalai Lama. Facilities are basic, the temparture is cold, the nights draw in around 4.30 and are long. Time is spent huddled around the fire, smoking, eating three really good meals a day and playing cards in the dining room, feet warmed by hot embers in a metal bowl underneath the table. I quickly learned a new card game called President/Arsehole which I shall look forward to teaching my nephew and nieces, no doubt with an abbreviated title. I also learned a game called Maffia that might be worth a go should I remember the rules.

Despite the cold, the basic amenities and the long nights life at Sonam's/Pala's was/is rich. The village community is close knit and children, dogs and puppies roam and play happily if somewhat roughly at times (this applies particularly to the children's handling of puppies). We were also lucky to have a good contingent of guests who stayed together for several days.

On our second day we were taken by Sonam's eldest daughter, Lakey, to a cave high above the lake and reached after two hours of mostly steep uphill climbs through the forest that had me fighting for breath and resting, often whilst Lakey looked on, seemingly utterly unimmpressed and peeling a branch of something. Reach the cave we finally did, however, which seemed to be dedicated to Tara, the green female Bodhisattva associated with compassion in action and whose footprint is said to mark the boundaries of the lake far below the cave.

On the way to the homestead Lakey seemed to relax, probably after playing with Mafa by the cave, and spent some time forging ahead and ambushing Guru, jumping out from a hiding place in the foliage by the path back. No mean feat given she was dressed in pink and red.

The evening was spent in the usual fashion, huddled around the fire, eating, feet warmed by embers and playing cards, a joint circling the table. For a reason beyond comprehension I seemed to populate the last two places more often than not, A or Vice A!!

After the effort to reach the cave, the next day was spent quietly with the plan for Mafa and I to move on to Yuxom the following day to be reunited with our rucksacks which we had sent ahead from Pelling. On waking, however, I decided that I wanted another day in the peace of the homesteads, prompted by a morning's Chi Gung and an uncomfortable feeling that I was becoming too dependent on Mafa.

So, with some sadness and anxiety for her welfare as she was to make the trek to Yuxom now alone, I bade Mafa farewell, reminded though that we had agreed 'no compromise' and that she is an experienced and independent traveller.  

I spent the remainder of the day revisiting Lake Khecheopalri, reading a collection of American Noir edited by James Elroy and either huddled around the fire or in my bed as the cold set in in the evening.

Tags: homestay, sacred lakes

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