An impossible job

Primrose flowering by the road are impossible to photograph

If the photo above looks weird, it just shows what I mean. On a walk in a high forest in Sikkim we came across primroses flowering by the road. They grew in clusters, brightening up an otherwise overcast day. But every time I tried to take a photo, it would refuse to come out right. I tweaked the exposure and colour balance on my camera. I tried as many other things as I could, even changed the f-stop, but nothing could make the colours come out right. The primroses looked much more pink to the eye than what the camera was getting. I could not stop the camera from changing a fuchsia to a violet.

It seems this needs post-processing. I tried to reproduce the original colour from memory by manually changing the colour balance and produced something that looks reasonable. I decided to make this change only on the left half of the photo above, so one could see what the changes did. It made the dead leaves look a little too red. Fortunately it did not change the colour of the green leaves and grass, and it made the small yellow flowers on the top left to pop a bit. I’m happy that it turned out to be reasonably simple.

I seem to have trouble with pinks and purples at high altitudes. Could this be due to the enhanced UV content of sunlight? Have you had such problems as well?

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Rhododendron flowering

Red rhododendrons flowering near the Norbugang throne in Yuksom

Sikkim is the most accessible part of the belt running across the Himalayas where Rhododendrons grow. We’d seen them wilting when we visited Yumthang a few years ago in early May. Now, in early March we saw them in bloom when we visited the Norbugang throne in Yuksom. We sat on a bench in the garden near the throne and looked at the deodars festooned with prayer flags. Below them were the bushes of Rhododendrons, heavy with flowers. Some had dropped around a little building lower down. It was quiet, pleasantly cool, and serene. I composed a little piece of doggerel and recited it to The Family: “My blood is red as a rhodo, until I become as dead as a dodo”.

She said, let’s go to the Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary. I’d read about this before coming. It seems that you can reach it if you take a long walk, some say 8 Kms, from Uttarey in the north or a short walk, about 3 Kms, from Hilley in the south. barsey-map I’d hesitated to do this because we didn’t know the terrain and couldn’t predict how long it would take us to cover 16 Kms. Now we decided to travel to Hilley and take the shorter walk. It turned out that Hilley was around 80 Kms from Pelling, over roads that were not in very good shape. The drive took us 4 hours. We passed through beautiful roads, the greenery blooming red with flowers of the rhododendron. Hem Kumar told us that his friends did not believe he would see the flowers today.

My faith in Hem Kumar’s unfailing fallibility grew as we climbed, and the red flowers became rarer. The gate to the Barsey rhododendron sanctuary near Hilley villageIt was probably too early for high-altitude flowers inside the Barsey sanctuary. It turned out (map above) that Hilley was already inside the sanctuary, and the 3 Km walk was to a nearby ridge from which Kanchenjunga would be visible. The bright sunshine of the morning was hidden behind fog and clouds as we started on the path. We saw some leaf warblers and tree-pies in the dense jungle. Little streams flowed down the rocks next to the path. Primulas bloomed everywhere. Rhododendron buds were visible on every tree. They would flower in a week or two. It was a lovely walk, until it started to rain. We turned back after about twenty minutes of walking, perhaps somewhat over a kilometer.

The Family reminded me of the Rhododendron juice we drank on our previous visit to Sikkim. Hem Kumar didn’t know of it. A journalist, Sumana Roy, has a peculiar recipe for rhododendron chutney: “A handful of flowers, about five or six fresh red rhododendrons, crushed into a paste with a clove of garlic, a tomato, and its sweet-sour balance refined by the addition of pomegranate juice or molasses and mango powder, depending on individual preference.” On the other hand, there are warnings, persisting to modern times that all parts of tree are poisonous, even the honey. Perhaps these are like mushrooms, some species are poisonous and others are edible.

As we exited the gate of the sanctuary, we saw some birds foraging nearby. One fluttered from a little hut to a bush. My first impression was that we it was a coucal, but The Family realized that it was something else. We stood still, and the bird flew next to us. This was our first view of the chestnut crowned laughing thrush. My camera was packed away in my backpack. We stood still and watched. Pink rhodo and banana plants in the garden around the ruins of Rabdentse palace Eventually, The Family reached into my backpack and handed me my camera. As I sighted, the bird flew off into a dark undergrowth. We spent the next day at a lower elevation and saw many kinds of Rhododendron. The ASI has planted many varieties in the garden it maintains around the ruins of the Rabdentse palace. This photo shows something which is perhaps visible only in this part of the world: Rhododendron and bananas next to each other.

We have bracketed the flowering season of the Rhododendron: after early March and before May. We need to visit Sikkim in early April once.

The glorious Pemyangtse monastery

Detail of ducks from a painting in the Pemyangtse monastery

The Pemyangtse gompa lived up to its reputation. Some workers were busy repaving the front courtyard as we got off the steep entry ramp. They waited for us to walk past them to the stairs leading up to the monastery. A monk was sitting nearby with a book in which we had to enter our names. Behind him was a gigantic prayer wheel. We walked around it, and found it was pretty well balanced, and required little effort to turn. We walked round the main building to the inner courtyard. We’d missed the morning prayers. Many young monks were at their lessons in a side building. We took off our shoes and climbed the stairs to the gorgeous entrance porch.

Painting of a guardian deity in Pemyangtse monastery Painting of another guardian deity at the Pemyangtse monastery
Painting of the parable of the 4 friends in Pemyangtse monastery Painting of the benign monk in Pemyangtse monastery

This monastery was almost the last thing we planned to see in this trip, and the wait had been worth it. The paintings were gorgeous and overwhelming. On the pillars next to the steps leading up to the porch were paintings of two guardian deitys (top row in the table above). The fearsome guardians wear tiger-skins, a crown of skulls, and a garland of heads. Some of the heads seem to have pretty modern hair styles. One of the guardians rides and elephant, the other a white yak. They are surrounded by lighting and fire. The guardians carry maces while their left hand is folded into the karana mudra.

The two pillars on either sides of the door had gentler murals. The one on the left had a beautiful painting of the four harmonious friends. The rendering of the tree with fruits and birds seems specially beautiful. The other pillar has a blue and gold painting of a serene monk surrounded by deer and herons; his disciples throng around him, and one of them offers him tea.

Detail of Yama devouring the Bhavachakra in the Pemyantse monastery

The rest of the porch is full of large and beautiful paintings. One shows Yama, the god of death, devouring the Bhavachakra. A teenaged monk was passing by. I asked him in Hindi whether he could explain the meaning of the wheel. He gestured to a friend who came and explained to us that he could talk to us because he speaks better Hindi. He called the wheel by its Tibetan name Srd paikhor lo, and gave a quick explanation of the six realms of samsara. Then he pleaded that he had to go for his classes, and left.

Detail of a phoenix in a painting in Pemyangtse monastery

Glorious as the paintings are, they need restoration. Large parts of the painting o the powerful bird above, either Garuda or the phoenix, are fading. The people below him in the picture are just outline figures. In some parts of the murals the layer of paint above the plaster has fallen off, other parts are flaking. Clearly the murals are painted on to a dry plaster. It is time for the local monks to start restoring the paintings.

We walked into the monastery. Unlike the Tibetan monasteries, one is not allowed to take photos inside. At first sight, the empty cavernous space of the prayer hall looked very much like the Gelugpa monastery in Tawang. Then we noticed the differences. Amongs them are the statues along the wall. The large main statue is a many armed and many headed aspect of the Guru, Padmasambhava. It is interesting that in addition to the central statue, the Guru, in his many incarnations, gets more statues than the Buddha himself.

There are two floors above this. We walked upstairs under the gaze of cameras. The first floor has more statues and paintings worth spending time on. The theme of the Guru’s many incarnations carries on here. The top floor has many old books in Tibetan and Pali, and a wonderful painting of the heavenly palace of the Guru.

The Pemyangtse monastery was founded in 1705 by Lhatsun Chempo. Although built later than Dubdi and Tashiding, it now exerts administrative control over all the other Nyingma monasteries in Sikkim. That was consistent with the number of monks we saw here. The next time we visit, we will have to come here first to get permission to enter the Dubdi monastery. The temple festival occurs around the same time as the Bhumchu festival in Tashiding, namely around the Maghi Purnima. In most years that would be around the end of February. We’d missed it by about a week.

Social games

A game of carrom in progress near the Resh hot springs in Sikkim

When you travel across the eastern Himalayas you cannot help but notice the popularity of carrom. In Thimphu we found a street lined with carrom boards after dark, each board had a game going on. It’s hard to be excited by a game of carrom unless you have been exposed to it since your childhood. In the streets of Thimphu no game was without a little band of appreciative spectators. The photo above was taken at mid-day near the Reshi hot springs in Sikkim. We saw similar scenes in Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, parts of Assam, and even as far away as Tripura.

Football is tremendously popular as a sport in the hills. One can understand that in the narrow ledges on hills it might be difficult to kick a ball around in an impromptu game of football. Cricket is not very popular; presumably a boundary would not be hard to score. Archery is a widely practised competitive sport in the hills. But these are not games you sit down to with a bunch of friends.

Chinese pavements are full of games which often attract large audiences. Sometimes they seem to be strategic board games of various kinds, but often they are games of luck: cards, for example. The Chinese way of life involves accepting luck as a cosmological principle. Perhaps the Himalayan cultures, with their guardian deities, are different?

The ruins of Rabdentse Palace

Rabdentse palace was home to the Chogyals for about a century, from the reign of the second Chogyal to the sixth. The Archaeological Survey of India restored and now maintains the ruins. The forest around the palace is dense and full of birds, but they are hard to see in the high trees.

Fern growing near the forest path to the Rabsentse palace ruins in Sikkim

Our hotel was a couple of kilometers from the ruins of the Rabdentse Palace. I’d read that the forest around it was good for sighting birds. The Family talked to a local birding enthusiast who also recommended it. I was thinking of walking there in the afternoon and doing some late afternoon birding after seeing the ruins. When I said this to The Family, she pointed out that it had rained every afternoon till then. We decided to go there in the morning. When we left the hotel, bird activity was peaking. We saw a woodpecker as we left. But the forest around Rabdentse turned out to be dense and full of high trees without any opening. We could hear warblers everywhere around us, but the foliage was too dense to get a good view of even a single bird. The kilometer long road to the ruins jiggled through the cool forest.

Taphap Chorten is the entrance to the complex of ruins of the Rabdentse palaceThe Archaeological Survey of India restored and now maintains the ruins. There were signboards 250 meters, 100 meters, 50 meters and 20 meters from the entrance to the complex of ruins. We passed the stones which marked the throne of justice, Namphongang, and came to the Taphap chorten, which used to mark the entrance to the palace. Here the ASI has boards which explain the history and the layout of the place. The photo alongside shows the Taphap chorten from the inner side of the complex. The Namphongang cannot be seen from this point.

View of the living quarters in the ruins of Rabdentse palace in SikkimThe second Chogyal of Sikkim, Tensung Namgyal, succeeded to the throne in 1670 CE and moved his capital from Yuksom to Rabdentse. Tensung’s reign was peaceful, but immediately after this, the kingdom of Sikkim became embroiled in wars with Bhutan, Tibet and Nepal. During the reign of the fifth Chogyal, Sikkim lost much territory to Nepal and Bhutan. The sixth Chogyal, Tenzing Namgyal, came to the throne in 1780 CE. During his reign Sikkim was conquered by Nepal and Rabdentse palace was overrun. The Chogyal had to take refuge in Lhasa. His son, the seventh Chogyal, Tshudphud Namgyal, managed to recover his territory, but did not re-establish the capital in Rabdentse.

The ruins of the living quarters has tremendously thick walls (above). We wandered through several connected rooms in this block and then walked over the next block which seems to be the place where religious rites took place.Tablet with buddha relief in the Rabdentse palace ruins in SikkimOne can see some decorative patterns etched into a bit of a standing wall. This is too faint to be seen clearly. Propped against it is a stone tablet with the Buddha’s image carved into it (photo alongside). He is shown sitting in padmasana in the dhyana mudra. This is a characteristic position of the Sakyamuni. I didn’t see this representation too often in Sikkim.

Stupas at the Rabdentse palace ruins in Sikkim

The image of the ruins of the Rabdentse palace which seems to be universally recognised in Sikkim is the image of the three chortens (above). These were part of the royal temple. Our hotel had created a copy outside one of its restaurants. I was momentarily taken aback at what seemed to be a clothes line strung between them, before I realized that the white flags hanging from them were khata.

We took a little over an hour in the forest and the ruins. The place was nearly empty. One couple and a single tourist from Pune walked through while we were there. The ASI maintains a neat lawn and a small garden around the ruins, and provides a clean washroom and drinking water. We could see the Pemyangtse monastery from the palace, and decided to go there next.ce

Asia’s second highest bridge, perhaps

singshorebridge

The heights of bridges are usually measured in terms of the drop from the bridge to the lowest point below. The highest bridge I’ve been on was the Millau Viaduct, which is the highest in Europe. I had a vague memory that most of the world’s highest bridges are in China (8 of the top 10, as I verified later). So when our driver, Hem Kumar, insisted that he wanted to show us Asia’s second highest bridge I began to wonder what he meant.

We’d wanted to go to Rinchenpong, to see the statue of the ati-buddha in the monastery there, and to take a look at the view made famous in a painting by Nicholas Roerich. Hem Kumar insisted that the monastery was broken and old, and not worth seeing. The Family argued for a while but Hem Kumar prevailed.

The morning had started clear, and we had a view of Kabru at sunrise, although the peak of Kanchendzonga had been hidden by clouds. The day grew foggier as the sun rose. On our drive I tried to get some information on the Singshore bridge. Network connectivity while driving in the mountains is a little dodgy, but not impossible. So I managed to glean some information.

The bridge was completed in 1996. Wikimapia seems to have the most detailed information, and it claims that the gorge over which the bridge stands is 700 feet deep at places. This would make the bridge a little over 200 m high. The Highest Bridges Wiki claims that it cannot be more than 100 meters high, but gives no references. As a result, it currently ranks this as the 632nd highest bridge in the world, and far down in rankings even inside Asia. The highest 10 bridges in the world are over 300 meters in height, and 8 of them are in China. So even with a disputed height, the Singshore bridge cannot be the second highest in Asia in terms of deck heights. So how did this precise description: “second highest in Asia” come about?

The Singshore bridge lies between Dentam (altitude 1500 meters) and Uttarey (altitude 2300 meters) villages, and closer to Dentam. I would guess it is at an altitude of a little less than 2000 meters. So could this be one of the highest altitude bridge in Asia?

Searching for high altitude bridges led me to a site called Fun Trivia where a bid by the Sanchahe Bridge was disputed by a claim on behalf of the Bally Bridge. The page turned out to be completely wrong. Chasing links from this page to the Bally Bridge led to Kolkata, which is about as close to sea level as you can get. The other claimant, Sanchahe Bridge, turned out to be in Guizhou province in China. This is a mountainous province, but much lower than Nepal or Tibet. So I don’t think either of these count as remarkably high-altitude bridges.

Country-wise searches led me to the China-Nepal Friendship bridge, near Zhangmu in China (altitude 2300 meters), and the Liuwu bridge near Lhasa (altitude 3650 meters). Other bridges in Nepal are much lower in altitude, and one cannot find any information on other bridges in Tibet. So, the Singshore bridge could well have been the second ranking high-altitude bridge in Asia (and probably the world) when it was built. It is likely that now it is the third highest.

The bridge is a narrow strip of road suspended above a river far down. Cables descend from 36 meter high towers on either side to hold this in place. Only one car can pass at any time, and there’s a speed limit of 10 Kms/hour on the bridge. We got off the car and walked on to the bridge; this is allowed if you sign in a register. We felt the bridge swaying slightly as we walked on. Looking down, The Family and I thought that the deck height was more than 100 meters. The towers provide a convenient scale for such estimates.

Far below we could see another bridge, perhaps one of the many foot bridges which span rivers in the Himalayas and connect villages. A jeep rattled by us at high speed. Since the bridge is almost 200 meters long, a car travelling at the speed limit would take over a minute to cross it. This jeep was going at perhaps thrice to four times the speed limit. The bridge instantly started to sway. We saw fat stay cables anchoring the bridge to the sides, and they damped the vibrations fairly efficiently.

We walked to a tea room on the Uttarey side of the bridge. It was run by a lady whose two children mobbed us. Hem Kumar, for all his lack of information, had lots of children’s songs on his mobile. He’d told us about his daughter, and now said that the songs were her favourites. The children took his mobile and paged through the songs; he seemed pretty cool with that. We finished our tea, and went on to Uttarey.

Himalayan houses

Wood frame, mat and mud house

When we started travelling in the Himalayas most houses we saw were lovely wood-frame structures such as the one shown above. It was fascinating to see one being built. A wooden frame would be erected over a mud or concrete base. Then bamboo mats would be nailed on to the frame. These would get a thick coating of clay. The clay took some time to dry, but then it would hold colours beautifully. The example in the photo above, which was taken outside Pelling, is true in all respects but one: it is built on the level of the road. Traditional houses would leap out over the valley. If you passed by on the road you would only see the top level; on the slope below there could be more levels not visible from the road.

Wooden cabin overhanging a valley

Another traditional method of construction was the wooden cabin. This was less common. I believe the cost was what prevented this style from proliferating. The wood-frame and mat construction was clearly cheaper. I don’t know which is warmer.Heating was usually provided by the a wood-stove burning away in the house; the belly of the stove and the chimney act as radiators. We had stayed in such a house in northern Bhutan in early spring once, and through the night the wind blew through cracks between planks. So my guess is that the mat-and-mud houses would be warmer. The wooden cabin in the photo above is part of a tea house near Tashiding monastery, which is suspended above a valley. The view out of the windows is spectacular.

House with concrete slabs overhanging a valley

These traditional houses are slowly being replaced by concrete and brick constructions. The photo above was taken outside Ravangla. The location and plan of this building is very classic. From the road you see only the roof, which now serves as a garage. The house itself is in several storeys below the level of the road. Each floor is set into the hillside, and has spectacular views. The change in construction materials is due to two reasons. One reason we heard several times is that after the earthquakes in the last decade, people feel safer in concrete houses. The second is that with increasing prosperity families are able to afford the materials which are trucked up from the plains.

Plains style pucca house

Then there are the controversial houses which would not look out of place on the plains, but seem very ostentatious in the mountains. They perch on land next to the road. Just the situation on premium land tells you of the money that has gone into the house. Then you notice the multiple doors and windows and wonder how the house will be heated in winter. The answer is electrical heating. In this part of Sikkim power is plentiful, so this works. Interestingly, the house shown above is a mixture of styles. It has two stories above the level of the road and two more below it, spilling down the slope in the old style. It is a really big house.

Tashiding monastery

View of the Chogyal Lhakhang and two of the four chortens in Tashiding gompa

Tashiding gompa is said to have been founded in 1641 CE by Ngadak Sempa Chembo Phunsok Rigzing, one of the three monks who got together in nearby Yuksom to crown the first Chogyal. Various sources say that it is not as old as the Dubdi gompa, which was founded in 1701 CE. The explanation seems to be that the buildings were extended and renovated in 1717 CE.

The Tashiding monastery is almost 20 Kms from Yuksom, and stands on a hill between the Rangit and Rathong rivers. It was nearly 3 in the afternoon when we pulled out of Yuksom, and a little past 4 PM when we reached the gompa. Hem Kumar assured us that the monastery closes at 5. It was a steep climb up somewhat uneven stairs from the road to the monastery. We passed several monks coming down the stairs. The Family asked them how much further to the gompa, and they said we were almost there.

View of the Tsenhang and Guru Lhakhang in Tashiding gompa

The stairs bring you to the entrance gate called Mani Lhakhang, at the back of the main monastery, which is called the Chogyal Lhakhang. We walked around it to reach the fore-court. The ecclesiastic year starts with the new moon day in February. The Bhumchu festival is held on the following full moon, which plainsmen call the Maghi Purnima. We’d missed it by just about a week. The gompa closes at 4 PM, and the priests walk down to the nearest village soon after. We’d met them as they left. We didn’t manage to enter the buildings and see the stone carvings which are reputedly the most beautiful in Sikkim.

The courtyard has four chortens. You can see two of them and the main monastery in the photo at the top. Opposite it stand the two buildings called the Tsenkhang Lakhang and the Guru Lhakhang (photo above). Guru, or Rinpoche, in this context always seems to refer to Padmasabhava. Just behind these two buildings is the butter lamp house. Off to one side is a covered workshop where stone masons work. All these were closed. The Family said, wryly, another reason to come back here. And the next time we try to come for the festival, I added.

The yard full of chortens in Tashiding gompa

The Bhumchu festival is famous in Sikkim, and involves showing an earthen vase full of water to devotees. The vase is supposed to have been consecrated by Padmasabhava, the monk who brought Buddhism to the mountains (a long version of this legend can be found in Wikipedia). The level of water in the vessel is inspected by priests; more or less than the nominal level is believed to predict floods or droughts. Cups of water are drawn from the vase, mixed with water from the Rathong river, and given to devotees. The vase is then filled again with a measured amount of water, sealed, and kept away for a year. I asked a local tea-house owner what the prediction for the year is, and she said that the monks had not yet declared it.

What was open to us was a yard full of chortens on the far side. This area is surrounded by a low wall (photo above). We could see colourful tablets stacked up against the white walls.

Thongwa rong di: the golden chorten of the first Chogyal in Tashiding gompa

The first drops of rain fell as we entered the gate to the yard of chortens. Should we ring the large bell that stands just inside? We decided that nothing could go wrong if we left it alone. Just behind the bell is a large golden chorten called Thongwa Rong Di (photo above). This was built on the order of the first Chogyal. The mere sight of it is supposed to wash away your sins. It did lift my spirits to see the only major structure in the monastery complex which we were not too late for. A devotee was making a circuit of these chortens while intoning a prayer. The three of us were the only people in this now-deserted gompa.

Paintings at the base of a chorten in Tashiding gompa

We walked slowly among the chortens. Some were very old, with bricks and stone barely held together by crumbling mortar. Others, like Thongwa Rong Di, were in very good repair. One chorten had bright paintings on the base (above). The largest of these is a representation of the white Tara: the Bodhisattva of compassion who gives a long and healthy life. This pre-eminent Tara of the Himalayas shades into the Guanyin of China and the Kannon of Japan. The Buddha, called the Sakyamuni in the mountains, is shown next to Tara in two mudras. The one that appeals to me is the bhumi-sparsa mudra (in the center), depicting the moment of enlightenment, the transmutation of Gautama into the Buddha.

Tablets on the all around the chortens in Tashiding gompa

The real gems of art in this yard were the tablets. These often-colourful tablets were propped up against anything, the bases of the chortens and the surrounding walls. Most of them said “Om mani padme hum”, but a few had longer inscriptions which I could barely begin to decipher with my rudimentary knowledge of the Tibetan script. It is interesting that with knowledge of the Devanagari and Bengali scripts one finds it somewhat easier to recognize words in Tibetan than Oriya. A few tablets contain icons; again Tara figures more often than the Buddha.

A light drizzle had set in and we decided to leave. The stairs had become slippery with the rains, and we were slower going down than we had been coming up. Soon we were back at the road. Near the stairs stood Pema’s tea house. We decided that a tea was called for.

Walking by Khecheopalri lake

The path to the water at Khecheopalri lake

The lake near the village of Khecheopalri should properly be called Sho Dzo Sho, but every hotel, driver and web site calls it the Khecheopalri lake. Hem Kumar drove us from Pelling to the lake. The morning was bright and sunny, although Kanchendzonga remained obscured by clouds since before sunrise. There is parking above the lake, some stalls for food, and a toilet. These are ringed by notices which tell you that the lake is sacred, and lists things you must not do when you get to it. The lake is holy to Buddhists as well as Hindus. We’d read how this lake was considered as holy as Yuksom, Tashiding and Pemyangtse. Continue reading “Walking by Khecheopalri lake”

The Oldest Monastery in Sikkim

This beautiful small structure did not look like it had been standing there since 1701, when it was completed. The lintel held a beautifully carved set of wooden guardians

dubdi

Hem Kumar was our driver for the day. He was very enthusiastic about taking us to see all the “points” north of Pelling. The Family found him to be a very nice person, but completely impervious to our suggestions. We would have liked him to drive to Yuksom, drop us at the bazaar, and let us go off on a walk around the town. He would not hear of it, because he wanted to show us one of Danny Denzongpa’s houses on the way to Yuksom. He took a turn off the highway and drove up a steep stony road to show us this sight. Then he said there is a small monastery nearby which we might want to see.

I was quite sure this would be the Dubdi gompa: the oldest in Sikkim. I asked him whether it was, and he said "Yes, it is not very interesting, but it is nearby". I felt a little hustled, because I had wanted to go to Pemyangtse first to arrange for this monastery to be opened. I’d read about the beautiful paintings inside, the statues of the founder, Lhatsun Namkha Jigme, and the two other monks who had together presided over the coronation of the first Chogyal, and the collection of rare books. But now Hem Kumar drove up to it, not having given us the chance to arrange the visit. We got out of his SUV to see this beautiful small structure (photo above). It did not look like it had been standing there since 1701, when it was completed.

dubdi-lintel

The door was locked. There was nobody around. The outside had little decoration, but what little there was looked beautiful. I looked above the main door, and sure enough, the lintel held a beautifully carved set of wooden guardians (photo above). A snarling tiger and a snow lion flanked the central dharmapala. This seems to be a representation of Yamantaka. These beautiful figures makes me wonder about the interior. When The Family said that we will have to come back to this place to see it properly, I was in total agreement.

dubdi-chortenWe circled the gompa in the canonical clockwise direction. The remainder of the outside was colourfully painted, but otherwise quite plain. As we came back to the front we saw on the left a small chorten standing under the shade of a tall clump of bamboo. It was a restful sight.

The day was overcast, and now it looked like it might rain at any time. We’d been looking forward to the spectacular view of mount Kabru which Yuksom is supposed to have. We asked Hem Kumar about the view, and he said that you cannot see Kabru from here. We’d read about the sight in too many places for the information to be wrong, so I began to suspect that Hem Kumar may be less well informed than he lets on. At it happened, we never managed to see Kabru from Yuksom, but the next morning we had a lovely sighting of this complex of peaks from our hotel in Pelling.