The inception of the idea took place during the dzongkhag scouts conference on 21st March at Wangduechholing School, for a need to provide a platform for Scoutleaders to interact outside their usual teaching duties. And a retreat was planned at Tharpaling monastery for three nights.
This programme was themed Reunion, Retreat, & Refresh. It was an opportunity to strengthen the bond between the Scoutleaders of our Dzongkhag via a reunion, to spend time in spiritual retreat at the Monastery, to refresh ourselves, and to use the trekking route from Kikila to Tharpaling, and Tharpaling to Lamai Gonpa.
With the approval from the Dzongkhag Administration (because they were funding the programme), we sent out invitation letters to the Scoutleaders of the different schools under our Dzongkhag. I, Scoutleader Karma Kuenzang Wangdi of Jakar School, as the Program & Planning Coordinator and Dzongkhag Scout Focal Person (DSA Coordinator), Scoutleader Sonam Lhamo of Wangduechholing School along with the District Commissioner, Sr. DEO/Scoutleader Lham Dorji planned the whole activity. The shopping for the mess items was helped by Scoutleaders from the valley Tshering Dema, Tshencho Dem, and Pema Lhamo.
Day One: 25th April 2015 (Saturday)
We gathered at Chamkhar town to be picked up by Chumey school bus which was going to reach us till Kikila pass. The drive to Kikila was a bit awkward because some of us were meeting for the first time, but along the way we got well acquainted. Waiting at Kikila was a colleague from Zungye school. Offering ‘serkaem’ and ‘saang’ to appease the local deities, and a photo-shoot to mark the start, we hiked uphill.
Along the way we rested at the junctions, looking at the signboards which marked the altitude and distance covered. It was drizzling for the entire journey with occasional showers. The fog enveloped the scenery (the Kikila trail goes along the ridge) but occasionally we were treated to glimpses of distant hamlets when the fog cleared.
En route we had lunch under the shade of a tree, trying to shield from the rain. It was potluck, and the cold didn’t diffuse our cheerfulness as we tried the different menu. About fourteen kilometers (and four and half hours) of constant uphill hike from the start, we reached the last ridge crossing which we could see Tharpaling. Meanwhile the clouds had cleared, and the late afternoon sun was pointing out the many buildings scattered along the side of the mountain.
Offering ‘serkaem’ to thank for the safe trip, we hiked down to the Dratsang where two of our colleagues had hot tea waiting for us. They had driven earlier this afternoon from their school, as they were from the opposite valley.
After resting for a while, we were allotted rooms. I was to bunk with two colleagues from my school; CBS Darjay and Scoutleader Yeshi Dorji. We rested for a while and later in the evening the Khenpo of the Dratsang met us for two hours of choeshey layrim inside the main temple. Dinner was prepared by the hosts as they wanted to welcome us with a meal.
Day Two: 26th April 2015 (Sunday)
We were awakened from our slumber by the sound of the wakeup gong of the monks, at five in the morning. While the six females went around the campus for a morning social work, the fourteen males started stacking firewood; carrying from the gate area where it was stacked haphazardly towards the kitchen some 50 meters away.
Today’s plan was for a tour of the holy Tharpaling area, so after breakfast we started towards Zhug-Thri. This is on the side of the ridge overlooking Tharpaling, where a statue of Longchen Rabjam is encased in glass. From there we can see the entire Gaytsa valley in front and Chamkhar valley at the back. A colleague offered ‘serkaem’ and read from a prayer book he carried, while others snapped photographs. We collected pet bottles and noodle wrappers that were scattered around and carried them in sacks. We climbed further up to the ridge, our aim to reach the top of Tharpaling ridge to hoist Luung-Dhars. After a tedious climb, which was made worse by light drizzling we reached the top. The snow from last night was still fresh, the sun hidden.
We started building a fire to offer ‘saang’ and started to hoist prayer flags. And slowly it got darker with light snowflakes surrounding us. Yet we continued. The colleague offered ‘serkaem’ after which it seemed to get brighter. Our plan to continue to the next mountaintop was cancelled due to time and weather constraints. Then we climbed downhill to Zambala Lhakhang and towards Choe-Drag, offering butter lamps and prayers.
Lunch was back at Shedra, and then we went further downhill to the Dratshang area. We offered butter lamps and prayers to the various lhakhangs, and also hundred-butterlamps ‘Jam-Choe’ to pray for the Nepal earthquake victims.
Then it got drizzling again but we still went down to the lowest temple in the Tharpaling area called Tharmaeling. This is also one of the oldest temples in this group. After the walk back up, we rested for a while and attended the second Choeshy Layrim. Today’s was for an hour and half.
Day Three: 27th April 2015 (Monday)
Today morning also started with more firewood stacking. After breakfast, I took half an hour’s time to brief Scoutleaders regarding the new ‘drills’ and command. I showed them examples of how to do it.
Then we went for waste picking campaign of the entire Tharpaling area, starting from the Zambala Lhakhang, via Choe-Drag towards Tharpaling Dratsang. After lunch at Shedra, the monks of the Shedra and Dratsang joined us for further waste picking at the lower slopes of Tharpaling.
There were newly constructed waste collection pits, which we filled up. Incidentally we packed most of the plastic and paper waste in gunny bags and asked the help of a visiting pickup truck to transport it to the landfill in Kikila, some 15 kms away.
Tea was prepared by the Dratsang mess, and after that we spent an hour with the young monks sharing scouting songs and yells. In the evening we had a campfire, with the Khenpo and monks of the Shedra as guests. The light drizzle didn’t dampen our spirits as we sung scouting songs and danced around the campfire.
Day Four: 28th April 2015 (Tuesday)
Early in the morning we visited the upstairs rooms of the main temple and also the oldest temple. Then we packed out beddings and cleaned our sleeping rooms. After breakfast we bid farewell to the monks and started our hike back to Chamkhar.
Today we were going to use the Lamai Gonpa trail which would lead straight by UWICE institute. The route was basically a muddy path through the thick underbrush. Occasionally we would see glimpse of rooftops but mostly it was foggy. Then as we neared our destination the sky cleared and the sun broke through the clouds. We reached the road which leads to the institute and took it till Jakar School where hot lunch was waiting for us.
After lunch we bade farewell to each other and dispersed. The pickup truck with our luggage caught up to us later in the afternoon.
After three nights spent at Tharpaling monastery, visiting the holy places, waste picking, ferrying firewood, listening to choshey layrim, and most importantly sharing experiences of the different scouting activities in different schools, this memorable programme ended. But there was always the Scouts Rally planned for the second week of November during which we would meet again.
I would like to acknowledge the following personnel for making this programme a possibility. Without your help and presence, it wouldn’t have seen the light of day.
- Officiating Dasho Dzongdag of Bumthang Dzongkhag Administration, for the approval, financial grant, and for providing a pickup truck to transport our luggage from Tharpaling to Chamkhar on 28th
- Principal, Chumey MSS for providing school bus to transport our luggage and personnel up to Kikila and then to Tharpaling on 25th April.
- Khenpo and monks of Tharpaling Shedra, especially to those three monks who helped with the cooking in their mess.
- DEO Lham Dorji, Dzongkhag Education office, for making this programme a reality, and for joining us in this programme.
- Scoutleader Sonam Lhamo, Scouts Focal Person of Bumthang Dzongkhag Scouts Association for spearheading this programme.
- Scoutleaders from the valley, Tshering Dema, Tshencho Dem, and Pema Lhamo for helping with the shopping.
- All 18 Scoutleaders and 2 Community Based Scouts (CBS) from KuenphenTroop, who graciously accepted our invitation to join this programme and participated wholeheartedly.
Ka-drin-chhe-la, beyond the sky and the earth.