From Tragmar we climbed steeply between the red cliffs and, after stopping to catch our breath, set off across gently undulating country. The yellow, grey, and white of the Tibetan plateau stretched before us, shadowed in places by heavy, dark clouds.
There were no villages now before Lo Manthang, but at morning tea time, we descended a gentle slope to the ancient monastery of Lo Gekar. Also called Gar Gompa or “house monastery”, Lo Gekar means “pure virtue of Lo”. It sits on a rise above a stream, surrounded by trees. The horses were let free to graze on the green grass that stretched away to the edge of the stream, while we explored the monastery.
Jit led us into a small building where we turned the large prayer wheel three times, then we climbed the steps and entered through a heavy brown wool curtain into the gloom of the monastery. Lo Gekar is 1300 years old, the oldest monastery in Mustang, and was established after Padmasambhava stopped there to meditate on his way from India to Tibet where he introduced Buddhism. It smelled of smoke and incense. Small paintings of Buddhas covered two walls and set in an alcove behind glass, were life-sized statues of two goddesses, one seated on a cow, the other on a horse. David Snellgrove identified the one on the cow as “Fierce lady with Good Things”; our guide told us she was the protector goddess, which I guess amounts to the same thing.
After lighting a butter lamp for our safe journey, Jit called me over to one corner and we crouched down to see a small image of the Buddha carved into the stone wall. It was about a foot high, worn smooth over time; in the creases were remnants of gold paint.
“Tara,” the guide said.
“Tara?” I replied.
“Ya, Tara.” I had no idea what he meant. I later learnt that Tara is a female incarnation of the Buddha. Jit searched hard for the words to explain.
“This is, errr, nobody is, err, it’s a-come just out like that. Maybe when some, errr, meditation, err, Padmasambhava it comes like that.”
I had been concentrating hard to understand him, then realised what he meant.
“So it just appeared?” I said
“Yes!” replied Jit.
“So it just appeared in the stone?”
“Ya,” replied Jit and the guide together.
It was a “self-emanating” Buddha, of which there are apparently several throughout Mustang and Tibet.
I needed the toilet and after following the directions found a free-standing building perched above a steep drop that fell away down to the river. It was a rough squat toilet, just two boards set into the floor with a gap in the middle. I tried to ignore the enormous pile of excrement underneath. I stood up and looked out the small square window. The view to the east looked over the terraced fields of the village of Marang, pink and fading green, edged with dark green trees, like all the other villages, defiantly brimming with life as the desert mountains jealously closed in around them. Craggy bare hills stretched away, and to the south, white peaks guarded the horizon.
After sweet tea in the dining room upstairs, we set off once again crossing the rocky stream via a small wooden bridge, before climbing to the next pass and on to Lo Manthang.