In every stride is a question. About life, about oneself, the way one has lived and the journey ahead. The steps test your understanding and faith. It reveals your endurance and agility. And with each stride, you are a step closer to making 108 rounds, the target.
This mission of circumambulating the sacred site 108 times is what the pilgrims at the renowned Dra Karpo in Paro aspire to achieve. In the process, it becomes an overwhelming experience, a journey within.
It is an entire ridge one has to cover in a full circle. The panorama comprises an uphill climb which lasts at least 15 minutes and a descend of another 10 minutes. In covering the distance, prayers are uttered, abbreviated by pants and puffs. Walking sticks, tapping against stones and paved pathway, is the only companion.
So what is it that the pilgrims go around? Every rock, every boulder, every ledge and every crevasse is carved with a story on that ridge. It is a site blessed by Guru Rinpoche and his consort Khandro Yeshey Tshogyal. Over the centuries, Buddhist masters have lived and practiced in the area.
The name, Dra Karpo, is derived from the boulder that is split into four. It is said Guru Rinpoche pursued a demon that hid in the boulder and in the act of subjugation, the rock was sliced into four parts.
Since the hilltop is loaded with huge spiritual significance, it is said circumambulating it 108 times would redeem one from the sins of this life. One would see it as a convenient option to seek atonement, more so if one has led a depraved life.
But those in pursuit of 108 rounds would know that it is not easy to either secure the count or shed the layers of sins one has accumulated, knowingly or otherwise. Perhaps, that is the reason for the mandatory count, complemented by the terrain of highs and lows.
Together, they make the task strenuous, pushing one to the limits. Physical exertion is just one aspect. At that point, it is more about your determination and conviction.
Having said that, old and young, men and women, educated lot in fancy gears and rural folks in rubber slippers, all trail the path to enlightenment, as indicated on the signboard at the base.
A person with average fitness and willpower would usually attain the required number in three days. But there are those who do it in two days and others who resign half way to return “some other day”.
To make the best of the days, those camped nearby would start the rounds before the dawn breaks, with the help of a torch light. Others, to dodge the afternoon heat, sprint way into the night.
One can easily tell a fresher from the pool who would be staggering or limping by the second day. But driven by a common goal, the pilgrims would exchange words of encouragement as they pass by others taking a breather. Every now and then, one would also be asked of the count secured so far.
Under all kinds of strains, the journey is a real opportunity to do some contemplating. One would reflect on the past, try and reason the purpose of today and commit to add meaning to future.
At the end of the 108 circles, one would realise it is not about the count to begin with. It is a pilgrimage to a person’s own self. And on that ridge, amid spirituality and positivity, one would have, interestingly, come a lot closer to oneself.