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Tribute to Kailash Choying Dorjee

By Sean Jones

Mr. Kailash Choyang  DorjeeDear friend, pure hearted guardian and protector of Holy Mount Kailash and Celestial Lake Manasarovar, our guide and interpreter, how much you cared for us poor pilgrims who came into your high domain to seek the legendary blessings of that most sacred place on earth, center of the world, watershed of Asia, fountainhead of life for many hundreds of millions of human beings! In a twinkling of an eye you would provide for all our needs, even before we expressed them: food, tea, shelter, warmth, guidance, jeeps, trucks, tents, maps, routes, inspiration and information.

Your family has provided the hereditary guide of Kailash for generations, your father taught you, and his father taught him, and until a few years ago your tiny family home at Darchen, at the foot of Kailash and itself the beginning and the end of the holy circumambulation path trodden by enlightened and ordinary beings for millennia, was the only building, apart from the Burmese gompa, amidst that fabled encampment of the tents of traders, monads and pilgrims.

You knew every fact and every detail of every legend of every imprint of yogis' hands, feed or whatever embedded in the rocks along the way, you could tell every story and every myth attached to the streams, rivers, waterfalls, pools, pastures, slopes, cliffs, knolls, outcrops, buttresses, hills and mountains along every inch of the path.

You told how it was established that one circumambulation of Kailash would wash away all the negative karma of this life - and that 108 would guarantee one's enlightenment in this very lifetime - you, who by 1986 had already completed no less than 125.

The ruin of ancient Tibetan Kingdom of Guge

You composed a book in Tibetan, A Guide to Kailash and Manasarovar, detailing much of this history and the religious significance of this sacred cosmic center of Buddhists, Hindus, Jains and Bon-pos. You followed this remarkable achievement with the publication of your second book, Early History of the Ngari Korsum (Western Tibet), which was also published in Tibetan in Lhasa, in 1996, This gave full historical coverage of the ancient culture of Ngari, including not only Kailash, Manasarovar and the ancient Tibetan Kingdoms of Guge, Purang, Ladakh but also the Khyunglung period which predated them.

Your legacy of these rare publications are concrete proof of your vision, ability, determination against all the odds to succeed in enabling these precious elements of the sacred life of Tibet to survive and prosper in their native land. It was with this purpose in mind that you returned to Tibet at the heights of the Cultural Revolution in 1969, after nine years in India as part of the refugee community with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Having studied hard and learned English while in India you were then able to make skillful use of the Chinese policy of encouraging tourism in Tibet by entering into Chinese government service as a tourist guide for the Kailash area and, easily establishing yourself as the most competent and knowledgeable guide. Since 1981 you were able to help countless pilgrims from all over Tibet, Asia and the rest of the world to succeed in their quest to see and circumambulate Kailash and Manasarovar.

Meanwhile with the help of local Tibetans, over the ensuring yours you quietly but gradually facilitated the repair, rebuilding and re-consecration by lamas of many of the shrines, stupas, temples and monasteries that had been devastated and desecrated during the dark years of the Cultural Revolution.

In addition to playing a vital role in renewing these ancient and holy buildings and institutions throughout Western Tibet but mostly in the Kailash and Manasarovar area, you also dynamically drove ahead with programs to create new services and educational and medical institutions to relieve suffering and further Tibetan culture and identity, for example the Kailash Medical College, which you built at Darchen and opened in 1959 for forty young Tibetans to be trained in the ancient practice of traditional Tibetan medicine.

Although your clear vision made you into a fearless accomplisher and defender of sacred Tibetan life, it is as a quite, gentle, sweet and dear friend that we all know you, every Kailash pilgrim who had the extreme good fortune to cross path with you. you were always ready to give up your own comfort to ease the suffering of others, you could not eat or sleep if someone else was hungry or tired, until you had set them right.

What a rare and exciting pleasure it was, to sit over a fire in your precious company in the night in Darchen, whiling the hours away listening spellbound to your tales and your ideas, discussing plans, drinking endless tea.

For visitors and pilgrims from many countries you were the Mr. Fix it of Western Tibet: if our travel permits had expired you would know how to renew them; if we had no travel permit you knew how to get one; if a fine had to be paid, you would reduce it to one tenth of the sum; if we were arrested by the PSB you would have use released on the spot; if we needed jeeps, you would find a good one at a fraction of the usual rate; if we needed to film or photograph in temples or caves, with a quiet word you would arrange the clearance; if we needed to get out to Nepal; you would arrange it on a safe route, with minimum fuss, reliable porters and pack animals, and minimum expenses; if we were sinking, there would be a seats in a comfortable truck with Tibetan drivers, at the same rate as for local friends.

Even so, in 1995 you were preparing to give up your secure jog and spend your winters researching and writing on Western Tibet, and your summers guiding the pilgrims as a free man. My wife and I will always treasure the memory of that long night we spent in the open, walking to Darchen after our jeep (borrowed by you for us from the police, complete with driver, since none other was available to bring us from Sengye Tsangpo to Darchen) got stuck in the middle of river, when we had to jump for it and wade to the bank, just as the sun was sinking down behind the mountains of the Aksai Chin to the far Northwest behind us. Having to abandon the vehicle, wearing light day clothes, we then had to trudge twenty miles through the blackness of the night, on the trail-less way across the desolate, rough and rocky terrain, wading barefoot on the way across two wide and multi-channeled, icy streams, full of sharp stones, which we would only hear, not see, and this at 15,000 feet above sea level.

This is the kind of guide you were: your determination and confidence that we would reach Darchen without dying of exposure, your knowledge of what to do and which direction to walk in , and your tireless cheerfulness kept us going the whole night through, we having no idea of what direction we were moving in, and unable to see our hands in front of our faces. When we were exhausted and ready to lie down to sleep and probably die, you roused us forward insistently, showing no fatigue, although we knew your back and neck trouble were causing you severe pain in walking. When we arrived at Darchen, shortly before down, it was your good wife who got up, let us in, let the fire and had us sipping hot tea within five minutes.


This is the kind of guide you were: after sunrise, while we slept, exhausted, you organized another jeep to drive back and rescue the abandoned vehicle, and by the time we woke up, to a fine hot lunch, you were arriving back with our luggage, cameras, passports and tickets, rescued from our stricken jeep, all intact and dry as a bone, and delivered to our door with your cheerful, knowing smile, and apologies for all the inconvenience. But how auspicious that we were able to walk the last twenty miles! You said; it would increase the merit from our pilgrimage at least a hundred times! Then you spent the rest of the day, while doing your own work preparing for the ceremonial opening of the Kailash Medical College with everyone from the governor of the province down starting to arrive for the ceremony, organizing pack-yaks and a yak-drover for us to start off on our honeymoon Kailash circumambulation the following day, which, thanks to you, was successfully completed in three days, and remains the most wonderful experience of our lives.

This is the kind of guide you were. Our next trip to Kailash will seem lonely and dull, and we will have to use well all we learned from you to survive and return successful. We learned from you to survive and return successful. We were so lucky to know you. Will the child you left behind carry on the tradition? We fervently pray so

(Obituaries - Mandala July-August 98 - Page 35)


Sacred sites at the Mount Kailash  |  Senge Tenzin Rinpoche  |  Ngari: western Tibet  
                                          |  Limi: northwestern Nepal  | Dolpo: eastern Nepal