Guru Nanak in Tibet – Part I

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An article by Preet Mohan Singh Ahluwalia

In his lifetime Guru Nanak traveled to distant places. One of his journeys took him to Tibet. Guru Nanak is well respected by Tibetan Buddhists who consider him a saint. According to a legend some local people approached the Guru with an appeal for help. A lake remained frozen during most of the year and rendered it incapable as a source of water. Guru Nanak is said to have touched the lake and it has never frozen since. The lake is called Guru Dongmar and is at a height of 18,000 feet. Guru Nanak’s footprints, a robe and a water-carrying utensil are preserved in Lachen Gompha. The following travel account of Major I.S. Issar and Sardar Surinder Singh was published in the Sikh Review, Feb-Mar 1970.

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Travels of Major I.S. Issar

After de-training at Silguri in West Bengal we, going over nearly 70 miles zigzag road around contour of hills, entered Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim. Here the road bifurcates. The eastern section heads for the majestic and once most treaded pass between India and Tibet – the Natu La. The other track continues in the north direction for many days till we hit Pegong. After a night’s rest we were fresh to resume our journey to the unknown.

We climbed the Pegong feature in the welcome rays of winter morning sun, which had turned the countryside into a golden landscape. From the forward ledge of this feature we had the first glimpse of Lachen Chu and Lachung Chu marrying up and resulting into the mighty restless Teesta River.

The scenic beauty of the valley of the river tri-junction is one that it shall probably ever remain beyond the descriptive power of any pen. It is a flat stretch about one mile long and nearly half a mile wide accommodating the small hamlet of Chunthang dotted with fluttering prayer flags and colorful lively people. We were now at the gates of Greater Himalayas.

The winter of North Sikkim is long and rigorous. Snow covers the ground for over half the year. Loneliness of its vast solitude appeals the heart. The rocky wastes of the elevated regions with its scanty acres, where the stars can be discerned at midday and the thin air scarcely bears the sound of thunder to the ear, yields unequalled crops of simplicity and truth of the age old influence of Lord Buddha’s ancient Word.

Chunthang too has its heritage and richness, being in this part of the world. We had seen an abundance of maize and potato crop in the surrounding areas. At places barley and millet were also grown. The fruit trees were loaded with peaches, plums pears, apricots and other hill fruits. About half a century ago some Christian missionary had penetrated this virgin soil and introduced apples and the Cross. Only apple survived the rigors of climate, and it was also blossoming.

We descended to the riverbed and crossed Lachen Chu over a shaky cane bridge, swinging and bumping at each step. Village Chunthang had not seen any strangers in the recent past; hence the whole population welcomed us by beating of drums and chanting prayers. The throngs appeared jubilant and bubbling with gaiety and high spirits. We entered the village with a trail of ever increasing multitudes. At one time there seemed to be no end to the stream of humanity.

Was this influx for courtesy or custom or curiosity! The language barrier barred the discovery. Here for the first time I saw a Khampa, towering over crowds, nearly six and half feet tall, solidly built, tough and hardy with thick plaits of long hair. Although homeless and destitute but patient and resigned to fate. They are victims of Mao’s elder-brotherly admonish of Tibet about a decade ago and now are a wandering tribe as we were in 1947.

At last we were lucky to discover a local volunteer guide who spoke five languages, Gorkhali, Lapcha, Bhutia, Tibetian and Hindi. The irony was that he spoke all of them simultaneously. Although we never agreed about the ratio of mixture but we were unanimous about Hindi, the only ten percent or less. However he worked with zeal and utmost devotion and kept on giving a running commentary without caring whether we understood or not. We did not care either.

We were looking for some spot to open our lunch pack for a quick early munch before setting out on the rest of day’s journey. As if in answer to this demand we saw the accent appear. Around a glittering Chorten a red robed Lama came out briskly into the sunshine. He had a bell in his hand and he rang it with a wide sweep of vigor. The sound went up the surrounding hills, clear and full and echoes resounding much after he had retired from the scene. Can it be noon already! If it was midday then we had let the morning pass without any work done. I looked up through the leafy green above me. The sun was poised at the zenith above the top of the trees, and moreover, we were hungry. The morning was over.

Behind the Chorten where the Lama had appeared was a mound of solid black rocks about 30 feet high and 100 feet in diameter located in the center of the meadow at the back of the village. Surprisingly it supported two huge trees at the top to give a deep cool shade and a trickling spring at its base was oozing cold refreshing drink. Was not it a traveler’s abode! Is the Nature not strangely considerate!

The mound was littered with hundreds of strands of multi-colored flags fluttering in the unceasing gush of north winds conveying the gospel of the Truth preached by Lord Buddha in the sultry and humid Gangetic delta over 25 centuries ago. From the top of this mound where we had settled down for our lunch we could see over the village roofs and treetops and the panoramic beauty of tri-river embrace. The flow of Teesta’s molten silver between the lush green mountains took the eye beyond the limits of perception.

During his apostolic sermons the guide uttered Nanak, which pricked our ears. We were now alert and all composed to decipher each word. He told us that a great personality called Rimpoche Nanak Guru while on his way to Tibet had rested on that mound. The Guru had brought his rice meal packed in banana leaves, as is the custom even today in banana growing areas. The two commodities were unknown to the hill folks. Guru having noticed their inquisitiveness bestowed them with a share of this strange cereal. They displayed forethought and instead of eating it sprinkled the rice over the meadow and buried the banana packing in a corner. Today the village harvests a rich crop of rice and bananas.

As it was crop season, we had the unique opportunity and privilege of seeing Guru Nanak’s gift to the inhabitants of that unknown and God-forsaken part of the world, sprouting golden yellow paddy. We also saw clusters of banana trees, but no fruit probably we were off banana season. We were wonder struck to see this strange phenomenon of rice and banana in the land of maize and apple. Is it not a miracle?

Nearly a year prior to this I was confronted with an identical issue. I had gone to Jelpa La, a historic pass to the southeast of Natu La, which connects Tibet with West Bengal, skirting around eastern boundary of Sikkim and through Kalimpong. This was the pass traversed by Young Husband’s Tibet Expedition and it is through this pass that the first telegraph link with Tibet was established. I was basking in the October sun right in the mouth of the Pass, taking cover under a rock from a perpetual 30 miles-an-hour gale. I was lost in imagination of Jelap La’s ocean of history. How many millions from the times immemorial must have trodden this Pass each one adding a pebble to its glory and chanting om mani padma e hum. Will the day ever revive itself?

My thoughts were broken when startled by the soft steps of an approaching Lama. He had defied all artificial barriers and in the quest of solace had trespassed into India to unite with Buddha with the grace of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. His interrogation was not possible, as we did not understand each other, however a search produced few idols of certain deities, which always formed a part of every Lama’s prayer kit. As customary with all religious devotees and more so with Mahayana Buddhist monks, without any provocation, this intruder got into a fit of exhortation explaining in his own lingua about the images he carried. He was unconcerned about my ignorance and blank looks. What he said I shall never know, but his devotion to his religion and sincerity of purpose was such that even from a Communist with least conscience, he would have earned admiration and appreciation.

One of the statues was miniature of Guru Nanak of Amritsar. This was the only part of the lengthy speech, which I understood. I had ruled it out as trained agent’s good deception plan. A year later at Chunthang this fact was taking shape. A new light had dawned casting off the shadows of doubt, which I had entertained against the innocent refugee.

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I was eager to find out the facts about Nanak’s visit to Chunthang hence after lunch we climbed to a monastery located at the top of the hill behind the village. We wanted to contact the inmates of this Gumpa on the subject. We found that the Lamas there were on a six-month praying spell with mon varat (silence) and no one was allowed to see them. In utter disappointment we walked back to Chunthang and spent the night dog-tired but full of suspense and speculation.

Next morning we left for Lachung. Though the distance was not much but it turned out to be a real tough march. The altitude was telling on us, and carriage of one’s own limbs looked heavy and exhausting. The village Lachung is situated on the eastern bank of the river. The western bank is a precipice hundreds of feet towering above water surface. Numerous streamlets converge to this cliff and nearly half a dozen falls are formed spilling milky streaks of vaporized discharge against the background of sky-high black rock walls. Uphill and away from the village is an attractive Gumpa, which maintains records of all visitors. I saw an entry in the name of a French couple that visited the place in the year 1910. Is this venture on the part of these foreigners not as striking as the surroundings!

I was rather impatient. The moment Head Lama Sri Gelong Chang Chube at Lachung Gumpa finished with his introductory talk about the monastery; I dragged him to the subject of “mound in Chunthang village”. He spoke fairly good Hindi; hence there was no room for conjectures. He gave the name of the saint who visited that area as “Rimpoche Nanak Guru of Punjab”. He also confirmed the legend of rice and banana plantation. He confessed that he was unaware of any written record, but he confirmed that the myth was a firm belief amongst the locals. He further gave details about the Guru’s journey.

According to him the Guru went to Tibet by that route. From there a track leads to Khora La, which connects North Sikkim with Pahari in Chumbi valley of Tibet. He also told us that on the outskirts of Payako Chin village, which is at the base of Khora La ridge, there is a stone with inscriptions in a non-local language, probably in Hindi or Gurmukhi and it is a common notion that it is an allegory giving details of the Guru’s journey through that point.

This udasi [travel] of Guru Nanak has not appeared in any History so far as it yet remains to be discovered; therefore the very idea of visiting the spot where this rock was indicated was exciting. I wanted to photograph the inscription and approach the archeological department for its interpretation if in an unintelligible script.

The village Payako Chin was another 3 to 4 days march, and with our will and determination the objective seemed to be well within our reach, but unfortunately the weather betrayed us and for the next four days we had a literal cloud burst. Movement became impossible for quite some time due to the rivers being in spate. We were dwindling on our provisions, hence very reluctantly we had to take most unwelcome decision to abandon the proposed venture and retire. Many a times the fascinating idea of another attempt intoxicates me, but it seems that for the time being it shall remain only a question: “Did Nanak visit Tibet?”

END OF PART I

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15 Comments

  1. singhu said,

    July 12, 2006 at 2:19 pm

    Nice articles wahegurujee…now their is a new train open from Beijing to Tibet..Hope one day i could visit Tibet with my family members…For more info see: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/5133220.stm

  2. Jagdeep Kaur said,

    July 12, 2006 at 5:24 pm

    What a wonderful article this is. The pictures simply takes one to the depths of the mysterious locations of Tibet as the humblle mind can imagine. Its wonderful to know that not only the Sikhs but the Bhudists also have a common perception of Guru Nanak. To say it is strangely considerate is to say having its own Heaven on Earth. Having read all this I suppose you could possibly say had he not visited it personally then emotionally through his sacred soul, he did!

  3. singhu said,

    July 13, 2006 at 9:10 am

    So true J.Kaur, In fact, people are worry the traditional culture of Tibet will be influence by outsiders… But again, not many people can take the high level attitude…

    Dhan Satguru Nanak…

  4. natasha brown said,

    February 27, 2008 at 10:17 pm

    is this true

  5. natasha brown said,

    February 27, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    is this story made up or true?

    • Ramanvir singh said,

      July 25, 2010 at 3:38 pm

      hi
      natasha brown
      waheguru ji ka khalsa te waheguru ji ki fateh this is not a story about sri guru nanak dev ji its the fact of past which is uncovering by the grace of guru nanak himself my own brother is doing effort with one major and one contractor to build guru ghar there in very hard atmosphere so i think you should go there your self and see with your own eyes the place is under indian army donate there to build there place to pilgrimage for other folowers and enjoy the joy of shubh karma and see what guru sahib gives you in your life and even your family

      waheguru

  6. November 30, 2009 at 6:52 pm

    I have gone through the article which is full of information about the visit of DIVINE SRI GURU NANAK DEVJI INCARNATE OF NIRANKAR and was very pleased to enhance my personal knowledge of various visits of SRI GURU NANAK DEVJI. I shall endeouver my best to spread the information of visit of Sri Guru Nanak Devji and the message of divinity spread to the people of the region and His discussions with Lamas. CHARAN BANDANA.

  7. November 30, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    Article is full of very vital information and should be conveyed to maximum persons.

  8. gajender pal singh lal said,

    April 19, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    wonderfull information about guru nanak must be publicised to all of the followers comunity.

  9. gajender pal singh lal said,

    April 19, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    wonderfull information about satguru nanak dev must be publicised to all of the followers community.

  10. Ramanvir singh said,

    July 25, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    dhan dhan guru nanak dev ji
    people all this Are true
    my own brothers have cleared all this true visit of dhan baba nanak ji
    and we all are are tring to raise funds for gurudwara sahib and ihave told that my own brother is also doing effort to help to build gumad in there i am also giving little bit as i am capable of to construct guru ghar there
    waheguru ji ka khalsa te waheguru ji ki fateh
    ramanvir from jalandhar

  11. anup singh said,

    September 29, 2010 at 11:04 pm

    i was aware of ths history for ages.There is reference in the book Guru Nanak by Harbans Sngh I have great desire ti vist Tibetan Monastres where a lot more can be found ab out Guru NanakNow the travel in Chna is aser t may be possible to take groups or jathas wth the help Chinese Govt
    By the samw token new research shows how Baba Nanak visted Vatican, Greece and Romania and Egypt

    Anup singh

  12. mandeeep said,

    October 20, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    To my displeasure i see a lot of sites quoting lake dongmar to be touched by some guru padamsambhava , how ever after searching further , there is no particular guru padamsambhava but its a theology that to settle dharma a guru padamsambhava takes form. So i am persuming they are misquoting and it could be guru nanak , but why was gurudawara set up could explain further any info?

  13. Captain Dr. Mohinder Singh said,

    April 10, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    I feel indebted to the sender of the article on journes of Guru Nanak owing to the reason that it reminds me whole of my stay in Sikkim during 1963-64 when I was working with 123 Bde where Major Issar was DQMG.(He happened to be Major Nanak Singh Issar and not I S Issar)It was in Eastern sikkim where as the narration is about North Sikkim. It was per chance that I was with him during his visit to Lachun and Lachung.Another officer Lt.Raju(AEC),ahort stature and spectacled was also with us.We had visted one big cave ,housing a painting on a small stone not weighing more than a KG.the people present there named it is that of Nanak Rinkpoche who had come from plains.Rice was not the crop of the area till than.While Nanak Rinkpoche was in the valley some one presented him some Paddy(It can be presumed that some visitor may have brought the paddy from Thailand and rice was not grown in the area)it suggests that Nanak was well versed in farming and must have known paddy.After locating some wet marshy place he may have spread the paddy there which came out and people took it the miracle i.e handiwork of Nanak Rinckpoche .We all know that Paddy is not very old in India as well. Its present way of cultivation i.e translantation started in 1946 or so. Earlier it was sown by spreading the seed.
    I wrote to Shiromani gurdwara Parbandak committe some time earlier to 1984 to research if the Nanak Rinckpoche was Guru Nanak.The SGPC responded twice to my communications telling me to go again and bring in some more information.This was verbally whispered to me by S. Devinder singh Vidyarthi incharge of History and Research Department of SGPC.After the blue star operation I had to renew my correspondence to evade the excuse of the destroying of information during the Blue star operation..That time Professor Surjit Sngh Gandhi of Sangrur ,then incharge of History and research Deptt. of SGPC told me that the committee is avoiding me and is in a mood to give me Rs.20,000/-to do some thing own my own. they will ask the account from and they presume they will get rid of my repeated pressures.It all came to an end .Prof. Gandhi and me were together as Trustees of General Gurnam Singh Public School,Sangrur.On my latest enquiries I could find that some Army Regt. Had opened their gurdwara there which may have been closed with the move of the Regiment from there.it seems that people of the area must have conceded to the thought that Nanak Rinckpoche was none else but Guru Nanak the first guru of the sikhs.One Dak Banglow located in the area in 1963-64 was built in some time in 1936,displaying a notice,” Tither your mules away from the building.”it conveys that the there were no motorable roads till 1936 and people had to travel on mule backs. And when we talk of 15th century it is ample clear that Guru Nanak had to travel with great difficulty on foot.
    1st Udasi 1502-1506,2nd udasi,1506-1513,3rd Udasi,1514-1518,4th 1519-1521 and the last 5th 1523-1524.Guru Nanak travels on foot for 22 years must have been very stressful.We do great injustice to the Great Guru when we say,Guru Nanak used to close eyes to narrrate hyms of Amighty and on opening his eyes he was in Bagdad or so.He had opposed miracles through out his life and we are presenting him a miraculous person

  14. Captain Dr. Mohinder Singh said,

    April 10, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    Since I have seen the area and met people on the ground. Visited the local elementary school,have a small black and white photograph with the children,I would do my utmost to answer question if any.
    Sikkim was not part of India those days and it was annexed during the the period when Morarji bhau Desai was Prime Minister of India.Sikkim was ruled by a Maharaja who had Maharani of US origin.She was quite often seen in Gangtok market on book shops as she was fond of reading.Sikkim is approached through road from Siliguru by road which runs along the TEESTA river which goes beyond Gangtok,its capital.In addition to the private taxis ,there is Bus service as well.Armed Forces are located on Indo-Tibet border. the well known Nathula pass is about 4 hrs journey from Gangtok after passing Changu lake which id frozen in winder.Mules can pass over it and drums can be rolled as well.


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