In 2010, we discovered the nearby monastery of Kangtsa, a beautiful, small monastery studded with junipers, spread over a hill in a quiet, wooded valley an hour from Ritoma. Yidam had heard there was a sacred cave somewhere in the area, where hermits had dwelled and which pilgrims still sought out for blessings. We asked a monk to take us there and set off. Had I seen the cave from the bottom of the hill, I don’t know if I would have mustered the courage to climb up there, but fortunately, I didn’t.
After making our way to a narrow gorge flanked by steep bramble covered hills, we climbed sharp graveled path for an hour and spotted the mouth of the cave, marked by prayer flags and tsa tsas. I had never been in a holy cave before, though I had imagined it, caves with passages one could get lost in, where meditators had lived and died. This one fitted the profile; the monk said one could go deeper and deeper, get lost and never return.
Meditators had dwelled at various depths in its many recesses leaving the blessings that pilgrims sought climbing all the way up here. It was one of those secret, unassuming places which are spread all over the Tibetan Plateau, some still occupied by meditators, known to pilgrims as places of power and blessing.
The monk, Dunko, Dechen and Noryang squeezed themselves through a narrow opening into the next, pitch black, cave. Their flashlights revealed a rock floor gleaming with humidity littered with white scarves and the green Mao faces on the money scattered about. One could go deeper; there were ropes to help the pilgrims find their way in there dark, but the monk said that people had died deep into the cave in bad times and that pilgrims didn’t wander too far into it, out of respect.
We sat outside the mouth for a while, then made our way down. I felt like I was leaving an old friend, a refuge, though, as a consolation, I found that I could bring myself mentally back to the cave and partake of the feeling of peace I had felt in the few moments I had spent there.