During our cycle touring adventure in Arunachal Pradesh, we visited the district of Tawang – a place inhabited by the Monpas, followers of the Tibetan version of Buddhism – Vajrayana. There are four main sects of Tibetan Buddhism: Gelugpa (the Dalai Lamas sect, most known and widespread across India), Kagyupa (the sect of the Karmapa, mainly present in Sikkim and Buthan), Sakyapa and Nyingmapa. Bon – Pre-Buddhism religion of Tibet is sometimes described as the fifth. We have visited quite a lot of monasteries (gompas) during our stay in Spiti, Ladakh, Zanskar, Nepal and Sikkim, both new and ancient ones.
While visiting Tawang, on the way back out of the valley, we spotted a monastery a bit out of the main road. It was still quite early, so not knowing where we are going, we decided to have a look. It turned out to be the most stunning gompa we have ever seen in our life!
We asked one of the monks on the spot, if we could have a quick look inside. When he opened the golden gate to the temple, we saw a huge statue of Padmasambhava (the one who brought Buddhism from India to Tibet and is often called the Second Buddha) sitting on a lotus flower growing out of a lake.
The main hall was very big, with walls covered with thousands of different deities. Unlike many gompas we visited before, the condition of all the paintings and sculptures was superb, and the attention to details – breathtaking. We asked the monk who let us inside, if we could take a few pictures and to our surprise, he had nothing against it!
Khinmey gompa belongs to the Nyingmapa school of Tibetan Buddhism. Nyingmapas are known for their independence and long retreats, where the adepts of meditation train different techniques of achieving liberation in a fast-forward mode. They often meditate on different deities, Boddhisatvas, dakinis, protectors, both in their calm and wrathful forms. Some of the deities are pictured in the sexual union (yab-yum) or just before. For many Westerners, who are used to the Christian distance towards sexuality those paintings might seem a bit odd…
We walked around and simply stared at the walls (and ceilings) with our jaws hanging very low. The colours and the quality of the paintings left us speechless.
Click on the picture of the Kings of Four Directions (only 3 of them, sorry) and check the details of their robes!
When we thought that our visit was over, the monk took us to the Mahakala chamber – a small room painted black with a statue of the main protector of the Monastery.
After that, we went to the second and third floor of the temple, and explored smaller praying halls there.
Until today it is very difficult for us to believe that we were allowed to see all those wonders! If you visit Tawang do not forget to check Khinmey Gompa!