A giant palace gleaming golden set against a brilliant blue sky peppered with puffy iridescent white clouds. Precariously perched atop the peak of its alpine foundation the outstretched rooflines could seemingly catch a gentle breeze and float off into the heavens. Surrounded by vibrantly colored Tibetan prayer flags fluttering in the wind, I stand, gazing at the peaceful beauty of this special place. In the background I catch the faint sound of beating drums and the rolling hum of chanting monks. If you can’t obtain enlightenment here I really don’t know where you are going to find it.
Our journey to Namo Buddha starts early on a beautiful Sunday morning. There was a bus to our destination but we all agreed it was a perfect day for a hike. The trek started at the bottom of “1000 steps” with an innocent sign revealing the path. At the top of this first daunting obstacle we discover another marker pointing towards the rolling mountains ahead. The trail eventually leads us up and down 4 mountains through farmland and past old towns. After three hours, as we started to succumb to self-doubt, the golden roofline materialized from the mountaintop before us.
This Buddhist monastery and Stupa is built on the supposed spot where a young prince came across a mother tiger and her cubs. The prince noticed that the tiger was starving and unable to feed her babies. Without hesitation he offered his own flesh to the Tigress and in doing so attained enlightenment and ascended to the celestial realms. Namo Buddha means “I take refuge in the Buddha” and was the mantra that pilgrims would repeat as they made the difficult trek to this sacred site. The walk to Namo Buddha was more of a test for me than necessity. Many field visits that I will be attending are in very rural settings which can be difficult or impossible to reach by vehicle.
These remote places are chiefly agricultural villages but farming in the mountains is far different than what we are accustomed to; with vast swaths of land cultivated, fertilized and harvested by enormous equipment and high-end technology. Here farm land is literally cut out of the mountain, planted and reaped by hand. It is backbreaking hard labor, which is not for the faint of heart. One missed step can mean disaster. Whole communities hang in the balance of a delicate ecosystem that may crumble at any moment. Landslides triggered by heavy rain or earthquakes can and do wipe out entire crops and with them the family’s livelihood.
I am told we will have up to 3 hour hikes to reach certain areas and I wanted to make sure I was prepared for the challenge. I think my team was a little curious how I would perform as well. When we finally returned a quick check of the clock said it all. We had walked almost 8 hours. All of us were different combinations of tired and sore but one sentiment that rang common is the appreciation of the journey more than the destination. This is a good lesson as I move through my PULSE assignment. The highs and lows (pun intended), successes, failures and experienced gained while attaining a goal is what makes the destination rewarding.