July 17, 2015

Of Dad’s Travels – to Bodh Gaya

A few days ago I went to pay my respects to my elderly dad. He was staying at in-law Sonam’s place.

It’s been quite a while since we have seen each other and physically met. We do talk occasionally through cell phone. He is based in Chorten Kora, where he has a small business, dealing in dapa and phorb. I have been working in Bumthang for the past year and half. Since my wife works here in Thimphu, and during what little holidays I manage to scrape, I usually travel here rather than to my village Yangtse. So this past summer vacation, I directly came here and stayed with my wife and her parents.

[Posing with Apa]
A week ago Apa started his journey to Thimphu, travelling in a public bus till Bumthang. He stayed for a few nights at Ata Cheki’s place (my eldest brother who is also working there while mathang and family are here). The next day Ata sent his car to reach Apa here. That’s why Apa is putting up at matang’s place.

And yesterday afternoon I and my wife decided to go to mathang’s place, to meet her kids and pay my respects to Apa. Meeting Apa is always a delight. Apart from the fact that he is my father, he is also a storehouse of ancient stories and history. Yesterday we got to talking about our ancestral house in Zamdung village. Then our talks deflected to his first visit to Bodh gaya ‘Dorji-Dhen’ in the Indian state of Bihar.


“It was in 1974. Your brother, Ata Cheki Dorji was just six months old,” reminisces my Apa.

“I remember ... because it was the first time I was going on ‘ney-kor’ pilgrimage to Dorji-Dhen. With me were your mother and your meme. Mother was carrying Ata Cheki who was just six months old. Actually he gets the Dorji part of his name from the holy place of Dorji-Dhen” he adds.

“I had around a hundred people under my care; young, elderly, babies, women, men, children, it was an assorted group. Since I conversed in fluent hindi, I was their guide...more of a translator.”

“We travelled in ‘service buses’, like the PWD trucks of now-days, from Chorten Kora in Trashi Yangtse to Gudama.” Gudama is present-day Darranga Mela, popularly known as Mela bazaar, bordering the town of Samdrup Jongkhar. By ‘service buses’ he was referring to the TATA tipper trucks.

“We slept in the open air. We had our own utensils, ration and beddings. After all, we were going on a pilgrimage so we had to take everything ourselves. Food and lodging wasn’t ever an issue. These days they are hotels and restaurants, but back then there weren’t many and they were very expensive.”

“From Gudama to Guwahati we travelled in those long bodied Indian bus. I remember spending three nights at Guwahati, due to unavailability of train tickets. We slept on the sand at Chumo Luti”. He meant on the bank of river Brahmaputra.

“Finally I was able to ‘reserve’ two train compartments. Each could accommodate around fifty people. We started our journey, a group of excited pilgrims, travelling on a train for the first time.”

“Somewhere along the way at a transit-station we had to switch trains. We did so quickly within the stipulated five minutes; carrying luggage, pushing the elderly, carrying the babies, shouting out to each other.”

“Reaching Gaya station in the evening, we disembarked with our luggage and walked. There was a long iron walkway which we were supposed to cross. It was heavily policed by CRP, who checked our identity papers before validating us as pilgrims and allowing us across.” CRP stands for Central Reserve Police force, one of India’s elite police force.

“As I was counting my group members, I realized that we were missing a young mother and her six month son, and also her elderly father. I was worried. I was supposed to care for them.” He shakes his head, remembering the shock.

“I sent the rest of my party across, retaining your mother and a few cousins behind. Walking back down the long bridge, I was thinking of how to proceed.”

“Then suddenly, I heard loud noises...sounds of despair and anxiety, spoken in Tibetan. I peered in the darkness. I espied a scene of chaos. A group of around twenty elderly Tibetan pilgrims were surrounded by an equal number of khaki-clad young men. I knew they were not police, but gundas. They were demanding seventy five rupees per person from the Tibetans.”

“Never did I ever feel a strong sense of kinship to Tibetans before... I decided to act.”

[Apa Sangay Penjor]
“Quickly, I sent a cousin to get help and he returned with thirty able bodied men from our group. Leading them we approached this confrontation. I instructed these elderly Tibetans to quickly pick up their belongings and we escorted them across the bridge. All these gundas could do was just glare at us, because we outnumbered them. If it ever reached to a showdown, we were prepared to defend ourselves by any means.”

“Crossing the bridge, we came across our earlier lost comrades. The elderly meme wasn’t even looking at us. They were pissed off at me. I asked how they came to be here.”

“Back at the transit-station, it seemed that when they were separated from the group and the young mother was crying desperately, a young Tibetan gentleman found them. After finding out about the predicament, he had brought them with his group till Gaya station.”


I love listening to these kinds of stories of my parents and their lives. It gives me a better picture of them and who they are.

[I wrote it on the 9th of July but could upload it today]