The route dictated that we go back the little more than 3km that separated Manang and Braga (Brakra).
This last village had surprised and pleased us in such a way that the mere prospect of crossing it again before progressing on the circuit only sounded like the reward.
On a sunny morning, we join an international group of fellow circuit mates and set out on our way.
For half an hour, we made our way along the Manang Sadak road that followed the Marsyangdi River. Shortly after Braga, we cross it by an iron and wire suspension bridge that leads us to the dry and gravel-filled soil of the great alluvial valley.
As always happens in these mountainous parts of Nepal, we soon find ourselves facing an endless slope, another of the many slopes of the Annapurna mountain range that we continued to skirt.
Up the slope of the Annapurnas above
In this case, situated somewhere at the foot of two of the sumptuous Nepalese peaks of the Himalayas, the Annapurna III (7.555m), the 42nd highest mountain on the face of the Earth, and the gangapurna, just a hundred meters lower.
From that half-way down the valley, we could still see its snow-capped peaks, towering above a white-dusted pine forest.
The valley lasted what it lasted. In a flash, we gave ourselves over to a steep trail that wound up the slope, here and there, covered in snow or muddied by the melting of sun-exposed areas.
As we ascended, we lost track of the white crown of the mountains, where the Ice Lake (Kicho Tal) to which we had recently ascended.
Simultaneously, the Tibetan Buddhist temple and the Braga houses and, at the greatest distance, those of Manang exposed themselves and crept to their opposite slope, whence, hitherto, we had not yet appreciated them.
A Painful Ascension
We went up. We climbed at the pace that our burning thighs allowed us, our hearts pumping like mad, our lungs swamped by the same cold, heavy air, less and less oxygenated, that made our cheeks flush.
It was panting that we progressed. And panting, we entered a clearing that housed a stupa and a circuit of multicolored and waving Buddhist flags that glorified an already longed-for rest.
A few dozen slippery zigzags later, we abandoned the green-brown pine dictatorship to a towering ridge that opened up a new panorama.
In front, Chulu (6419m), the mountain that had Braga at its base. To the southwest, the valley of the Marsyandgi in all its breadth, enclosed by the retinue of majestic mountains that, from the already distant Chame, we left behind.
And above, a sequence by comparison stripped of the trail, rendered to shrubby vegetation burned by winter and by the wind.
We ascend a little more on this slope. We glimpsed a new Buddhist flag clothesline, at one point, lined with a crude staircase made of hewn stone slabs and fitted just enough to generate challenging steps.
Before we reach it, a square sign with an ocher background and exhaustive yellow text catches our attention. "Milerepa Cave, an Interesting Religious Believe!” was the title.
On the fringes of acclimatization essential, it was for Buddhism, for the meaning of that place and its mysticism, not so much for the cave itself, that we were there. Accordingly, we stopped to study the unexpected synopsis.
Journey through the Life of Mila Thö-pa-Ga, better known as Jetsün Milarepa
It summarized the life of Milarepa – Jetsün Milarepa, born Mila Thö-pa-Ga -, a Tibetan who, despite an unpromising beginning, lived and became famous in Buddhism during the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries.
Much of the little known about his life comes from pioneering works written by Tsangnyon Heruka (author's name translatable as Tsang's Mad Heruka), as early as the XNUMXth century.
Between reality and legend, Tsangnyon Heruka compiled what has long been told from generation to generation about Milarepa, in two titles now classics of Tibetan literature: “Life of Milarepa"and "The Collections of Songs of Milarepa".
If we do not count on the writings and oral testimonies, there are only a few relics that are attributed to Milarepa, especially a bearskin coat that he used in the most frigid days.
Milarepa: From Troubled Youth to Uncontrolled Sorcerer
Now, according to the biography, Milarepa was born into a wealthy family. When his father died, his uncles deprived him and his mother of the wealth to which they were entitled.
But Milarepa also lost several other family members and friends, victims of rival factions in his village.
At one point, at his mother's request, Milarepa left home with the aim of learning sorcery and acquiring supernatural powers that would allow him to take revenge.
Became a sorcerer.
A wizard so amazing that he could no longer manage his actions and ended up murdering several people.
Years later, he regretted it. Desperate for resurrection, he apprenticed to Marpa the Translator, a Buddhist sage.
Milarepa gave himself body and soul to Buddhism and endured successive initiatory tests of humility and obedience imposed by the master in order to reverse the negative karma he was carrying.
Milarepa overcame them selflessly and diligently.
The master agreed to continue instructing him and gave him precious tantric teachings, cases of aura transmissions. tummum and mahamudra, a great spiritual seal that confirms that all phenomena are marked by the inseparable binomial of knowledge and emptiness.
Milarepa, the Apprentice Who Conquered Siddha's Perfection
Milarepa soon attained a physical fitness and spiritual enlightenment that earned him the rare status of siddha.
The young apprentice evolved to become one of the most highly regarded yogis and poets in the Tibet. And Marpa determined that he should travel and practice hermit meditation, in faithful communion with nature, in caves and mountain retreats.
It was during his wanderings that his life entered the cave of Milarepa. We continued in his wake, punished by the inclement nature of gravity.
We conquered the flagstone staircase. At the top, between flags waving by the wind that almost took us off, we unveiled a structure somewhere between a portal and an open niche that housed a large statue of Buddha.
Certain sources assert that this portal leads to the elusive cave that welcomed the ascetic. In this case, and at the time, access to the interior has proved to be prohibited.
In Search of the Elusive Cave of Milarepa the Nepalese
Be that as it may, narratives by distinguished travelers testified that that entrance was only symbolic, that the true shelter in the rock, from which the perennial spring that gave Milarepa to drink flowed, would be fifteen minutes up the mountain.
And that the great earthquake of April 2015 that devastated Kathmandu and affected much of Nepal, would have caused it to collapse.
Even in all its integrity, the Milarepa cave we were looking for was only one of about twenty that the sage had taken refuge in during his lifetime. Far from being the most famous.
This one, known as Namkading Cave, was hundreds of kilometers to the east, situated on a slope below the Sino-Nepalese Friendship Road, in the heart of Tibetan territory which, from 1950 on, Beijing turned into Chinese.
The now Nepalese cave that had taken us there from Manang assured the hermit little more than a painful survival.
a living being but close
The story goes that, after the food he had traveled with, Milarepa subsisted on edible plants he found in the vicinity.
Lack of food, clothing, and companionship contributed to his staying focused on the higher spiritual purpose of his retreat, to the point where he succeeded in, instead of driving invading demons from the shelter, into imposing Buddhist behavioral principles on them. dharma
The physical cost of this spirituality has proved appalling. The few pilgrims who, at intervals, visited the place reported encounters with an almost skeleton with long hair and the skin dyed an extraterrestrial greenish, due to the large doses of chlorophyll that was consumed.
As the centuries passed and the ascetic's religious reputation grew, his Annapurna retreat deserved more and more pilgrimages from faithful Buddhists.
Allied to the recent notoriety of the Annapurna Circuit among mountaineers and hikers, which every year brings hundreds of new believers and curious people there.
Gruta de Milarepa: the Pilgrimage that Also Serves for Acclimatization
Often, natives and outsiders share the temple dedicated to them in the gompa summit.
We wandered through elementary buildings that served as rooms for dozens of monks installed there. Today, there are at most two, or three, depending on the situation or the occasion.
Highlighted above, at the foot of the great rocky hill, we find the tiny temple that blessed the gompa and its visitors. We left our shoes at the door, in the company of a large Buddhist prayer wheel. Once purified, we enter.
We try to integrate ourselves into the mysticism of candlelight and the sanctuary's still colorful window. Moments later, a newly arrived Nepalese family surprises us.
Aware of how tight the space was, we gave priority to them and their rites of faith: the offering of incense, the lighting of candles at the foot of the altar and the whispering of mantras.
Evidence of a Supernatural Existence
The more we became aware of the martyrdom to which Jetsün Milarepa was subjected, the more we became convinced of the seriousness of his sacralization, achieved after the Buddhist authorities there verified the total liberation of the material world and the Buddhist Perfection required of a Siddha.
Later biographies even described Milarepa as a Tibetan Buddha, even though he never lived with or received teachings from an Indian master or even visited India.
Whether they were the result of witchcraft he had learned in his youth or of abilities he later acquired, Milarepa proved his mastery before an audience of Buddhist students. ionic.
One of the feats he exhibited was to move a hand through the air with such speed and force that it generated a sonic explosion that echoed through the cavern.
The other went by pushing the wall of his cave with one hand in order to make it mold the rock as if it were made of clay and, leaving it, its mold. Some of the students tried to emulate Milarepa's exploits.
They only got hand injuries and frustration to match.
The Also Holy Return to Manang
Tiredness, cold and wind began to hurt our profane bodies. With the sun about to fall behind the mountains, it was high time for us to inaugurate our return.
We still peeked at the glacial moray that, just beside it, flowed down Annapurnas. Then, we return to the zigzags of the pine forest and the bed of Marsyangdi.
Instead of crossing it straight away to Manang Sadak, we decided to return through the vastness that the shrinking river had made passable. We passed horses grazing an almost shallow straw.
Already in the shade, in the vicinity of the bridge adjoining the Manang, we let ourselves be overtaken by a long black-and-white herd of shaggy goats.
when we re-enter Manang, we are gifted with the last sunbeams of the day illuminating the northern sector and by the sight of a line of women turning the village's prayer wheels, warmed by the blessing of the great star and by the communal comfort of their faith.