In a distant Himalayan village, my young neighbour told me the story of hunter Gonpo Dorje
It had been a few days since I reached Kibber, a village 4,200m high in the Himalayan mountains. The larger region is called Spiti, which means ‘the middle land’, as it lies between India and Tibet. I was still getting acclimatised to such high altitudes, where oxygen is scarce and every step takes a great effort. I had made friends with Takpa, our young neighbour. Takpa studied at the village school, and would look me up every afternoon on his way back home.
“This Sunday, I shall take you to Badang, which is across that hill,” he announced. “It will be good exercise for you and we can visit the cave of Khirava Gonpo Dorje.”
The sun had barely risen over the mountains when we crossed the little hill that Takpa had described. We came to the edge of a cliff. I could see no path to walk further, but Takpa walked easily onto a narrow trail that had a rocky overhang on one side, and a deep gorge on the other. I swallowed my pride and got down on all fours to negotiate this stretch, my heart thumping in fear. We finally reached the entrance of a tiny cave, just big enough for a few people to sit inside. “This is the cave of Khirava Gonpo Dorje. My grandfather told me his story and he heard it from his grandfather!”
Gonpo Dorje was a khirava (hunter) who used to hunt wild animals like blue sheep and ibex for their meat. At that time, this cave was occupied by a Lama (a Buddhist monk). Lama ji would sit and meditate through the day; he was a very revered man. Every time Gonpo Dorje managed to hunt an animal, he would divide the meat into 4 parts—a Spitian tradition—and offer one part to Lama ji . But a time came when wild animals became hard to find, and several days passed by without a meal. Distraught, Gonpo Dorje thought it would be wise to visit Lama ji and seek his blessings at this tough time.
Now, Lama ji had a curious habit. Each time he was offered meat by the hunter, he would consume it but leave the bones at the entrance of his cave. By now, the bones had piled up to form a heap at the entrance. As Gonpo Dorje neared the cave, his eyes fell on that heap of bones. ‘I have consumed thrice the amount of this’, he said to himself. Overcome by remorse, Gonpo Dorje jumped off the cliff to take his life. But he didn’t fall—instead, his body began to float and he was carried into the sky, perhaps to heaven. Lama ji had been watching all this and thought to himself “If a hunter like him deserves heaven, then I, who have been meditating for so long, clearly deserve a place there too.” Confident of this, Lamaji got up from his seat, walked out of the cave and jumped off, hoping to accompany Khirava Gonpo Dorje to heaven.
“Did he accompany him?” I asked curiously.
‘No’, said Takpa. ‘Lama ji ’s heart was so heavy with pride that he fell straight into the gorge!’
Picture: The cave of Khirava Gonpo Dorje
Credit: Kulbhushansingh Suryawanshi