Culture,  Himachal Pradesh,  Spiti

Did he choose his destiny or did his destiny choose him?

In this time of kalyug, one man embarks on a journey of sacrifice and penance in search of truth and knowledge

Story by: Chhering Norbu

Read the original story in Hindi

1.5 kilometers north of Demul village in Spiti, where I was born, is a very old cave named Khabsa. Engraved in its rocks are many ancient symbols that attract devotees from far and wide. Over thousands of years, in this very cave, many dedicated men from Demul and other regions of the Himalayas have achieved wisdom and enlightenment through extreme penance.

One wise man among them is Tenzin Lundup, also known as the “Yogi of the Himalaya”. I have had the good fortune to receive his blessings multiple times, and last year I was lucky enough to hear about the journey of his life directly from him. Along with other saintly men hailing from Maling village in Kinnaur, he stayed in the Khabsa cave for a month. This is his story.

The inside of the Khabsa cave built into the mountains. Photo: Chhering Norbu
Prayer lamps. Photo: Vamshidhar Guthikonda

On 20th April, 1962, in a Gongma home in the village of Pooh in Kinnaur district, a baby boy named Govind Singh was born. While pregnant, his mother Sonam Chhodon felt a divine presence and had vivid dreams that an enlightened being is going to be born to her. So when the baby arrived, the family visited the local Guru in the area and asked to know his future.

The Guru ji stated that in his previous birth, Govind Singh was a devoted yogi. He predicted that even in this birth, the boy would renounce his household responsibilities and travel in search of truth and knowledge. The boy’s father, Gelek Pasang (alias Gurdayal Singh), was disappointed to learn this. He wanted his son to follow in his footsteps and become a farmer and businessman.

A few months after he was born, a prominent Ladakhi lama (monk), through his meditative power, realized that the child born in Pooh village, in the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh, on the full moon day of April, is the reincarnation of a great yogi. He sent a search team of lamas and representatives to the village. However, his father, who did not want his only son to renunciate the world and become a lama, told the Ladakhi team that no child had been born in their home!

The divine light in Spiti. Photo: Manyata Goyal

Govind had three sisters and a younger brother, and his childhood was full of love and affection. As a young boy, he was compassionate, loved music and felt eager to serve others. He pursued his graduation in Chandigarh and returned to his village with an increased interest in spirituality. He would discuss the teachings of the Buddha with his grandfather, and go to Ta-Lang Temple, to Mani Dung Gyur, for circumambulation. There, he would sit among the elderly to enhance his Buddhist learnings.

Upon seeing his interest in Buddhism, his family worried that the prediction about his future might come true. They decided to get him engaged against his wish at the young age of 25. In a traditional Kinnauri ceremony, he was married to Ringzin, the daughter of Pooh’s most elite and wealthy family.

In those days, Govind ji’s maternal uncle used to frequent Tibet for business. He took Govind ji along and bought him a flock of sheep and goats on the trip to initiate him into the work. The mountain trails were marked by cliffs and sheer drops, which resulted in many sheep slipping and dying. His father tried to force him to sell the meat of the dead sheep, but Govind ji’s heart wouldn’t allow it. When trading sheep didn’t work out, his father gave him a large sum of money to go to Chandigarh to purchase a truck. But Govind ji had other intentions.

By now, his wife was pregnant, and he felt he needed to denounce worldly affairs before he got attached to his child. Soon, he left both, his home and the money his father had given, in search of knowledge and a Guru. According to the customs of Kinnaur, his wife and child continued to be part of the joint family. Personally, when I heard this, I couldn’t help but wonder how difficult it must be for someone to leave their family during this kalyug age (the age of downfall) to follow the Buddha’s path.

Govind ji sets out to find his path. Photo: Chhering Norbu

He initially joined the Bir Gonpa (monastery), where along with young lamas, he started learning the Bhoti language. His hard work, dedication and desire to further his knowledge on Buddhist teachings surprised all his teachers.

He continued his studies in Bylakuppe, Mysore’s Tibetan colony, while also teaching English to the local Rinpoche and lamas. After completing his education and initiation there, he left for a long pilgrimage with a focus on Lord Buddha’s pilgrim sites, monasteries and pious caves.

He was overjoyed to meet his sisters again in Solan after many years. He decided to repair his grandfather’s ancestral home, where for 2.5 years, he immersed himself in prayers, meditation and daily practice. To fulfil his mother’s wish, he spent a year in Pooh, where his dedication to prayers took her by complete surprise.

Now known as Yogi of the Himalaya. Photo: Chhering Norbu

Then began a long set of nomadic travels. He moved from Pooh to Rewalsar, where the holy spirit of Guru Padma Sambhava – the founder of Tantrayana Buddhism (Nyingmapa Sect) – still resides in Rewalsar lake. He then accepted an invitation to move to Nako village in Kinnaur, following which he meditated for a year in the holy cave of Somang, where he was subjected to scarcity of food and firewood during heavy winter snowfall.

Govind ji then travelled via Tashigang and Nako to receive the blessings of the renowned lama Ringzin Chhetan in Maling. The lama, aware of his hard work and dedication, accepted him as a disciple. Under the lama’s wing, Govind ji worked with great concentration, accumulating knowledge and incorporating it into his daily life, until he completed his spiritual studies. He even performed duties at the local temple.

Govind ji underwent solitary penance many times. Photo: Chhering Norbu

Following this, Govind ji underwent deep, solitary penance for four years in Maling. During this time, he met no human. Any important messages were conveyed through letters. He ate minimally, and with the support of the village folk, consumed only 10 liters of water in a week. For the next three years, he meditated in a room at his sister’s home in Rampur Bushahr, where again no one was permitted to meet him. Finally, he spent another three years in a cave in a different village, where he primarily performed special prayers to Dakini (also known as Khandro – the ever-changing female energy) – for the welfare of all living beings and humanity.

By this time, word about this great yogi had spread far and wide. People started to come to seek his blessings and discourse from every corner of the Himalayas. Locals from Nesang village invited him to the famous Naijal Cave, where Guru Padma Sambhava himself had performed penance and many pious symbols can be found on the stones of the cave.

Govind ji accepted the invitation and decided to travel about 60 kilometers over 5 days by foot, from Pooh to Naijal cave, located 15,000 feet above sea level with winter temperatures as low as -35 degrees Celsius! He stopped at every village along the way, encouraging people to follow Buddha’s path. At Nijal cave, he performed penance for almost 1.5 years, following which, in 2014, he began walking nearly 450 kilometers to Dehradun.

This journey on foot became a historic event as hundreds of people joined him on the way. Wherever the group took a break, the local people would arrange for their dining and lodging. Everyone shared their individual problems with Govind ji and received blessings from him.

The women of Spiti welcome Govindji with their traditional dance. Photo: Chhering Norbu
Govindji’s devotees gather together. Photo: Chhering Norbu

Govind ji has, by now, set foot in pretty much every village in upper Kinnaur and Spiti, gained followers in every Himalayan region and been on pilgrimage to Nepal, Bodh Gaya, Nalanda, Sarnath, Varanasi, Vaishali and Bhutan. He urges people to follow the path of truth and non-violence and imparts knowledge on the topics of Buddha Consciousness and Space Consciousness. Even the local deities request people to implement his teachings in their everyday life.

As a child, I remember how the elders in my village would sit together and discuss Lama Govind ji’s life journey, and sometimes even cry. I didn’t understand any of it then, but it struck me much later in life how he sacrificed his family life in search of enlightenment, and the hardships he endured as he went from village to village to inspire people to follow the path of compassion laid out by Lord Buddha. No one has seen such a yogi in this age, and I consider myself lucky to have met him in his birthplace. I had the opportunity to discuss many different subjects with him, and left the meeting feeling inspired, with a growing interest in spirituality and social work.

Prayer flags above the Khabsa cave. Photo: Chhering Norbu

Even though his father tried to send him on the path of business and family life, he was fated to become a great yogi. It makes one wonder, did he choose his destiny or did his destiny choose him?

*Somang Hangrang Valley, Kinnaur, is among one of many famous pilgrim sites, with five grand caves whose rocks are etched with symbols of the Maitreya Buddha, Guru Padma Sambhava (Guru Rinpoche) and Dakini.

Read the original story in Hindi

Meet the storyteller

Chhering Norbu
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Chhering Norbu is a dynamic individual with a vast array of experience in various fields ranging from tourism to mountaineering, solar energy, hydrogeology, medicinal plants and the list can carry on! He belongs to a family of Amchis (traditional medicinal practitioners) and is now one of the few remaining practicing Amchis in Spiti.  He is also the life-force of Spiti Ecosphere managing day to day operations seamlessly.

Spiti Ecosphere
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Ecosphere is a social enterprise born out of love for Spiti Valley and deeply committed to building a sustainable future for its people by creating a responsive synergy between responsible travel and development. They've been working in Spiti since 2002 to address and find solutions to the pressing needs and challenges faced by the community. Their initiatives cover a broad spectrum -  helping communities build resilience to climate change; enabling year round access to drinking water and green vegetables; carbon reduction and harnessing the abundantly available solar energy; reducing waste generated by travellers; enhancing health care access, diagnosis  and treatment; supporting education for girls; helping to build community entrepreneurship, livelihoods that are linked to conservation and initiatives to encourage and enable the growth of compassion amongst communities.

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