Circumambulating Drilbu Ri – The Bell Mountain Of Lahaul

If the landscape of Lahaul is believed to be a Mandala, a sacrosanct space signifying the cosmos, then the Drilbu Ri Mountain would be it’s center. Three great rivers forming the external corners of the Mandala whereas the circular periphery guarded by Guru Ghantal Gompa, Kardang Gompa, and Sila Caves.

Stuchbury drew a pattern that converted the sacred landscape into a geometric pattern resembling a Mandala. And what a beautiful pattern that turned out to be.

However, all this may sound gibberish to you as it did to me when I first came across Stuchbury’s research paper. However, every piece of puzzle fits in when you have walked up a 10km backbreaking trail that culminates at the feet of Drilbu Peak.

It’s a whole new world from the top: the birth of a river (ChandraBhaga) , two long lost lovers namely Chandra and Bhaga running wild and free to embrace each other, a massive mountain range (Pir Panjal) chasing a newly born river like a mother follows her child, and a silent guardian (Ghepan Goh) enjoying it’s off-springs pursuit of love and life.

That’s when you realize that you are standing right at the center of this beautiful geographical  spiritual phenomenon.

At the feet of holy Drilbu Ri Peak.

At the Feet of the Holy Moutain
At the Feet of the Holy Moutain

Our Annual Pilgrimage to Lahaul

Drilbu Parikrama (kora) can be performed either along the outer periphery (Rangcha Gali Pass) or one can get really close to the mountain and circumambulate it along it’s base. While we performed our outer kora in 2014, this year the primary objective was to see the mountain from it’s base.

As usual, we were camped at Naveen’s place near Tandi and his father was explaining the route details to us. While we wondered about the height of the peak, his father cautioned us not to go ahead in case we were unable to find our way past the only nallah that we were to encounter the next day.

Here’s what the route looked like.

Yellow Up. Green Down.  Down Below: Sumdoh/Sangam. The Holy Confluence. Birth of ChandraBhaga
Yellow Up. Green Down.
Down Below: Sumdoh/Sangam. The Holy Confluence. Birth of ChandraBhaga

0400  Hours, Tandi Bridge, 2900 m

Everything starts at 0400 Hours at Tandi. The clouds impatiently wait for the sun to come out with a bated breath while the moon after having fought a lone battle against clouds all night long finds a distant hope in chirping of birds indicating a new dawn.

That’s when we started our climb. The confluence down below was eerily silent and the mountain tried to hide itself beneath the retreating clouds. Because the trail was marked for first few hundred meters beyond Tupchiling Gompa, we had not problem in finding our way to the base of the nallah. 

0800 Hours, At Par with Guru Ghantal Gompa, 3500 m

Four hours later, we had gained 600 meters. That wasn’t bad progress considering the fact that we were walking on an unmarked trail. The majestic Guru Ghantal Gompa was now clearly visible and we were now aiming for the clouds. The entire valley was spread wide open in front of us: from Keylong to Tholang, the play-fields of three rivers were visible now.

Chandra Bhaga Sangam
Chandra Bhaga Sangam
Sangam
Sangam

1000 Hours, Minor Hiccup, 4100 m

Another 600 meters in two hours. Now we were right beneath the yellowish patch which we had to cross as our last hurdle. As we sat down to catch our breath and absorb the blissful views, my wife gave up. She panicked and sat down like an overfed elephant.

Although it was clearly stomach disorder, she diagnosed it has an acute case of Altitude Sickness. Being a doctor herself she decided not to listen to any of us, and there I saw my Drilbu dream going down the same nallah we had just climbed. A parliamentary debate in unparliamentary language ensued, as a result of which we all decided to move forward because going down was totally out of question because the terrain was difficult.

That’s what I made her believe. 

To her credit, she walked exceptionally well after that minor hiccup. And unlike me, she never complained of altitude induced headache. I have fallen prey to this vicious predator thrice in July 2016, which is a matter of shame. Also she scaled the highest altitude of her life as yet. So kudos to her!!!

1100 Hours, Drilbu Ri, 4480 m

The peak of Drilbu Ri was now right in front of us. A shivalingam nicely carved out of a single rock mass. Infact, it wasn’t just one shivalinga but a combo of three joined at their base.

As if a lotus is made of stone that’s worshiping the Mother Universe with each of its petals outstretched to greet the divine.

Ghepan Goh, the King Mountain was engulfed by a thick sheet of clouds and it was an amazing show of dying rays of sun fighting against murky clouds. I enjoyed this show for some time while Naveen and Kamal prayed inside the little temple. The return journey started once they had performed their pooja. 

The highest point of the trek was at 4500 meters, which we encountered on our return journey. By the time my GPS App recorded 4500 meters, my head was dancing to the tunes of high altitude. A splitting headache turned me half blind and the next six hours were spent in looking for the tree line, which we encountered only after we had descended to Guru Ghantal Gompa.

The Bell Mountain
The Bell Mountain
The Yellow Patch - All the Way to Manimahesh Kailas
The Yellow Patch – All the Way to Manimahesh Kailas
The Red Mountain
The Red Mountain

1900 Hours, Tandi Bridge, 2900 m

The Story of Drilbu Ri

The word Drilbu finds it’s origin in Tibetan Buddhism. A drilbu (bell/ghanta) is a buddhist ritual object which is often used in conjunction with a thundebolt (dorje/vajra). Drilbu represents wisdom whereas vajra held in right hand represents method. Together, these two represent the perfect union of wisdom and compassion. It is believed that a person should aspire to achieve union of all dualities: bliss and emptiness, compassion and wisdom, appearance and reality, and male and female, which in simplified terms manifests enlightenment.

Drilbu Ri also finds mention in Tucci’s ‘1940 Travels of Tibetan Pilgrims in the Swat Valley’.

“Another mountain was the abode of the famous Siddha Ghanta Pa whose cave is still shown from afar; this explains the Tibetan name of the place Dril bu ri, vi~., the mountain of the Bell, viz., probably of the Siddha Ghanta Pa.”, writes Tucci.

That’s the Buddhist Version of story. There’s another story that talks about marriage of Shiva and Shakti. The mountains surrounding Drilbu have a visible yellowish streak in the middle that forms a wave like pattern. This yellowish wave travels all the way from Drilbu Ri to Manimahesh Kailash. Lahauli’s believe that the barat (marriage party) of Shiva-Shakti traveled along this path towards Kailas.

There are numerous other stories related to Drilbu Ri which are as interesting and amusing as the shape of this mountain. If ever, I get a chance to spend just one winter season in Lahaul, even I will come up with an alternate version.

Unforgettable Lahaul
Unforgettable Lahaul

Trivia

  1. This is a water-less trail, carry as much as you can.
  2. Approximate walking distance is 14-15 km.
  3. The scorching sun will follow you throughout the journey, sunscreen is a must.
  4. The parikrama route of the shivalinga is a tricky one, loose boulders piled over one another. Be cautious.
Return Trek Map
Return Trek Map | Drilbu Peak at 4480 m

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