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From Manali to Leh, Drukpa Guru on WaLking Pilgrimage for Green Cause

A 400km walk in the Himalaya over six weeks to raise awareness on environmental issues yielded a collection of 60,000 waste plastic bottles, 10,000 chewing-gum wrappers and 5,000 carbonated drink cans - 12th Gyalwang Drukpa, spiritual head of Drukpa lineage embarked on padyatra (walking on foot) with 750 monks, nuns and other disciples from Manali to Leh on a ‘walking pilgrimage’ to spread awareness about the hazards of non-biodegradable  waste and treatment of kerosene burns, a common domestic accident in Himalayan villages.

The group crossed five Himalayan passes at an altitude of over 5,300 metres - Tanglang La, Rohtang and Pin Parbati into Markha valley on the way to Zanskar and Lahaul. Threat of avalanches, heavy snow, restricted food supply and tough living conditions were part of the pilgrimage but the Drukpa was undeterred. “Conditions were very tough but the journey was gratifying because in today’s uncertain world where we search true happiness, we got an opportunity to commune with nature, which was really therapeutic,” he said.

The Drukpa and his disciples visited more than 30 villages educating and encouraging more than 1,50,000 villagers on environment conservation and the need to ‘say no to plastic bags’- a campaign he launched during this yatra. “Pamphlets and canvas bags were distributed to the villagers along the way to discourage the use of plastic,” say Lynne Chiang from Malaysia who walked the distance.

Along with awareness drive, they cleaned the mountains they crossed. A hefty yield of plastic bottles, chewing gum wrappers, carbonated drink cans, tobacco wrapping papers and washing soap papers was the garbage collected. “Monks and nuns went into steep ravines near streams and rivers to pick up the trash,” says Lynne.

The Drukpa also laid importance on sustainable livelihoods, healthcare and conservation of heritage and education that balances the modern with traditional culture. “World’s biggest resources come from the Himalaya and if we are careless about them, then we are really damaging almost 80% of the world directly or indirectly,” he said at the conclusion of his yatra. The Drukpa’s was easily one of the biggest contingents ever attempting such a trek. “Thirty-eight trekkers and cooks followed  the group with 320 mules that carried the supplies, including oxygen tanks, medical tent, cooking utensils, gas and backpacks,” says Lynne.

The padyatra of this group that belongs to the Mahayana sect of Buddhism started on May 23 from Khardang Monastery in Himachal Pradesh and ended with a feast offering ceremony at Hemis Monastry in Ladakh. The two-day celebration marked the birth anniversary of Buddhist guru Padmasambhava, commemorating the victory of good over evil.