The Kangtsa Cave

In 2010, we discovered the nearby monastery of Kangtsa, a beautiful, small monastery surrounded by junipers and spread over a hill in a quiet, wooded valley an hour from Ritoma. Yidam had heard there was a sacred cave somewhere in the area, where hermits had dwelled and pilgrims ventured for blessings. We asked a monk to take us there and set off. Had I seen the cave from the bottom of the hill, I don’t know if I would have mustered the courage to make the climb.

After making our way to a narrow gorge flanked by steep bramble covered hills, we climbed a precarious graveled path for an hour and spotted the mouth of the cave, marked by prayer flags and tsa tsas. I had never been in a holy cave before, though I had imagined it, caves with passages one could get lost in, where meditators had lived and died. This one fitted the profile; the monk said one could go deeper and deeper, get lost and never return.

Meditators had dwelled at various depths in its many recesses leaving behind the blessings that drew pilgrims from near and far. It's one of those secret, unassuming places which are spread all over the Tibetan Plateau, some still occupied by meditators, and known to pilgrims as places of power and blessing.

The monk, Dunko, Dechen and Noryang squeezed themselves through a narrow opening into the next, pitch black cave. Their flashlights revealed a rock floor gleaming with humidity, and littered with white scarves and the green faces of Mao on the money scattered about. One could go deeper; there were ropes to help the pilgrims find their way in the dark, but the monk said that people had died deep in the cave in bad times and that pilgrims didn’t wander too far into it out of respect.

We sat outside the mouth for a while, then made our way down. I felt like I was leaving an old friend, a place of calm and refuge. As consolation, I found that I could bring myself mentally back to the cave and experience its atmosphere of peace whenever I thought of it.