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Day 11: Dirang Monastery and Mandala Top

Dawa slept till 10:00 am. I should have asked him about his bed timings last night itself. When I called him early in the morning, he didn’t pick his phone up. Since I was already outside, I had my morning tea and paratha for breakfast at the market. Once I was done, I walked from chaarnala up towards Dirang Monastery. It was one of those bright buildings visible from the market itself.

Dirang Monastery

Dirang Monastery—or Thubsung Dhargyeling Monastery—was one of the newer monasteries I had visited so far. It was also one of the bigger monasteries I had seen. Yet, in spite of its size, it was also one of the emptiest monasteries I have been to—only crossing paths with a lama watering the garden and two locals running some errands.

Stepped construction on the slopes. The front part is the monastery guest house. The prayer hall is on the rear side.
A colourful chorten adjacent to the monastery.
The hills that flack the valley of Dirang as visible from the monastery’s entrance.
Central alter inside the prayer hall.
This large ornate brass bell is installed in the courtyard in front of the prayer hall.
Lopon Stadium in Dirang—where football tournaments are held—as viewed from the monastery grounds. There were posters and banners about an upcoming tournament in the market.

One of the prominent features is a sculpted mural of Bhavchakra [1] as a heptaptych on the rear boundary wall of the Monastery—six panels depicting six realms of samsara and a central panel with some of the other elements like the three poisons of ignorance, attachment, and aversion represented by a pig, a bird, and a snake, Yama representing impermanence, the twelve nidanas or dependent origins of suffering, and karma depicted by humans.

The rear boundary wall depicting Bhavchakra as a heptaptych
The three poisons, Yama, and karma in the central panel. The twelve nidanas (not visible in the photo) are on the same panel. The panels depicting gods, demi-gods, and human realms were on one side of this central panel and animal, hungry-ghosts, and hell were on the other side.
This is how Bhavchakra is usually depicted. This one is at the entrance to the prayer hall. It uses an older depiction with five realms of Samsara. (The god realm and demi-god realm has been depicted as a single realm.)

Mandala Top

Dawa met me at 11:30 am in my hotel. He wanted to take me to Mandala Top. Mandala is midway between Dirang and Bhutan border. In order to reach there, we had to ride to Dirang village—about 5 km from Dirang market—then take a right and ride for another 25 km while climbing along the snaking roads.

As we ascended, the chill in the air dried my face and froze Dawa’s fingers. He had forgotten his gloves at home. As we climbed higher, the vegetation changed significantly.

Dawa clicked this photo in front of yellowing pine needles en route to Mandala Top.
Stunted pine trees with very tall deodar trees near Mandala.
There is a lot of illegal deforestation. This place is also used for picnics as evident from the litter and remains of bonfires.

By the time we were at the site, Dawa’s fingers had gotten numb. A couple of guys had set up a fire inside one of the shelters. These shelters function as restaurants during the peak season but they were all uninhabited.

Dawa warming his hands. This is one of the better portraits I had clicked during this trip.

Mandala Top has 108 Manis (Om Mani Padme Hum inscription). Each one was made from a contribution and the names of the contributors are also inscribed in separate plaques installed around the perimeter of the site. The central stupa was still not completed.

Mandala Top site. It was inaugurated in 2018.
As viewed from the top of the central stupa.
Close up of a few manis with the incomplete central stupa in the background.

We were really hungry and spent some time looking for a restaurant nearby. Names and menus like momo, rice, wine, and cigarettes on the wooden walls of those empty shelters gave a good clue as to what they functioned as during peak tourist season, but in the absence of people, the area looked like a ghost town. We found a shop that sold tea. Dawa and I warmed ourselves in front of a bukhari [2] while sipping tea.

Once we were back at Dirang village (colloquially known as Dirang basti), Dawa took me to a small artificial waterfall that filled a reservoir which in turn fed the hydel power station at Dirang.

The artificial waterfall that feeds the Dirang hydel power station.
Youngsters playing volleyball in Dirang village.

We finally had our lunch—momos and fried rice—at Droima restaurant in Dirang market. The restaurant was not visible from the main road and did not have a signboard outside. (It’s inside the last building complex on the river side of Dirang Market main road: 27°21’38.3″N 92°14’25.2″E [3]) Dawa claimed that they made the best fried rice in the entire market. I liked their food and came back two days later for my dinner.

Day 12-13: Villages around Dirang [4]
Day 10: Through Sela Pass to Dirang [5]