Buddhist monks march to save Himalayas

The Assam Tribune, Dec 8, 2010

GANGTOK, Sikkim (India) -- For those living in Darjeeling, banner-led political processions are quite a common sight, but not a large contingent of Buddhist monks and nuns, who have embarked on a marathon march on foot to save the Himalayas from environmental damage. The local people have gathered around in support of the monks.

In an attempt to spread awareness across the North Eastern part of India about the environmental problems that threaten the Himalayan region, a group of Drukpa Buddhist (Drukpa-Kagyu lineage) monks have begun a “Padayatra” from Darjeeling to Sikkim.

The Gyalwang Drukpa, head of the Drukpa lineage of Buddhism, who is leading the group comprising over 400 Buddhist monks, nuns and tourists, said to this correspondent that their main aim was to spread awareness about the various environmental issues in the Himalayan region and expressed hope that more people would take an initiative to clean up the region.

“Our efforts have always been focused to conserve the environment. The “Pada yatra”, I believe, is the path to finding the innate enlightened nature that resides within each of us and use it to serve humanity. Religion and environment are one”, he said, adding that they were also raising the issue of “cultural suppression” of women.

“No religion in essence teaches suppression of women. Culture suppresses them. Women are no less than men is an oft quoted fact, and by including Buddhist nuns in our yatra we seek to reiterate this point,” said the spiritual head.

This is not the first time the Drukpa monks have undertaken the yatra. Last year they travelled on foot from Leh to Manali for the same cause and claimed to have recovered almost 60,000 plastic bottles and bags en route.

Recently, the Drukpa lineage also got into the Guinness Book of World Records by planting 50,033 saplings in 33 minutes 25 seconds in Ladakh, as part of an environment saving initiative. “Last year the terrain was dangerous. Climbing uphill was a herculean task and some people had problems breathing at higher altitudes. We overcame all these problems and the venture was a success. We soon came to be associated with environmental issues,” said Abho Rinpoche.