For a number of years His Holiness has been leading his nuns, monks and lay followers on a series of walking pilgrimages (Padyatras) , as a practical meditation exercise bringing the practitioners’ physical self closer to their inner self and as a powerful means to accumulate merit and wisdom. The merit accumulated was dedicated to the happiness and freedom of all beings.
The first Padyatra in 2009 started in the Kulu valley and ended at Hemis, Ladakh six weeks later. 400 nuns and 200 monks walked some 400km in the remote mountains of Ladakh, to the holy sites of Chakrasamvara, Avalokiteshvara, Guru Padmasambhava, and the Siddha Naropa. This Padyatra covered approximately 400km and crossed five Himalayan pas s e s each approximately 5,000m above sea level.
After only one-third of the journey the pilgrims had already collected 60,000 plastic bottles, 10,000 chewing gum wrappers and tobacco wrappers and 5,000 empty cans - all from streams and steep ravines which were off the beaten track. Ecological issues became a focus point and it became an opportunity to show local people how to conserve their shared environment.
In November 2010, His Holiness took all the nuns for a Padyatra to Gokarna, one of the highest mountains in Kathmandu Valley. Again, an enormous amount of rubbish was collected, while all along the way prayers and pujas were done for the local people and all sentient beings, and prayer flags.
The major pilgrimage of 2010 was the Sikkim Padyatra, led by His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa, along with other Rinpoches, such as Drukpa Yongdzin Rinpoche and Gyalwa Lorepa. They were joined by 300 nuns, 100 monks and some lay people.
This pilgrimage began on the 1st of December and for one month His Holiness led the nuns to holy sites blessed by Guru Padmasambhava. They trekked to Dzongri at around 4,200m (part of the Kanchenjunga range) and visited various retreat caves and received blessings. One retreat cave was where His Holiness had meditated about 10 years before. The way to this cave was very dangerous; they had to crawl through rock crevices and climb a small ladder and squeeze through a tiny space to reach the cave. In another cave was a yogi who was staying in retreat and who met them with great happiness.
Walking, sometimes 10 hours a day, still left time for practises and fire pujas to be conducted outside, sometimes in temperatures of minus 15 degrees. Hot mugs of tea were always gratefully received to revive fingers numbed from playing damaru (small drums) and bell.
As on previous pilgrimages, huge amounts of rubbish were collected.
His Holiness said: “We all have a great responsibility to take care of the Himalayas for all sentient beings. This is one of the main reasons that we organized this Eco Padyatra. We need to appreciate Mother Earth and keep it green and clean.”
The merit of this pilgrimage was dedicated towards the deceased souls and the victims of the recent mudslides in Ladakh and the earlier earthquakes in Jyekundo as well as those suffering from loss of lives and possessions in various natural disasters. Confession and supplication prayers were also performed at different holy sites along the way to invoke blessings of Guru Padmasambhava for the protection for all sentient beings.
Lay followers also used the Padyatra as an opportunity to raise funds for meaningful charitable causes.