Taming the Dakinis
Lhundrup Tsek, the Spontaneous Mound charnel ground, is part of an integrated network of wild and esoteric places, both geographical and spiritual, visited by Padmasambhava in his search for spiritual accomplishment. The Mahaguru successfully faced the challenges of each place, transforming their raw and vibrant energies in order to foster his realization. In Lhundrup Tsek, he practiced amongst fearsome dakinis and manifested as the great Guru Senge Dradok, the Lion’s Roar.
Words from the masters
The significance of this site is captured in the following works:
A Beautiful and Wondrous Udumbara Garland: A Supplication and Summary of the Epic of Padma - Jamyang Khyentsé Wangpo
Le’u Dünma - Tulku Zangpo Drakpa
How to get there
While the charnel ground encompasses the whole of the Kathamandu Valley, its spiritual center is at the Boudhanath stupa. These days, Pashupathinath, now a major site of Hindu pilgrimage, falls within its central precincts, and is still active as a charnel ground today.
By Taxi: From Tribhuvan International Airport to the Boudha Main Gate, a taxi ride will take around 20 minutes. From central Kathmandu, taxi times can range from 15 to 45 minutes, depending on traffic.
By Public Transport: The Boudha Main Road is serviced by regular tuktuks (3-wheeled small electric vans), white microbuses, and blue minivans, all following the #2 route to Ratna Bus Park.
food and accommodation
Greater Boudha is one of the more quiet and less chaotic areas of Kathmandu. Dozens of guest houses and hotels ranging from budget to opulent are easily accessible in the area. There are hosts of cafes and restaurants in Boudha, serving Tibetan, Chinese, European, Nepali, Japanese and American food and drink. Staying in Boudha will give you the opportunity to enjoy an atmosphere ripe with the daily practice of the locals, many of whom circumambulate the stupa every morning and evening. It is also easy to plan trips and get taxis and other vehicles from Boudha’s main gate.
The area immediately surrounding Boudha is one of Nepal’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and you will have to pay a one-time fee of 1,000 NPR to enter. Within the Greater Boudha area, Pashupatinath is an active, chiefly Hindu, charnel ground still in use to this day, where a similar fee is charged for entry. Please hold on to your tickets, since they will secure you re-entry for the duration of your stay.
Entering the fearsome charnel ground of Lhundrek Tsek is as easy today as arriving in the Kathmandu Valley. But actually to see it requires an adjustment of vision. The Great Jarung Kashor Stupa of Boudha remains at the heart of this place – where wild spirits roam and where Guru Rinpoché tamed dakinis through his tantric virtuosity.
At Pashupatinath, though, one can still catch all the sensual details of the charnel ground. As such, Pashupatinath is very much a living remnant of the Lhundrup Tsek charnel ground. Below we highlight those sites that Buddhists in particular have recognized as sacred.
Pashupatinath: 27°42'37.6"N 85°20'55.3"E
Pashupatinath is about 10 minutes walk from the current location of Lhundrup Tsek, where local Buddhists still cremate their dead. It is easy to find by taking the street opposite Boudha main gate. Since Pashupatinath is probably the most famous Hindu holy site in the Kathmandu valley, one can also simply ask locals for directions.
Chemchok Heruka Temple: 27°42'32.9"N 85°21'09.5"E
Within the Pashupathinath compound, the beautiful Chemchok Heruka Temple (Vishvarup in Nepali) enshrines a large copper statue of Chemchok or Mahottara Heruka in union. Chemchok Heruka is the main deity in the mandala of the fifty-eight wrathful deities, as the wrathful aspect of Samantabhadra. Chemchok Heruka is also the central deity in the mandala of Tsokchen Düpa and the Kagyé. It is said that the statue was taken as a victory trophy from a Tibetan monastery, after a battle in which Gorka fighters had defeated the Tibetans. Hindus believe it to be a statue of Shiva Shakti. The 2015 earthquake has severely damaged the temple, and thus the statue can no longer be visited, due to the danger of the temple collapsing.
Avalokiteshvara Statue: 27°42'35.2"N 85°21'04.0"E
This black painted statue of a two-armed standing Avalokiteshvara, about one meter high, carved into a stone, is located within the Pashupathinath compound, not far from the Guru Goraknath temple. The statue is said to be eight hundred years old. It is located among other similar statues and is thus easily missed.
Mahakala Statue: 27°42'37.5"N 85°20'55.3"E
A special Mahakala statue is located inside the perimeter of the Pashupatinath main temple. Unfortunately, westerners are not allowed to enter the temple precincts.
Naropa and Tilopa Caves: 27°42'38.4"N 85°20'56.9"E
These are two small caves dedicated to the mahasiddhas Naropa and Tilopa, located close to the ghats of Pashupatinath, on the bank of the Bagmati river.
Goraknath Temple: 27°42'38.0"N 85°21'05.1"E
Guru Goraknath is a famous saint, cherished by Hindus and Buddhists alike. According to Buddhist legend he was an emanation of Guru Rinpoche and one of the 84 mahasiddhas. A small shrine dedicated to him is found by ascending the staircase behind the Guhyeshwori temple.
Guhyeshwori Temple: 27°42'41.6"N 85°21'12.5"E
The Guhyeshwori temple is one of the four yogini temples of the Kathmandu Valley. It is situated on the banks of the Bagmati river, to the north side of Pashupatinath. It is about 10 minutes walk from Lhundrup Tsek. If you are walking from Boudha to Pashupatinath, you will most likely arrive directly in front of the Guhyeshwori. If you are not sure about the exact location, just ask one of the locals who will be milling around, always happy to help.
The main object of worship at the Guhyeshwori temple is a small, triangular hole in the earth – a source of holy water. The devotees drink and keep the water, for its blessings. While Westerners are not allowed to enter the temple precincts, the massive bodhi tree directly in front of the Guhyeshwori temple is said to be the sacred tree of the Lhundrup Tsek charnel ground, and all are welcome to sit here and practice.
The Four Yogini Temples
Sankhu Vajrayogini: 27°44'39.0"N 85°28'01.6"E
Sankhu is small farming village 14 km northeast of Boudhanath. It is well known as one of the oldest sacred sites of the Kathmandu Valley, and is frequently visited by Buddhist and Hindu pilgrims. Today, the main sacred site is a Vajrayogini temple (commonly known as Sankhu Vajrayogini) located on the hillside in the middle of a forest, about 2 km from the village. The current temple was built by Raja Prakas Malla in 1655. According to Newar tradition, Sankhu Vajrayogini is the eldest of the four sister yoginis of the Valley.
Sankhu has a long history of pilgrimage and visits by siddhas for extended retreats and gaṇachakra feast offerings. There are several caves, and it is said that some of the eighty-four mahasiddhas of India have meditated here.
The main temple enshrines a representation of Ugra-tara, or Ekajaṭi, said to have been brought from Bengal in the 14th century. The female deity is depicted wielding a sword (khadga), and as such is called Khadga Yogini. The upper temple has an identical image of Ugra-tara, forged in bell metal. In both the upper and lower temples, the main deity is flanked by Baghini and Singhini, the tiger and lion-headed yoginis. In the upper temple is a bronze Buddha and a Lokeshvara, both in standing posture. Below this upper shrine room is a small chamber containing a self-arisen (Svayambhu) stūpa in stone. Behind the temple is a courtyard with a basin containing the “Water of the Kalpa,” which never dries up. In the building immediately to the left of the stairs is an eternal fire or “Fire of the Kalpa”. Above the Sankhu temple complex, there is also a blessed and sacred lake: 27°44'34.4"N 85°27'54.1"E.