Lapchi  -  Where Many Saints of the Kagyu Lineage Once Lived
In “A Guidebook to the Hidden Valleys of Dremoshong and Khenpalung,” Pema Lingpa (1450-1521) wrote that there are four very hidden sacred valleys in the Himalayas: Lapchi Snow Wall (La-phyi-gang-gi-ra-ba) in the Kumbu Mountain Range, situated in the west between Tibet and Nepal, Noyin Snow Wall (gNod-sbyin-gang-gi-ra-ba) in the north, Tsari Snow Wall (Tsa-ri-gang-gi-ra-ba) in the east, and Baryul Snow Wall (Bar-yul-gang-gi-ra-ba) in the south.
Lapchi in Kumbu is one of the twenty-four power places in the world associated with Chakrasamvara, a deity belonging to the Anuttaratantra or highest tantra of the New Translation Schools. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1910-1991) taught that all gNas-nyi-shu-rtsa-bzhi, “twenty-four sacred places,” are also present within a single valley, the most ancient one said to be in central India, another one near a spring in the Kathmandu Valley that is revered as the womb of Vajravarahi, who is the consort of Chakrasamvara. The twenty-four sacred places are also present in the vajra body of every living being, referred to as Godhavari. Vajravarahi is marked by a sow’s head protruding above her left ear, the sow representing Vairocana Buddha. Many rocks in the area of Lapchi are naturally shaped as ears.
Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol (1781-1851) wrote in his autobiography: “I came to live in Lapchi Snow Range, one of the most sacred places of the body, speech, and mind of Chakrasamvara. The place sacred to Chakrasamvara’s body is the abode of the White Lion-faced Dakini at Mount Kailash in Upper Tibet, the famed king of glaciers. The place sacred to his speech is the abode of the Striped Tiger-faced Dakini at Lapchi in Middle Tibet. The place sacred to his mind is the abode of the Black Sow-faced Dakini, matchless Tsari, in Lower Tibet. Among these, the highlands of Lapchi, perpetually wreathed in cloud banks and mist, are the perfect dancing ground of celestial mamos and dakinis, the place where Jetsun Milarepa once stayed.”1
Dudjom Rinpoche (1904-1987) taught that sacred places can shrink and even disappear when conditions are no longer conducive to spiritual practice. In places where goodliness is disrupted, negative emotions increasingly give rise to appearances of what is experienced as evil spirits in the mind of the one who perceives them. Spirits help or offend; in the latter case they need to be pacified so that ordinary individuals can lead a meaningful life and practice the Dharma in those areas again.
Lapchi is said to be a triple triangle: the sky above, the earth below, and the rivers between each form a triangle. The central mountain is seen as the palace of Chakrasamvara, three other mountains are said to be the palaces of Avalokiteshvara, Vajrapani, and Manjushri. - Photos courtesy of Thomas Roth.
The “Chakrasamvara Tantra” recounts that demonic forces dominated the world from the golden age until the beginning of our age, which is the era of conflict and strife. And so the world became ruled by Mahadeva, an all-powerful demon-god who had established his seat in the land of Magadha. Four devas and four rahus established their dominion in the sky, four yakshas and four rakshasas upon the earth, and four nagas and four non-human beings under the earth – twenty-four domains in all.2 At that time Lapchi in Kumbu was ruled by a quite aggressive and violent couple, Dri-za Lha-dgra and dPa’bo’i bLo-can-ma. They took Mahadeva as their object of refuge, who - through the impact and force of the animal sacrifices carried out for him by his followers - transformed himself into twenty-four lingams, one lingam in each of the twenty-four sacred places. The Blessed Primordial Buddha, Vajradhara, saw that it was necessary to restore favourable conditions, so he manifested the masculine principle of energy, the wrathful deity Heruka (an epithet, usually of Chakrasamvara) with four heads and twelve arms. Through the power of his wisdom and compassion, he trampled down Mahadeva and his consort together with their retinue, thus liberating their minds from evil and establishing them in non-dual bliss, the state of perfect peace. Bodhisattva Vajrapani and his consort Vetali then transformed the spirit’s abode and possessions into a celestial palace and their ornaments into divine attributes. They blessed the symbols and entourage of Mahadeva as the mandala of Chakrasamvara
Jetsun Milarepa spent many years meditating in a cave that has come to be known as bDud-’dul-phug, Cave of Subjugation, where he subdued the local spirits of Lapchi who react to the same aspects of mind as humans; they live in mountains, rocks, clouds, lakes, and streams. In all, there are four widely known caves of Milarepa at Lapchi, where he not only subdued the local demons but also performed miracles. The Cave of Subjugation of Mara is the principal one, the other three being Ze-phug, Crest Cave, sBas-pa-kun-gsal, Revelation of All Secrets, and Lung-bstan-tshal-chen-phug, Prophesied Cave of the Great Forest. Milarepa spent six months in the Cave of Subjugation in complete seclusion and survived on one measure of tsampa the entire time he was locked in by the heavy snow.  He performed many miracles at Lapchi and left a footprint on a rock nearby.
            Although the dakinis were subjugated by the Lotus-Born Master, Padmasambhava, in Rongshar (or Drin Valley) that lies slightly east of Lapchi, they were still very mischievous until Jetsun Milarepa opened the sacred area by taming the deities and negative forces that impeded the Dharma there. Ever since, they protect and help anyone who prays to them with ardent devotion. The scriptures tell us that, having turned their minds to the precious Dharma, the leading dakini of the Five Sisters of Long Life asked Milarepa to bestow the Bodhisattva vows. He asked them to offer their worldly accomplishments and tell him their names. The leader of the group, who  was white in colour and riding a lion, answered, “I am their leader. My name is Auspicious Lady of Long Life and I offer you the accomplishment of protecting life and increasing one’s lineage.” The girl, who was blue in colour and riding a wild ass, answered, “My name is Blue-Faced Fair Lady and I offer you the accomplishment of divining with a mirror.” The girl, who was yellow in colour and riding a tigress, answered, “My name is Fair-Throat Diadem and I offer you the accomplishment of obtaining a treasury of jewels.” The girl, who was red in colour and riding a deer, answered, “My name is Immutable Elephant Fair Lady and I offer you the accomplishment of beauty, prosperity, and food.” The girl, who was green in colour and riding a turquoise dragon, answered, “My name is White Magician Fair Lady and I offer you the accomplishment of increasing the four-footed animals.”
            The most precious relic that was once a source of inspiration and blessings for everyone was a statue of Jetsun Milarepa made by his moon-like disciple Rechung Dorje Dragpa (1084-1161) with clay mixed with Milarepa’s funeral ashes. Milarepa himself had prepared the clay while alive, mixing it with blood from his nose and veins and with his saliva, therefore it is called mTshal-khrag-ma, Nasal-blood Image. Another sacred  relic that was there was an ivory statue of Milarepa which was also made by Rechungpa; another relic was a stone from Milarepa’s cremation hearth upon which the mani mantra of Avalokiteshvara had miraculously appeared. Most precious images and relics were transferred to the small monastery called Chos-ra-dge-‘phel-gling, Dharma Enclosure where Virtue Increases, that was constructed by Shabkar (1853-1919) at the upper limit of the forest in the lower triangular plain, 3900 meters above sea level.
Shrine with statue of either Je Gampopa or Je Shabkar (?) at Lapchi
Many practitioners who fervently emulated Jetsun Milarepa made pilgrimages from Central, East, and West Tibet to Nepal and India and also meditated in solitary retreats in Lapchi; to mention a few, Nyo Lhanangpa (1164-1224) and the Mad Yogi of Tsang Ornate with Bones (1452-1507). Furthermore, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso Rinpoche tells us that Gyalwa Gotsangpa (1189-1258) was “born in southern Tibet, went to central Tibet to meet his root teacher Tsangpa Gyare, and then went to practice. At first he practiced in northern Tibet, specifically on a rock island in the middle of a lake called Jang Namtso. From there he went and practiced in western Tibet, around Mount Kailash, and then went to India, where he practiced in many sacred places. He went to Nepal, where he practiced mainly in the Lapchi Snow Range, and then went back to southern Tibet to a forest called Tsari, which  is one of the main sacred places of Chakrasamvara. Then finally he went back to central Tibet, where he practiced and passed away into nirvana.” Khenpo continued, “Gotsangpa made many extraordinary promises during his life. One of them was that he would never visit the same place twice. He probably made this vow with the motivation to abandon attachment to any one place.” In the instructions presented at Thrangu House in Oxford on vajra songs of realization, Khenpo mentioned that Gyalwa Gotsangpa was an emanation of Jetsun Milarepa.
Shakya Tsogdruk Rangdrol, also a Drukpa Kagyu terton like Gyalwa Gotsangpa, spent many years in retreat and, to prevent himself from falling asleep, tied his hair to a notch in the cave. He visited Lapchi and meditated in Milarepa’s caves. While in Tsari in East Tibet, a dakini asked him to repair the stupa in Swayambhunath. He returned to Lapchi where he met his student Tsewang Jigme from Kham and requested that he undertake the restoration, which was completed in 1918.
Pema Lingpa described the qualities of sacred sites in his autobiography and wrote: “At that place there will be no frost or hail, heat or famine. Harvest and livestock will always be good. There will be no harm caused by epidemics, infectious diseases, poison, weapons, lords of the ground, or elemental spirits. By practicing there for one year, one will receive accomplishments equal to those received by practicing one hundred years somewhere else. Just being in that country purifies pollution and afflictive emotions. Everyone living there generates love and compassion, great wisdom, and a bright intellect. All beings will prosper in that country.”
References for this article:
The Life of Shabkar. The Autobiography of a Tibetan Yogi, translated by Mathieu Ricard,
Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, N.Y., 2001.
Jamyang Wangmo, The Lawudo Lama. Stories of Reincarnation from the Mount Everest Region, Wisdom Publ.,
Boston, 2005.
Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso Rinpoche, Eight Cases of Basic Goodness Not to Be Shunned, translated by Ari
Goldfield, in: Shenpen Osel, vol. 5, no. 2 and 3, Dec. 2001.
Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso Rinpoche, Vajra Songs, translated by Ari Goldfield, unpublished manuscript of
teachings presented at Thrangu House in Oxford in 2000, transcribed by gh, 2001.
Matthieu Ricard, Geographical Glossary, in: Online site of Rangjung Yeshe Wiki, 2006.
by Gaby Hollmann (2006)

1 In: The Life of Shabkar (see references below), page 5. - Mamos are a kind of dakini, female tantric deities who protect and serve the Buddhadharma.
2 In the Vedic cosmology of India, Rahu was described as one of the celestial bodies, said to have been a demon who tried to capture the sun and moon before Vishnu beheaded him; he is now seen as one of the planets responsible for eclipses. Yakshas are earth elementals who are able to rule over the senses. Rakshas are rulers who are always feared because they punish those who do nothing wrong, rakshasas dangerous fire elementals. Nagas are powerful, long-lived serpent-like water elemental beings that inhabit bodies of water and often guard great treasures; they belong half to the animal realm and half to the god realm and generally live in the form of snakes or serpents.