Late that afternoon, we reach the confluence of the Rongshar and Menlung rivers, where a promontory of ancient glacial shelf rises several hundred feet above the two swollen rivers. On its summit, the blackened tin roof and broken adobe walls of Chuwar Gompa—“a place in the solitude”—rises like a ghostly apparition from a dense green field of stinging nettles.
Because of its location near the border of Nepal, Chuwar was considered of strategic significance to the PLA. When the Chinese finally arrived to “liberate” the area in 1972, desecration began and some zealous Tibetan converts to Maoist ideology joined in the mayhem.
Inside the gompa, dust motes dance on shafts of light piercing the tin roof, falling first on splintered timbers of the collapsed upper floor, then on the vacant central dais. A surreal fan of delicate fungus grows like an organic blue sconce on a rotted wooden beam; light and darkness take turns caressing the broken limbs of Chenrezig, Bodhisattva of Compassion. Even in senseless destruction, there is a savage aesthetic.
Eight shattered effigies depicting various aspects of Buddha-nature sit in meditation around the temple’s periphery—some disemboweled, others beheaded or riddled with bullets—but all smiling irrepressibly as if to say: “Behold how ignorance can destroy a thousand years of art, culture, and human progress in a heartbeat. Behold the truth of impermanence.”