Changcha: Rogues all – nine of them – come throwing themselves sincerely prostrate, hitting their stony forehead on the hard, burning asphalt – rogues – they come.

It has taken them 185 hours – eight full days, more or less – from Paro to this dusty patch of Khasadrapchu roadside from where a slender tarmac lane branches off towards Jemina. And they trudge on, tired but unaffected, grime-smothered entire but not in the least bothered – the severely devoted rogues – they come.

Now the sun is leaving the sparsely clothed ridge belt of rocks and scrawny pines speckled, fading quietly into the horizon. Some good distance from here, before the highway cuts into the village of Namseling, they will rest and call it a day. Far below the road, down the sad and howling gorge, the roiling Wangchhu rumbles on.

These are good rouges, deeply penitent former addicts, who have come all the way from Paro and will end their journey at Tashichhodzong, doing changcha (full prostration). Led by Tshewang Tenzin, himself a former addict and now the programme coordinator with Chithuen Phendey Association (CPA), the changcha team is made up of staff, members and clients of CPA.

Tshewang Tenzin was in Chumphu in Paro, soaking in hot steam blissfully with his friends, when the idea hit them. And the good news came, very good news indeed – The Gyalsey had been born! The team woke up early and offered prayers; they concretized the idea and headed towards Kyichu.

As in all things, the beginning had to be auspicious, so they started with blessings from Khamtrul Rinpoche and Lam Neten of Paro. The biggest changcha group to be seen trailing along the road in the fashion of supremely liberated mendicants of rare order had just about started banging their head on the tarmac when people they met began asking what monumental sins had they committed in their many lives that they had to repent so. They did not answer. They had little time to meditate on such vastly mundane and painfully appalling trivialities of life. They kept going, unhearing, unseeing – prostrating, rising, prostrating…

Then the first blisters began appearing on their palms and knees. Still they moved on, gathered thick grime on their forehead, their masked face kissing the good earth. All these aches and hardships they dedicated to the 400th year of Zhabdrung’s arrival in Bhutan and to Guru Rinpoche because this year – Fire Male Monkey Year – is the birth year of the greatest tantric saint that ever walked the face of earth, and to the peace and prosperity of the country and the people.

Intense sun burnt and cold winds chaffed their skins, but there was no stopping these dedicated and highly charge rogues of the road. It didn’t rain, but even if it had, they would have just scoffed at it and plodded on, these deeply ardent rogues. The first day nearly had them done for good. Two of them are sitting in a white Bolero pickup, sick and injured.

It has been nine years since Tshewang Tenzin gave up alcohol and abstained from any kind of addiction. He is married and has two sons; the younger one is just a month old.

“We started with the idea of having just two meals a day, but that’s very difficult. But this is our prayer for all, parents and people we have known and hurt. This is kind of our way to say that we are really deeply sorry,” says Tshewang Tenzin.

Karma Tshering, 28, is from Lobesa, Punakha. He is a counsellor with CPA. He has been three years clean now. He picked up drinking habit early on. Soon he realised that he had become a hardcore addict. “I really felt that I should stop drinking. My addiction has hurt many people. I let them down. This is my one chance to say to my King, country and the people that I regret the way I spent my life,” says Karma.

One of the guys in the group has parents living in Khasadrapchu. As he throws his wooden hand guards on the hard tarmac, making a clacking sound, his parents don’t come to meet him.

But people do come along the way to greet the group. Some contribute money, others stuff to eat. Sometimes people sponsor lunch for the group. The group has received financial and other supports from Ugen Tsechup Dorji and KS Dhendup. From the monetary contributions, the group wants to construct a statue to mark their success. These good rogues have a dream.

Sonam Rinzin, 33, is from Shermuhung, Mongar. He has been an alcoholic for nearly 20 years. “ We’re all feeling really good. It’s tiring but a very fulfilling experience. This shows the power of determination. All things work if one is determined.”

Nima from Wangdue is the group’s oldest. He is 60. He’s got bloody marks on his mask and something ominously red is oozing from his mouth. It’s the betel juice. Nima doesn’t drink regularly but when he does he goes on with it heavily for weeks without meal. His loving and worried daughter encouraged him to join rehabilitation centre in Paro. There he met his friends who are on the road with him today, doing changcha and pulling on.

Says Nima: “I can’t handle too much stress. I didn’t even know that an organisation like CPA exists. I come from a different era, you see. But now we are like real good brothers. I am happy that we are making really determined effort.”

It’s a new day. Sun is back and the rogues are on their feet. In a week’s time, on March 3, the groups will reach Tashichhodzong, their final destination. There, their friends, well-wishers and family members will be waiting to greet them. It will be an emotional moment for most of them.

Slowly but surely, the good rogues are coming.

Jigme Wangchuk