Farewell to Kopan and Nepal

Michael, Tsultrim & I – A Farewell Chat

Lundrig & I – My Go-To Guy

Michael & I – Our “See You Later” Farewell

After 15 days at Kopan, it was time to say farewell. I was due to fly out of Kathmandu to Singapore at 1:05pm on Monday & had booked a private car to collect me just after 10am. It was quite an emotional farewell – saying bye to Michael whose companionship I’d enjoyed for most of my time at Kopan was a tad sad (I’m really not good at goodbyes). And also saying bye to a few of the monks I’d come to know & like – but they saw it as just another example of impermanence & welcomed it (wish I could get to that point in my perception).

I’d read the night before in a Thich Nhat Hanh book on love that he’d developed a Hugging Meditation, which I happily informed Tsultrim of & he struggled to understand why on earth a monk would want to hug someone. But how do you say goodbye to someone without giving them a hug? Anyway, after some last minute purchases at the Kopan bookshop, “see you later” farewells to a few monks, a big hug for Michael, & a mini hug for Tsultrim, the taxi finally arrived at about 10:30 & I was on my way.

A Monk’s Blessing

Geshe Tsultrim blessing my items

It was my very last night at Kopan & after indulging in my last not-so-delicious soup dinner, I headed to the cafe for some after dinner ginger tea. Tsultrim, a lovely Geshe monk, joined Michael & I for a chat. I needed to get some Buddhist items I’d bought blessed – it’s a nice-to-have – & Tsultrim said he’d do it – he can because he’s a Geshe (has studied for over 20 years for the Buddhist Geshe degree). The cafe closed & so Tsultrim invited us back to his bedroom in the Tantra House. Oohhhh…..to a monk’s private bedroom…..no wonder we got a few weird & surprised looks.

The Tantra House was alive with monks chanting their evening prayers as we followed Tsultrim down the stairwell to the bowels of the monk’s quarters. When inside his room, he eagerly showed off the photos of his Geshe ceremony & old monk days. After pouring through his albums, he then proceeded to bless my items which was fabulous to watch. And as we were leaving, I got to say a quick good bye to Rinzin too before heading off to bed.

CelebrationTime at The Monkey Temple

Playing cards amongst the stupas

My first monkey spotting

The long way up…..

Drumming group heading down from the stupa

This dog has found some peace – not dead, just sleeping.

Buddha statue with colourful offering

Bright red offering over Buddha statue

Little stupas with the large stupa in background

Swayambhunath Stupa

Taking a peek inside the temple

Stupas all around

Butter lamps & man attending

Monkey & babe

After our Durbar Square visit, Michael & I hopped into a taxi (I tried, but just couldn’t convince him a rickshaw would be 3 times as much fun), & weaved our way through backstreets till we arrived at Swayambhunath (called Monkey Temple because there’s quite a few very naughty monkeys living there).

Being Saturday, there were thousands of Nepalis dotted all over the grounds – playing drums, having large group picnics, even playing cards amongst the stupas. I knew I was in for an uphill walk but never imagined how steep that uphill walk would be. It was hot & humid, rain sprinkling on & off, as we headed up the steps. I thought the first set of steps was all there was, sweat beading on my face as I arrived at the top only to find an enormous amount of steeper steps awaiting me – crap! And monkeys running around the stupas, climbing the trees, & being generally cheeky, as you would expect with monkeys.

I finally managed to climb the stairs, with my heavy pack, paid the 200 rps entry fee, dodged the drumming hoardes, & made it to the top. People absolutley everywhere. Strangely, even though this is a Buddhist Stupa, there were all these Hindu celebrations taking place all around the huge stupa (I was told later that this is a shared religious space). It was loud & hectic pandemonium everywhere with people praying, drumming, lighting incense & butter lamps, eating, & shopping in the various Buddhist shops scattered about. Michael wasn’t at all comfortable or amused, but I was fascinated. We spent about an hour looking in the museum & shops, spinning the stupa prayer wheels, & taking photos. Then headed all the way back down & got out of there, heading by taxi back to the tranquility of Kopan.

Finally…Durbar Square

Old Building in Durbar Square

Rickshaws Lined Up

One of many sacred cows having a rest

Part of the Palace

A Sacred Nook I Discovered

Don’t argue with armed guards!

A pagoda in the palace

Building Detail

Cooking up lunch

After my first unsuccessful attempt at visiting Durbar Square when I went to Thamel, I was still determined to see something of historical significance here in Kathmandu. I heard from a couple of the monks that Bhaktapur was quite expensive – at least 1200 rps entry fee + another 2000-2500 rps taxi fare – so decided against that option. Durbar Square, I was also told, had many similarly styled buildings, was inexpensive, & was only a hop skip & jump away from Thamel. Sounded good….

While not overly enthusiastic, Michael said he’d play tourist with me for the day – first stop Thamel, then Durbar Square, then Swayambhunath (or Monkey Temple as it used to be called). After arriving in Thamel, Michael bought some wire string for his amethyst mala, I bought a happy sack, & we headed for a morning tea/coffee. After feeling sufficiently capable of walking to Durbar Square, not knowing where we were going, we heading off, asking lots of directions along the way. Only a few streets away from Thamel, it started getting pretty grungey, completely tourist free (except us), & more than a tad smelly with garbage lying in piles beside the road. But, apart from the festering smell, I loved the rustic feel & genuineness of the area. Michael clearly didn’t.

On arriving at Durbar Square we were directed over to pay an entrance fee of 750 rps. I argued that it was meant to be 300 rps, but it had just been raised, & only westerners had to cough up the cash. Bugger! Knowing Michael wouldn’t pay, I suggested we try some back door options. We stumbled onto a NZ family exiting another entrance, who very kindly offered us their tickets – so we got in for free – yay!

Must admit, the buildings here weren’t really up to scratch. We were denied access to the palace, I think because we were westerners (other got in freely), & it was really confusing to find your way around. At one point I realised I was debating as to entry with a guard with a loaded weapon & then immediately thought “WTF am I doing?!” & gently backed away. I did get some pics here & there, but feel that with some more knowledge I could have a lot more good ones.

Quite exhausted with the busyness & confusion of the place, we retired to a rooftop restaurant for a vege momo lunch & cool drink. Then decided we’d seen more than enough of Durbar Square for now.

Hanging Out in Boudha

Monk perusing the Buddhist wares

Old Buddhist Nun outside the stupa

Eyes of the Boudha Stupa

Tibetan Woman Circumambulating the Stupa

Boudha Stupa Before a Storm

Burning incense outside the stupa

Michael very patiently waiting for me to catch up while I take some pics

Buddha Statue Relic in side of stupa

The Stupa’s very own pigeon woman

Shop showing their wares

Looks very hot, whatever they are!!

On Monday, I finally worked up the mindset needed for me to walk to Boudha. Thinking it was going to take an hour or more in the sweltering heat, I was understandably reluctant, especially thinking about lugging my photography pack all that way too. But I agreed with Michael that in order to prevent any further stir crazy head space, there was a definite need to escape Kopan yet again.

So, off we went after my meditation session, heading out at midday in the heat of the day. Armed with copious amounts of sunscreen, a cap, & a determination that I would get to Boudha without collapsing, I was pleasantly surprised to arrive there in 45 mins. Is this it???

Boudha is a really cute little precinct, with allay streets all leading to this enormous stupa which the entire township is centred around. The feel is, of course, very Tibetan Buddhist, & all the shops surrounding the stupa sell Buddhist relics, statues & wares. But after the walk, lunch was the only thing on my mind, & I was extremely disappointed to hear the Saturday Cafe, recommended to me, had closed down. So, we headed to Flavors, a new Boudha institution, & we weren’t disappointed. Even though several Kopan residents were hanging about, I sneaked a lovely chicken dijonaise lunch in.

After lunch, Michael & I wandered through all the shops around the stupa, buying stuff here & there – a bit cheaper than Thamel. And then it was afternoon tea time, & we headed back to Flavors – I had a scrumptious ‘chocolate muss cake’ & arrived in Nirvana whilst devouring it. After a bit more shopping, we headed back to Kopan, but my legs said a definite “no way” to climbing back up the hill & so a taxi ride was an easy & accessible option – thank goodness!

A very enjoyable day! And on Wednesday, we did it all over again!! And will probably go again a few more times after that too…..

Dinner With Rinzin

I really wasn’t expecting to meet with Rinzin at all after the silent treatment I’d received over the last 5 or more days. Then, one of the monks came to me & said “Rinzin is here & he will meet with you at the cafe here for dinner at 6:30”. Well, okay then…

Dinner is a whole lot more than simply chatting over a tea or milkshake, & with all the weirdness that had been going on, I wasn’t really sure what we were going to speak about.  Even though I was meeting with a 14 y.o. boy, it almost felt like a first date (in a completely non-sexual kind of way). So, I turned up at the cafe at 6:30, & Rinzin appeared shortly thereafter. And he was just like a 14 y.o. boy would be talking with an adult he didn’t know – shy & awkward, very awkward. So, I did most of the speaking, asking questions predominantly, with uncomfortable silences in between. I showed him a photo of Bec & his face lit up, remembering her from the time she taught him English at Kopan. He was very surprised we are close friends – bit confusing for him, I think. But I grew tired of doing most of the asking, with a few questions from him in-between, & after 45 mins, we said our farewells.

And, just like a date you wished you’d never accepted, I wondered why I’d ever pursued a meeting with him in the first place…..oh, well.

Gura Puja

Guru Puja

Twice in a Tibetan lunar month, a Guru Puja is undertaken at the monastery. And this week, I just happened to stumble upon one in the main gompa after dinner. Not all the monks attended, mostly those, it seemed, from the Tantra House – well, it is a tantra ceremony.  There was much pomp & ceremony, symbols , conch shells & Tibetan horns being used throughout as ceremonial offerings & prayers are offered to the Buddhas & Boddhisatvas. Not expecting to sit in on a significant ceremony, I was astounded that it went on for nearly 2 ½ hours, & so were my legs which frequently went numb sitting on the mat throughout. But the energy was incredibly strong & mesmerizing. We also got to participate in a small way by drinking the tea offered in the ceremony, & being given a stash of naughty edible goodies at the end – left with my hands full.