A Travellerspoint blog


A few days back in the big city, and oh to be off the hiking circuit menu (toast, bread, pancakes, soups made out of powdered concentrate, etc. in other words, easy to transport and easy to make food) into the world of 'real' food (espresso! Indian food! real dal bhat!) was a treat.

Within what felt like moments, I was off again in a taxi, this time headed up towards Kopan Monastery, north of the ancient Buddhist town of Boudhanath. Kopan is situated to the northeast of Kathmandu proper, but still within the ring of hills which surround Kathmandu and the rest of the villages in the Valley. Perched high on a lush forested hill, the saffron and garnet buildings of the monastery rise up out of the terraced fields and villages overlooking the entire valley below.

The monastery was started in the 70's, by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, the reincarnation of the Lawudo Lama, a yogi of the tiny hamlet of Lawudo who fulfilled the promise of the previous Lawudo Lama to start a monastic school for the local children. Twenty five monks moved down from the mountain to Kopan in 1971, and now the monastery houses nearly 400 Tibetan and Nepali monks, and 400 nuns at the neighboring nunnery.

And, on October 15th, a group of students looking to explore Tibetan Buddhism. A sunny and humorous monk checked me in, and I was taken to my single room, next to the Gompa where most of the teachings were to be held. Awake at 5:30am and heading for morning tea by 6am...sitting on the balcony with steaming milk chai in hand, listening to the chanting of the monks and prayer wheels, watching the sun edge its way over the eastern hills and distant Himalayan peaks to steam light onto the waking valley below...well, it must be one of my favorite ways I've started my day.

The rest of the days were filled with many MANY discussions, exploring general Buddhist philosophy and Tantric Buddhism, lectures by resident Lamas and Geshes (the latter equivalent to our PhD, though Geshe requires at least 25 years of training!), study groups with monks, and morning and evening meditations and mantra recitations.

What a beautiful experience! Many enormously thought provoking, though nowhere near conclusive, discussions on the nature of self and true nature of mind. Incredibly eye-opening and useful in examining our/myself and how we create suffering in our lives through clinging to ego, and I'll need more time to integrate everything presented, before I'm off to learn and challenge myself more and more.

The eleven days culminated in a final two day silent meditation retreat, which was only disappointing (alert! attachment! or is that aversion?....) because it halted conversations with the monks. What genuine, warm, compassionate and delightfully hilarious people! We were constantly recounting stories about our discussion groups...one student kept persistently asking "How long do I need to meditate to become enlightened? 20 minutes? 2 minutes? 1 minute? 1 hour?". Completely deadpan, the monk solemnly turns to us and says "As short as possible", and this tinkly laughter breaks out of him, and humor spreads all over his cheeks. Lovely.

Unfortunate side note on pics (or 'I knew dumping my photos on my iPod was too good to be true'): it turns out that Mac-formatted iPods (mine) can't be recognized on PCs (every computer in these internet cafes). Which means that all my previous photos sitting on my 'handy' iPod harddrive (including, unfortunately, trekking) are not accessible until I'm back in the US at a Mac to upload. Will work on getting current photos uploaded from now on.

Posted by gwolf2328 03:27 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

First day in the Himalayas

Arrived back in Kathmandu late LATE on the 25th with exactly one single day in the city to prepare for a sixteen day trek up through the Himalayas towards Everest Base Camp, the launching point for international expeditions making their way up to the highest peak in the world. A whirlwind of a day...ten hours and about a hundred US dollars later, I'm enjoying what I (correctly) think to be my last Western-style meal, and some time around midnight finish packing up hiking boots, GoreTex jackets, pants, fleeces, socks, sleeping bags, etc for two and a half weeks in the mountains.

6AM. Showered, packed, in the taxi and late, heading helter-skelter towards the airport for our 6:30AM check-in and flight. Sita Airlines happily takes our "luggage": sleeping bag, sleeping-bag-sized duffel impressively containing all gear for 16 days, and hiking boots. Fundamental to the success of any trek, Himalayan or not, is high quality broken-in hiking boots, and we've effectively thumbed our noses at the trekking gods by embarking on the long and difficult hike with brand-new, low-quality cheaply made imitation boots, purchased in the tourist ghetto of Thamel the day before. Manuje (our Nepalese friend, trekking companion and guide) respectfully smiles without laughing over our breakfast of chai at the airport.

12 other passengers board the tiny plane and the 16 of us (19 including airline staff) are off...the thirty five minute flight is spectacular, awe-inspiring and surreal. We glide over villages, hill terraces, monasteries and emerald ridges, easing closer and closer to the not-so-distant eastern mountain ranges, swathed in misty cloud cover. Effortlessly (and laughing, even), the pilot edges us over a low peak and heads up northwards now. Our plane navigates the descent through the clouds to the bright picturesque hillside village of Lukla, and it's not until the plane hits the runway that we're jarred back into reality from the movie of the flight that's just been painted for us.

Crisp air, cool air, smoky air, heady air meets the edges of our noses when the plane door opens. Bundling up in the nearby airport lodge, we sit for a quick breakfast of "hot milk tea, savory vegetable soup and warm chapati" (says my notes, by the way, foreshadowing of many many MANY identical meals I'll have over the next two weeks).

The day's short three hour trek from Lukla takes us through the wildflower-sprinkled kelly green mountains and cobalt blue skies of Colorado, the simple clean Austrian-reminiscent architecture of the lodges and villages, by the coffee coloured warmth of the People bundled up in woolen blanket and past the Buddhist stupas, inscribed stones, golden tops carved against the cobalt sky, and the all-seeing eye of Buddha on buildings, stones, walls and monasteries, until we reach Phakding and stay for the night.


Posted by gwolf2328 23:23 Comments (1)

The air here, breathing's fine.....

Sending a quick hello and short note from Namche Bazaar, a Himalayan village in Eastern Nepal....returning from an incredibly beautiful and successful trekking adventure through the mountains up to the Everest region (five climbs in sixteen days to minimum 5300 meters!). At 3450 meters, Namche is surprisingly equipped with trekking supplies, pubs, pool halls (they bring the tables in via helicopter), and satellite internet. At twelve bucks an hour, this post will be short.

Lots of gorgeous photos and thoughts to follow as we fly back to the big city (Kathmandu) and travel around the valley for a few days before heading to the Tibetan Buddist Kopan Monastery next week....

Posted by gwolf2328 08:00 Comments (0)

Ten days of silence

Thursday evening I boarded the local night bus with a small bag of clothes, leaving Kathmandu and most of my belongings locked up at my guesthouse. The ride itself could have taken six hours, but many chai breaks, dinners, and stops along the main Nepal highway later, we were dropped off near Lumbini shorly after 6AM. It was a 12 hour journey with beautiful Hindi soundtrack blaring over the speakers throughout the night. Lumbini itself is tiny, and after breakfast we toured the grounds, which were relatively empty, uncelebrated and not entirely developed. A sort of EPCOT of Buddhist monasteries, the man-made lake at the eastern end of the grounds is surrounded by Myanmar, Korean and other internationally sponsored monasteries, close to the humble brick building housing the birthplace of Buddha. Much to say about the Vipassana course itself, and not enough time or space to do it justice. It was an incredible and highly recommended experience. The Lumbini Center is located within the main grounds and extravagant it is not. Luxurious it is not. In fact, DEVELOPED even, it is not. A high brick wall surrounds the simple grounds, which include four brick buildings (men's quarters, women's quarters, meditation hall and dining hall) with concrete walls and floors and screen windows, all surrounded by manmade pools of water. For the next ten days, our mornings began at 4am, and ended at 9:30pm, with close to eleven hours of sitting meditation per day in the humidity and heat (40 degrees Celsius) of Lumbini, just fifteen minutes away from the Indian border. No reading, no writing, no talking and no human interaction (the last two were not so difficult, as the six other Nepali women in the course spoke no English). And still, we came out smiling, elated, floating, even not ready to leave by the end of the course.

I left Lumbini on a bus full of goats, headed to Bhairawa for the connecting transportation to Kathmandu, which ended up being a minibus packed full of 12 people. We made it past Mugling and just an hour from Kathmandu encountered a roadblock, so we parked on the interstate, and entertained ourselves for the next seven hours waiting for the accident to clear. 11pm back in Kathmandu, preparing for the next trip to eastern Nepal.

Posted by gwolf2328 08:26 Comments (1)

On the way to Lumbini

Finishing up my last day here in Kathmandu Valley area (I'm amazed how it feels like I've been here much longer than a week) and today headed to Lumbini in southern Nepal via a local night bus. Close to the Indian border, Lumbini is a holy and spiritual area, believed to be the birthplace of Gautama Buddha. The bus leaves Kathmandu and, barring landslides, protests, power outages and Maoist blockades (all of which have impeded travel in the past few weeks) arrives in Lumbini early tomorrow morning, just in time for a nap and quick tour around the area. Tomorrow afternoon I begin a Vipassana course at the Center near Lumbini. Vipassana meditation (or seeing things how they really are) is an ancient meditation technique, originating in India nearly 2500 years ago. The meditation is taught at retreats held at these centers, meaning that Saturday starts ten days of Noble Silence (no speaking, writing, eye contact) and focus on meditation (roughly ten hours a day). Challenging, life changing, eye-opening, incredible, difficult, beautiful...all comments I've heard about the course. More comments from me in a week and a half....

Posted by gwolf2328 01:11 Archived in Nepal Comments (1)

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