Time was running out, as it must. The highest-priority left on my list was Pharping. Friends had suggested that this was a place to spend more than one day, and I too would now recommend that to anyone else. But the traveller’s trots had cut my time right down – spending any nights in Pharping was not an option.
I found a taxi, driven by Tan the Tamang Taxi-driver, hereinafter referred to as T3, and negotiated a sensible rate for the day. The Tamangs are one of the ethnic groups in Nepal, like Sherpas, Newaris, Tibetans and others. Within less than a kilometre we had introduced ourselves:
“Me new driver. Only four months. But no problem!”
A plastic amulet with a picture of the Dalai Lama hung from his rear-view mirror, so I asked him if he was a Buddhist, and he was keen to say yes. He may not have been experienced as a taxi driver, but he did take me to the right places.
First up, the Vajrayogini Temple of Pharping, one of the famous Vajrayoginis of the Kathmandu region. I wondered how it was going to go: I remembered visiting this shrine 20 years ago. A woman had lent out of the upstairs window, waving me away, saying, “Only Buddhists, only for Buddhists”.
“But I am one,” I called back, to which she replied, “Oh, all right, come on up then.”
Had things become stricter or looser since then? I don’t know. Perhaps I was more confident in my own status as a Buddhist. After the climb up the steps to the courtyard, I looked around, took some pictures, took my shoes off and then simply went up the stairs without asking. And there was no problem at all. Unsurprisingly, photographs were not allowed in the actual shrine – sorry! It seemed a bit more spacious than I recalled, and with a little more distance from the statue itself. Perhaps that was just memory playing tricks, or perhaps things have changed.
This picture from the net:
The photo looks old, but is said to be a picture of the statue at that shrine.
And then the were steps! Who’da thought it? Back in the day, this was a rocky path through the bush, with a touch of railing here and there. But now it has been remodelled as regular steps and a monastery, leading to one of the most sacred sites of the area: the “Asura cave”, where guru Rinpoche himself is said to have meditated. He also left a handprint in the rock outside. The place wasn’t particularly busy, and it was quite possible to go in and soak up the feel of the place for a few minutes.
Down closer to Pharping itself there is a Hindu temple, Sheshnarayan.
Another cave associated with Guru Rinpoche is tucked into a corner.
This too has changed: the floor of rock and beaten earth has now been covered with some bourgeois wooden laminate flooring.
I had hoped to see the enormous Guru Rinpoche statue nearby at Dollu, but there was a problem with the road between Kathmandu and Pharping, which was closed for much of the middle of the day. T3, however, was willing to show the way. The walk took an hour. T3 did flag a bit, but I pointed out that, firstly, I was much older than him, and that, secondly, he was a Nepali, famous for being able to walk in the mountains, so eventually we got there.
Worldly gods are also worshipped in these valleys:
But it was not to be the most successful visit – earthquake damage meant that the main entrance to the temple was closed. Quite possibly, given a lot more time, somebody could have been found to show us the way in, but time was short. I’ve tried to find at least one photograph that gives an impression of scale, but it hasn’t been easy. More distant shots have the right perspective, but suffer from haze, and the shots from close up lack any reference to give the right scale.
But no way in.
After walking another hour and a half back (it was uphill), the police still had the road to Kathmandu closed. To T3’s annoyance, this only applied to ordinary people like us. Big cars with officials on the back seat were allowed through. So he had a good, matey chat with the guys in the police station:
… telling them that we were only going to Dollu, not to the problem area. So we were let through, and promptly drove to that very same problem area:
Yes, road closed. Long wait.
After a while, and luckily for us (although not, perhaps, for some other poor sod) an ambulance came up from our side, sounding sirens and flashing lights. The construction workers then put the road back into temporary operation, and of course everyone else trying to go north trailed gleefully behind the ambulance back towards KTM.
I had missed visiting kudung of Chatral Rinpoche that Chris had told me about, and the Temple of Peaceful and Wrathful deities of the Bardo that Marisa had told me about. There is now so much more at Pharping than there was 20 years ago, and staying there for at least a couple of days would have been nice. But it was not to be.
At the Rokpa Guesthouse, a funny thing happened. There was a woman at the guesthouse – I think they called her Ani, but that’s kind of a generic name, so I’m not sure. Anyway, she had been the main organiser of the day of chöd, some of which I had sat in on earlier in the week.
“Oh, we’ve got a special visitor coming,” she said, passing me by at the corner of the guesthouse lawn. “Buddha’s tooth,” she added. “And you’re invited too.”
In due course, armed with a white scarf, I joined the line of orphans and teachers. Orphans? An orphanage and home for former street kids – an important part of what Akong Rinpoche did – is amongst the medical and educational work of the Rokpa organisation . As I understand it, the guesthouse is run partly in support of that orphanage.
Lea Wyler, leading light of the organisation, gave us all an explanation of what an amazing opportunity it was to see the one-and-only relic left over of the Buddha’s body from more than two and a half thousand years ago. It had, she explained, been given to Nepal by the King of Thailand, and was kept in a monastery in Kathmandu. In truth, there are quite a number of teeth credited with being the one-and-only remaining tooth of the Buddha, and this one is not the best known. But, hey! The whole event was, I will confess, quite moving, especially as we few adults and all the orphans filed up one by one to present a scarf and peer into the bottle to take a look at the little bit of white ivory.
Last supper of the trip in the Double Dorje. Said goodbye.