My affliction was really starting to tire me out. I had gone to bed early the previous night, slept for nine hours, went down to do a bit of practice at the stupa, back to the Rokpa for breakfast, and then just fell back in bed again!
But I recovered from the exertion of breakfast, and went to get some pictures of the stupa in a particularly special morning light, when the sun reflects off the gold facings. Here’s a couple of my favourites:
Man slips on banana skin! That there are some Tibetans for whom this is the height of humour. Some of the beggars are totally blind, but between them they seem to cope. More or less, anyway: as I was snapping, one of them walked into a sleeping dog. There was a bit of yelping, but more of outrage than injury, and a lot of giggling from the onlookers. Well, yes, this could happen anywhere. But within seconds our blind man was heading straight for another dog. Were the onlookers just waiting to see if it would happen again? I’m not sure, but I grabbed his shoulders from behind and steered him round the animal. It wasn’t a small creature, and there is a proverb about sleeping dogs, isn’t there?
Feeling tottery I went to sit quietly in the Ghayanghuti temple opposite the stupa entrance. Nothing much was happening. I already had a feeling that the monks there are not particularly well-disciplined, and this impression was underlined. Several of them were sitting in a corner, playing a smartphone version of cards. The statues in the main lhakhang (literally “gods’ room”) are quite gorgeous, and the temple is an important attraction, and it generates a regular flow of offerings. I’m not saying that monks shouldn’t have a bit of time relaxing; nor am I saying that playing cards is some kind of sin (though I do suspect it’s against the strict monks’ rules). But shouldn’t they be a bit more disciplined when on duty in the main temple – on public show? I went up to the roof.
The roof is another world again. There are lamp-burning facilities, and a further shrine room, much, much smaller than the one on the first floor, but, for my money, having even more charm. The central figure of Guru Rinpoche is no more than life-sized, and apart from the unsurprising side-figures of Chenrezi, Khenpo Bodhisattva (also known as Shantarakshita), Shakyamuni and Guru Rinpoche’s two main consorts, there are six particularly appealing offering goddesses. Unfortunately the light was very low, and I didn’t get a good picture of them.
A ceremony was underway for a Nepalese family. The master of ceremonies truly looked the part of the oriental sage: goatee, long grey/black hair swept back into a single ponytail, a gold brocade gown topped by a red and white “ngakpa (tantric yogi’s) shawl” of the Dudjom tradition.
Monks and nuns are well-known for having shaven heads as a sign of renunciation. Yogis of non-celibate traditions often take the opposite vow, not cutting their hair as a sign of their commitment to “leaving the mind in its natural state”. Some of these yogis keep their hair in what most of us would think of as tidy condition, but many quite deliberately do not groom it. This, of course, soon means dreadlocks – and, I fear, lice as well.
I did not take the picture below, but I include it because it shows my own teacher (of teachings from the Dudjom Tersar cycle), Ngagpa Karma Lhundup wearing the Dudjom shawl, together with another yogi with fearsome, piled-up dreadlocks:
As the ceremony came to an end, a couple of the Nepalese guys wanted some pictures of themselves with me and the other Caucasian in the room. You’d think that with the number of tourists in Kathmandu they’d have been used to Europeans, but it seems we looked a bit exotic. I then got them to return the favour using my own camera:
I should tell you two things about the other Caucasian. Firstly, he was French. Secondly, he was away with the fairies. No causal connection is implied. We had a conversation with Sherab Dorje, one of the temple monks, whose English was considerably better than that of the Frenchman. I shall call him Jaques, because I didn’t catch his name, and “the Frenchman” sounds a bit dismissive. Jaques explained that he first came to Kathmandu two years ago, and has been back 22 times since then. He has a problem with his family, since he can’t talk to them about everything he knows about past lives. He was convinced that he had been friends with Sherab ever since the times of Guru Rinpoche.
“So you’ve been wandering around in samsara since then,” I asked. “What went wrong?”
Jaques had tales of South American people who believe that a rainbow is the sign of a soul leaving, and another rainbow shows it returning, to which Sherab had a reply:
“But in Buddhism we don’t believe in unbelievable things.”
I shall treasure that reply.
When Jacques began to explain that the thing about a rainbow is that God made it, just as God made everything else, I had to ask him what sort of Buddhist he was. It turned out that, for all his travels in Tibetan Buddhist environments, he had never heard of Milarepa. He had never heard of the Nyingma school, let alone did he realising that we were sitting in a Nyingma temple. I am not, of course, saying that people in general should be familiar with Milarepa or with the schools of Tibetan Buddhism – although I can assure you that this is really a fun kind of knowledge to have! But people in general do not wander round Kathmandu claiming to have large amounts of knowledge through their memories of previous lives. Enough of that!
I didn’t feel like lunch. I just bought a large bottle of Coca-Cola and rested in bed for the afternoon before heading out to the stupa later. There were a lot of people; a lot of circumambulation was being done; and a lot of lights had been lit – this was the two-year anniversary of the earthquake.
Some years ago it had been the done thing to set out large numbers of these “butter lamps” on the various levels of the stupa itself. The fuel, by the way, is not butter, but it is greasy and it does burn. It may be chemically related to margarine. That had to stop because of the number of broken legs, and now they are only allowed to set the offering lamps up on the level ground surrounding the stupa.
Then a funny thing happened.
As I joined the crowd, I accidentally bumped into a smallish woman, in her forties perhaps. She immediately began asking me questions such as what country I was from, where I was staying, and so on. Very friendly. With hindsight I don’t think I bumped into her at all. I rather think that she had targeted me, and that the bump was an easy way to get the conversation started. It went on.
“Have you been down to Thamel? Do you like music? There are bars where you can hear music, all kinds of music, pop music, Nepalese music… Where are you staying? What sort of room is it? Double room? Single room? My name Mina. My house very near here. You want to go to a bar? You staying in a guesthouse? My house just over there…”
Eventually I had to claim that I had to leave straightaway, as I was overdue to meet friends.
“What kind of friends? Boyfriend? Girlfriend?”
I made a getaway. I was not quite sure whether, like some of the men who had tried to strike up a relationship with Johanna, she was cruising the tourists in the hope of finding a path to a new life in Europe or America. My strong suspicion is that she was only after a single, hopefully profitable, transaction.
One beer in the Double Dorje, then bed.