After a full eight hours of solid sleep I felt more grounded. I headed out at 6.30 a.m., hoping for a hit of Italian coffee before some practice in the devotees’ zone. But – the Espresso Bar was closed! I heard later that there had been a power cut, so there had been no point opening at the normal 6:30 – no power, no espresso.
I had tried earlier to visit the main Tamang/Nyingma temple – Ghayanghuti Gompa, with the big, big bell – but had made the mistake of trying to go through the main door. The ground floor is closed – earthquake damage, I think. The trick, so obvious I don’t know why I missed it, was to go upstairs. The main shrine room is on the first floor, where the large metal statues are stunning – Santarakshita, Mahaguru, Amitabha, Guru Rinpoche (double life-size at the very least), Chenrezi, Sengdongma and Trisong Detsen. You can, of course, Google these names if you want to know more. I was made to sit in the middle of the floor for part of the Mahakala Puja, which is part of the technique for encouraging you to make offerings. That is, after all, largely what they live from. But it’s a beautiful room, and I looked forward to going back.
On my way to lunch I was delayed by an event not far from the stupa entrance. Events are frequent – sometimes a wedding, sometimes a celebration – and it can be hard to find anybody who knows what any given special occasion actually is.
Run into someone once around Baudha, and you’re likely to keep running into them. So it was only a slight surprise that Marisa and her boyfriend Julien (or maybe he wasn’t the “boyfriend” – I’m not honestly quite sure) wandered in, and we swapped a few notes on what to do and where to go. After lunch, they showed me the Kanying monastery, which sounded promising, but basically it was closed and nothing was doing. I could remember a fair bit of what was on the lost plan, so my own next move was to follow one of my teachers’ suggestions by finding Bairo Ling. It looks easy on the map. I, however, walked nearly half an hour too far up the wrong muddy road, came back, tried asking people, got no help, had a stab at a side road, asked again, drew a blank, only to see that I was actually in sight of the gate. Here again, I was told that it was “closs-ed, may be open later, don’t know”. So another blank.
I also tried to look at a Kagyu monastery just past the Lotus Guesthouse, which was pretty, and was open, but it was packed with tiny monks, so nothing really there for someone like me.
A smile on the way back:
This guy was regular at that spot on Phulbari Street, and some of his tunes could pass, I swear, for Kerry polkas!
My room at the back of the Rokpa looked out onto the Sechen Monastery car park. I had been in the crowd at the enthronement of the yangsi (“reincarnation”, you might say, if you are not too philosophically finicky) of the famous Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. At the time of his death Dilgo Khyentse had been the “head” the Nyingma school. The Nyingma do not have a monolithic organisation, and the position of “head” is a relatively new invention, intended to give the Nyingma a voice since the Tibetan diaspora. He was also the uncle of two of my most important teachers.
I, too, was looking for somewhere more inspiring than my basic bedroom to do a bit of quiet practice time to time, and at Sechen I got lucky. On the upper floor there is a large room housing a stupa containing, I think, some of his ashes.
This was a good start, and I stayed there for a while. Further back there is an inner room, this time with a carpet, and a very lifelike, exactly life-size statue of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. I remembered seeing it at the enthronement in ’97. It had been made to look as like him as possible, and even wears some of his actual clothes.
A more unusual stroke of luck came when a door in a dark corner of this room was opened, and I was motioned to go in. Frankly, I thought it was a bit untidy, and wondered why it hadn’t been straightened out – but there was a reason. This had been Rinpoche’s private room and nothing had been touched or rearranged since his death 20 years earlier. Back in the carpeted room I had a brief conversation with Vienna, a young woman from Hong Kong. Have you seen the video of Debbie, the Crazy Cat Lady? (If not, Google video.) Now substitute Dilgo Khyentse for cats, and your thinking will be going in the right direction. Vienna kept filling up with tears on hearing that I, or anybody else that she spoke to, had met Dilgo Khyentse in real life.
Taking photographs was not appreciated, but I found the two above on the net.
I had bought a few hand-malas with 27 beads each to take back to friends. The standard mala has 108 beads, of course. As it happens, it is more common to recite things 21 times than 27 times, but 27 is one quarter of 108. This makes it a good size for counting prostrations, where a full 108 beads tend to fly around, slap on the floor and break. So I now took these small malas to the Ghayanghuti temple, where I got a blessing put on them. I took them with me to all the special sites that I was to visit in the Kathmandu Valley, so if you believe in this kind of thing they should be well-vibed up!
And so to the Double Dorje for momos and tongba.
Tongba is made from fermented millet. It is served with hot water which draws the alcohol out into the liquor, and drunk through a straw. Here, it is served in an elegant mug which, in the darkness, might look like coil-wound earthenware. In fact it is made of wood, sealed by being wrapped tightly with black electrical insulating tape. It may look like sloppy cattle-feed, and indeed that’s almost exactly what it is, but by Buddha’s tooth, it tastes almost exactly like sake. Anything wrong with that?
That evening I spoke to Johanna from Berlin, who had been travelling alone in India and Nepal. She had an interesting insight: a lone, female, traveller from the west is of course likely to have at least some trouble from men. She had indeed had some difficulty with men who thought they might be able to take sexual advantage of her. She had, however, more difficulty with those who were looking for a “relationship” – these were the men who saw her as a gateway to their dream of starting a new life in Europe. I hadn’t thought of that.