Dining with the Monks

by Annalise on October 22, 2009

We took our first overnight trip out of Kathmandu this past few days. We’d been recommended to walk into the NamoBuddha Temple just South East of the city. Our favorite cab driver, Suvaz drove us after the usual bartering and as usual, as soon as we were underway, we began a Nepali language lesson with our little phrase book in hand. He is an excellent language coach; very patient, always checking our pronunciation and initiating new phrases or words if we slip back to just English or fall silent for a bit. We keep telling him that he should market his rides as dual service; we pay enough. Well, we think we’re still paying a foreigner surcharge but really, it is very inexpensive.

There was plenty of time for our lesson this day as it took us about an hour and a half to drive about 40 km. This included one incident of Suvaz’s car overheating and another point where he added one more passenger, giving him a lift to a University in exchange for some directional assistance once we got out of his normal driving range. We ended up driving closer to our destination than we’d intended but given the heat, we were grateful for this added distance.

After walking only an hour and a half we could see the temple on a distant hilltop and continued our slow climb along the cobbled road to this home of approx. 250 Tibetan Buddhist monks and novices (students and monks in training). The monks operate a series of guest houses with the temple where people can stay and enjoy the serenity and beauty of the place. And it was certainly beautiful. The monks and novices all dressed in their wine-coloured robes as they move about this gorgeous expanse of ornately decorated buildings. As we arrived, we immediately heard the drum and vibration of chanting taking place in the main building. We were allowed in but not to photograph. The sound of the combination of these voices, the horns and the gongs was something else; mesmerizing. It provided a backdrop sound-scape over which little else could be heard. You had little choice but to move silently and simply take in all that this hill-top sanctuary had to offer.

When we checked in, we learned that the Guest House cook staff were all away for the Hindu festival which was just wrapping up. The monk in charge, apologetically advised us that we’d have to take our meals with the monks in the main dining hall and offered us a discount on our stay as a result.

Imagine a room of approx. 100 monks and novices sitting cross legged in rows on simple wooden benches behind desk-like tables; all in their robes, each with only the slightest stubble for hair. A handful of monks move swiftly along the rows, some passing out to each person a metal bowl and spoon, followed by others with large pots of ‘dinner’, spooning two ladles-full per person into the bowls. We were a bit skeptical but of course a scenario requiring greater humility could not have been found. As the bowls were being filled and our turn came near, we caught the delicious aroma of what our dinner was to be: a vegetable stew with spinach, potato and large square noodles in a delicious creamy broth. Another novice followed with a large bowl of rice.

Before anyone lifted a spoon the group broke into a loud chanting prayer which lasted several minutes. We just watched and listened to this extraordinary scene. Some of the novices were quite young, ranging in age from about 9 through to teenage; all added their voices fully. We were among about only 10 visiting guests and when silence fell, everyone dug into their meal with equal enthusiasm. During dinner we caught many of the novices glancing curiously at Robin or perhaps at his crazy hair which he’s avoiding getting cut. Dave joked later that they may have been wondering if we’d brought him there to be enrolled as in boarding school.

The night was cool and clear as we made our way back from the dining hall to our rooms. From the roof-top deck we enjoyed the fire flies and saw stars that we’d certainly not seen in the city. It was so peaceful and beautiful, it inspires prayer, whatever your denomination!

In the morning, Robin commented with happy wonder in his voice “I was actually cold at one point last night” This hilltop provided the best view of the Himalayas we’ve had yet. We watched in awe as the sun rose from a pink hue on the horizon to slowly add brilliant texture and dimension to the distant peaks. We went down for breakfast at 7:00 all anticipating porridge I think. Instead we were surprised by the curried potato stew and steamed bun served in the same fashion as the previous night. The morning drink though was a bit of a challenge. I’d read of butter tea but now I can also say I’ve tried it. It was goat butter I think (as creamer in place of milk) and the tea was very hot and a bit salty. I finished a surprising among of my large bowl. It reminded me of reading the book “Three Cups of Tea” in which Greg Mortison describes first drinking the village tea which there was made with rancid yak butter…. yummy… Mine didn’t taste rancid but it is not something I need to try a second time. For the first though, I was in a grateful state of mind.

Our walk out to the nearest bus stop at Panauti was about 8 km from the temple. We ambled along for just over 2.5 hours down a windy road through terraced farmland watching the early morning work of harvest and passing a handful of villages. It was such a gorgeous scene. From Panauti, the bus trip returning to Kathmandu thrust us abruptly back to the crowded reality of the city, the tranquility gone but not forgotten.

Oh yes and we did happily bring our hairy boy back home with us.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Bob McInnis October 23, 2009 at 12:25 am

David,
Thanks for the link. I read the last two posts and will be sure to jump back to the beginning of your journey so we are up to date. I glean up to 100 blogs a day(mostly opinion and educational) but have never been gripped by the story and writing stlyle quite the way this post did. What a great storyteller, what a great story.

Miss you, Be safe, Feeling jealous

Bob and Jan

Shirley Robertson October 23, 2009 at 1:26 pm

I agree about the great story telling. You guys are amazing!!! One of your biggest fans is Joette (Marilyn’s daughter).

This little trip of yours sounds absolutely wonderf ul and I have read Robin’s account as well. What an experience that young man is getting!!! It couldn’t be better.

So looking forward to seeing you.

LeeAnne October 24, 2009 at 9:25 am

I have to agree with the first two comments. The storytelling is fabulous. I felt like I was there hearing, seeing, smelling – thanks so much for that. I also feel like my next read should be “Three Cups of Tea” which is sitting on my bookcase along with a dozen other books yet unread.

Thanks for sharing your journey!

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