As I climbed the one hundred steps in the midday sun, my life on my back, doubt was running through my mind. Surely it would have been easier to reserve a guest house somewhere closer, that wasn’t so difficult to get to? But, all my negativity quickly washed away when I eventually conquered the final step. I stood in the garden and looked down below at the city. Gone were the sounds of traffic, and the day to day heckles of city life. Up here, suspended above civilisation, I had found the tranquil oasis I had been desperately craving since my arrival in Kathmandu. I approached the desk at the reception, red faced and shiny, and dropped everything that was weighing me down. Feeling lighter I smiled at the two faces that were looking at me with expressions void of any emotion. I requested a room on the third floor after reading reviews which suggested that the rooms had the best views of Kathmandu, forgetting of course that it would mean carrying my bags up another fifty steps. I picked up my load again and dragged myself to my home for the next four days, feeling relieved that I could settle for a while and take some time to breathe, to recollect my thoughts and relax. I hadn’t stayed in one place for longer than two nights so far and it was time for me to sit and take in everything that I had experienced on this journey.
The purpose of my visit at the monastery was to hopefully learn about the lives of the monks and to understand more of Tibetan Buddhism. I have studied Buddhism, and I have a personal as well as an academic interest in the religion; however Tibetan Buddhism, which falls under the Mahayana branch, I know little of. Therefore I had planned to spend the remainder of my time in Nepal learning about it, and seeing the religion in practice. The guest house has a school for young novices behind it and as I was walking up the stairs I heard sing-song voices shouting ‘Hello, hello.’ Across, in a room with a glass-less window, in a grey, dull building covered in bamboo scaffolding, were the bald heads of three young smiling novices, adorned in their maroon and orange robes. ‘Hello,’ I shouted back and they responded in giggles. I settled in to my room feeling excited about the learning experience I was about to have. My stay, however, wasn’t the education I had hoped it would be as the older monk’s, ages ranging from late teens to late twenties, seemed to eye me with suspicion. I greeted them every day with smiles; however the smiles I received in return seemed wary. I understood their wariness, I must seem a strange being to these young men. A female, nearly thirty, single and here in a monastery, all alone. I imagine they were wondering what this strange person smiling at them all the time was doing there. I persisted in my efforts to try and befriend the monks however all I could manage from them was the odd, occasional smile. And any effort to try and have a conversation was responded in one word answers. However, despite the lack of interaction with the resident monks which I had hoped to have during my stay, my time there was not wasted. My four nights quickly turned into six as I settled into a relaxed, calm routine, which was exactly what I needed after being on the road, hopping from place to place, for the past couple of weeks. I assimilated to my surroundings and the time scales of my daily routine quickly started to mirror that of the monk’s schedule. I awoke in the mornings to the sound of ringing bells at six o’clock, however as no-one was there to tell me off I sneakily went back to sleep for an extra hour. The chatter of the young novices going about their daily lives at the school re-awoke my lazy eyes and the rest of my mornings would be spent sitting in the garden, under the trees, purple petals showering me, as if from heaven, every time a bird would stop for a rest from its journey. The sun would heat up my body for the day as I watched the butterflies flutter past me and the kites soar above the city against the backdrop of the Himalayas, smiling to myself at the beauty of life. I felt so much gratitude in those moments. Grateful to be alive, to be able to sit in such a magical setting contemplating life, living in the here and now. Occasionally a monk would burst into song, snapping me out of my meditation, and I would giggle to myself when he realised he had an audience and quickly stopped his outbursts. I’m like an alien to them, from faraway lands, sitting here smiling, either in deep thought, reading or writing. I would like to ask them their stories, how they chose this path, however I daren’t ask such a forward, personal question. Sometimes I would feel guilty with my mobile phone and my laptop, my attachments to the outside world, after all Buddhism teaches that desire creates suffering, and by becoming non-attached the cessation of suffering is possible. However, all the monks here have mobile phones, too, and like people back home in the west they walk around with their faces glued to the screen, not looking where they are going. Their material possession makes me feel better about occasionally having my fingers attached to my electrical devices. Every morning the setting created an inner peace within me so profound that I could not entertain the thought of leaving. I was exactly where I needed to be, and despite the wary monks around me, I felt at home in these surroundings. Occasionally the sound of someone shouting from afar would be carried through the air and then the thud, thud, thud of monkeys running away on the tin roofs of the buildings. Their attempted burglaries failed once more. They have attitude these monkeys, they climb and stalk around in gangs, like the teenagers in some parts of England, terrorising people. Evenings were spent listening to a chorus of chanting, laughter, song and music from the young novices. Sometimes there would be tears, like all young boys in schools I imagine they had a falling out over something trivial. Lights out at the monastery is ten o’clock, and this rule I did obediently adhere too, as going to bed early is never a problem for someone who loves sleep, as I do. Before our eyes closed and entered the dream state, however, the choir of the dogs of Kathmandu must first be heard. One howl, then another, and one by one what appeared to be every dog in the city would join in as if they were singing us all goodnight. On my last day in my paradise garden a wasp came buzzing over to me, very soon it was hovering near the eyelashes of my left eye, but the stillness within must have been reflecting outwardly, as after a long period of investigation it flew away, bored of this inanimate object that had once appeared interesting. So, although I hadn’t learned anything about Tibetan Buddhism at the monastery, I did learn to live in the present, to not be concerned about the future, or the past, because they do not exist. What matters is the here and now, and the here and now is an overwhelming feeling of total bliss, of stillness.