Leaving a space where one feels happy and content is difficult. However, I had been apart from civilisation for too long, and I was running out of time in Nepal to accomplish my aim, to learn about Tibetan Buddhism. After lots of online research I found another monastery, tucked away in the hills of the Kathmandu Valley. It offered activities such as spending a full day in the presence of a monk, and one to one lessons on the religion, so of course I made a reservation at the hotel attached to it. Elated that I had finally found what I was looking for I headed back to the centre of Kathmandu to look into transportation to Dashinkali, the nearest village to the monastery. Now, usually this task would not prove difficult, with local buses and private taxis available on every street in Thamel. However, my time in Nepal coincides with the current fuel crisis, therefore getting to places that are off the beaten track is not so straight forward any more. The manager of the guest house that I was staying at called a few local drivers for me and they all quoted him very expensive prices. They had purchased fuel on the black market and of course with the increase in price come the increase in their charges, understandably. After several negotiations I managed to settle on a price and, feeling relieved, I arranged to meet the driver at ten o’clock the following morning, my studies were finally set to begin, or so I thought.
To my dismay the driver didn’t show up. I walked to the main street, backpack in tow, and within a fraction of a second I was fenced in at all sides by taxi drivers, my backpack had attracted them like honey attracts bees. I explained to them where I wanted to go and they all looked at me, frowning, and told me I would be better off getting the bus because it was just too much in fuel. So off to the bus station I went. Well, it’s not exactly what I would call a bus station; it’s more like a car park with people shouting out different destinations in rapid, musical speech. There is no ticket desk or timetable, no advice in sight. Now, as I unfortunately can’t speak Nepalese, with the exception of a few words that is, I had no idea which of these buses, if any, would be travelling to the village I needed to get to. So I approached each of the shouting men, who I presumed were the drivers, and asked them ‘Dashinkali?’, ‘No,’ were their replies. Eventually somebody took pity on the helpless backpacker wandering around lost in the bus park. ‘Where do you need to go?’ he asked. So I got out the map and the address of the monastery. It turns out that there are two villages that I could travel to that are near the monastery, Dashinkali and Pharphing, however there are no buses operating to either of these destinations. Feeling disappointed, and homeless, now that I was officially unable to travel to the place I had reserved to lay my head that night, I stood in the middle of the bus park trying to think of a plan B. So, I jumped into a taxi and headed to Boudhanath, which is an area in the Kathmandu Valley where the Tibetan refugees settled when they were exiled from their country, and it is also home to the revered Stupa. Here I didn’t have a teacher waiting for me but I would get to witness the devotees and pilgrims of the religion who come to circumnavigate the stupa and make offerings and prostrations. Wandering around the small streets, squeezing my way between tourists and locals, looking for a place to sleep that night, the weight of my bags seeming to get heavier and heavier, I heard someone calling, ‘You looking for a guesthouse?’ I turned around to be greeted by a huge smile attached to a monk who looked like he could be the Dalai Lama’s twin brother. ‘Yes,’ I replied. So, this helpful monk rescued the homeless pilgrim and proceeded to take me to a guesthouse that was, in his words, ‘very cheap.’
Boudhanath is an atmospheric marvel. The stupa, unfortunately, was heavily damaged in the earthquake but, thankfully, restoration work is currently taking place. Yet despite the damage to this place of worship the people still come from early morning to late evening. A constant flux of monks, nuns, pilgrims, devotees and tourists swirl, clockwise, around the stupa like a whirlwind. The melody of the chants, combined with the music and singing of the beggars, the smell of the heavily scented incense, mingled with the glow of the butter lamps, is intoxicating. Sitting from a roof top, looking out at the action, the mantra of ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ being carried through the air with every gentle nudge of a prayer wheel, and every little flutter of a prayer flag, you can feel the devotion in your bones. Even if you aren’t religious, or spiritual, or do not believe in the Buddha, the Dharma or any God, this sight will transfix you and being surrounded by it will move you, emotionally. However, despite the fact that I was witnessing Buddhism in practice, and I was immersed in the essence of faith, I still had that niggling urge telling me that I needed to learn more, to study, and as always the student within me won the argument. I was sitting drinking masala chai when, in my frantic search to find another place to learn, I stumbled across the website for the Kopan Monastery. There in big black bold letters, however, were the words DAY VISITS NOT POSSIBLE FROM THE 11TH NOVEMBER. Great, I thought, I bet its past that date. When travelling all days seem to roll into one so I didn’t know what date, or day of the week, it was. I checked the calendar on my phone, expecting to see that today was probably the 12th November. But, to my utter surprise, and when I say surprise I literally shouted out, ‘YES,’ and received lots of funny glares from those around me, the date was the 10th November, meaning that today was the last day possible for day visits. Feeling like I was finally receiving some luck on my quest I set off. I was greeted by welcoming, happy monks and lots of Namaste’s and enquiries as to where I was from. By the time I had arrived there, however, I had missed the Dharma speech, but I didn’t let this spoil my happiness, instead I headed straight to the book store. If I couldn’t find someone to teach me about Tibetan Buddhism in person then the Dalai Lama would have to teach me instead through the written word. Armed with my study books I wandered around the grounds, envious of the students that were rolling in for the month long retreat. Taking the opportunity to start my studying in the peaceful setting, I sat down and started to read. It wasn’t long before someone came and joined me at my table. A beautiful nun, skin golden from her time living in the sun, with warm, friendly eyes adorned with some very fine lines that made her seem even more welcoming. She radiated kindness. I watched her out of the corner of my eye as she turned her head to see what I was reading and then, with a smile which suggested she was happy with my reading material, sat back and closed her eyes. Intrigued by this woman, I struck up a conversation. She was from Australia and had been a nun for over thirty years, ‘Around about the time my hair started to go grey,’ she told me, laughing. I liked her immediately; she was exactly the sort of person I had wanted to meet here in Nepal. ‘Are you a Buddhist?’ she asked. So, I told her my story, how I have an interest in the religion and wanted to study it further here in Nepal. I told her all about my failed attempts and what had brought me here, to Kopan, buying books instead. She smiled with those loving, compassionate eyes and said ‘You know, one day, a teacher will just appear in front of you, and then everything will make sense.’ I smiled, in recognition of the lesson she was giving me with those few words. I needed to let go, everything always works out the way it should and when the time is right I will meet a teacher, just like she said. There was no point worrying, after all worry is just a waste of time, it doesn’t get us anywhere. ‘See you later,’ she said as she walked off to join the monks. ‘Yes, see you later,’ I replied and somehow I knew that I would see her later, I don’t know where or when, but I knew it wasn’t goodbye. She turned around, nodded at me and gave me another of her heart-warming smiles. I guess I did meet a teacher after all.