Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Letters From Nepal 1

First night in Katmandu, second in Nepal.

The trip across the world is brutal no matter the comforts of a nice air company. However stopping overnight in Doha was an unexpected nice complement. Doha is a thriving new Metropolis--a true corner of the world. Modern and exotic, highly technological and new skyscrapers raising by the day. There, you cross people from all over the world going about their business or going back and forth from home and work, international workers and first class business people seat on the same row.

However, above all what is different about middle-eastern cities is the agglomeration of people. Unlike the US where people keep to themselves and their personal comforts, going to shop in huge commercial malls, in the middle-west, like in most third world countries, people are everywhere. Reams of people going about their business, talking, shopping, wondering, or just sitting around. In Doha there is an atmosphere of prosperity and a certain order as opposed to Katmandu, another famous corner of the world. After the magnificent view of the Himalayan mountains shining under the sun and an aerial tour of the forest covered lower mountains, the view of the airport and the town is poor. It is like entering a parallel world from the past. Here, time and people slows down. At the airport, the only sign of the times is a flat digital TV showing the beautiful scenarios for which Nepal is known--mountains and forest hikes, the trekkers paradise.

To choose to get your visa on arrival is a major mistake. Be prepared to spend hours in the line, after loosing precious minutes looking for forms and to understand what you will need for you visa. The lines can be long and slow.

When finally you get to your luggage and pass another inspection you find yourself at the airport lobby, where starts the Odyssey of multitudes of people surrounding you, among them taxi drivers asking for astronomical sums to take you to your destination. There you meet modern, overpopulated, poor and chaotic Nepal. As a monk friend of mine told me, they forgot to tell the people about precautions, so the country is overpopulated adding to the fact that at the moment Maoists are fighting in the country side making the people seek refuge in the capital.

After meeting our party and extensively negotiating the fee, we were in our way to Rinchen Ling Monastery, the new Drikung Kagyu center for education, retreats and meditation.

I guess I was expecting romantic, bucolic landscapes since the monastery was supposed to be in a valley away from the city. But what you get is the most amazing roller coaster ride on narrow dirty streets and roads, where the drivers constantly maneuver to avoid hitting each other. There are no signs and traffic lights. The whole city is a gigantic shanty town. Large, three or four pavement houses are built right on the street side by side with the poor of the poor, cows, people, children and other animals crossing in front of the traffic, miraculously avoiding collisions and disaster. Many people, young and adults wear colorful masks to survive in this most polluted city of the world.

Many houses along the most traveled roads have a store on the ground floor making of Katmandu one of the world's largest traditional market place. From every door and window hang finest Indian saris, socks, blankets, cushions, colorful signs or trays displaying fresh fruit, foods or fresh cut meat. Incessantly, people are going and coming, talking to each other, sweeping or wetting the dirt ground, and hanging more articles to sale. What strikes the most is the lack of space in between. All constructions are on top of each other, no space, or privacy. It is all one large common ground. The houses are quite dark inside and the people are all doing something outside, if not just watching life passing by.

What is called out of town are small cultivated parcels of land among buildings of all sorts, with animals everywhere. However, after a last sharp turn emerges a great compound of magnificent Tibetan architecture seating on the feet of forest covered mountains.

The compound, still in construction, is huge. With a large courtyard at the center, to one side the first building for residence for Rinpoches, Abbots and Retreat Masters, presently also used for monks of the Monastery. On the opposite side stands the massive building of the Temple surrounded on both sides by motel like wings of rooms and apartments for resident monks and guests. There is also their Holiness residence and garden and a Hospital building still in construction with a small health center operating since 2005.

On arrival, Khenpo Tsultrim (from TMC) and I were directed to the office, right under the temple building and introduced to other monks. From there we were directed to our accommodations on the left wing of the monks residence. After we were settle I went up the steep stairs to the Shrine Hall. As I left my shoes at the red marble covered entrance, I felt I was stepping into another world of ancient religious grandiosity. The huge red doors are surrounded by gigantic paintings of protectors and wrathful deities  I lifted the curtains covering the huge wooden doors and stood in front the 21.5 feet tall gold covered images of Jigten Sumgon on the left, the Lord Buddha at the center, and Chenrezing on the left.

As your eyes get accustomed inside, you start to see the walls lined with paintings covering every inch of the space: scenes of the life of the Buddha, peaceful and wrathful deities, and the sequence of the heads of  the lineage and of other lineages.

Rinpoches, lamas, monks and nuns in meditation, seating in lines running from the shrine, directing our eyes again to the statues.

Chakrasamvara Drupchen was on the way and the chants of the monks filled the air with mystery and reverence. At the center, His Holiness Chetsang Rinpoche presides, seated on his throne. On a throne side by side, rests the picture of Chutsang Rinpoche. The chanting, the gong, the bells, and the incense take you to the depths of your being.

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