Today I took a walk up to the Gompa (Buddhist monastery) which is located on the upper part on the mountainside village of Namche Bazaar. The colorful exterior and architecture make it unmistakable – once I got past some of the taller buildings of the inner village where I have been living it was easier to find the path. Prayer flags and prayer wheels surround the Gompa. The exterior did show its age but still impressive. At first I thought it was empty but as I stood in the main entry a quiet form approached with a friendly “Namaste”. This is the general greeting of peace to you which is used for a greeting by everyone. Not dressed in the formal robes I expected, he nonetheless commanded respect with his gentle confidence. I started to remove my shoes and he chuckled and indicated to follow him. Into an inner sanctuary we went and I followed suit when he removed his sandals. The place was dominated by a Buddhist shrine surrounded in turn by photos of the present Dahlai Llama. He indicated that this shrine was devoted to the 2nd Buddha although I am not real confidant that I understood him very well. He said that there were 17 Buddhas in all (translation?). The Dahlai Llama surrounding shrine had photos from all phases of his life including the present. There was a row of small lit candles in front and a very large brass unit directly behind them. He took the top of this candle holder off to show me a candle at least a foot or more in diameter which he indicated burned continuously for more than a month (again, translation?). I will add photos after I have time to get through them. The prayer wheels outside were also very impressive – solid brass, copper or painted brightly, they invited the passerby to swing them and improve their luck through prayer.
I sat down for a conversation with this Llama. He asked me questions about where I was from, whether I was traveling up or down the mountain, and most importantly to him – had I ever met the Dahlai Llama. Like every Buddhist I ask here, they are all sad that it is too dangerous for the Dahlai to come home to Nepal. He resides in India and travels abroad – quite often to the US. But never to Nepal.
When he understood that I had been a climber (modestly) and that my friends here with me were climbers, he reached for a silk scarf which he tied around my neck and blessed me. Tapping me on the shoulders twice, he solemnly intoned some Nepalese or Sherpa phrases. I was a little shocked but very pleased that this devout man would treat this American sinner in such a respectful way. Like a brother.
I asked him about his past and his time here at the Gompa. He was originally from Thamel (not too far from here) and had spent six years studying there. He had two more years here then was not sure where his future would lead him. But he was a Buddhist monk for life. A very kind man. He brought me to another man, a staff person in charge of a Buddhist museum on the upper floor. It was self-guided and cost 100 NRs (one US dollar). There had been no one else there during my stay.