For my 3rd day in Kathmandu (this would be the day before yesterday), I wanted to explore my immediate surroundings in Boudhanath, the ancient town where my hotel was, as well as do a long trek to stretch my legs. The Shambaling hotel concierge suggested that I walk to Kopan Monastery, which overlooks the valley of Kathmandu and is north of Boudhanath. This would be a perfect day, if only because the Pashupatinath festival, with 1.5 million pilgrims in attendance, would all be on the south side of Kathmandu. Obviously, I wanted to avoid that congestion if at all possible. Of course, this would not be an easy hike, as it is approximately 4-5 miles away and the last mile or so ascends at a severe grade.
While walking to the monastery, especially after the first couple of miles, I couldn’t help thinking, “. . . You’re not in Kansas anymore Dorothy.” Why was I thinking this? Well, let’s just say that I was the only foreigner in the area – I quickly figured out that most tourists took a taxi cab to the monastery. As I walked by shop proprietors, people tending food kiosks, women washing dishes in large tubs near their homes, etc., all eyes were diverted from each of their tasks and directed at me as I passed by. They weren’t hostile looks at all, but if I was to guess, I would imagine they were thinking, “Is this dude lost?” For me personally, I have found that when you are in a situation like this, it’s best to smile and walk with confidence. Never look away from anyone who is looking at you. That being said, always approach anyone with deference, courtesy, and respect, if you need to ask a question, e.g., directions . . . Which I did a few times on the way to the monastery.
On arrival at the gates to Kopan Monastery, I was struck by something I have seen repeated time and time again in Kathmandu. All hotels, other medium and large businesses, monasteries, and temples have armed guards. Go to a burger joint like McDonald’s and they will have an armed guard. They’re probably not there to guard the hamburger patties either.
The monastery has magnificent views of the Kathmandu valley, as well as some rather large peaks, north of the city. A large beautiful Bodhi tree towers over the monastery. It’s my understanding that the monastery was once the home to the King of Nepal’s astrologer. Lamas first came to this place in 1969 and shortly thereafter, began teaching western students. Today, Kopan has approximately 350 monks, mainly from Nepal and Tibet. It is also home to a nearby nunnery, called Khachoe Ghakyil Ling, where 380 nuns reside.
Monks and nuns from the age of 7 come from all over the Himalayan region, including India, Tibet, Mongolia, and of course, Nepal to attend courses on a classical monastic lifestyle. Courses in philosophy, debate, and tantric studies. Additionally, the monks and nuns assemble twice a day for prayers (puja) dedicated to the well-being and happiness of “all sentient beings.” Additionally, the monastery has accommodations and courses for foreign students. They are fairly inexpensive and in no way does the monastery profit. In conclusion, I was quite impressed with the Kopan Monastery. I can’t explain it, but I experienced a certain “calm” while walking the beautiful grounds of the monastery. I would highly recommend visiting this monastery if you are in Kathmandu. A wonderful place to spend a serene and peaceful day.