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Slow train coming

  The space is pervaded with green, with the chirping of birds and the sweet smell of pollen. We are in the countryside of Dordogne, and it would be difficult for anyone to find a more idyllic setting. In general, I try not to read the news, especially here, but whenever I do, that idyllic image is replaced by another one: the slow train, picking up speed downhill. The machine engineers are incompetent and instead of stopping it and repairing the faults with care, they keep on loading it with coal. Its lights are on in the darkness; they illuminate only the small patch in front, so the passengers could see the end, but only in a fashion.  Why are we in a such a hurry to destroy our civilisation? Do we have so much that we are bored with it? There was this boredom in the air before the epidemic in 2020. I had the feeling that people, especially the young ones, were waiting eagerly for something to happen. Anything. Just not that day after day boredom. They were trying to shake it off –

Devotion at the Feet of the Great Stupa of Swayambhu

A Journey to the East

After the long stretch of inactivity, the prospect to visit Nepal in November appeared as quickly as the sun jumps out from behind a great mountain. As it was not a request, but a command from our Lama, the very old now Karma Thinley Rinpoche, we didn't even think before we plunged into the adventure. 'You don't miss your water...', as it says in the old blues song. I could even remember that I complained sometimes of the amount of air miles my husband and I accumulated in a year! This time instead, I approached it as one approaches a battle: with research and a strategy. The Covid regulations were changing as quickly as the adverts on the side of the road - you blink and the other one has replaced it. Against the backdrop of hours spent in front of the computer, booking (and then canceling) viral tests, filling in forms and the likes, the flight to Katmandu was a breeze.

We landed and could not believe our eyes. The airport! The new building did not look at all like the one in our memories from 6 years ago. The endless bureaucracy and the often irrational decisions were the same though, so we didn't think even for a second that we had ended in a wrong country.

The hotel, busy and magnificent in our memories, now looked quite abandoned. On the first night, I had the unsettling feeling that we were the only guests. It reminded me a bit of the famous film of Jack Nicholson, "The Shining". The staff were as friendly as ever, so this compensated for the lack of visitors. 

Seeing Rinpoche the next day, made my heart come back home. His all-embracing smile and his astounding simplicity wiped away any particles of dust accumulated on the mirror of my mind. The world was uncomplicated and vast again. The breathtaking view of Kathmandu valley at the background was just fitting.

The view from Rinpoche's living room

We had a lot of time in the next few days, and the chariot of Rinpoche at our disposal. With Kunga Gyaltsen behind the wheel, it was the fastest vehicle imaginable. There is a saying, 'Slowly does it', and Kunga proved that to be true. Driven with the rationality of a Westerner and the relaxed attitude of a Nepali, the Jeep ate mile after mile from Bodhanath to Swayambhu, then to Patan, and every day returning back to Rinpoche's house over the crumbling narrow strip in the hills, into Rinpoche's vajra laughter.

The visits to holy places were all very pleasant, as Kathmandu valley was left to the locals and the pavement (yes, you heard well: there were pavements alongside the streets!) were noticeably clean, with just few people on them to underly their existence.

However, Swayambhu was the place that I was especially taken by, perhaps because this was my very first visit there. Due to the lack of pilgrims, the place looked as if people were not paying enough attention to it. Of course, there were young people dating around the stupa; there were the usual beggars, trying, but not very hard, their usual tricks. The best of all those, however, were the monkeys. You can see one below, riding the great vajra!

Others were just casually hanging around, drinking vajra water, or just doing their monkey business.

There is a little lake with a Buddha statue and a begging bowl in front of him. The locals believe that if you manage to throw a coin in the bowl, you will have a good fortune.

Walking among the locals and the few, looking somehow lost tourists, finally we came across the real thing: a Vajrayana puja, performed by Nepali tantrikas. I have seem many people performing their practice in front of people and it always stroke me how self-conscious they usually are. They quite often look to me like a beautiful girl, dressed up and with full make up on, riding a bike. Nothing like that could be said about these gentlemen. They were friendly and relaxed, doing their business, giving an occasional smile to the people around but somehow keeping people at a distance. There was a field of gentle power around them.

The light that evening was glorious! It was melting in the gold of the stupa top and shining forth; the whole place looked quite unreal, like a golden reflection.

We stayed in Nepal for only five days, which felt like five months. The last day, however, the one on which were were supposed to be going back home, was the longest one. It was made so by the usual Nepali bureaucracy. But that's another story.


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