Saturday, May 25, 2013

Nirvana at Nimalung

Today it is a public holiday in Bhutan to celebrate Buddha's Parinirvana - the anniversary of his death and entrance into complete nirvana. As the principal said at school yesterday it is a holy day, not just a holiday,  and all students were encouraged to visit one of the many nearby monasteries.

Bob helped one of the Class 9 boys with ideas to improve his science exhibit for the recent competition and so Tshewang enthusiastically invited us all to join Class 9B for their day trip to Nimalung Monastery and the picnic that followed.

Bob with Sonam Dorji, Tshewang and Dema Yangchen - our hosts for the day

The students were up very early to visit Chumey Pong Monastery on the hill behind our house - we watched them climb the hill as we ate breakfast. They then walked the 7km to Nimalung and we timed it very nicely that our taxi arrived there just as they did. I would love to have done the walk with them - up the hill through the pine forests which smelled irresistably fresh, passing occassional farm homes, surrounded by pristine mountain beauty, but we accept our limitations travelling with two little boys!

In one word, the weather today was glorious! We haven't had such a hot, sunny day since we've lived here. It was one of those days that the blue of the sky and the green of the trees and the bright colours of the girls' kiras just sparkled and radiated happiness. In every direction I looked I was just awed by the natural beauty and also at how the monastery and everything else in my field of vision was stunning. I took many photos, but of course they can never capture the 360 degree panorama of beauty all around.

Entrance gate to Nimalung Monastery.

Entering the temple.

Remy in his gho, soon after an Ama came and fixed his gho which I never do up tight enough.

We all sat down with Lopen Thinley to meditate.

At the start of the day Remy was just warming up to all the students, but by the end he was playing with all of them.


I felt thoroughly blessed to be here today, to have the opportunity to be invited to share the day with these mature, friendly and welcoming students. Their home-class teacher is Lopen Thinley Norbu, a monk, and recently we have developed a friendship based around discussing Buddhism, making friendly jokes, doodling during meetings, and helping him with his English. Like many Buddhist monks, he has a jolly sense of humour a huge smile, and it was wonderful to be able to have a guide to explain the various statues in the temple and generally talk to about the significance of today.

The feeling remained with me throughout the day that whatever difficulties I have faced so far this year, are more than made up for by days like today where we experience the very best of Bhutanese culture - hospitality, generosity and friendship. I actually remember reading the blog of one of last year's BCF teachers, Vicky,  who accompanied her class on their picnic, and dreaming of having a similar experience, and here we are!

The day had a relaxed pace: we spent some time at the monastery, visiting the two temples there and making offerings. Bob and I were given butter lamps to light in one smaller temple. I remember from years ago in India that when one offers light to the Buddha, you can imagine offering all the light in the world - I picture thousands of butterlamps, just as I saw years ago in Bodhgaya (where the Buddha was enlightened) and also wish for the light of wisdom to be lit in the minds of all beings. The feeling of peace that comes with those thoughts is wonderful.

We were invited to have tea and snacks at the monastery, before walking with the students just a little way up the road to a large cleared hillside. It was scorching hot in the sun - and dressed as we were in full kiras and ghos, it was uncomfortably hot. The students leisurely set to work to cook food for the picnic. They had carried all the ingredients and drinks up the hill, and borrowed large pots from the monastery. The boys made a fire while the girls prepared the vegetables for cooking, and tea was made and biscuits and chips shared.

Crowding under an umbrella to peel potatoes (and read a text message!)

Chopping onions, tomatoes, potatoes and spinach for the kewa-datsi.

A huge pot of rice to feed the crowd.

More wild strawberries!

The girls wore their bright and colourful kiras - I love the golden taego!

 Lopen Thinley found quiet moments to meditate and chant while lunch was prepared.

It was scorching hot in the sun, but the water in the stream was icy cold, felt like my feet were freezing to iceblocks!


I love the way that Bhutanese picnics and social events flow - I love how tea and biscuits are offered first and enjoyed while the meal is prepared - and I said to Bob that I would love to have a Bhutanese style party for friends when we get home.

We went hunting for wild strawberries up on the hill, and joined in with some Bhutanese traditional dancing while the lunch was cooking. We also did the hokey pokey, heads shoulders knees and toes (in English and Dzongkha) and rounded off with the heel and toe polka! No one seemed to be a hurry at all, and the students needed no guidance in executing the preparation of a meal to feed more than 30. They worked together without any conflict, boys and girls interacting in a very natural and mature way. It was a pleasure to watch!

After two serves of lunch, we called a taxi to come and collect us as the boys were tired, but started walking to meet the taxi on the way. Remy and Xavier were carried or entertained most of the way, and Bob and I had a chance to enjoy the mountain air and scenery.

It had been a very special day, and I am really looking forward to return to Nimalung in only three weeks time for the three day Tsechu (festival) that will be held there and that we get a holiday from school for. Happy days!


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