After some haggling over price and a very bumpy ride through Kathmandu’s earthquake damaged roads, our taxi climbed up the steep hill towards Kopan Monastery, a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery that welcomes people from around the world for Buddhist study, meditation and retreats.
A guard met and questioned us at the large ornate gate into the complex. Feeling quite privileged, we were let in and made our way to the office to secure our accommodation. A young monk who spoke perfect English managed the office and in the corner four older monks were sat laughing and joking with each other. The young monk reminded us that we would have to take separate rooms before we were guided off to settle in. The rooms were great, very clean, comfortable and secure – we both commented that they reminded us of university halls. Our rooms were the most expensive option, private singles with en-suite shower rooms and given that they still only cost around £9 per night full board we couldn’t get over the value. It did however feel quite strange to have separate rooms, even though we were neighbours.
We spent the morning exploring the complex, walking around the beautiful gardens, taking pictures and taking in the detail on the Stupas and Gompas. The views over the Kathmandu valley are truly stunning, you get an almost 360 degree view of the city surrounded by mountains with cloud rolling over the hills and trees.
Later, we made our way to the large communal dining room for the 11:30am lunch. We’d read great things about the vegetarian food that they serve and it didn’t disappoint. Besides us, there we probably another 20 or so guests dining, mostly westerners and characters ranging from the young backpacker type to the dedicated Dharma student as well as one or two nuns.
After lunch I caught up on some work, slightly limited by lack of wifi, before an afternoon nap while Anna got more into the spirit of things with some Yoga and Meditation. We headed up to take a look around the on-site library and bookshop, which is full of Buddhist books and other interesting reads. Some of the library’s carefully wrapped manuscripts looked like they could be hundreds of years old. The library takes book donations so we were surprised to see best sellers from the likes of Steig Larsson and Dan Brown alongside everything else. There’s also an on-site cafe if you need a drink or snack in-between the scheduled meal times and a small shop with everything from biscuits to meditation incense.
At 5:00pm we headed back to the dining room for tea. While sat out on the terrace we watched thunderstorms off in the distance and heard some of the loudest thunder we’d ever heard echo around the valley. Just as we stepped out to watch the sunset, the beginnings of a storm reached us so back into the dinning room we went, waiting for the 6:30pm dinner. Unlike lunch, which consisted of rice, dal, curry, salads and bread, dinner was much simpler with pasta and soup – very tasty but not what we’d expected. One highlight we discovered at dinner was Kopan’s homemade peanut butter!
Not being a place for any kind of nightlife, we headed off to our separate rooms for probably one of the earliest nights I can remember, heads down by 8pm, drifting off to yet more thunderstorms. The following morning, up bright and early, we returned to the dining hall for the 7:30am breakfast, which was a type of congee or semolina take on rice pudding with nuts and raisins.
Overall Kopan is a beautiful place, very peaceful and perfect for what it was established for. We eventually stayed for three days and I think we both felt that was enough for us; others we learnt were here on three-month retreats! Our visit was made out of curiosity and interest and I’m sure those staying longer have great reasons and find it very fulfilling. I think we both will take something away from our stay, the things we have read and later listened to during the talk on our final day, but right now monastic life isn’t for me, I’m not quite ready for renunciation, not just yet.