Monday, March 12, 2018

Traditions and Books: Thupten Chöling Monastery, Nepal (Nepal 2017-09)

The Thupten Chöling monastery/nunnery is situated on a hillside in the Solu Khumbu at about 8900 ft. altitude. The setting is magical, with neat houses built up a south-facing hillside for the nuns and Tibetian refugees. According to their web page: "Thupten Choling is a celibate Buddhist monastery located in the high and remote mountains of Nepal. Founded by His Holiness Trulsik Rinpoche in the 1960's after fleeing Tibet, it is an independent and autonomous institution. Consequently, Thupten Choling has been able to remain authentically traditional, and hidden from the outside world." It is not exactly hidden today: a couple hours walk up an excellent trail from the town of Junbesi takes you to the monastery.
Wheat biscuits drying in the sun, Thupten Chöling (digital photograph).
Many of the nun's homes were destroyed in the 2015 earthquake, but we saw many brightly-painted new or repaired buildings.
We were allowed into the central prayer room of the gomba, where students were reciting from sacred texts. From Wikipedia, "A gompa is a meditation room where practitioners meditate and listen to teachings. Design and interior details vary from region to region; however, all follow a general design of a central prayer hall containing a murti or thangka, benches for the monks or nuns to engage in prayer or meditation and attached living accommodation." I was a bit uncomfortable taking photographs, but our guide said it was all right, and I tried to be as quiet as possible. There were other distractions that day: a construction crew was building a tower within the room that would project up through the roof eventually. We saw Tibetan holy books on shelves behind neat glass door. A monk said they were from Lhasa, which would make them especially valuable. Religious texts are now printed in India.
The monks generously fed us tea, dry crackers (the things drying in the sun in the 2nd photograph) and McVities Digestive Biscuits. A Tibetian nun who spoke excellent English said I was could photograph in the kitchen. This was a fascinating room with a wood stove on the floor and cauldrons of rice and dahl. They made rice in industrial quantities. The room resembled the ancient kitchen at the Grand Meteoron monastery in Meteora, Greece, which I photographed years ago. The kitchen was dark with light streaming in from one side through clouds of steam. I had to prop my Leica camera on shelves or posts for long exposures.
The 70-year-old 50mm Summitar lens and TMax black and white film does a nice job with the shiny pans and ladles. Click any of the pictures to enlarge them to 1600 pixels wide.
Two of our companions and a Sherpa guide stayed behind for an overnight and then a morning ascent to a sacred cave. The rest of us hiked back downhill to Junbesi, which is a cheerful Sherpa town in the valley.
This part of the Solu is lower altitude than the "real" mountains further north. The hillsides are heavily forested, interspersed with deep ravines and cultivated fields of wheat, barley, and pasture. The traditional expedition route from Kathmandu to Everest Base Camp comes through Junbesi. Although most trekkers now fly into Lukla further east, many hikers still walk the entire multi-week route.

The black and white photographs are from Kodak TMax 400 film, taken with a Leica IIIC rangefinder camera. This was my father's 1949 camera, recently reconditioned. Praus Productions, Rochester, New York, developed the film in Xtol developer.

We will visit more monasteries in the next two articles. Thank you for reading.

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