Revisiting Nepal, Part 3
Daily Posts: Adding a bit of light to the darkness as we get through the pandemic together.
This series features travel photos from my archives, shared with you as we shelter in place.
May 13th, 2020
Resuming our trek toward Mount Everest, today’s (re)post takes us farther into the Himalayas to Tengboche Monastery. Our arrival here was serendipitous — on a day when local residents viewed and took part in a Sherpa ceremony called Mani Rimdu. Thinking about this now, I’m astonished at our luck in seeing this.
In case you missed it, yesterday’s post is located here. Tomorrow we reach our summit below Mount Everest, completing the journey.
Thanks everyone, for reading and traveling along in spirit! It’s been so fun to be back in the Himalayas.
We awoke in Namche Bazaar to Lal’s familiar voice outside our tent announcing, “Tea time!” We felt the cold morning air as we unzipped our sleeping bags and enjoyed a hot cup of tea. “Washing water!” followed and we rinsed our faces and dressed for the day, quickly putting on layers to keep out the morning chill. We packed up to move farther into the Khumbu Valley — backpacks, Thermarests, sleeping bags and finally the tent. We finished breakfast and headed northeast on the trail.
We stopped to marvel at the view shortly after leaving Namche. Ama Dablam loomed in the distance. Exquisite Tibetan jewelry, singing bowls, yak bells and masks were displayed on a table alongside the trail — the tangibles of trade in the region.
We began the uphill push to the next milestone — Tengboche Monastery at nearly 13,000 feet. The dusty trail led us up, away from the river, past stacks and stacks of mani stones, finally reaching the monastery on an auspicious plateau amidst the topography of the Khumbu valley.
Tengboche Monastery has survived an earthquake and a fire in the century since its construction in 1916. The monastery is a sight to behold on a bluebird day in the Khumbu. A decorative gate opens to a staircase leading up to an assemblage of rectangular forms, accented with symbolic colors of Buddhism. Prayer wheels line the south side of the monastery’s exterior and ornate fenestration adorns every facade in traditional Tibetan architectural style.
We were thrilled to be there, with the sun shining intensely and Everest in the distance. Perfect timing, too. We arrived during Mani Rimdu, a Sherpa festival with nineteen days of ceremonies and mask dances. It was early in the day so we hiked on to Pangboche where we dropped our bags and set up camp, then returned to Tengboche to await the start of the day’s festivities.
The monastery was slowly coming to life, with horns blaring from the windows in a low and buzzy drone. Sherpas from around the region were starting to arrive, dressed in layered garments, hats and beads. Women sat patiently in groups, chatting away and catching up just like neighbors do in every part of the world. I imagined what their banter was about — the coming winter? Dinner that night? Trail conditions? Love? Maybe everything.
A sudden flutter of activity at the front door of Tengboche Monastery brought everyone to their feet. Afternoon clouds settled at the crest of the hill, erasing parts of the deep blue sky with dramatic effect. The horns, previously blaring, transitioned into a full-fledged musical procession of monks moving down the front steps signaling the beginning of the day’s Mani Rimdu festivities.
Mani Rimdu celebrates the establishment of Buddhism in Tibet by Guru Rinpoche. The festival begins on the first day of the tenth month of the Tibetan lunar calendar (around October or November) and brings together the Tibetan, Sherpa and monastic communities of the region. For the first nine days of Mani Rimdu monks conduct private, sacred ceremonies called Drupchen, which are followed on the tenth day by the Wang, a blessing ceremony for the general public by the abbot of the monastery. This is followed by masked dances and celebration over three days with a fire puja marking the end of the festival.
To our delight, we arrived on the day of the Wang. The monks of Tengboche played horns, cymbals and drums as they exited the gate onto the trail in front of the monastery. Their full ceremonial dress included yellow hats symbolic of the Gelug school of Vajrayana Buddhism. Wrapped in a gold robe, one of the monks walked past with a two-foot conch shell held to his lips — what looked to be an antique musical instrument from far, far away.
At the gompa next to the monastery, the procession paused in an exquisite display of color and ceremony punctuated by a fantastic arc of yellow atop each monk’s head. Their music beat on in a clash of cymbals and horns as a masked man stepped into the focus of the growing crowd of Sherpas and trekkers. Snowy Kangtega filled the sky behind him.
Mi-Tsering is a featured persona of Mani Rimdu. He’s also known as Long Life Man. Narrative from Chiwong Monastery in Kathmandu says Mi-Tsering “is a kind, bumbling, gentle old man. He means well and does his best, but inevitably gets everything wrong. He is, however, convinced that he’s an expert and tries to instruct others in some of the temple rituals, such as offering khataks (silk scarves), or doing prostrations. His is a light-hearted comic act, yet it brings a poignant message of encouragement to ordinary people — that sincerity and good intentions count for as much as expertise. It is Mi-Tsering who heads the procession of monks welcoming Trulshig Rinpoche’s arrival at Chiwong, and who heralds him into the courtyard to preside over the dances. He is an acknowledgement of every man’s good intentions, however humble.”
Here in the Himalayas, Mi-Tsering preceded the appearance of Tengboche Rinpoche, Abbot of Tengboche Monastery. I am still astounded at my sheer luck getting a decent photograph of this revered man.
Narrative of the Tengboche Monastery notes, “In 1935, on the same day the Dalai Lama was born, a Sherpa family from Namche Bazaar had a son. When this boy was still very small he insisted he had a home and possessions in Tengboche. His family went to visit Ngawang Tenzin Norbu in Rongbuk and this high lama, who had always been closely connected with Tengboche, recognized him as the Tulku or reincarnation of Lama Gulu (founder of Tengboche Monastery, who died in 1934). He was given the name Ngawang Tenzin Zangbu. When the family returned to Namche the monks from Tengboche came with possessions from Lama Gulu mixed in with other monks’ possessions. The boy picked out everything that had belonged to the previous lama without hesitation. Everyone agreed he was the true incarnation and he was brought to Tengboche Monastery. He then undertook many years of hard study and training. He spent many years in Tibet studying with the great masters there. In 1956 he returned to Tengboche as the Abbot of the monastery and is known as Tengboche Rinpoche.”
The Abbot and monks moved to the side of the monastery where they were seated with Sherpas of the community. Mi-Tsering sat in a chair at a corner of the gathering, silk scarf in his hands, fielding curious looks from the Sherpas around him. Mani Rilwu and Tshereel were distributed with tea as Tengboche Rinpoche began giving the empowerment for long life, happiness and prosperity to everyone attending.
Trulshig Rinpoche, Abbot of Chiwong Monastery, says, “Seeing Mani Rimdu is like receiving a blessing.” Indeed, we felt blessed having seen this unique cultural event deep in the Himalayas. We returned to camp and rested up for the next day’s journey farther into the Khumbu.