Buddhist monasteries are a distinctive landmark across Nepal, and there are several beautiful monasteries in and around Kathmandu. Devout Buddhists visit monasteries daily for prayers, food and community. Visitors have also started to be interested in these monasteries, as they are architecturally marvelous, and often have expansive views over cities and villages. Some monasteries have also started to offer short-term visits for visitors to volunteer or visit. Here are some monasteries to check out while traveling in Nepal.
Kopan Monastery is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery situated on a hilltop near Boudhanath, on the outskirts of Kathmandu. The monastery offers meditation retreats, as well as longer courses of up to three months, for foreigners to learn and practice the tenets of Tibetan Buddhism. For day visitors, the monastery is open from 9am-5pm. Visitors can also attend a daily Dharma talk at 10.30am, Monday-Friday, and are encouraged to stay for lunch at the Kopan Cafe.
The story of how Shechen Monastery got to Nepal is as interesting as the building itself. Otherwise known as Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling Monastery, the monastery in Boudhanath was originally one of the six main Nyingma monasteries of Tibetan Buddhism (the Nyingman tradition is the oldest of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism). Nyingman Buddhism holds that there are six “mother” monasteries in Tibet– Katok Monastery (founded 1659), Mindroling Monastery (1676), Palyul Monastery (1665), Dzogchen Monastery (1685) and Shechen Monastery (1735). The monasteries were all located in East Tibet. Shechen was an influential monastery in the 17th and 18th centuries but was completely destroyed during the Cultural Revolution in the 1950s. In 1985, a plan was made to rebuild it in Nepal. There are currently over 300 monks in Shechen in Nepal. There is also a nunnery, an art school, retreat centers and “philosophical colleges” where students can undertake a nine-year course in Buddhist teachings.
Thrangu Tashi Yangtse Monastery
Perched on the top of the sacred pilgrimage site at Namo Buddha, surrounded by waving Tibetan prayer flags, the Thrangu Tashi Yangtse Monastery looks palatial. It’s about 45 kilometres from Kathmandu, and is one of the most sacred site of Tibetan Buddhism. It’s called Tagmo Lüjin (or, “the place where the future Buddha sacrificed his body to a tigress”). It is one of the most popular pilgrimage sites for both Nepalis and Tibetans.
If you do decide to visit a monastery, please dress decently and be mindful of the residents. They are as much tourist destinations as they are sacred places for the Himalayan people.
Also called the “White Monastery” or “Druk Amitabh Mountain,” Seto Gumba is one of the most popular monasteries in Nepal. It’s located in Kathmandu, on a northwest hill by Swayambhunath Stupa, and getting there is an easy hike. A taxi or bus can also take you there.
As a building, the monastery is simply astounding. The walls are adorned with Tibetan murals, statues, and paintings depicting Buddhist teachings, all in vivid colours. A great way to see the landscape of Kathmandu city is to take a walk around the premises of Seto Gumba. You’ll be able to hear bells and prayers resonating from the monastery. On a clear day, the Himalaya also reveal themselves. This is also one of the best spots in Kathmandu to watch the sunrise and sunset.
If you’d like to stop for lunch here, the monastery also has a restaurant with affordable, healthy food. The monastery is only open on Saturdays, so plan ahead. It costs RS40 to enter.
Article by Keshia Badalge.
Top image: Wonderlane/Flickr