Wednesday, 11 May 2011


These Buddhist monks live in a monastery in Tengboche, Nepal – a tiny settlement on top of a ridge with breathtaking views of Everest and Ama Dablam (the large lump in the background, below). Even they appreciate the outlook: I spotted one peering up the valley through his binoculars, although he could have been birdwatching.

The monastery, or gompa, is richly decorated. Tourists are allowed inside the main hall, or lha-khang, twice a day to watch the monks chanting. Silk banners hang from the ceiling, the walls are ornate and colourful, and a large, bright Buddha oversees proceedings.

Early morning and evening the monks, who have dedicated their lives to the monastery, take roost like chickens on two sets of benches, facing one another. Some are little more than teenagers. They wrap themselves in fleece-lined capes to keep warm and start to chant.

The sound is a low drone with mumbled articulations, that lasts around five minutes before coming to an abrupt halt. This is followed by tea sipping, poured from a flask by a monk, slurping, yawning, ear-picking and glancing around the room at the tourists. Then the chanting begins again.

Tengboche was one of my favourite places in the Himalayas, perhaps because it's reached from either side by a very steep climb. Or perhaps because of its very good bakery. But perhaps it was the monks, who showed me the true meaning of dedication.

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