2011 Spring External Programs Nepal Sierra Gladfelter

Road Trip Pilgrimage

The best part about Nepal is there is no possible way to predict your day. For example, this past Friday my entire extended family and ten of my Pala’s Tibetan school buddies from when he attended the Dalai Lama’s School in India, decided to rent a van and go on a road trip. We left late in the morning, after spending hours trying to organize everyone and usher them into the vehicle. I had the front seat wedged between the window and my Amala with both her babies in our laps. Little Chetzu (my 6-month-old host sister) coughed up gummed chunks of Lay’s potato chips and my Amala (who is only 28, and a few years older than me) shared the headphones of my Ipod.

Our pilgrimage was across the Kathmandu Valley to the holy site of Pharphing where a monastery had been built looking out across the urban sprawl to the hazy Himalayas. The entire hillside was spangled with prayer flags. Piling out of the van, we climbed the steps entering rooms and holy sites along the way. It was cool to be a pilgrim and not a tourist for once with this group of 16 Tibetan Buddhists. Even though I am studying abroad and living here for an entire semester, it’s impossible to blend in when you are with a group of 12 other white college students. It was fun to drag my little three-year-old Tibetan brother Desel along by the hand, wait and tease my Amala as she changed Chetzu’s diaper. It felt more like real life, on the steps of a temple wiping poop off a baby’s butt instead of gawking and taking pictures.

There were endless buildings, temples, shrines, all imbedded in the hillside and flapping with tangles of prayer flags. The two main pilgrim sites at Pharphing are the shrine to Tawa and Padmasambhava’s Cave. The Tawa shrine was a piece of rock wall that had been covered over by a temple. The stone was smeared with red and yellow powder, rubbed into the groves of the statue which was said to have emerged naturally from the rock. My Pala helped my three-year-old brother light butter lamps as an offering.

Padmasambhava’s Cave was the eeriest place. It had a resonating feel about it and was where Guru Rinpoche mediated for 40 years. The cave’s ceiling was thick with soot from centuries of lamps that had burned as offerings in the chamber. Outside the cave there was a handprint pressed into stone that we all touched and pressed our own fingers into the groves. It fit like a glove. Then touching our hands to our foreheads in respect, we left a white kata scarf and descended down the cascades of steps to a building filled with bells. This is where pilgrims could leave a sound offering. We yanked on the katas knotted together into soot-covered cables. The whole hillside resonating with the toll of heavy brass bells, we left the holy hill and walked back to our van.

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