I got in an early start at the stupa, but heavy rain then began, so I sat on my bed and went through a list of things yet to do. Priorities told me that today might be the day to go to another of the ancient Vajrayogini statues of the valley, this one at Sankhu. The taxi ride there was “central Asian”: mud, potholes, great Tata and Mahindra trucks decorated with tinsel and Shaivite symbols lurching towards you spouting black diesel fumes. There is still a lot of damage from the 2015 earthquake to be seen out in the countryside.
Through Sankhu itself a road that climbs the hill and gets close to the shrine at the top, but my driver declared that it was too slippery for the taxi. It would not be safe, so he would have to leave me at the bottom. The number of steps at Swayambhu is said to be 365, and that had been testing. Here at Sankhu there are about twice as many.
Then you reach the first shrine near the top:
And after a relatively short flight of steps, the main shrine at the top:
Earthquake damage, as you see, but the main shrine is functioning. The Vajrayogini figure is, again, heavily covered in brocades. In a room to the side there is an enormous upturned frying pan, shaped rather like a wok. The story goes that one of Vajrayogini’s devotees used to fry himself up for her in the evening. She would eat him, and be so pleased that she would restore him to life, rewarding him with magical powers. That was until, one day, somebody else saw this happening, and decided to copy the trick. She accepted the offering, but did not restore him to life, and turned the frying pan over as a sign that she would not accept this offering any more. It does rather sound like a mythologised memory of the day they decided that human sacrifice was no longer quite the go. Which was a good decision, I’m sure. Scholars may know more.
But look guys, I’m sorry. Maybe I should have been better prepared, or had a good guide, or something, but although the visit was more than interesting, I confess that I wasn’t terribly inspired. Others’ mileage may vary, of course.
The path to the bottom was of course easier. I met for a chat with a Hindu family from Kathmandu who were taking a rest on the way up, and who were very interested to know that I am from Birmingham. Kudos to them – the father knew that I was wearing a fedora!
I hope you did indeed take note of my little white taxi in the picture above – when I got to the bottom, it had gone. I tried to ask if anybody had seen it, but, naturally enough, nobody spoke any English, and my Nepali (in a word: Namaste!) was even less use than gestures. But as luck would have it a very well-dressed group of what I later realised was nine people approached to help, and one of them did speak very useful English. She was a princess from tip to toe, not one spot of mud on her bright red sari. With her help we confirmed that a) I was looking for a little white taxi, and b) nobody had seen it. We agreed that it was a very good thing that I hadn’t yet paid him, and she suggested that I walk along with them, as the taxi must surely be somewhere. As we set off I asked her if they had been up to the shrine at the top.
“Oh yes, just married!”
I congratulated them, of course, and asked if it was usual to go up to the shrine after getting married.
“Always – it is mandatory!”
What a good word!
Round a couple of bends we found the driverless taxi at the side of the road, but a minute of Nepali hollering brought him running out of a nearby house. My suspicion was that he had been having a sneaky drink. He did bottom the suspension several times on the way back, after all. It’s not impossible that the promise of this conjectured drink was what had led him to declare that the road was too muddy to drive up. But perhaps I shouldn’t judge.
Here’s how I know there were nine of them: the whole wedding party now jumped onto three motorbikes and set off back towards Sankhu town, the taxi taking up the rear. I tried to take photographs of them, especially as the bride kept waving back at us, but this is the best I got:
Back in Baudha I had lunch in the “Best View” restaurant. A run-of-the-mill eatery, although the heavy thunderstorm kept me well back from the windows and I didn’t get much of the view anyway. I ran into a few acquaintances on the kora and stopped for a coffee, but the rain blew up again and sent me back to my room.
Perhaps one reason I’m a poor Buddhist student is that I lack the patience. A couple of days before heading off I had heard that an old Buddhist friend, David, was also going to be in Kathmandu in April, but unfortunately would leave just before I would arrive. He was attending teachings given by Thrangu Rinpoche on a teaching of Khenpo Gangshar. Thrangu Rinpoche is an extremely well-known and important figure in the Karma Kagyu today, and one of the very few people left to have received teaching and transmission from Khenpo Gangshar. Some say that my own first teacher, Chime Rinpoche, who was strongly influenced by the teachings he received from Khenpo Gangshar, is the only other one left alive. So for a short while I was almost envious, and wished that I had chosen a different date. But the teachings were available for viewing as a video stream – not quite the same as being there, but still very informative. I used the afternoon to finish watching them. So the thing about patience is this: there were so many introductory prayers, closing prayers, bits of explanation that Thrangu Rinpoche felt it appropriate to add for the sake of newcomers, and so much repetition in the presentation of the teachings themselves, that I came to the conclusion that there was probably no more than ten minutes of really juicy teaching in the whole week’s course. So let those who will count this as a black mark against me, but I really would not have enjoyed it. Free as a white cloud in the summer sky, that was me. Until that evening, anyway.
I was eating alone in the Double Dorje that evening, when a group of a dozen came in, followed a few minutes later by the group’s yoga teacher. It took them a good 20 minutes to decide what they were all ordering, and it was obvious that they were enjoying each other’s company enormously. I never did grasp quite what the “walking yoga” that Ling taught was about, other than that it was not just “walking and yoga”, but Ling herself was such a fountain of positive feeling, I think they were getting value for money. I was to run into her a few more times in the course of my visit, but never took a photograph, so here’s her website.