The monks have their viva


Today has felt like a magical day. We woke at dawn to find that the mountains we can see from our room were were dusted with snow. It felt icy in the courtyard and we put on extra layers for warmth. We began the day sitting peacefully at breakfast with one of the many police officers who mingle with the guests every morning at breakfast.

Our tour guide took us to the foot of one the the mountains to the spectacular  and beautiful Drefung monastery which has 400 monks, though it used to have several thousand. He had a great love for the Buddhist faith, and told us with great expressiveness not just what we were looking at, but what the things meant and  why they mattered. After a simple but tasty Tibetan lunch, we were taken to see monks debating at the Sera monastery. It was the monks exam day and two were being questioned on Buddhist philosophy by a succession of other monks. Each time a question was asked, or if the examiner felt that the monk hadn’t given a full enough answer, he clapped his hands loudly. I’m so glad they didn’t do that in my PhD viva. When we were watching, we had assumed that it was the young monks who were being examined by the older monks, but it turned out to be e other way round, which was a quite a wake up call in terms of our assumptions.  At tea break, the younger monks ran off laughing and we wondered where they were going. Five minutes later the came back each staggering under the weight of a huge copper pot of hot tea to share with the older monks. All the monks here are very peaceful and smiley, and carry thermos flasks. Our guide explained that most of them now have the Buddhist scriptures on an app on their smart phones. They does rather explain why they are on their phones so much, though we guess that they might also be on the popular social media website we-chat some of the time! 

This evening we went out into the maze of little streets around the old Barkour street to wander, look at the street stalls and watch the pilgrims arriving at the temple. Many have walked for hundreds of miles and looked dusty but happy. We bought very hot fried street food, and reflected on pilgrimage. Ours has been pretty comfortable so far in comparison. Tomorrow we fly to Kathmandu, taking with us very happy memories of an extraordinary place, faith and culture stretching back over a thousand years. 


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