Kopan and Kathmandu

It was the most amazing New Year ever, crossing into Nepal in a bullock cart at sunrise. The sky was ablaze, the haze and dust in the air heightened the reds and oranges of the sun. It was New Year’s Day, 1976, sure to be a super year, and as it turned out, it was.

During that last term in Madagascar I heard from my friend Peter. He was now in Nepal studying Tibetan Buddhism with Lama Yeshe at the Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu. Randy Dodge, who was still living at the house, was attracted to going to India and Nepal. He had been practicing Yoga for several years and was also interested in Buddhism. I was interested in Nepal but somehow fearful of India. I knew deep down that it could grab me and not let me go. By this time, Voahangy had gone to Brussels to join her U.N. boyfriend. Rickey was making arrangements to go to university in France. Randy and I were busy changing Malagasy francs into U.S. dollars with the Indian money changers and making preparations for our trip to the sub-continent.

Randy and I had discovered that there was an Indian passenger ship that traveled from Mauritius to Bombay and so made plans to go to Mauritius and leave for India from there. I said goodbye to my home for two years and a people that will forever hold a special place in my heart.
Thirty-three years after first arriving in Madagascar, I finally made a trip back with my wife, Amido in 2006. She loves the place as much as I do. Many things looked the same, although Tana was a bit of a shock. In 1975, the population of Madagascar was around eight million; in 2006, it was sixteen million and most of those are now in Tana. I have never seen so many kids.

The ship we took had several classes of travel. I think Randy and I took the next to last. It was not too bad really, dormitory style with bunk beds. The food was good. There was both a vegetarian line and a non-vegetarian line. We used the vegetarian line for lunch and dinner and the non-veg for breakfast because we wanted eggs. The trip took several days and on the way we were treated to Indian movies. That was the first time I had ever seen a Bollywood production. Treated is probably not very accurate because the sound system was terrible and it was way too loud. The days were spent on the deck watching the sea go by and reading Herman Hess’s The Glass Bead Game. So, after another trip across the Indian Ocean we arrived in Bombay, India.

In Bombay, we stayed at the Salvation Army Hostel. On the streets were quite a few wasted westerners wandering around. We didn’t really expect that to be our fate but it was a good heads up. We were both interested in getting up to Nepal as soon as possible and decided to take a train out to a good place to begin hitchhiking from. We didn’t see any reason why we couldn’t hitch in India. On our very first ride we had a surprise. A truck stopped. It was open in the back and we just needed to climb up and jump in. We threw our backpacks over the rail and climbed up and landed in a truck bed of manure. It wasn’t very wet so we just shrugged our shoulders and we were on our way.

After a couple of days traveling, we were ready to enter Nepal. We had arrived in the border town too late to be able to cross that day. We would have to wait for the next day. It just happened to be New Year’s Eve. I don’t think we made any festivities but just awaited our trip into Nepal in the morning.

After arriving in Kathmandu, we found our way to Freak Street where I knew Peter was staying in a guest house. Randy and Peter had never met. Peter had already left Madagascar by the time Randy showed up. Peter was very much into his exploration into Tibetan Buddhism. He was involved in a course that was being offered at the Kopan Monastery on the outskirts of the city. One day we went with him to visit and had a short chat with Lama Yeshe over a cup of tea. He offered his cup which we shared. He was a very kind man with a boyish grin. There were many westerners involved in the meditation teachings at the time but for some reason I wasn’t drawn to joining.

Randy and I went on to Pokhara in order to do a trek. In those days Pokhara hadn’t really become a big scene like it is today. On the sides of Lake Phewa were a few guest houses. Nearby was a Tibetan refugee camp and so a few Tibetans would set up on the paths and sell their goods. I bought a Tibetan mala and some pieces of coral with holes drilled in them for stringing on a mala. The guest house was very simple but I remember a nice garden and of course the views were incredible of both the lake and the mountains, a truly idyllic scene. There was a Japanese couple staying in the guest house that I noticed. She was very sweet and soft and he was intense with the stern look of a samurai. I would meet this couple again and they would get new names and become Geeta and Asanga.

-purushottama

This story is from a collection of stories and essays from along the Way titled From Lemurs to Lamas: Confessions of a Bodhisattva.

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