Bigu Gumba is one of the oldest nunneries in Nepal. Located on the top of a hill (2,580 m) in Dolakha District, the place offers idyllic scenery and superb panoramic views. The Gumba is a hidden and magical place - like the fairy tale of snow white and the seven dwarfs, who live behind the seven mountains.
Geshe Lobsang Gyalsen La, the leader and in charge of Bigu Gumba gets on the jeep in Charikot. We reach Singati (1,065 m) after a two hours’ drive through a beautiful landscape accompanied by twinkle of Ghaurishankar mountain range. After a short lunch break at a local restaurant we continue our journey to Bigu. It takes another 3 ½ hours to reach the nunnery.
The jeep struggles while climbing up the steep, rocky and sloping muddy road. In this area, a touristic infrastructure has not been developed yet. It is a place where pure Nepali village life is still vibrant. Many villages around Bigu are inhabited by the ethnic group of Thami. The Thami are a tribe, who originally practiced shamanism and still exist by incest.
During the trip Geshe La starts to tell us about the monastery: "Bigu Gumba was established in 1932 and is the oldest nunnery practicing Mahayana Buddhism in Nepal. The official and registered name of the monastery is Tashi Chime Gatsal Gumba. When I came to Bigu Gumba in 2008 I took the guidance of the monastery. Currently a total of 65 nuns in the age between 8 and 90 years are ordained in the monastery. Nowadays 50 nuns live on the spot."
While listening to these instructive reports the journey gets fun and time passes more quickly than expected."We are almost there.” says the head of the monastery. It is hard to believe because we cannot see the monastery compound anywhere. Then, after a last serpentine the plateau leaps into view.
After a warm welcome, we learn that every year 5 - 6 new nuns’ students, mainly from the areas of Dhading, Jiri, Sinduli, Sinduphalchowk and Dolakha, join the nunnery. Unfortunately, the outflow is in the same order.
"Beside of Buddhist practices and Tibetan language the nuns are studying also English, Nepali and mathematics up to class 8 in the affiliated school. Two female teachers who are employed by the government educate the nuns in these subjects. The young nuns have the possibility to continue their studies till class 10 in the government school in Bigu village.” continues Geshe La his explanations.
Suddenly we hear the majestic sound of a gong, slowly and rhythmically struck. It is the sign for the puja ceremony which will take place after 15 minutes. We are invited to join the ceremony. Happily, we take this invitation. Until the monastery is reconstructed, the pujas are held in the new kitchen building funded by the Nepalese government.
We humbly enter the small room. The nuns sitting along the walls on pillows, a lower table with prayer book and a cup of butter tea in front. Drums, trumpets, and timpani are ready to use. Once we have taken place, a nun graciously serves us butter tea as well. We listen to the mantras, which mix up with the sound of the instruments. It is an extraordinary and fascinating experience.
The next morning after breakfast Geshe La gives a detailed report on the day of the earthquake occurred on April 25 th, 2015. The entire monastery complex, the accommodations of the nuns and the new guesthouse were destroyed. The classrooms of the school were badly damaged. The nuns and the leader of the monastery were flown to Kathmandu by helicopter. The helicopter had to fly back and forth many times to rescue all people living in the monastery.
Geshe La takes us on a tour across the spacious monastery site. A poster that is fixed at the nuns’ shelter shows photos of the monastery before the earthquake and afterwards. The construction plans for the new building complexes are pinned at the wooden wall, too.
"I guess that within 3 years, i.e. in the year 2018 the reconstruction work can be completed" replies Geshe La to the question as how long it will take to rebuilt all destroyed buildings.
It is amazing how the construction work is controlled, coordinated, and organized by Geshe La. Also, the workers from Sinduphalchowk District, who are trained in earthquake resistant construction, are closely observed, and occasionally pointed on compliance with the construction plans and the correct mixing ratio for the cement.
One tract of the nuns ‘new accommodation is mostly constructed and the bare brickwork can already be admired. The foundations for the other buildings are set. In addition, construction at the guest house with 9 rooms is gathering at high speed. The house should be completed in March. Trekking travelers who like to extend the Rolwaling Trek to Bigu can combine an overnight stay at this accommodation with opportunities to attend a puja and to dive into monastic life.
The land on which a medical station is planned, is leveled, and waits for the laying of the foundation stone. Financial aid is mainly coming from overseas. Not only after the devastating earthquake, but since long time organizations located in Hong Kong, the USA and Germany are supporting the monastery. Nevertheless, in addition to the financial means such a large project requires a competent management and organization. Certainly, Geshe La is the right man and completely suitable to fulfill this task.
It is impressive to see the great progress of reconstruction work in such a remote place and reconstruction work done by national and foreign support as well as Nepali dynamism.
Sabine Pretsch Journalist and She can be reached at Nepal-Spirit: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.nepal-spirit.de