by Liesl Clark
Tengboche Monastery sits atop a hill at the confluence of the Dudh Kosi and the Imja Khola rivers, with a clear view of Everest. About 350 years ago, Lama Sangwa Dorje (a high priest) of Khumbu declared Tengboche to be a religious site where there would one day be an important monastery. But it wasn't until 1923, when the reincarnate of Lama Sangwa Dorje—a boy from nearby Khumjung—founded the actual monastery. Today it is one of the most important religious centers for Sherpa culture, with 35 monks residing within its walls.
Tengboche is a Shangri La, one of the last stops on the way to the high peaks. But this quiet spot has been the site of a long history of disasters. The monastery was destroyed by an earthquake in 1933, only to be rebuilt and ravaged by fire in 1989. The heat was so intense that none of the old scriptures, carvings, and murals could be salvaged. Most of the old artifacts were completely destroyed. With the aid of local Sherpas skilled in carpentry, the monks have rebuilt the monastery. Patience and mindfulness are central tenets in Tibetan Buddhism, and these are needed here in large doses as the rebuilding process has stretched on from months to years.
Tengboche is surrounded by ancient mani stones which are flat stones with the mantra, "Om Mane Padme Hum" inscribed on them. Prayer flags flutter in the constant breeze coming off the high peaks; the flags—in 5 colors—represent the 5 Buddhist elements: earth, wind, fire, water and consciousness. On our way up to Base Camp, we visited the monastery at the height of the spring season, when the slopes of Tengboche hill are covered with flowering rhododendrons. Here, just as his father had done years earlier, Jamling quietly offered a ceremonial khata scarf to the presiding monk of the monastery. The monk in turn blessed the bundle of prayer flags that Jamling hopes to unfurl on the summit.
Wearing colorful costumes, the monks performed a masked dance ceremony, called Mani Rimdu, intended to bring into the team's presence some of the great protective deities, including a wrathful manifestation of the legendary saint Guru Rinpoche, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. The dancers' motions depict the historic vanquishment of demons and the introduction of Buddhism to Tibet. Tengboche and Mani Rimdu have become symbols for tourism in Nepal, attracting some 15,000 tourists per year and, in the high season, up to 600 per week. Click here to hear the Mani Rimdu dance (RealAudio).
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