Phajoding Monastery at 3605m
It's not always just about the running. These adventure runs take you off the beaten track and to extraordinary places that you would never of dreamed of going to....honestly, I had never heard of Bhutan until I stumbled across this race.
Everything about this adventure in Bhutan has been extraordinary and unique but one of my fondest memories is being given the opportunity to visit the Phajoding Monastery, headed by the Dr. Naygam, a remarkable monk who is the leader of the Monastery.
In Bhutan, the Buddha's parinirvana is observed on the 15th day of the lunar calendar, which happened to fall on this day of the race, June 2nd.
So as we trotted along the trails and up the hills passing monasteries, we were privileged to be pilgrimaging along with the locals. Them dressed in traditional and colorful gowns known as 'ghos' for the men and 'kira' for the women, hand woven fabrics rich with traditional pattern and intense colours. Us runners with our sporting attire, a sight to be hold I am sure. They giggled at our sweating and laboring personas, we respected their journey and were grateful to walk along side them.
Staying at the monastery on the night of the full moon was a very special experience too.
This monastery was unique in that it exhibited a special kind of vibrant energy and joy. Dr. Namgay grew up as a monk himself and when he was older he had a calling. Four years ago the Phajoding Monastery was run down and forgotten because it's location was so remote, it only had a handful of monks reside there.
Four years later there are over 60 monks here and Dr. Namgay has created a Monastery that is filled with love, joy, respect and cultural and worldly awareness. Namgay respects the tradition of how Monks should be trained but he is also open minded to the modern ways of the world. In this Monastery affection and emotion is encouraged, education is promoted, cultural connections with foreign people is recommended and so he hopes to create a Monastery filled with monks that will go forward into the world with a more modern wisdom and a balanced outlook on life and therefore their mission to create a more harmonious life for monks in monasteries will lead to more active involvement in local communities in the future.
The monastery receives monks mainly from very poor families. When families can not afford to feed or house their child any longer they are given up to the local monastery. For a child as young as 5, you can only imagine the hardship he endures and the commitments to ritual he has to diligently abide to each day. It was different here and the love could be definitely felt in the monks, within their smiles, their greetings and their interactions with eacother and with us.
It's a little less rigid here and the expectations more realistic, Dr. Namgay's vision, a revolutionary one but one that seems to be working especially in a country where happiness is so valued.
We enjoyed the opportunity to talk with the monks, to get to know them, to eat with them and to share their home with them.
We enjoyed a rowdy game of soccer with them. yes even the ladies were permitted to play. Of course the monks, whom have been practicing all year, won and loads of fun was had by all.
As for the sleeping arrangements, we shared the rooms with the monks and slept in their bunks. Of course where in the world would this happen, especially females allowed to enter the rooms. It was wonderful that the young monks (6 years old) found pleasure in sharing their rooms with these special guests from around the world.
Spending a full night evening, on top of a mountain, in a monastery with monks and celebrating not only our run but also Buddha's parinirvana was a unique and special experience to say the least.
The following morning we were given a handshake and a blessing of good luck by many of the monks.......again emotion stirred within me and I was brought to tears.........I am grateful for such an opportunity.....a once in a lifetime experience....for having been able to touch the lives of these monks in some way and for them in contributing to mine.
For the past few days it's been hard to not get swept up in the tradition of Buddhism, when every corner you turn there are colourful prayer flags being hung, monasteries dotted across the mountain ranges, artistically and ingeniously built Dzongs sprouting like mushrooms, ancient stupas popping up randomly and seeing red robed monks scurry through towns and in the mountains on their daily rituals....it's hard to not feel the 'zen' engulf you....especially in a country whose landscape is so stunning, whose people are so friendly and tranquil and where a constant calmness is always present.