The Buddhists believe the higher up you are the purer you are. That is why they build monasteries where eagles build nests. One of these monasteries, Tango, is perched on the side of a mountain 8,500 feet above sea level. Mercifully, the road comes within 1,000 feet of the gate. Then you have to walk. The path switches back and forth like a lion’s tail in the summertime, the air as thin as Oliver’s gruel. As I dragged myself up, monks from the monastery were tearing down the mountainside like antelope. They can make it up in 15 minutes. It took me well over an hour.
Halfway there I stopped a monk. Gaylo, gati joem mo la? “Monk, sir. Where are you going?”
“Down,” he answered, his interest piqued by a westerner addressing him in Dzongkha.
“I have a package for a monk who lives in Tango. His name is Jampal.”
“He is my roommate. He’s gone to town.” He answered in excellent English.
That is how Nancy and I came to be invited to tea in Uygen Tasho’s cell at Tango Monastery. The room, no bigger than a butler's pantry, could not have been simpler, just the barest of necessities for each of the four monks who lived there: a mattress, a shelf, a miniature desk. No television, no telephone. On the wall was a picture of the Buddha, a poster of Switzerland, and a number of calendars. There was one thing: the view from the cell window. Developers would pay an arm and two legs for it. It was of the blue pine covered mountains of the Thimphu Valley with the Wang Chu at the bottom wriggling its way like a silver snake toward the Thimphu Chu two miles away. Sitting in this cell, looking out that open window, it was hard to see how one could avoid serenity.
We talked a bit about my efforts to learn the language. I explained that I couldn’t find an English-Dzongkha grammar. One of Uygen’s roommates, Sonam, handed me a book. It was his high school text. He refused to take it back. He said it was a gift. I gave him a copy of my book, The Pond God and Other Stories. He gave me a wall hanging of the Buddha. In a gift war with Buddhist monks, it’s tough to fire the last shot.
Tango Monastery is famous for a number of things. It was built in the 13th century by the monk who introduced the Drukpa Kagyupa school of Buddhism into Bhutan. Tenzin Rabgye, the 4th Temporal Ruler of Bhutan, rebuilt it in 1688. It is also the residence of a fourteen-year old boy who is the re-incarnation of Tenzin Rabgye. When I gave my book to Sonam and Uygen, they asked me to send a copy to the re-incarnation. I have done that, suitably inscribed.
It is pleasant to know that my children's stories are in the library of the incarnation of the 4th ruler of Bhutan some 8,500 feet above the Wang Chu.
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