Foot Trails

My week in the Nunnery

One of the major highlights of my visit to the trans- Himalayan Desert Mountains of Spiti Valley was my stay in a nunnery. Well in a way the setting was similar to where I stay in Rishikesh with the only difference that these barren mountains are literally living fossils. My week of volunteering in the nunnery brought many insights into the lives of the nuns and Tibetan Buddhism. This nunnery, in the Morang village with only 4 homes stood atop in the company of the mountains and the river flowing down. Spiti River emerges from Chandratal Lake (due for the next visit) and meet Beas River as it travels down.

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Nunnery view
The village of Morang
The village of Morang!

The nunnery housed nuns from 5 years old to probably arund 60 years old. Following the Gelugpa sect of Dalai Lama; their main routine consists of Tibetan Chants that are mostly for the Goddess deity – Dolma; the other name for her being Maa Tara (which is more commonly known). Gelug means Yellow Hat in Tibetan. Philosophy debates also forms an important part of their studies; which I couldn’t see this time as all the nuns were busy preparing for their English exams. 🙂

Normally, the day would start with an hour of morning chants in Tibetan while sipping hot tea and then doing some breathing exercises that I volunteered to share with them that I learn from The Himalayan Tradition.The younger lot of the nuns were a delight to work with. Simply loved spending time with them. Even after their morning sessions they would sometimes come to my room in the evening asking if they can have another class. And I’ll happily oblige. 🙂

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Total Fun
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The little ones with the head nun

Another high point of the stay was the awesome local food. Thukpa, Momos, Timo, and their special Tibetan double roti. And many times I participated too in preparing the food. But my favorite dish was the Sattu that is generally eaten in most of the rural India. I simply took for the taste of Sattu. And even if it were not on the day’s menu they would still prepare it for me on request. Every nun gets a duty to cook in the kitchen for a week with an assistant nun and during my stay the nun who was in charge; her name is Diki.  Diki would always prompt me to wait to eat till others have finished their meals. And then later she and few other nuns would sneak in some milk so the head nun doesn’t find out and they will make kheer for the few of us. It would get all so thrilling for me just at the prospect that if the head nun might enter the kitchen, we’ll all be busted. Though she won’t say anything to me; I don’t know what would happen to the other nuns. Thank God she never caught us. 🙂

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That’s Tibetan double roti
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That’s Diki holding Timo in her hand
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My favourite Sattu with some Tea

There were also regular mischiefs in the nunnery and not always serious studies. One evening I saw few of the younger nuns tiptoeing out of a room, giggling and running towards their room. Then I found out that they would sometimes go to their teacher’s room to watch TV and would run out when they hear him coming… It was hilarious to see that scene.

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During the morning Chants!
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Pooja for Jutsen Dolma
dolma
Maa Tara (chinabuddhismencyclopedia.com)

I also got to attend one of their important rituals that nuns perform to invoke Jetsun Dolma (Maa Tara). The ritual lasted for entire day with a small break in between. The Gelugpa sect comes under Vajrayana Buddhism that is tantric in its essence. The chantings as I earlier said form the main part of their practice. Through the chants they invoke the benevolence of the Goddess. Sitting with them and listening to these Tibetan chants can actually transport you to that state of a calm and settle mind.

I made some “forever friends” in the nunnery. Pray to meet them soon on my next visit to Spiti.

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View from my room.
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