11. Lawudo Gompa.

View from Lawudo Gompa

Lawudo Gompa.

My aspiration to spend time in solitude, as a hermit, had not left me. Before leaving Bali I had managed to locate a small and incredibly isolated meditation cave with a small Gompa in the Himalayas, about a five-day climb from Everest base camp. To get there you can either fly into the small mountain airstrip that makes up Lukla airport (renowned as being the most dangerous airport in the world) and then climb up for three days, or you can trek and climb from Jiri, which takes ten days. I decided upon the airplane. If you are ever faced with the decision of whether or not to fly into Lukla airport, always go with the not. There have been several fatal crashes there in the short time since the airport graced me with its under pant-drenching terror. The plane that we flew on was from the seconds world war and, along with myself, was carrying an air stewardess, a few locals and about five crates of eggs, which smelt of, well, eggs! Our landing in Lukla really put things into perspective. If ever there was a time when I had to just let go and roll with it, this was that time. After and hour and a half in the air, the plane took a sudden nose dive, straight to a rock, before performing a dramatic pull up just before smashing into the cliff as it wrestled to land on a flimsy piece of ground dangling off the side of the mountain. Upon landing even the pilot looked amazed!

Route to Lawudo Gompa

The trek to Lawudo was a stunning one, as I passed some of the most beautiful landscapes, tallest mountains, pounding waterfalls and ancient monasteries that I had ever seen, climbing higher and higher towards the roof of the world. Lawudo Gompa sits at 4000m above sea level and is run by an old Tibetan Nun called Ani Ngawang Samten, the sister of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, right hand man to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It is a two-week climb from the nearest road, and the great majority of residents have never even seen a car. All labour is taken with the assistance of Yaks, with items transported from place to place upon the backs and heads of the locals. Ani is a sturdy and harsh mountain Nun who has had a life of meditation and hard labour, but her smile, laughter and appreciative joy seemed as limitless as the sky. She was the best host that anyone could ask for. In the mornings you would see her climbing up the mountainside, a young calf under each arm, heaving a colossal Mountain Cow behind her for milking.

My hostess

The cows were treated like family, protected at night (from the Snow Leopards that occasionally pick one off) and left during the day to tend to their young. They are never killed, even after their milk producing days are over, and Ani never takes more milk than they can afford to give: the calves always get the first go! This truly is living in harmony with animals. Animals are sentient beings. They may not be able to write a book about love, fear, pain or happiness, but they feel every one of those feelings, in very similar ways to humans. They are perfect examples of life and have every bit as much right to exist on this planet as us humans. That we have learned to view then as nothing more than disposable commodities is a true sadness. We fail to recognize the pain and the suffering that we put them through. If only we could learn to see just how precious this life is, how precious all life is, and what a rare gift turning up on this planet provides us, the perhaps we will learn to treat animals with the respect that they deserve. We are all in this together: humans, animals and all other beings that inhabit this Samsara.

Road to Lawudo Gompa

There was nothing to do at Lawudo aside from climb, trek, meditate, prostrate to the Buddha, read eat and sleep. I would wake up every morning in my cave, and look out over Mt Everest, which above and expanded beyond the cliff edge that had become my momentary home. Ani would cook me vegetarian omelets and butter tea (if I was not awake Sangmo, the heroic and beautiful Sherpa cook would come and grab me, looking incredibly bewildered at my laziness!) and I would then return to my cave to meditate for the rest of the morning, before going on my afternoon ramble around the mountains.

My meditation was extremely confusing from the moment that I arrived at Lawudo. I had previously only practiced Theravada practices: meditating on the four elements, meditating on the breath and meditating in my body and subtle body. However, every time that I went to close my eyes here at Lawudo my meditation was overtaken by incredible images of divine beings of all shapes and sizes. I would try to focus on my breath and stable my mind, but instead would end up staring into the blazing and lacerating eyes of whom I would learn to recognize as White and Red Tara. It seemed that Ani, Sungmo and I were not alone on this cliff edge of a far off mountain on the roof of the world.

Such was the energy of Lawudo Gompa. For thousands of years monks and yogis had been coming to these hidden heights to meditate. They would practice the Mahayana meditation in which you gain your concentration by imagining and focusing on images of the divine. You are able to become immensely concentrated through these imaginings, before you finally dissolve the image into nothingness, realizing the illusion. All conditioned things are an illusion.

I was twice confronted with near annihilation at the bidding of some of the mountain’s animal inhabitants. On the third day, whilst going on my midday adventure I found myself running for my life, being chased by two monumental mountain bulls. I eventually escaped by legging it over a waterfall (almost losing my footing), where they were unable to follow. However an hour later and they were still waiting for me on the other end. I was forced to climb down the steep and slippery fall 500 meters until I reached a path. It was here that I met three ancient nuns climbing the mountain. One of the must have been a hundred years old. They were on their way to a five-day Puja, purification ceremony, which was, unbeknownst to me, about to take place in the Gompa at Lawudo. I travelled up the mountain with them. It was amazing watching these old Nuns, so far from any modern comfort, dragging themselves without a complaint in the world up a Himalayan mountain in torrential rainfall. It made me reflect on rush hour at Victoria Station. When the train arrives just ten minutes late the complaints, swearing and anger overwhelm the restless crowd. What ever happened to our capacity for patience and endurance? I wondered how any of these commuters would have handled the day to day traveling of these resilient nuns.

The next day, just before the start of the Puja, I was on another mountain escapade. I had just passed by a large and ancient Stupa made up by generations of Pilgrims and Tibetan yak traders. I stood, taking in the view, when out from behind one of the ubiquitous rocks a large leopard with fur as white as the surrounding mountaintops ran across my path. It was a snow leopard. I froze with a cocktail of fear and awe. It stayed for just a moment, and then continued on, stealthing its way towards the waterfall. When I returned to the Monastery a few hours later and recounted this event a hurried excitement overtook the Puja’s preparative proceedings. This was the Snow Leopard that had been killing Ani’s cows. After I told her which direction it had headed in Ani dispatched a team of nuns to hurriedly collect the calves and cows. The residents will never kill: they are protectors and not takers of life.

With one of the nuns at the Puja

The Puja lasted for five days. Around thirty nuns had climbed up from the nearest village to partake. Chanting lasted from 5:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening. This was broken up by about two hours of prostrations. A day of fasting (no food or water) was followed by a day of breaking the fast, followed by another day of fasting and so on. The energy in the Gompa was electric. Old Tibetan drums were beaten, horns were blown and the hum of meditating and chanting nuns vibrated the air. The energy was electric and overwhelming. I could not spend more than an hour in the Gompa at a time without being completely overtaken by the overpowering vibration. My neck felt like it was going to snap. Again, you just had to give in, to completely let go, or there was not way of holding out.

On my final day at Lawudo I was given a blessing scarf by Ani. Although I had used a porter on my way up to the Gompa, she assured me that I would not need one for the way down. “You are a strong boy. You will be fine,” she said. What she had failed to take into account was that my bad weighed 30kg and I had not map and no guide in his magnificent yet perilous landscape in which one wrong turn or one fall could and most likely would prove fatal. Ani also suggested that I should undertake this three-day journey in a single day. This proved to be, by far and away the most exhausting and body shatter day of my life to date. I was climbing up and down mountains for over fifteen hours without a break. I collapsed on several occasions; only able to muster the strength to continue with the certainty that I would not last five minutes out there on my own once night fell. By the time I did reach Lukla night had just overrun the mountain town. I fell into my bed at the Sherpa Lodge and passed out, waking a few hours later with a fever and with legs that felt so overworked and sore that I genuinely wondered if they would ever be of any use again.

The next day I flew out of Lukla airport and returned to Kathmandu, where I was to meet an old friend who would accompany me on the next leg of my adventure.

7 Responses to “11. Lawudo Gompa.”

  1. Toby Fan
    21. July 2013 at 16:09

    Hi,This is a really wonderful article about the gompa. Actually I am also looking for taking a meditation retreat at this gompa this semptember if possible.
    1. Searching from google, lawudo gompa looks under re-construction? Will that be disturbting?
    2. Any meditation guide you can get from Ani Ngawang Samten?
    3. How do you donoate? to the Ani Ngawang Samten?

    Thank you, it is very informational and useful.

  2. admin
    22. August 2013 at 12:40

    Hi Toby, apologies for the late reply. I hope that it is not too late.

    The best way to contact Lawudo is to contact Sangay Sherpa at lawudogompa@yahoo.com

    He is the brother of Ani and of Lama Zopa Rinpoche and lives in Kathmandu, so will give you all of the assistance necessary for a stay at Lawudo.

    To answer your questions:

    1. Renovation. Lawudo Gompa itself is not currently under renovation (or it was not when I was there) but there are plans to rebuild the Gompa to accommodate more meditation study, especially for monks and lay yogis affiliated with the Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu. Even if work has begun I would not imagine that this will be too disturbing for your meditation, although I cannot say for sure. It is worth checking with Sangay to see whether work has begun yet.
    2. Meditation Guide. Ani did not give me any meditation instruction when I was there, but there is a Lama, Lama Norbu, who lives in retreat up there, who did give some instruction to the other meditator who was staying when I was there. I did not request instruction as my own practice is Theravada and I did not wish to confuse myself!
    3. For donations, bring cash with you. The stay is $15 (US) per night. This includes all meals, bed etc. They might well be able to make some sort of deal with you but I just paid the full amount. If you decide to prolong your stay and do a full Winter retreat then there is a cash point in Namche, which is a two hour trek down the mountain.

    I am glad that you found the post useful. I could not suggest Lawudo Gompa more. It is a quiet, remote place that has a very pure, peaceful energy and a supportive environment.
    With Metta and a wish for your peace and happiness,

    Edward.

  3. Toby Fan
    18. September 2013 at 06:35

    Great thanks to Edward:)
    I will fly to KTM tomorrow! And I will fly to Lukla on Saturday. You information is quite inspiring, I will follow your path. Wish you have more great adventures.

  4. admin
    25. January 2014 at 17:32

    Hi Toby,

    Thank you for the reply and again apologies for my late reply. I really hope that you made it to Lawudo Gompa and that you had a fantastic time there, and that you gained everything that you should have gained there. It is a truly wonderful place and I am actually considering heading back there this Summer.

    With Metta,

    Eddie

  5. arya azadi
    8. March 2014 at 22:57

    what a wonderful sharing. i am so appreciative to have found these very informative words of sharing as well as the fabulous photos. i am just wondering if this is a realistic journey for me. i am not any trained meditator. just love to be in silence and Nature. i live in the lower Himalayas in Kullu-Manali Valley. i like and respect challenges, and want to go. am 64 year old woman . i feel that i must try and do this trek and have this experience.

  6. Pascal
    27. March 2014 at 20:36

    Hey Edward

    thanks so much for this inspiring article about a remote and humble place on this planet. I also consider to go there.

    Which time in the year is the best and how much time should I plan for my trip at least ?

    Thanks a lot for any advice!

    Hugs
    Pascal

  7. Elena
    29. September 2014 at 15:56

    Thanks a lot for your report.
    I am going to Lawudo in the end of October.

    I am very very excited.

    Can you recommend any hikes? Or do you just on somewhere on the mountains?
    Is it safe for a woman (guess the animal dont care whether male or female)
    thanks in advance!
    Elena from Germany

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