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The head lama, or abbot, of Thyangboche is the equivalent of a bishop, whose ‘diocese’ is the whole of the Khumbu district of Nepal, his gompa an impressive building perched on a ridge at 3867m (12,687ft) at the foot of Thamserku and Kangtega above a slope of pine, fir, black juniper and rhododendron, and with a view northeast along the valley of the Imja Khola to Ama Dablam, Lhotse, Nuptse and the summit of Everest.
‘It would be difficult to imagine, much more find, a finer site for worship or for contemplation,’ wrote Bill Tilman on arriving there in 1950, while three years later John Hunt commented that ‘Thyangboche must be one of the most beautiful places in the world.’
The present monastery is the third to occupy this magical site. The first was commissioned by the abbot of Rongbuk on the Tibetan side of Everest, and was completed in 1919. But the gompa was destroyed in 1934 by an earthquake which also killed its founding lama. A replacement soon arose from the debris, with the remains of Lama Gulu buried inside. In common with virtually all Himalayan monasteries, it was lit by rows of butter lamps that gave off a flickering orange glow, until in 1988 electric lighting was provided via a small hydro scheme. But less than a year later, on 19 January 1989, this second sacred monastery was burnt to the ground by a devastating fire.
The present Thyangboche monastery was constructed with the help of the local Sherpa population, and largely paid for by international organisations and donations from mountaineers, trekkers and well-wishers from around the world. It’s a magnificent edifice surrounded by small white cells in which the monks live, and the main building is approached up a broad flight of stone steps, then through a courtyard surrounded by bare rooms where the monks and trainee monks meditate and carry out their studies. The heart of the gompa, the lha-khang, is dominated by a four-metre tall statue of the Buddha, while colourful silk banners and ornamental scrolls hang from the ceiling. When devotions take place the room is filled with the chanting of saffron-robed monks, the ringing of small bells, the clashing of cymbals and the cacophonous blast of conch shells and trumpets.
Outside, the highest mountains on Earth offer their silent benediction.
[Kev has made more than a dozen Himalayan treks, and written five trekkers’ guides to the finest routes in Nepal, all published by Cicerone: Everest, Annapurna, Langtang (with Gosainkund and Helambu), Manaslu, and Kangchenjunga.]
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