It is no longer only a frisson of piety or a spiritual crisis that brings people to the doorsteps of places of worship. Increasingly, it is the lack of quiet places and the yearning for escape from blaring horns and booming music that has people arriving in the isolated locations and green spaces of temples and monasteries.
With their peaceful atmosphere and greenery, the Kathmandu Valley’s sacred places have become havens for the city’s open-space-deprived dwellers, and Namo Buddha is one destination that attracts the religious-minded, seekers of solitude, as well as aficionados of scenic places. Whether you walk, cycle, or drive (the writer’s recommended mode of traveling are in that order) to Namo Buddha, the way to it is a gradual build up to the scenic climax that is the Namo Buddha area.
Walking to Namo Buddha, for me, is the best way to get there for several reasons. First, the pace of walking, as opposed to that of a car or bus, synchronizes best with the landscape, which changes gradually from pine forest to quaint villages to ridges offering panoramic views of the mountains. Second, by walking you are more likely to spot the small, often hand-written signs in front of the many wood and adobe houses, announcing the availability of delicacies such as yogurt, organic honey, and fresh fruits. Lastly and most importantly, walking to Namo Buddha is doing it the pilgrim’s way. It also lets you get a feel of what people in the days before the road would have felt like passing through forests to get to this sacred place. The name ‘Namo Buddha,’ mythology tells us, comes from “Namo Buddhaya” (“I take refuge in the Buddha”) a mantra pilgrims chanted in the old days to allay their fears of wild animals that inhabited the forests around the monastery.
Today the remaining patches of that forest inspire calm rather than fear. The quiet, languid environment of the monastery and the warmth and friendliness of its resident monks make Namo Buddha a refuge for people from the cities. Row after row of hills, some of them terraced and dotted with tiny houses, stretch away into the distance. Mountains rise behind them to complete the mandala-like landscape. It is easy to fall into reveries gazing at scenes like these from the monastery’s high perch. “Cheeese!” shout an excited group of students posing for a photo nearby, and you are shaken out of your moment of bliss.
In and Around Namo Buddha
In the excitement to get to the top of the Namo Buddha hill it is easy to miss the small stupa at the northwestern corner of the hill’s foot. The old stupa, whitewashed and ringed by a circle of lamps, usually has a small group of assorted individuals – old pilgrims, cleaners, tourists and children – going around it. Its location offers no views of the surrounding areas, but its seclusion makes it the ideal place to rest.
Nestled in a small valley west of Namo Buddha is the medieval town of Panauti. Existing as though in a time warp, this town is where the sights already lost or on the wane in Kathmandu are still part of everyday life. The temples and residential squares are the most attractive places in Panauti.
Patlekhet’s Organic Farms
It’s easy to want more of the rustic life after a visit to Namo Buddha. Head east on the highway from the point where the road to Namo Buddha branches off. There, in the Patlekhet VDC, you can find several organic farms producing things from fresh vegetables to honey. Some of them even have homestay facilities. Everything Organic Nursery (www.everythingorganicnursery.com) and Hasera Farm (www.organichasera.org) are worth a visit.
For those who wish for all the amenities of city life after a day in the countryside, Dhulikhel, with its resorts and hotels, is a tempting destination. Dhulikhel Village Resort (www.dhulikhelvr.com.np) is located away from the bustling town and has spectacular views from its rooms. The nearby Langtang View Resort (www.langtangviewresort.com.np) is a cheaper option that almost matches the views.
Special Things to Remember
Namo Buddha is a sacred place, so dress appropriately. Don’t be too boisterous within the monastery premises; there could be a prayer service taking place next door. There is public transportation to Namo Buddha, but do not take this for granted if you plan to return the same day. It’s always a good idea to check with bus or micro drivers when the last public vehicle leaves. If you do miss the last ride out, walk to the highway, where you might be able to catch a lift to Dhulikhel. There aren’t many shops in between the highway and Namo Buddha, so carry enough water and snacks.
To Get There
Buses leave frequently from Banepa and Dhulikhel. From Dhulikhel head southeast on the B.P. Highway. Continue on the highway for approximately 9 kms before turning right at a crossroads near a pine grove. There will be a hoarding to indicate the road to Namo Buddha. If you want to go to Patelkhet, head straight (east) for another three kilometers.
Where to Stay
The Namo Buddha monastery, officially known as Thrangu Tashi Yangtse Monastery, also has a guesthouse. It is very popular, so make advance bookings. You can also request to eat your meals with the resident monks—an opportunity that the guesthouse can arrange. For reservations at the monastery guesthouse and other information go to www.namobuddha.org. The Namo Buddha Resort combines the comfort of a resort with the quaintness of a farm (www.namobuddharesort.com).