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Alastair Westwood

Alastair Westwood

From 15/09/2009 to 01/11/2009

To some the idea of working in a Buddhist monastery in Nepal might seem a little like an exotic fairytale. After having discovered that through VIN it was indeed a possibility I instantly signed up for a 6 week placement in Nepal. After arriving it was immediately apparent that Nepal is a visually spectacular and emotionally overwhelming country with a huge amount to offer!

After having been given an initial ‘crash course’ in both Nepalese language and culture I was placed in a Buddhist Monastery outside Pharping approximately an hour and a half’s drive from Kathmandu. Once there, I found myself teaching English to monks ranging from the ages of 8 to 22. It was at this point that I begun to realise what a fantastic and enriching experience my visit would turn out to be.

During my stay in Nepal, I taught approximately 140 Buddhist monks in classes of about 40 often outdoors in a field next to the monastery. This was an incredible experience. When not teaching I would practice mediation and play football, frisbee and Bak Chal (Nepalese board game) with the Lopans (teachers) and my students. Every morning I was awoken without fail at 5am to the sounds of the monastery at Puja (prayer), which although strange and a little overwhelming at first is something I shall look back upon with fond memories.

However, the monastic life was only one aspect of my stay in Nepal. Working with VIN offered the opportunity to explore what Nepal has to offer with the other volunteers you work with. During my time, I visited places such as Bhaktapur and Patan, which have squares offering one the chance to see some of the ancient architecture and culture in Nepal. In addition, I went trekking in the Annapurna’s (Area of the Himalayas) where I saw some spectacular mountain scenery and local Nepalese village life and relaxed in the picturesque city of Pokora, which is on the shores of lake Phewa. Furthermore, I decided to seize the opportunity to do one of the highest bungee jumps in the world along with some canyoning and white water rafting! The rest of my time away from the monastery was spent with the other volunteers enjoying the many bars and restaurants found within the bustling (though highly touristy) streets of Tamel in Kathmandu.

Overall, Nepal is a country of spectacular beauty, striking poverty and opportunities to do something new everywhere you look. Working in a Buddhist monastery provides an incredible insight into Tibetan Buddhism and has allowed me to learn a great deal about the way monastic life really works. My time here has been truly fantastic and I have enjoyed every minute of it. Nepal really is a very special place.

Buddhist Monastery Placement

Sep 15 to Nov 1, 2009

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