Approaching Kopan Monastery above Kathmandu ©Solange Hando
There is a peaceful place above Kathmandu where you can escape from the hustle and bustle of dusty city streets. You see it from Bodhnath, roofs glinting on a lonely hill top framed by the first wooded slopes of Helambu.
From Bodhnath, a road leads up to the monastery, with tempting shortcuts but if you take them, you'll miss out on the views. So I prefer to keep to the road though if you don't fancy the slow climb, you could take a taxi up then walk down to enjoy the bucolic scenery at leisure.
Kopan Monastery, Kathmandu ©Solange Hando
Kopan greets you with velvety lawns and flower beds, an oasis of peace where, as in Taiwan for instance, day visitors are welcome and anyone can book accommodation in the guest house or in the retreat section, according to their needs. This is no five star hotel, rooms are budget-type though there is a range of prices depending on amenities. Meals are served in the refectory if you want them.
November is usually fully booked (and may be closed to visitors) for the annual month-long retreat but even at other times, it is wise to reserve in advance. There are short courses and retreats throughout the year and for those in the know, Kopan is proving a peaceful and scenic alternative to the ever popular Kathmandu Guest House in Thamel.
Temple and Red-robed Monks in Kopan, Nepal ©Solange Hando
But most of all, Kopan is a real Buddhist community. Not a tourist coach in sight but you will find monks and nuns of all ages relaxing, praying,studying, getting on with their chores from dawn to dusk. Blankets dry on the balconies, pots and pans clatter in the kitchen and in the temple draped in Buddhist flags, meditation gets under way.
Visitors are free to come and go, providing they respect the rules posted at the gate: no alcohol, no drugs, no killing, no sex. A small shop near the entrance sells books, drinks and snacks, and hand-crafted items such as stationery, woven bags and colourful wall hangings, all in a good cause . The young monks and nuns are well cared for, with an all round education many wouldn't get at home, and sufficient food.
Entrance to the Temple, Kopan ©Solange Hando
The temple itself is spacious and bright, adorned with Buddha images and thangkas, its doors open to all but make sure you are dressed decently and leave your shoes outside.
No one wants to anger the bulging-eyed dragons mounting guard by the steps among the flower pots.
Main Shrine in Kopan Monastery Grounds ©Solange Hando
But where flowers go, you can't beat the main shrine, reached along a path of blossoming trees and cosseted with petunias, bougainvillea and shrubs of every kind. A smiling Buddha and other deities invite you to relax and gaze at the view across the valley.
With the city at your feet, so close yet so remote, you soon sense some amazing vibes, regardless of your faith. It's a place where you feel at ease with your inner self, inspired by beauty and peace suspended, it seems, between heaven and earth. Try it, especially at night, and you'll know what I mean.