This year, in September, I explored Ladakh for 2 weeks, of which 5 days were in Zanskar region. I had initially planned to do the trek to Phuktal monastery but somehow that didn’t work out. So, instead, I visited Zangla Fort, Stongde, Karsha (largest monastery in Zanskar) and Zonghkul. In Stongde monastery, I was lucky to be part of lunch ceremony and also got invited later for tea with Head Lama. It was a very unique and abundant experience. On my last day, in Zanskar, I decided to visit Tungri (a nunnery) before leaving for Rangdum.
While I have been to numerous monasteries in Ladakh and also in Himachal (mostly Spiti Valley) earlier, this was the first time ever I visited a nunnery. Wonder why I never been to one sooner. It was a fascinating look inside the life of nuns – how they live together, grow spiritually, together carry out the chores and revelatory about what it takes to be one. They may shave their heads, wear robes, forgo worldly desires and abandon materialism but these beautiful women seeking enlightenment in the nunnery are full of grace with sparkling eyes and infectious laughter.
I was warmly welcomed into their rather spacious kitchen which is in the same building as the Gonpa. They offered me butter tea, biscuits and Ladakhi roti with much love and affection. This was also the first time I witnessed the complete process of making butter tea (tea with salt and butter is combined in a special tea churn, and churned vigorously several times). For most people (including me), butter tea is an acquired taste, since it is salty and has a completely unexpected and strangely unfamiliar taste. Honestly, I didn’t care for it much during my 2 weeks in Ladakh but somehow savoured it on that chilly morning in the sisterhood of Tungri, high in the folds of Himalayas.
Prayer hall and guest rooms are adjacent to the kitchen built around the 500-year-old Gonpa. When you step into the Gonpa through the beautiful small door, you immediately realise you are somewhere special. The room exudes divine feminine energy. The silence, the radiance, the warmth, the fluidity opens your heart and contributes to a powerful experience.
I was told that Tungri is the second-oldest nunnery in Zanskar region. First being Dorje Dzong. Only 11 nuns live at the nunnery, a few younger nuns were at school and a few older nuns had gone to nearby villages. I also met Stanzin who helps in arranging groceries, water and cooking gas at the nunnery. From my brief chat with the nuns and Stanzin, it seemed like there were not enough funds in the nunnery and the means of subsistence were scarce, quite a contrast to other monasteries I visited.
Nevertheless, full of gratitude and appreciation for having experienced such beautiful and gracious communities in Zanskar, on way back from Tungri, a thought ran through my mind – if in some (or many) ways monasticism actually reflects the very world it is expected to forsake. More on that some other time perhaps…