Sometimes on market days in Paro town we see women with shaved heads in maroon monastic robes piling baskets of produce into their truck and then driving off. Where do they go? What female monastic institutions are there in this country of so many monks and monasteries?
Kela Gompa is a female monastic institution (nunnery) perched on a cliff high above Paro valley. We are kindly given permission to visit and talk to some of the students there, to learn more about what it is like to be a nun in Bhutan, to learn about religion and environment from their points of view.
After an hour’s drive up the mountain road we park and hike the last half-hour through fir forest, deep green and garlanded with moss and lichen. Nutcrackers call out and fly among the trees, livening the forest in the sunlight and crisp autumn air.
Up at Kela Gompa, the air is frigid when there is no direct sunlight, and we have an intimation of the hardships that accompany the solitude in this place of practice and study, which also serves as a social safety net for young girls and women. The monastics are shy but stalwart as they engage in conversation, and what shines through is the mutual interest in different lives, the eagerness to communicate and understand between SFS students from the valley floor and monastic students in their eyrie high above.
Bhutan Ecological Society staff, Krishna Bastola and Tshering Dorji, carry offerings for the monastery
The path to Kela Gompa Monastery
SFS student Siena Marr and Bhutan Ecological Society intern Tshering Dema engage with a nun during the visit to the monastery
Student, Corey Halbert, listens with intent during the interview process at Kela Gompa
SFS Students and Bhutan Ecological Society intern, Jurme Tenzin, interview some of the nuns at Kela Gompa
Kela Gompa sits on a cliffside overlooking the Paro valley