Visit to Tilokpur nunnery

The new year of field work for Shenpen in India and Nepal got a flying start early in January. I was so lucky to meet our dear teacher Ringu Tulku Rinpoche in Kathmandu to discuss the new health project for nuns, an initiative from Karmapa Europe Foundation. KTL has been requested to help Tilokpur nunnery 40 km from Dharamsala in India. The nunnery was founded by Frida Bedi and has 92 nuns today. It is situated in a beautiful area near the Tilopa caves. Ringu Tulku had just been there to visit, and had asked them about health needs, but they were shy and didn’t come forth. So we decided I should go there.

The next day I flew to Delhi, crossed the city to Manjukatila, a Tibetan Settlement in North Delhi, and took the night bus towards Dharamsala. Arriving at a cross roads at 5 in the morning , a car appeared to pick up a few passengers and take us to Kangra, near the airport. A large cold bus station. But soon two sleepy nuns apeared, I crashed in the back seat of the car, and slept the hour drive to Tilokpur nunnery. Little did I understand then that the driver nun was from Sonada, as are 4 other nuns in the nunnery…

The nuns made me tea, and after all the morning prayers and breakfast in the hall downstairs, we gathered in the office. A handful of leading nuns, headed by Ani Tenzin Namdol and Ani Machig Lapdron. We laughed about her great name. Two men were also there, Kenpo Drukgyal and Chopon Osel Nyingpo (Karmapa’s ritual master), both from Rumtek Monastery.
It was an easy job. First listening to the situation there. No health services, almost 2 hours with the local bus to Dharamsala, many duties in the nunnery, so many nuns didn’t go to see the doctor. Obviously they needed local health services. They told me about the doctor who had been there a couple of years before, to make tests of some of the nuns after a young nun of 18 years had suddenly died of typhoid fever. Dr. Khanna. They wanted check-up by him and his family who were all doctors. And they wanted herbal medicine. The told how they felt treatment with western medicine worked very fast, but it didn’t cure, as the more slow working Tibetan herbal medicine they preferred to take. Already they were screened for TB and hepatitis B.

So it was clear. We had to go to Dharamsala to request the health services. -When should we go? Ani Tenzin looked at me. –Tomorrow? I looked back. It must have been something in my eyes, because she said – Oh, today! So we went in the car to Dharamsala and appeared in the office of the Director of Men Tse-Khang Medical Institute. A peaceful looking man with square features, and very efficient. As we were talking, he took many telephones to his staff, and before long it was all arranged. Men Tse-Khang promised to come to the nunnery once a month, starting 10th February, and bring all medicines with them. Nuns get 50% off the prize, so it is inexpensive. I said the nuns perhaps would be shy to talk about female health problems to a male doctor. –Don’t worry, the Director kindly said.  -The three doctors that will come are all female! He also said they will bring a retired nurse from April, she will go around with them and take care of things from her life long experience as a hospital nurse.

When it came to discuss female things with the nuns, I waited for the right moment in one of our meetings, and asked the Kenpo and the Chopon to please exuce us and leave the room. Talking about these kind of things are still taboo in India. The nuns then felt free to talk about their female health problems.
– And what do you do with sanitary pads? I asked. They looked worried. With 75 menstruating nuns, it is hard to get rid of all the used sanitary pads. As there is no garbage collection system, and the pads are difficult to burn, they dig them down into the earth. Unfortunately the dogs often dig them up again… I was happy to show them some samples of washable eco-friendly sanitary pads sown by a women’s project in Nepal. They were thrilled. Beautifully designed and practical pads that could save a big garbage problem.

Dr. Khanna and his health team agreed to come to the nunnery to do blood tests, urine tests and give full clinical and dental check-up to all the nuns, bringing with them all needed equipment.
I thought I needed a second opinion of Dr. Khanna, was he a good doctor and was the price ok? But I had no other doctor to ask. As magical as life can be, on the flight back to Delhi I sat next to a man a little older than me. He somehow looked extinguished, sitting there with his mala doing his manis. Could he be a Tibetan medical doctor? I asked. Surely, he was, and could confirm that our choice of doctor was ok. –But dr. Khanna’s equipment is a little old, he said. Of course, in India the equipment is always old…

Spending three days with the nuns was a pleasant experience. They were so kind, so available, and so busy with their dharma practise. Early morning Tara practise, Tibetan lessons and other school subjects in the daytime, as well as Dharma-lessons by the Kenpo, debating on the roof at sunset with view to faraway mountain peaks, and then, after dinner, the most impressive of all, Mahakala practise. Having been so lucky to hear the Sonada Monks doing very powerful Mahakala practise, I must admit I was kind of expecting it to be somewhat girlish, but believe me, they were just as powerful.

And then, when the nuns came down from Mahakala practise, it was already dark, they continued with longindividual recitation practices walking around the yard or sitting in their rooms. Many of them stay 4 in one room, as there is construction going on and too few rooms to stay spaciously, until the new building below is getting finished.

The nuns just had to move from a nearby monastery where they had lots of space, but suddenly Karmapa gave it to monks. – Karmapa certainly has his reasons, the nuns commented, but missed the old place and took me to see it. A very spacious monastery nearby. With a statue of Tilopa, the first one I have seen. We also visited the Tilopa cave below the nunnery, next to the river and beautiful big rocks. Another Tilopa cave down the river is inaccessible due to too much water.

This photo shows Tilokpur nunnery on the hilltop in the background, and the building site right below. In front Ani Tenzin Namdol and Ani Machig Lapdron, who are the leading nuns in the nunnery. Felt so happy to stand there with them! One of the Tilopa caves are right behind us, below the building site.


Arriving in Delhi, coming on a delayed flight from Dharamsala, it looked impossible to reach the next flight, as the connection was tight. No chance at all to wait for the luggage, so I ran to Air India, who were responsible for the delayed flight, and pleaded them to get my luggage as I ran to catch the plane back to Kathmandu. But the gates were closed already 15 minutes ago. No chance at all, said the check-in staff, especially without any luggage. So they kept talking about the flight tomorrow and looked very stern, no matter how much I pleaded. Suddenly two young men from Air India appeared with my luggage. So kind! And so fast in slow India! Against all odds, I could check in 20 minutes after the gates had closed, and was escorted in front of the huge security line and in front of the passport line. When I finally reached the boarding plane, my seat number was called. What a miracle. Must be the blessings from Ringu Tulku, I thought.  I had also slipped down a long staircase in Tilokpur, bumping down many steps on my bottom, without getting injured. Blessings!  At least he was very happy with the health plan when I met him the same afternoon. Full check-up by western medicine, and treatment with herbal medicine. Good combination! He said Karmapa would be pleased.

As if the trip to Tilokpur wasn’t easy enough, the process of getting the health plan accepted through Shenpen and KTL boardmeetings went  very smooth. After all, it is an honor to be able to assist Karmapa’s health plan. KTL is the only sangha in Europe who has responded to the request for sanghas in the west to “adopt” a nunnery. Ours is the pilot project in India. Our strength is perhaps that we have Shenpen who could forward the first payment and thus start the project so soon. The nuns have struggled on the bus too long, and many do not have any money to pay for their own medical expenses. In agreement with KTL, Shenpen has already paid 36.000 NOK for the medical check-up, and is sending 1.250 NOK per month to the nunnery to cover the monthly visits by Men Tsee-Khang, gas for their vehicle and some herbs for the poorest nuns who cannot afford to pay for it.
The health check-up for the 92 nuns is already done dr. Khanna and 4 of his staff in the beginning of February, and medical files are kept in the office. Doctors from Men Tse-Khang came to the nunnery 10th of Febuary, and spent the whole day there with examinations and treatment of the nuns. Some of the doctors also have received training in acupuncture.  Ringu Tulku has sent a report of the medical services to Karmapa.
In a long term perspective, we do hope that we also can fund raise for a medical fund for the nuns in Tilokpur, that can be used to pay for check-up and treatment in case of serious diseases among the nuns. Very important to have.

In the middle of February a big parcel arrived in Tilokpur that the nuns were very happy for. 240 eco-friendly sanitary pads, three for each nun who needs it. Beautifully sown by Dharti Mata Sustainable Workshop, 7 women sowing in Nepal. I went to Kathmandu later in January to buy them and brought them on the bus to India. The pads were generously sponsored by our own Ani Konchog. Big thanks from the nuns, Ani-la!

The photo shows Passang when I met him to buy the pads. He is helping out in the Women’s sowing project.


Prayers in return: We hope many sangha members will support health services for our nuns, and pay an extra 50 kroner on the KTL membership fee, as suggested by Anne-Marie Schumann.

Even better, the nuns will pray for sangha members. One can send requests for prayers  to Lama Changchub or Ani Kongchog, and they will pass it on to the Tilokpur office. The nuns say they are very very happy to pray for us in return for the health services.

We are very much looking forward to see Ringu Tulku in his planned visit to Oslo and KTL in June. I am sure this will be a very fitting occasion to make a collection for the nuns. Any other creative fund raising ideas or stunts are very welcome.
If you should feel a spontaneous wish to help the nuns right now, you can always pay to Shenpen’s account and mark your payment “Tilokpur nuns”. You you can make a tax-deductable donation via Buddhistforbundet. You find payment info in