This FAQ contains useful information to help you plan for the October Nepal teachings and get a sense of what traveling and being in Nepal will be like. Additional info including the schedule, emergency numbers in Nepal, and other questions and answers if any, will be sent out as the teachings get closer.
Decorum and Clothes at the Monastery
For a day pack
Visa for Nepal
Airport transfer and taxi
10. Travel Plans
- Local Culture
Decorum and Clothes at the Monastery
At the monastery, we are representatives of the western Sangha of His Eminence.
There are three areas that visiting lay practitioners can demonstrate support for monastic life.
The first is clothing: Please wear conservative clothing. Lay people can support monastics’ vows by dressing in ways that do not show the legs or upper arms. For example, one would not wear shorts or short skirts at a monastery or nunnery. Additionally, the upper arms should be covered and the collar of a shirt or blouse should not be low, exposing the chest.
The second area to be mindful is socially. We may meet a monastic, but we have to be aware that the monastery is their home. Please give the monastics space to have their personal lives. It is different from a dharma center in the West because of the nature of monastic life, which is supported by the lay sangha and the efforts of the monk residents. We can’t assume a relationship simply because they are Buddhist and so are we. As guests, it is good to stay with our lay friends at meals and so forth, rather than jumping into conversations with monks or nuns. Many monastics are children, who in a sense are living at their school. And though children in robes look like little lamas, they are all kids too. It is best to let them run around and be kids. Also now, with respect to covid, we ask that any interactions with members of the monastery be extremely limited, masked and socially distanced. We also ask that participants wear masks while in close proximity to His Eminence such as blessings and interviews.
Finally, we might feel motivated to sponsor a particular monastic. Please do not offer money personally to the monks. Personal gifts to individual monks can create obstacles at a monastery for many reasons. It is much more supportive to make a gift to the monastery through their main office or through the Monk Sponsorship Program at the Ripa Ladrang Foundation in the US (https://www.ripaladrang.org/projects/monk-sponsorship-project/ ).
Kindness to the Local Nepalis and Tibetans
Any large group in this small village environment can put some strain on the local infrastructure. Please be kind and gentle to people who are running our guesthouses, selling things at local shops, farming, walking with the animals or children. This kindness will help everyone relax with our presence. Just like the monastery is the monks’ home, the valley is home to many people.
Generosity to beggars in Asia is sometimes an emotional experience. We may be asked for money in tourist places. People work with it in different ways. Some just make donations to local charities and avoid giving money to beggars altogether. Others avoid giving money until they are leaving. Some carry “small money,” 5-rupee notes, to give money when they feel like it. Please be aware that there are also some well-established scams.
In general, it may be a good policy not to give money when you arrive at a new place till you get a feel for it, and to be careful about doing it regularly in places you know. This is because beggars actually live where you are visiting. There usually is a network of beggars who communicate about who is generous, etc.
Overall, your feeling to give is a reflection of your generosity. Let your practice guide what you choose to do. Trust your instincts. If you are uncomfortable, do not feel obligated.
The pace of life in Nepal and especially in the villages is quite relaxed. Timings are relative. As such, it’s good to adopt a ‘go with the flow’ attitude and to try and not get bothered about little things not working out exactly as you wish.
- Things to Bring in Your Carry-on Bag
- Passport and Tickets
- Vaccination Certificate or proof of negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure
- 3-5 passport sized photos, which can be used for your visa as well as cell phone sim card purchase.
- Copy of your passport (needed for the SIM card purchase)
- Some cash for visa, first exchange (see under finance) and SIM card (see below under Airport Arrival)
- Face masks
- Hand sanitizer
- Any medications you require
- What to Bring in Your Checked Luggage
Sleeping bag: not really needed as the guesthouses will have duvets. But if you are concerned, you can bring one or just bring long underwear and pajamas (layers) to sleep in.
- Khatas (can be bought on site)
- Footwear that’s easy to take on and off. At the same time, shoes should be sturdy for walking on uneven ground on dirt roads. Low walking shoes are good.
- Socks for in the shrine room
- COVID rapid test kit (4 recommended)
- Wet wipes [chemical-free is best]
- Water bottle / Warm water bottle [can be filled from guest houses]
- Water repellent sandals for bathrooms
- Mosquito repellent
- Sun hat
- Lip balm
- Electrolyte powder to mix with water, for dehydration
- Outlet adaptor (voltage converter if needed) for European outlets
For a day pack
- Khatas (you never know when you meet a Lama)
- Flashlight for returning in dark
- Toilet paper or tissues
- Hand sanitizer
- Face masks
- At the Airport When You Arrive
Visa for Nepal:
You will need a visa to enter Nepal.
Visa on arrival is normally quite efficient at the airport. There are electronic kiosks at the arrival area that will allow you to input your application and will take your picture. Then you will need to pay at the bank window. (Bring 40 US$ in cash–some countries pay 30, others 40 for a 14 day visa). You will then bring your completed application and fee paid receipt to the immigration officer. This process can take anywhere from five minutes to one hour depending on the number of flights arriving at the same time and how many people need visas. Though you have been traveling for a long while at this point, there is no need to feel anxious or worry – the process is quite smooth and if it is busy, it also means that your luggage will take some time to arrive as well. If you wish to speed your arrival process, you can obtain a Nepal visa in advance through your local Nepali consulate.
If you need to give an address on your visa application form: see under Accommodation for the Address of the Monastery, or under Hotels for any hotel address.
India: An Indian visa is needed for any Indian travel or if you intend to exit the airport in India. It is not needed for international transit unless you plan on leaving the airport transit area. If you have a long layover at the New Delhi airport, there is a transit hotel you can book online which does not require you to leave the airport transit area. Also, if you are concerned about your baggage making it to your onward connection, you can check with the transit desk and they can confirm the status of your bags and assist with any issues.
** Remarks about hiring a taxi: see below under Airport arrival, Transportation; also see below under Taxis
** Remarks about average taxi cost: see below under Airport arrival, Transportation; also see below under Taxis
To facilitate communications, we recommend that you get a local SIM card when you arrive in Nepal. If you have an unlocked phone, you can get an NCELL SIM card at the airport (3G and 4G). This is much more reliable than getting extended coverage for a Canadian/USA/European phone plan. Some international plans work well at the monastery, others do not. You can download the NCELL app onto your phone in advance which will help you in managing your balances. International calls from Nepal SIM cards are very inexpensive.
You can use your own phone if it is unlocked. Alternatively, bring an extra phone. If you buy the one month package (around 1000 Rs plus the SIM for 100 Rs), you will have decent internet in most locations.
You can purchase the SIM card at the NCELL kiosk near the airport exit. Take an NCELL SIM – it is the only one that works reliably in the monastery area. Bring 2 passphotos and a copy of your passport.
Phone plans can be topped up through the NCELL app or by recharge cards Many small shops in Dollu Valley sell recharge cards, but if you are not near them and out of credit, it is practical to have a recharge card with you for backup.
Free wifi should be available at the airport.
A local emergency contact number will be issued prior to your arrival. We will continue to use email for communication prior to the retreat. ( firstname.lastname@example.org )
You can change money at the Bank next to the visa payment counter. Or at the Bank /Foreign Exchange desk near where you come out of the airport. Please bring your cash in either USD or other major currency like Euro. USD is easiest to exchange. This applies to all exchanges in Nepal. For example, guesthouses prefer either USD or Nepali Rupees. Many guesthouses will refuse Euros and Canadian dollars.
- Transportation in Nepal
Travel time from the Airport to the retreat area is 60-90 minutes depending on traffic (about 20KM). Please be warned that the road can be a bit bumpy in places – especially just after the monsoon when repairs have not yet been done. If you want us to arrange for an airport transfer, you may request this. We will need your arrival and departure information sent to us by email.
Those who have opted for arranged transportation from Airport to Dollu Village near Pharping, a driver will be at the airport outside the arrivals area with a placard showing “Pharping Retreat Group” and have your name.
A contact person and phone number/Whatsapp in case of emergency/problem on arrival will be sent out closer to arrival. There should be free wifi at the airport so you should have access to WhatsApp.
In the worst case, if you cannot locate your arranged car, and cannot contact anyone and you really feel it is not going to work out, you can also arrange a prepaid taxi from the airport to your guest house. The prepaid taxi counter is near where you exit the airport.
Or you can take a Prepaid taxi from the airport:
These are arranged at the Prepaid Taxi desk which you will see prior to leaving the airport building.
From Airport to Retreat Guesthouse(see location under Accommodation) –
1500 to 3000 Rs
From Airport to hotel in Kathmandu/Boudhanath – 800-1500 Rs.
It is quite easy to take a taxi on your own in Kathmandu or between Kathmandu and Pharping. Prepaid taxis are available at the airport, your hotel or guesthouse can pre-book a pickup for you. The cost per trip is approximately $20-$30 USD depending on time of day. Cost will be less expensive per person if traveling in a larger group.
The balance of the teaching registration fee, if any, can be paid at the Monastery on the 1st day of the program. Fees can be paid in USD and Euro cash only. Note: It is not possible to cash cheques in Nepal.
People have asked about carrying cash in Nepal. There is very little crime in Nepal, but it is always a good idea to be prudent when you are traveling. Generally speaking, the best policy is to keep it on your body, preferably with a money belt, separating a little cash out for the day to a pocket or purse. It is also sometimes possible to charge purchases to a card in Kathmandu, but not all merchants support this. Nepali Rupees are easiest to use and are accepted anywhere. USD cash is the easiest to change, but official exchanges will also accept other currencies. ATM and credit cards are generally not easy to use with the exception of bigger hotels that accept credit cards. ATM debit cards work at most ATM’s and the exchange rate is good.
We advise that you call your credit card provider before the trip to tell them you will be in Nepal–and any other places you might use your card going to/from Nepal.
For foreign exchange (see under Arrival Airport):
1 Euro = around 127 Rs
1 USD = around 127 Rs
1 CHF = around 130 Rs
Will I need local currency or can I pay for a guesthouse in US dollars?
Everything is generally paid in local currency, however most guesthouses will accept US dollars. Other currencies will not be accepted.
1,000 NPR notes can be hard for small town shops and taxi drivers to break. Accumulate smaller notes.
Location of retreat: The teachings will take place at the Rigon Tashi Choling Monastery (Rigon Tashi Choeling Monastery) in the Dollu Valley near Pharping. Due to the limited amount of lodging in close proximity to the monastery, all local accommodations are being managed by the organizers and planned as double occupancy. Some single rooms are available though, so please write to us with your preference if you have not done so already.
Rooms cost between $20 – 46 per-day, per-person with 3 simple meals included. If you are financially constrained, you can let us know if you prefer the less expensive accommodations. Food is typically Nepali-Indian vegetarian fare and will be served at your respective guest houses.
When do accommodations in Dollu Valley begin?
The official start date of the retreat is October 17th. We recommend that you plan to arrive two days (or one day at a minimum) before the beginning of the retreat. Please let us know your intended arrival date at your guest house.
When do accommodations end?
The retreat officially ends on October 23rd. Accommodation arranged by the retreat organizers will end on October 24th. If you will stay longer (or shorter) in your guesthouses, please let us know in advance in the travel questionnaire.
How do I pay for the guest house?
As mentioned above, it is best to pay your guest house in USD or local currency. You will receive your guesthouse information, estimated costs and payment instructions in a future communication as soon as everybody’s guesthouse is assigned.
Will there be power outlets at the guesthouse?
Yes. Please Google the type of plug you will need and bring it with you. Voltage is 220V so if your equipment is only 110V, make sure to bring a voltage converter and adapter.
Will my Guest House have WiFi?
Yes, although reliability can sometimes be an issue.
Is there any place to get a few groceries around the area in case we need to supplement what is provided?
Yes, there is food available at small shops and restaurants in the village.
COVID concern, vaccination, and testing
You must be fully vaccinated against COVID and have your documentation with you, or have a recent negative PCR test report (within 72 hours of departure) to be allowed into Nepal without quarantine. We also strongly advise that you purchase medical insurance for your trip to Nepal.
We recommend that you check and research your country’s regulations for departures and return as pandemic travel rules can change frequently.
We require all participants to have a negative antigen test prior to the start of the retreat. If you are not able to bring antigen tests with you, please let us know in advance. Also, if you feel ill during the retreat, please be sure to tell someone at the registration desk.
General health considerations
Self-care is the most important part of our health while in Nepal. We should arrive with what we need to take care of ourselves and attend to our health as a priority. This includes having received appropriate Immunizations prior to departure, bringing any over-the-counter and prescription medications that we need, getting adequate rest, and staying hydrated. Consult with a travel clinic about recommended immunizations and what to bring.
The monastery is in a small village on a steep hill at about the same mile-high elevation as Boulder, Colorado. We will be doing a fair amount of walking and stair climbing everyday. There are about three flights of exterior stairs through gardens to reach the monastery courtyard.
Part of this self-care is arriving in reasonable cardiovascular condition for our age and having trip insurance which includes medical coverage. The way to get our heart and lungs ready for this is by taking a walk and ideally climbing stairs daily starting at least 2-3 weeks prior to our arrival in Nepal. We should start walking now so walking and stair climbing in Nepal isn’t a surprise to our bodies.
While there is a good hospital about 30 minutes away, we advise that you consider the need to take care and attend to your health as a priority while making an aspiration for the journey.
Kathmandu is at high altitude, so it is good to hydrate well on the two days before flying to the city, on the flight in and during your stay.
If you are someone who likes reliable protein in your diet, consider bringing some protein bars. Food in Asia can be heavy on carbohydrates.
Helpful health hints:
- Use only bottled water for drinking, including brushing your teeth.
- Eat only cooked food.
- Wash your hands for 30 seconds.
- Move mindfully on stairs, both up and down.
- Bring a face mask or scarf for dust and pollution while traveling.
- Bring earplugs to sleep well (barking dogs and street noise).
- Frequently sipping water is better than guzzling.
- Wear a hat and sunglasses and bring sunblock.
- Bring a simple first-aid kit for cuts and scrapes.
- What to wear & Seating
Uplifted, conservative clothing. Dress in layers. It’s warm in the sun and can be cool in the shade, at night and in the temple (especially if it has been raining).
Traditional seating in the monastery is typically on low mattresses arranged in lines with carpets on top. You are also welcome to bring your own cushion to the shrine room. As a convenience we can arrange to have some small zafus available as well.
- Travel Plans
We recommend that you plan to arrive two days (or one day at a minimum) before the beginning of the retreat. This will help you acclimate and adjust to the environment in Nepal and the local time zone. Travel to Nepal from most locations in Europe and the Americas will take at least a day and leaving Nepal will also usually take an additional day. As you start making travel plans, please factor in arrival and departure days and travel days to and from Nepal as part of your overall trip duration.
Is it safe to travel at night from the airport to the monastery?
It is fine.
How far is the airport from Kathmandu city?
It is almost in the city. Due to traffic at rush hours, it can take 30 to 60 min to arrive at destinations within Kathmandu. From the Pharping area, please allow at least 1.5 hours to get to the airport.
Can people come early and stay in Pharping/Dollu Valley or stay late?
Yes. We will try to make reservations for your guest houses for your early arrival and/or late departure dates but we cannot ensure there will be availability. Please let us know your arrival and departure dates.
General Orientation: Especially if you have never been to Nepal, borrow or buy a copy of Let’s Go: Nepal, The Rough Guide, Fodor’s, or Lonely Planet’s Nepal edition. There is also a lot of material on the web, but having a book is sometimes easier while traveling. Review the material on what to bring to Asia and what to expect. Additionally, talk to friends who have gone over to Kathmandu.
Will there be opportunities to tour some holy sites in Nepal during the retreat session?
During the retreat, one might only be able to go visit the nearby Guru Rinpoche (Asura) cave at Pharping but not much further than that. See below some other places you could go to in the vicinity of Pharping
Should a Pilgrim plan to spend a week or so after the program going to any of these sites? It would be great!
Can I visit the Boudhanath Stupa? You might want to do that before or after the retreat.
Asura Cave Guru Rinpoche, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, meditated in this cave and perfected the Vajrakilaya in the 8th century. The three main images enshrined inside the cave are those of Guru Rinpoche in the middle, Yangdak Heruka to his right and Vajrakilaya to his left. There is a self-‐arisen ཨ་ “A” syllable on the left side of the cave just below an electric bulb, and there is a hand print embedded into the stone above and to the left of the cave entrance.
Neydo Tashi Choeling Monastery A monastery in the Nyedo Kagyu tradition, and under the directorship of the late Karma Chagme Rinpoche, on the left side of the road (when coming from Kathmandu) some distance before entering the village. The main statue is magnificent and definitely worth visiting.
Rigdzin Drubpe Gatsal Ling Monastery (Chatral Rinpoche’s Monastery) (next to Yanglesho Cave). One of two monasteries built by the late yogi Chatral Rinpoche; the other is in Siliguri.
Self-arisen Tara images. On the right side when passing Ralo Rinpoche’s monastery (just below the Asura Cave) there is a small shrine that contains an image of Ganesh. To the right of the shrine are two small self-arisen Tara images.
Vajrayogini Temple. Within the same cave-temple complex, there is a small temple dedicated to Vajrayogini. It is said that Marpa the Translator visited this temple three times when traveling between Tibet to India. You find this on the left after descending from the Asura cave area.
Yanglesho Cave (a 15 minute walk from the village in the direction of Pharping, above the pond and next to Chatral Rinpoche’s monastery). The cave is where Guru Rinpoche practiced meditation and attained the level of mahamudra vidyadhara. It’s connected to Asura Cave by a narrow channel.