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Growing old at Kila Gonpa

Angay Bidha, 83, a lay nun, has been living here on her own for close to 25 years

Carrying a bamboo basket on her bent back, Angay (grandma) Bidha supported her frail frame on her wooden walking stick and looked up at the sun.

The fiery yellow ball in a clear blue sky had moved beyond noon.  The day was still young.

Angay Bidha resumed her slow measured step along the narrow path that cut across the neck of a grassy slope going down all the way to Paro valley.

The three white jerry cans filled with water in the bamboo basket on her back made no splashes, as it was held tight by intersecting sticks.

After walking for two minutes, Bidha reached the stone steps leading to her single storied wooden home below the Kila Gonpa nunnery.

Kila Gonpa is about two km from the Paro-Haa highway, before reaching Chelela pass.

She crawled up the stone steps and opened the small wooden gate in front of her house.  She carefully placed her basket on a flat stone and rested panting.

“It’s a tiring task,” says the 83-year-old woman from Dzongkhana in Paro. “The drinking water tap here doesn’t bring water anymore, because the pipes are broken due to some construction work above.”

So, Angay Bidha has to fetch water from a source, a five-minute walk from her house.  She said the nuns of Kila Gonpa usually help her fetch water, but these days they were busy studying for examinations.

Angay Bidha is not an ordained nun, but she wears the maroon robes like the nuns of Kila Gonpa.  The eighth century gonpa has 45 nuns, of whom 35 are registered, which means they get rations from the central monastic body.

Placing her palms on her waist to stretch her back, Angay Bidha said she could fetch firewood on her own until last year. “But my strength has deteriorated and now I find it difficult to even cook for myself,” she said. “This is how one grows old, it’s a good reminder of death.”

Angay Bidha took sanctuary near the gonpa when she was 59, and has since then been reciting the Mani (prayer).  Today, she claims to have recited Mani several billion times in the past 23 years.  Reciting Mani 10,000 times, Baza Guru 200 and Chabdro 100 times a day is her routine.  She also prostrates five times in the evening and five times in the morning.

Her eyesight is still good, but it is a bit difficult to understand what she says, as all her teeth have fallen.  Yet that does not prevent her from chewing chugo (hardened cheese snack).

“I recited the Mani since my childhood days, and this is what I wanted to do throughout my life,” she said.

Her wrinkled hands gripped her walking stick as she recalled having three siblings.  “I was the eldest and my mother died when I was 11,” Bidha said, looking far away. “My mother groaned and yelled, she hugged me and my younger brother and sister, and we cried together many times before she died,” Angay Bidha recalled.  It was this experience that prevented her from getting into worldly affairs.  She never married, fearing the same death like that of her mother.

Her adopted son, who stays in Paro valley, looks after her. She said her son treats her well. “He comes to see me often, along with rations,” she said

In her house, she has a rice cooker, curry cooker and water boiler.  A bukhari (wood fed stove) is in the sitting room and firewood is stacked in front of the house.

“Now I’ve fulfilled my dream and will never regret to die anytime. I’d prefer a peaceful death,” she said, her face showing no fear. “It’s right time to die, when you can’t do anything even for yourself.”

By Nima Wangdi in Kila Gonpa

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