Kopan Monastery is home to hundreds of monks and opens its doors to travelers interested in learning about Buddhism and meditation. I joined a 1 week retreat focusing on an introduction to Buddhism and meditation in Kathmandu and absolutely loved it! Kopan monastery is situated high above the chaos of Kathmandu with a beautiful view of the valley. Crisp air and natural beauty of Kopan’s garden and the Himalayan foothills make Kopan Hill a lovely place for a retreat.
Signing up for a Kopan Retreat
Go to the KopanMonastery.com and find the right retreat for you
Introduction to Buddhism cost $90 for 7 days including all food and accommodation. They have many different retreats to fit your schedule and interest.
Getting to Kopan
Taxi from the Airport ~30 minutes – Rs 1000 ($10)
Taxi from Thamel ~ 60 minutes – Rs 600 ($6)
Public Bus from Ratna Park ~30 minutes – Rs 30 ($0.30)
The monastery holds 5 precepts which must be followed by all visitors. The hardest one by far is “no killing” since it includes everything down to mosquitoes and ants! We observed silence from about 8:30pm until after lunch everyday and all sessions were mandatory. This may sound incredibly strict but I think it definitely helped me get more out of the retreat and highly recommend following their guidelines. That being said as our instructor, David, pointed out no one is the “dharma police” so it’s all about watching your mind.
Introduction to Buddhism
Our schedule was identical everyday with a 6am wakeup bell for tea before a 45 minute morning meditation (this was usually split into 2 smaller meditations). A simple breakfast was followed by a 2.5 hour lecture on Buddhism where we learned about everything from the path to enlightenment to compassion, attachment and even death.
After a short lunch break we had some time to ourselves which I often used to read, stroll through the garden or get to know the other people on the retreat. We filtered into small discussion groups, one of which I volunteered to lead, and tried to comprehend the earlier teachings. Afterwards we had another lecture, tea time and meditation before dinner and a final Q&A.
Traveling to Nepal? I recommend getting Travel Insurance!
Meditation Retreat Kathmandu
I signed up for the course thinking that I would get the most out of the Buddhist philosophy and dreaded the meditations. By the end I had completely switched; I was looking forward to meditating while the lectures dragged on. This course turned out to be an excellent introduction to meditation for me and one of the best places for a meditation retreat in Kathmandu!
There are definitely better meditation retreats throughout Nepal and being in the city adds a certain level of white noise that can thwart one’s concentration. If you’re looking for a retreat focusing on meditation I recommend signing up for a vipassana. Vipassana is a completely silent retreat where you meditate for most of the day and are even discouraged from making eye contact! Our retreat at Kopan wasn’t as strict but after a day where I took a vow of silence I can easily see how profound a vipassana would be.
Between the two meditation sessions and a short meditation before or after each lecture we meditated about 7 times each day! We learned a few different techniques to help me go from an ADHD meditation dubbed the Monkey Mind to a much clearer and more enjoyable experience. Many times David would walk us through a guided meditation using analogies or topics from the dharma.
A few times while meditating I had vivid dreams and emotions overcome me, once I even broke down in tears while sitting in the ornate meditation hall! These emotional meditations helped me understand my own emotions and desires. I thought often about all that I’ve left in the USA by moving to Korea 4 years ago and grew excited about the prospect of returning this fall!
One time I closed my eyes to find myself soaring high above the ocean. I dove down beneath the waves and back up again flying inland to farmland and eventually a quaint town. On another occasion I explored the cosmos and yet another watched a battle between the light and darkness unfold. I asked David if there was any meaning to them he said from a Buddhist perspective it was likely just my subconscious coming through. Then again he did say Kopan had a lot of energy and it was common for visitors to have vivid dreams.
Some of my favorite meditations were silent ones where I didn’t see anything and my thoughts guided the way. At the time I thought I wasn’t meditating right but now realize this was exactly what I needed to sort through my mind.
In addition to family and friends back home, I found myself thinking a lot about Live, Travel, Teach and my vision for with it. After all when I was in the retreat I was under the assumption that Bluehost had deleted EVERYTHING and I was going to start from scratch. Now that it’s back up I still want to follow this new vision and am excited to bring you a whole new experience! But, let’s get back to Kopan for now.
What to see at Kopan, Kathmandu
The monastery is home to hundreds of monks, including a school for over 200 boys. We would regularly see them headed to a class, meditation or even debating topics around the monastery. My favorite view was of the Amithaba Gumba; another monastery on the nearby hill. It looked like a fortress with beautiful Himalayan foothills behind it.
Looking across the Kathmandu valley you can easily see Boudhinath and the airport from the top of Kopan. Pastel colored houses fill your view with green hills in the distance. Monsoon storm clouds one day might mean cl`ear blue skies the next.
On rainy days I still enjoyed wandering the monastery grounds and exploring the gardens and even though it was monsoon we got some beautiful blue sky days! The stupa garden is home to a number of holy relics and perfect for relaxing in or reading a book. I often wandered through searching for insects and was happily rewarded with praying mantis, butterflies, spiders and more. In the middle of the retreat a monkey even showed up near the men’s dormitory!
Since everyone here follows the 5 precepts all matter of life can flourish here. Twice I saw a monk saving a small caterpillar from a horde of ants trying to drag it away! Many of us engaged in walking meditations through the garden, although to be honest mine usually were with a camera so the meditation might have been a bit off.
What to do in Kathmandu
If you’re coming to Kopan then you’ll definitely spend some time in Kathmandu before and after the retreat. Many people decided to stay at the monastery after the course and others signed up for a second retreat but everyone hit up a few tourist spots in Kathmandu during their stay. I’ll have a dedicated post about what to do in Kathmandu coming soon but here are a few ideas in case you’re coming to Kopan right away!
- Boudhanath – A MASSIVE white sputa draws visitors of all backgrounds not just for its religious significance or architectural beauty but because its surrounded by a great neighborhood with delicious restaurants.
- Pasputinath – This Hindu temple is also known as the “cremation temple” where you can watch families burn the bodies of their loved ones. Sadhus happily pose for a photo in exchange for a few rupees and you’ll find lots of monkeys on the nearby hill.
- Swayambhunath – Often referred to as the “monkey temple,” you can get a beautiful view of Kathmandu Valley from this hilltop temple.
- Durbar Square – The old royal palace square is full of history and culture. Hire a guide to tell you about the temples and their former glory before the earthquake.
- Thamel – the tourist ghetto of Thamel offers everything a visitor needs in Kathmandu. You’ll find the best food, lodging, shopping and night life in Thamel.
Kopan Monastery: Know Before you Go
- The airport is nearby and planes fly over Kopan a few times a day. Enjoy the unique view and try not to let the noise bother you.
- The Kopan Bookstore and library are full of amazing books! Make sure you spend some time in them.
- Dogs can be heard barking at night. Many guests prefer to bring earphones.
- Kopan will store a bag for you. I found it quite nice to lock up my big bag and just live out of my day bag.
Where to stay in Kathmandu
Kopan Monastery offers very affordable housing with dorms and private rooms available. Before and after your retreat I recommend staying near Thamel or Boudhanath. Both are popular areas with plenty for foreigners and plenty to do.
On your way to and from Kopan I highly recommend checking out the following places based on you budget.
Budget hotels in Kathmandu
Wanderthirst Hostel ($4.50) – Beautiful new budget hostel for travelers. Great rooftop view, relaxing atmosphere, good food and good people. Healthy breakfast!
Fireflies Hostel ($4.50/night) – Wanderthirst’s sister hostel down the street. Same amazing vibe but a bit more of a party. Check out their roof and treehouse!
Dreamland Eco Hostel ($4.00/night) – A quiet community space just out of Kathmandu right in the heart of an isolated area. They have a pool!
Hotels in Kathmandu
Kathmandu Eco Hotel ($16) – Great location in the heart of Thamel. Nice rooftop and good food but Wifi wasn’t great in the room.
Kathmandu Grand Hotel ($20) – Free Airport transfer, good location. Great for solo travelers.
Best Hotels in Kathmandu
Dom Himalaya ($26+/night) – We stayed here for 2 nights and it was the best place I stayed in Nepal. Big comfy bed, great internet, delicious buffet breakfast and good water pressure with hot water in the bathroom.
Baber Mahal Villas – ($92/night) – By far the best hotel in Kathmandu! If you have an expansive budget than this is the place for you!
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