Travel writing

My Dad’s Buddhist Treasure Trove

People often ask why I chose to go to India for five months and not anywhere else in the world. And as I say here — and tell people often — it’s because of my parents. As long as I can remember, my Dad’s had a cabinet of items he’s collected in the last thirty years. They’re all Buddhist and mostly from Nepal and Tibet rather than India.

Even looking at the cabinet, now beside my Dad’s dining table, makes me feel nervous about how precious it is. When I was young enough to be picked up to look inside, I constantly worried that it would fall off the wall, or touching anything would make it fall apart.

Dad has two leaves from a banyan tree in Sri Lanka which is a ‘descendent’ of the tree in Bodhgaya under which the Buddha achieved enlightenment. When we were younger, one of my brothers scrunched one of them up and threw it away. The reaction was … seismic.

In the last decade my Dad’s stopped collecting things. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t still amazing. And when I went home for Easter, I got my Dad to take out some of his favourite items and let me photograph them for this blog. This is only about a fifth of everything he has in that cabinet. 

palden lhamo
This is Palden Lhamo, bought on Portobello Road. Wikipedia tells me that she is a wrathful deity considered to be the principal protectress of Tibet. She has been described as “the tutelary deity of Tibet and its government” and is “celebrated all over Tibet and Mongolia as the potent protector of the Dalai and Panchen Lamas and Lhasa.”
This is a belt buckle bought in a shop called Tamal in Kathmandu (capital of Nepal).
This is a flintlock case, bought from a nomad on the Annapurna Circuit. It’s leather and too stiff to be opened (and I didn’t try too hard in case it snapped).
This is a hyper-beautiful belt buckle bought on Portobello Road. Look at the inlaying! Dad thinks this is more Chinese than Nepali or Tibetan.
This is a Gau, Ghau or Gao: a portable Buddhist shrine bought on Portobello Road. It’s intended to have a statue of the Buddha inside. Christians have similar items too; perhaps it’s a common thing for religious leaders to use. But because my Dad is a crazy person, this one has his kids’ teeth and hair in it. Including mine. Weird.
Gautama Buddha. This is a statue of the Buddha we typically think of — Siddharta Gautama; the founder of Buddhism.
This is Avaloketishvara: a bodhissatva who is said to represent the compassion of all Buddhas. Dad bought it at Gray’s Market in London, and the person in the shop said my Dad was so interested  in Buddhism that he got a special price.
The colour is slightly dull here, but this is made of pure silver. This is another Avaloketishvara. Dad bought it in a posh antique shop in Kathmandu. She has Buddhist prayers, in Sanskrit or Tibetan, wrapped up tight and sealed in her base.

A special story if you’ve read this far down. This is a prayer bowl that my Dad bought at Taer monastery from some locals.

And a few hours later, my Dad found and photographed the same people he’d bought it from. They had used the money he’d given them to buy an enormous offering for the monastery’s temple.