The motorcycling monk ’n me

Dubby Bhagat


I was working in Kathmandu with World Travels in the early 80’s when a lady and a monk (forgive me Pico lyer) walked into my office. The lady introduced herself as an American called Hetty and was about to introduce the teen monk with her when he said, “I am a Reincarnate, a Rimpoché and you have to look after me for one Tibetan calendar year. My mother Hetty will help you.” In total shock I told him I could barely look after myself and what would looking after Hetty and the Reincarnate entail.

“To start with give us some food”, Not being familiar with what to feed Rimpochés I took them across Durbar Marg to the Annapurna Coffee Shop, weighing their appetites against my wallet, while avoiding being run over. The Rimpoché prattled on about motorcycles which he was keen on riding, Buddhism which he was keen on learning more about and my role in his life for the calendar year. He was keen on seeing I lived through it. Strange thing, whenever he talked about ordinary things he was an American Kid and when he talked about Buddhism he looked Tibetan. Hetty said he looked exactly like his former self.

He gave me an amulet with prayers that would protect me while crossing Durbar Marg and other things that might go bump in the night or day. I wore the amulet until recently and it looked after me and I began looking after Rimpoché and Hetty. Thanks be for Sabena and the lot at the Vajra Hotel who were helping him more than I was. Enter Julia Irwin.

Julia was young beautiful, British and in Nepal to write The Guide Bleu an important book and I was asked to be her guide. Julia and I became friends and on her birthday I got some chocolates a Buddhist silk scarf and took her to Swayambunath to meet the Rimpoché.

The minute he saw her, as she offered the chocolates and scarf, he got all Tibetan and said, “You have been sent to write about me.” In a quandary Julia said she would mention him in her Guide Bleu, “No you will write only about me,” then reverting to American he took her for a motorbike ride. There were several meetings several motorbike rides before Julia left Nepal.

Then there was a phone call from Julia in London. The Editor of The Sunday Telegraph was sending her out to do a cover story on the Rimpoché and she would be joined by India’s most famous photographer Raghu Rai whom I’d worked with on the JS Magazine. The idea of the article was to raise money for a monastery in upstate New York after he finished his studies. The first thing the Rimpoché said after the article came out was,” I will give amulets like I gave you to people, so sentient beings are hurt less.”

When he and Hetty left the Rimpoché said, “I was as good a guardian to you as you were to

me. You can cross roads safely and I didn’t run you over on my motorbike. They said I mustn’t ride it anymore here. They never said anything about America…”

I haven’t seen the Rimpoché or Hetty since but in Lars’ United Books bookshop I saw a book called, ‘The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari’ and for a moment, memories came flooding back and Nepal was younger, more innocent and we had so many hopes about not hurting sentient beings.