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In Nepal, monks swap dress for sports shoes

Ⓒ AFP – PRAKASH MATHEMA – | Buddhist monks jog in Sindhukot on February 15, 2018, northeast of Kathmandu, Nepal

Hailing their burgundy dresses for running shoes, seven Buddhist monks set off in shorts and t-shirts in a jog through the sumptuous hills surrounding their isolated village at the foot of the Nepalese Himalayas.

These aspirants to the ultra-marathon hope, by their athletic performance, to attract fame to their small town and bring back funding to rebuild homes destroyed by the violent earthquake of April 2015, which had made about 9,000 dead.

“We can win a lot of opportunities through the race and hope to do something with our team of monks – to make our village known and bring development here, that’s why we run,” says Man Bahadur Lama, 21, the most fast of the band.

The band participated in its first race two years ago, a 30-kilometer trail, but so far has not won any medals.

Most of them are in their early twenties, and they follow a strict regime: prayers in the morning and then leave for the hills, where they walk every afternoon up to 40 kilometers.

Ⓒ AFP – PRAKASH MATHEMA – | Buddhist monks pray and play traditional music after their jog on February 14, 2018 in Sindkhukot, northeast of Kathmandu, Nepal

In the village of Sindhukot, not far from the capital Kathmandu, life is rough and harsh. Like many rural communes, it seems cut off from the modern world. The nearest school is two hours walk away, the shops are in a nearby village.

Many Buddhist families in Nepal choose to send at least one of their sons to the local monastery, where they are fed, clothed and educated – relieving parents of this financial burden.

Man Bahadur Lama returned to the orders when he was eight years old. Due to the destruction of the monastery in the 2015 earthquake, however, he has recently been living with his family. A large corrugated iron shelter serves as a structure for the offices.

Ⓒ AFP – PRAKASH MATHEMA – | Buddhist monks jog in Sindhukot on February 15, 2018, northeast of Kathmandu, Nepal

For their fellow Mingma Lama, their monastic and mountain life predisposes them to run marathons: “Every day we go up and down hills, we often have to walk far, so running was not too hard for us,” he says.

– ‘No suitable shoes’ –

Ⓒ AFP – PRAKASH MATHEMA – | Buddhist monks, February 15, 2018 in Sindhukot, north-east of Kathmandu, Nepal

These Himalayan monks are not the first of their kind to push their physical limits. In Japan, the famous “marathon monks” of Mount Hiei have to travel phenomenal distances over 1,000 days spread over several years. With the notable difference that these ascetic ascetics aim at the spiritual awakening, and not the money of a price.

Mingma Gyalbo, a member of the monastery who organizes races nearby, believes that young Nepalese religious have talent but lack the leadership to excel.

“They do not have technical expertise, for example on their diet, and do not even have shoes to run,” he says.

The trails and ultra-marathons are gaining popularity in Nepal, whose relief lends itself to such extreme sports prowess.

This poor, landlocked nation between India and China now hosts a handful of competitions every year, including the world’s highest marathon starting at Everest Base Camp at 5,364 meters above sea level.

Some Nepalese riders have gained international notoriety, like former child soldier Mira Rai. He recently won the Ben Nevis Ultra (52 kilometers) in Scotland and was named “Adventurer of the Year” by National Geographic.

“I was quite impressed when I heard that these monks were running,” said Shekhar Pandey, organizer of a marathon in Lumbini, birthplace of Buddha in southern Nepal.

“They are very motivated and hard working, they train on their own, they are very young and if they train well, they have good potential”.

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