For Members of the Friends of Kagyu Monlam, the mad dash to the Mahayana Hotel at the end of every morning session, with every rickshaw in sight snapped up and piled high for conveyance to the Members’ buffet lunch, is now a thing of the past. Brand new dining halls for Friends and Special Guests are available in a vast white building—the Kagyu Monlam Kitchen and Dining Halls, festooned these spring days with prayer flags even more colourful than usual—behind the Pavilion, occupying the floors above the huge ground-floor kitchen which caters for Sangha and laypeople.
The new dining halls were inaugurated by Gyaltsap Rinpoche and Datin Sri Loo Choo Ting from Malaysia, one of the most generous sponsors of the Kagyu Monlam, and also a sponsor of the Medical Camp. They were accompanied by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, Adzin Rinpoche, Drupon Dechen Rinpoche, and Lama Choedrak, the CEO of Kagyu Monlam.
For the first lunch of the 35th Kagyu Monlam on February 26, Friends formed an orderly queue all along the stairs to the second floor, where their dedicated dining hall is located. Most of the Sangha converged towards the large window counters on the ground floor, and had their lunch, once served, in the marquee next door. Some others, both Sangha and lay practitioners, were invited into the Special Guest Dining Hall on the first floor, where a Taiwanese kitchen team is in charge.
The new Friends’ Dining Hall, painted light yellow, with windows on every wall and ceiling fans, was blessedly cool in the already warm North Indian spring. And spacious: even with Friends pouring in from the staircase, once everybody was served and seated, it still had capacity to spare. But if this were not enough, the Kagyu Monlam Kitchen and Dining Halls also has room for expansion onto the third floor, directly under the tin roof.
The new dining halls seat six to a table, on comfy, sturdy, plastic chairs in red and black. In the Friends' Dining Hall, a trio of thangkas across from the entrance depicts the founding Tibetan masters of the Kagyu lineage: Milarepa, Marpa and Gampopa. Another thangka on the northwestern wall features the Four Harmonious Animals (an elephant, a monkey, a hare and a bird under a fruit tree), a popular theme in Tibet and Bhutan.
One can imagine that the Monlam kitchen staff may have had first-lunch jitters in their new premises, but in the Friends’ experience so far, the buffet was as plentiful, and as plentifully replenished, as in its Mahayana Hotel days.
Indeed a visit to the ground-floor kitchen shows that it is a facility that never sleeps. In between meals they are busy with the drinks breaks, and the enormous scale of the preparations can be seen in the gigantic pots and pans, and the piles upon piles of supplies.