Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Over the Hills and Far Away

Over the Hills and Far Away

Robert Togden 1996 - 2013

Today we remember a dear friend and supporter of the Drala Jong appeal, Robert Togden.  Robert passed away last week, aged 17, having succumbed to a particularly aggressive form of cancer.  Often those suffering from cancer are described as ‘battling’ it.  The term ‘battle’ does not describe Robert as we experienced him.  He was never embattled, embittered, in conflict or in combat.  Our every experience of spending time with Robert throughout this last period of his life has been one of a young man who was profoundly appreciative – of his family and loved ones; of his friends, acquaintances, and distant well wishers; of the experiences and opportunities which his life afforded him.  If there was a battle, then he won it, for he met every moment with a spirit of openness, kindness and good cheer, and by retaining an air of natural dignity in the face of all that life threw at him he surely won the most profound of victories.

He met Kyabje Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche and Jomo Samphel on a number of pilgrimages to the east, and was generous to the last in his support of the Drala Jong appeal.  We will remember Robert at this weekend’s commemorations.  We will remember him once Drala Jong is established, and we gather together to practice tsog and celebration there for the first time.  We will remember his kindness and generosity of spirit always.

Robert very much enjoyed the Sharpe books and television series.  We will remember him when we sit to follow Sharpe’s exploits in the future, and listen to the theme music to the series, adapted by John Tams, whose origins lie in 17th Century England.  

We hope to meet him again one day, over the hills and far away.

Here's forty shillings on the drum
For those who volunteer to come,
To 'list and fight the foe today
Over the Hills and far away

O'er the hills and o'er the main
Through Flanders, Portugal and Spain
King George commands and we obey
Over the hills and far away

When duty calls me I must go
To stand and face another foe
But part of me will always stray
Over the hills and far away


If I should fall to rise no more
As many comrades did before
Then ask the fifes and drums to play
Over the hills and far away


Then fall in lads behind the drum
With colours blazing like the sun
Along the road to come what may
Over the hills and far away


Sunday, 11 August 2013

Iza 'nother roaring success

Some of you may have seen the tabloid headlines back in May ‘Iza no Mirekal – the finest food in Bristol served up with a spicy dash of stand-up comedy – and all for charity’.  For those who didn’t, herewith. . .the news. . .

Firstly our apologies to those fine folk who volunteered and supported the May Meal for the long delay in posting this piece.  Those who know us well will know that we’ve been a bit tied up in some of the finer details of the expansion of our family – but now three have become four in our household – back to blogging.

All who reported back have told us that the May Meal was a resounding success, both as an occasion, and in terms of the cuisine.  The amazing Iza served up many excellent dishes, and Shé-zér – herself something of a pudding aficionado – said the Rhubarb and Elderflower tart was absolutely to die for. You should check out Iza’s website.  Her latest tweet on La Cuizine made us think of what Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche wrote about money-as-energy in his book Work, Sex & Money and reminded us to use our energy with awareness.

14 paying diners (and non-attending donors – thank you!) brought in nearly £400 for the appeal before food costs – with all chefs, kitchen staff, helpers and comedians providing their services free of charge.  A tip from Iza -  apparently getting covered in cake is far preferable to getting covered in mud when it comes to raising money for a good cause (and Mirek remains in fine fettle too, for all of you who may be concerned he might have got his hands dirty).

Gary Hooley, our comedian for the evening, had no advance warning that the audience would largely be comprised of people for whom English was their second language (Sorry Gaz – I’ll give you a heads up next time!).  Nonetheless and the contingent from France, Finland, Poland, (along with those from Wales, America, Yorkshire, South Africa and Australia) have all expressed appreciation for his bold bravado in getting belly laughs from a international contingent of (largely) Buddhist diners.  None of those who attended will ever quite look at a pillow in the same way again.

The planned raffle had to be postponed –because we didn’t quite get everything in place in time - but we plan now to hold several more fund raisers over coming months.

This will include the raffle, a Natural Dignity Ball (complete with some new 17th century Jane Austen dances) and, by popular demand, we will have another charity meal at some point next year.

Thanks once more to all involved.  It’s great to be able to raise money for a great cause and have fun at the same time.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Fundraising Dinner - Saturday 11th May - Bristol

Art and appreciation are limited only by our human imagination.  Art permeates all the sense fields, and as Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche first taught, also encompasses fine dining - the poetic expression of our most basic human pursuit - eating and drinking.

With this in mind, we cordially invite you to join French Chef Iza Redon and the supporters of the Drala Jong appeal on the evening of Saturday 11th May for a fundraising dinner at the Southville Centre, Bedminster, Bristol.

Our hosts, our chef, kitchen staff and entertainers have all generously donated their time and skills free of charge for the evening, so all proceeds will go to the appeal fund.

There will be stand up comedy courtesy of Gary Hooley of Vagabond and Laughing Horse fame, and also a chance to win some splendid prizes in our charity raffle, which will include original artwork from Ngak'chang Rinpoche

The meal includes three courses plus coffee, for just £27 per person.

The table d'hote menu will comprise:


Goats cheese cake, wild garlic pesto (v)

Main Course:

Duck and balsamic vinegar glaze, potato rosti's, suateed seasonal vegetables

Augergines gratinées ,cannelini beans and artichoke salad (v)


Rhubarb and elderflower tart, mascarpone cream (v)

Coffee to follow

This evening will be a Bring-Your-Own-Bottle dinner.  No corkage charge

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Bookings accepted on receipt of £27p.p. payment via a Paypal 'Personal Gift' to

We're familiar with dealing with food allergies, so please let us know about any allergies at time of booking.  Any enquiries to the above e-mail address.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

So near I can almost touch it

As the Drala Jong fund grows, in recent times there have been a number of requests from donors and volunteers to get a more tangible sense of what Drala Jong will be, what facilities will be there, what work will need to be done to get it up and running, where it will be located and so on.

Well, it's confession time. . . mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. . . I've been reticent to blog about these things, because the answer to all these questions is very much 'it depends'.  It depends, for example, on how much money we finally do raise.if we raise £450,000 the project will still go ahead, on a slightly different scale.  Alternatively, we could easily spend £1,000,000 is someone were so moved to donate that much money.  Everything's relative (although as someone once said 'If everything is relative, why don't they send me Birthday cards?').  Those intimate with the project have not wanted to flag up a specific building because until the fund is closer to the £500,000 mark, it would mean, like Jim Bowen, we'd be saying 'Let's look at what you could have won'  If supporters set their hearts on a particular set of sash windows, they may ultimately be saddened if the property of their dreams isn't the one we end up acquiring.

Not the property of our dreams! Your dreams may differ. . .

What we've decided to do to respond to these requests is to meet people half way, and start to make the vision that is Drala Jong just that little bit more tangible by covering some of the key qualities that Drala Jong will possess.

There a various ways of enumerating the considerations in deciding what Drala Jong will look like, and where it will be, but they can all be captured under the headings of cost, location, facilities, condition, and flexibility.

For this installment, since finding property is all about location, location, location (so Kirsty tells us, and who are we to argue?), we thought we'd start with that element.  In terms of project goals, there is a balance in choosing a location remote enough to be suitably private, in an environment supportive of practices that are performed out of doors, yet close enough to major transport links and local towns and cities.  Sangha members and the public who have attended public retreats with us in Britain over the last 20 years will know that many of our retreats have been in various parts of Wales.  In recent times, they've been in and around Llandeilo and Llandovery.  Drala Jong will be a rural retreat centre - that is a given - and past retreatants will be used to having to travel some distance to get to our events.  Since our lineage holders had to travel to India and Nepal to receive teachings, our efforts are relatively easy by comparison.  The good news is, whether travelling within Great Britain or from abroad, the intention is to be more accessible than Llandeilo - our main location of the last 15 years.

The fund raising brochure stated it would be 'close to an hour from Cardiff' - the home of the lineage holders, and one of the sangha hubs.  With this in mind the location is going to be within the area encompassed by South East Wales and the Southern end of the Welsh Marches.  Specifically, in the region of Brecon, Abergavenny, Usk, Monmouth, Ross or Hereford.

All these locations are within the orbit of the main areas where many British-based sangha live - Cardiff and Bristol - the latter being particularly important given the presence of our Bristol Aro Ling centre.  These locations are also within reasonable distance of 3 regional airports at Cardiff (Wales), Bristol (South West England) and Birmingham (Midlands) for European travelers, with many being on rail or coach routes from Heathrow airport for transatlantic visitors.

For those used to travelling from South Wales or Bristol, compared Llandeilo these locations are closer in time and distance for all likely travelers.  Many are very considerably closer.  To give a sense of this, the travel times in minutes by road follow below (c/o the Automobile Association website):

mins. Cardiff Bristol Birmingham Heathrow
Llandeilo 75 114 173 204
Brecon 63 96 130 185
Abergavenny 53 64 105 155
Usk 39 46 98 135
Chepstow 42 27 99 116
Hereford 80 87 80 165
Ross 67 72 72 144
Monmouth 51 58 88 147

All these locations have direct or indirect links to the M4, M5 and M50 motorways:

For public transport users, and international travelers, most of these locations also have National Rail or National Express Coach connections which link to the regional airports and the national hubs around London.  Current travel times by public transport, and the number of changes needed - if any - for Sunday travel are as follows.  NB. we chose to show  Sunday travel times because retreats commonly end on a Sunday, and also because if you can get public transport on a Sunday in Britain it will definitely be possible to travel on a weekday (commonly far more quickly, with less changes - 'C' for change):

Rail? Cardiff Bristol Birmingham Heathrow
Llandeilo C/2hrs16m C/3hrs 2C/4hrs14m 2C/5hrs20m
Abergavenny 45mins C/1hr C/2hrs 2C/3hrs15m
Chepstow 44mins C/1hr C/90mins 2C/4hrs
Hereford 1hr6m C/1hr28m 1hr40m C/3hrs39m

Coach? Cardiff Bristol Birmingham Heathrow
Chepstow 1hr 30mins C14hrs30m 2hrs5m
Hereford 2C/7hrs20m C/4hrs35m 2hrs16m C/4hrs50m
Ross 1hr30m C/4hr15m 1hr25m C/4hr20m
Monmouth 1hr5m C/4hr15m 1hr45m X

In essence, all the rail or coach connected areas are within 2 hours travel of Cardiff, Bristol and Birmingham by public transport, even on the worst travel day of the week (Sunday).  All the areas with good public transport links are much more easily accessed than Llandeilo, by 30 to 60 minutes.

So, that's location.  In the next installment of this Blog, we'll look at cost, and specifically what £500,000 would buy today in each of these locations.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Celebrate Losar (Tibetan New Year) in style with momo's & water snake sauce

As you move into celebration mode this New Year, why not celebrate in style with momos in water-snake dipping sauce?

There are gazillions of momo recipes out there, but I assure you this blog is the one and only site for water-snake dipping sauce.

First take 2 to 4 dried chillies and soak 'em for a while in boiling water to wake them up.  Remove the water and then together with a couple of fresh fleshy chillies or a small portion of red pepper, pop them into a blender.  Add a whole bulb of garlic (peel the cloves first), along with 50ml of white wine vinegar, 1/2 a teaspoon of cumin, the same of smoked paprika, a teaspoon of salt and a pinch of saffron.

Whiz the mixture until smooth, and then pour in 200ml of neutral tasting oil (generic vegetable oil is fine - but don't use olive oil) mixing all the time.

Add more white wine vinegar to taste - et voila!  Water snake sauce.

Dip, and be damned. . .

This particular example uses fresh yellow chillies with dried red chillies - hence the slightly orange tang to the colour.

Of course the celebration can be rounded off with snake-cake (seen here in the background) which should help draw the venom of the dipping sauce.

If you like this recipe, why not donate a dollar, euro or pound to the Drala Jong blog through a paypal payment to, and help this New Year get off to a good start for the retreat centre appeal?

Happy dipping New Year.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

A quarter of the way there. . . the Phurba of Space becomes the Phurba of Air

We are delighted to let you know that as at 31st December 2012 the total raised for Drala Jong stood at:

£114,229.80 / Euro140,867.60 / $185,729.00

This is a wonderful increase and really shows the support which the project is receiving from across the world. This is 23% of the target total of £500,000 - we're nearly a quarter of the way there.

The Drala Jong phurba will soon change to display our fundraising total so far.  It's first manifestation shows where we started out in 2012, with much of the Space Element manifest:

Later this year we will be able to update it show that we are making inroads into the air element section.  The phurba is courtesy of the remarkable Lama Shardröl, whose support for the project has been heartwarming.

For those of you who like more details about how funds have been raised in 2012:

We began the year with £70,505 in the UK Charity Accounts of Sang-ngak-chö-dzong.  In Britain and Europe we have raised £17,850 (some of our winter retreat money is still coming in and will be included in 2013 figures), donations in the US have raised  £24,870 (at today's exchange rate) or $40,006. This includes a transfer of the Montana Land Fund Appeal of $5,710 - many thanks to those individuals in particular who transferred their money for supporting this endeavour. The printing project of Lama Shardröl's sangha has also raised £1,004 ($1,616) so far, and also given exposure to the excellent work of the sangha's thangka painters.

People have found many ways to support the project - both big and small. There have been plant sales, car boot sales, garage and yard sales and second hand book sales.  There have been sponsored events to raise money from family, friends and the public (fortunately Mirek survived these events unharmed. . ). People have donated tips from their restaurant work. Items have been sold via Amazon and eBay or in Aro Ling. Apprentices have sacrificed their daily latte and given the money to Drala Jong. And people have given money in one off or regular monthly donations. Thank you to everyone who has helped.

So what will 2013 bring? In Britain inspired by the suggestion of the American sanghas and the success of the winter retreats we will continue with our retreat weekends at Frog's Leap.  We're delighted to let you know that we will be holding more such weekend retreats so that students of the Brevet Lamas will now be able to come along if they wish. On it's own this could potentially contribute £30,000 in 2013. Just over the water we are hoping to sort out the tax situation so that donations in Europe can be made tax efficient - thank you to Jens for working on that. Once resolved this will also benefit any other charitable activity in the Eurozone and help make more things possible across Europe.  Also in Britain we will be holding a fundraising dinner in April and at the end of the year hope to hold a Natural Dignity Ball. Raechel's Rabbit book will be out soon and we have Rinpoche's Blues Masters prints for sale as well as a number of calligraphies remaining - please get in touch if you are interested in any of these.

We would love to hear from anyone who has a plan for fundraising, or who would like to comment on the Blog.

Once again many thanks for your support

with much love

Ngakma Shé-zér Khandro & Ngakpa Namgyal Dorje