When the earth shook that day in April last year, Ngima Dorje Sherpa’s immediate thought went to a monastery perched on a hill at a village called Kharikhola of Juving VDC in Solukhumbu district. He was worried lest it had succumbed to the violent shakes of nature, or even worse, had put the monks in harm’s way. However, when he got there two days later by flight, he was relieved to find that it had resisted. All was well, for now.
Ngima Dorje Sherpa is a trekking guide and a travel agent who has been running his trekking company since 1997. Born on March 1, 1972, he grew up familiar with the tricky trails and beautiful scenery of his village. He has been actively involved in many social and community projects over the years, especially for the development of his village. To build what is now Pema Namding Monastery, however, took a completely new level of dedication. It was a different story.
The thought of building a monastery in Himalayan terrain in the middle of nowhere was very intimidating at first. “My community people were eager to have a monastery built in Kharikhola, as I’d earned a certain reputation for running around involving myself in different projects. But, this was something else, compared to launching safe drinking water or regulating mother groups,” he says.
It meant mustering every stone and cement and hundreds of construction material, transporting them from respective areas to his road-deficient village, and building from scratch. Sherpa thought about it, and didn’t dare take on this very ambitious project until 2005, when he went for an international tour to reach out to his contacts and generous friends so as to collect sufficient funds.
After a Dutch organization donated 15,000 euros, he felt a little relieved, and confident enough to initiate it. After many glitches, it finally took off. The construction started in 2005, and in an unintentional but lucky occurrence, completed the entire project in three years, three months, three weeks, and three days, a lucky sign according to Buddhist beliefs.
Pema Namding Monastery is an interesting sight to anyone who has had the opportunity to see it. Sherpa insists that the view from the monastery is even better. The monastery operated with 17 monks from poverty-stricken households, offering them necessities and education up to 5th grade. For Sherpa, however, it was the kind of education the monastery was going to introduce that mattered the most.
“The kind of rituals that lamas of the village fulfill isn’t enough in today’s time. Young monks should be educated, so that they can later be people of influence and change to this village. This is my long term plan,” he says. He sees danger in leaving the kids without education. “This is our effort to change things,” he adds. Therefore, two teachers from India and Bhutan have been engaged in their education.
But, running the monastery has been an even bigger challenge than constructing it. “The past decade has been the busiest of my life. I am busy looking for help and innovative ways to keep the monastery afloat,” he says, adding, “I’m looking forward to a serious and effective long-term plan to make sure that it runs for hundreds of years even after we have gone.”
So, the monastery development committee has been trying to engage interested trekkers and people as members to make a foolproof plan for its survival. Despite the difficulty, Sherpa is proud of what he has achieved. The villagers have put their trust and faith on him, and it has been this faith that has driven him to keep working at it.
“My village and the surrounding area are remote places where it seems as if everyone who matters has abandoned them,” he shares.
In 1995, he met Sir Edmund Hillary, who made a deep impact on him. “He told me to ‘leave my name behind.’ I didn’t understand it then. He was referring to how I should do something good for the community and for the welfare of the people, so that they would remember me,” he says. He has not looked back since then.
And the number of projects in his list grows. Immediate are the long-term development plans for the monastery. “If I could, and if things were in my favor, I would invest to make the monastery area a tourism spot. It has the look and feel of one,” he says. Mostly inhabited by people involved in agriculture and tourism, he hopes that it will help the economy of the village.
He is also looking for an opportunity to re-introduce free health camps to the locals there, like he did back in 2008. “But resources are tight,” he laments. “After all, what is the use of initiating things if you can’t end it properly?”
The partial damage brought forth by the second quake in May 2015 was an added blow to them. “However, it could have been worse,” he smiles, adding that the renovation would probably be finished in a couple of months. With a little help from the Nepal Tourism Board, he hopes the monastery will meet all expectations. He’s optimistic it will, eventually.