A History Lesson on Sherpas, Monastery Life

Experience Issue 207 Feb, 2019
Text by Sudin K.C.

After crossing the passes of the eastern region, I finally bumped into some local people in the Solu Khumbu region. They told me that the trail I was walking along was the very one traveled by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on their way to summiting Everest for the first time. I’d like to believe this to be true! Unlike the Khumbu, which is now packed with tourists, this trail had very few, so I got to interact a lot with the local people, which is exactly what I had hoped for.

William Arthur Ward once said, “The adventure of life is to learn,” and I couldn’t agree with him more. Of course, walking solo in the mountains is an adventure in itself, but learning about the lives of people who call the Himalayas their home was what added meaning to my adventure. Here, in the Solukhumbu district, I had the opportunity to learn about the history of the Sherpas from the Rinpoche of the monastery in Junbesi, which is one of the oldest Sherpa villages.

From talking with the Rinpoche, I learnt that Sherpas are the descendants of Khampas, the people of ‘Kham’ from the east of Tibet. They are a Tibetan warrior group well known for their prowess in fighting. In those days, the religion most prevalent in Tibet was the Nyingmapa school of Buddhism, which is still practiced to this day by the Sherpas.

After the history lesson with the Rinpoche, it was now time for lunch and some more interactions with monks in the monastery. What I learnt from these conversations is that living in a monastery is very much like living in the hostel of a school. The young monks are there to study. They go through a rigorous course in the Tibetan language and ancient Tibetan scriptures. Their day typically starts with early morning classes, lunch at 11 a.m., followed by more studying, puja at 5 p.m. every day, and dinner at 6 p.m. Every monk is assigned a job: some cook, some clean, some chop wood, some take care of the library, and some play instruments during the puja.

To my surprise, these monks were very much like you and me. They love playing football and other sports, they love art, and yes, they love social media, too. The teachers, however, don’t share this opinion about social media, so they are allowed to be on their phones only once a week. I was fortunate enough to become friends with some of the monks, and yes, they are now also friends with me on social media!

So, what did I learn about the life of a monk during my short visit to the monastery? That it consists of much more than just meditation. They share the same wants and desires as we do, they love having fun, they love making new friends, they love traveling, basically everything that I love doing. The only difference is, they do all of that and still live a balanced and spiritual life, something I really hope to learn and apply to my own life.

Next, I took a little day tour to the Thuptencholling monastery, which was another special experience. There, I had the chance to meet some of the happiest people I’ve ever met. More than 300 nuns live here in a calm and peaceful environment. As soon as I entered the monastery, I was directed to the kitchen,  where I was lovingly offered a cup of tea, one minute later, some more tea, and before long I had drunk five cups by the time I left the monastery.

Overall, this section of my trail was full of interactions with people who shared their life lessons with me. Next up is the Manasalu (also known as the ‘mountain of spirit.’) section, I feel both excited and scared, a common experience when trekking solo. I think this is a sign I should continue my journey…