An Adventurous Trip to Lawudo in Nepal
Venerable Amy Miller, an FPMT registered teacher, has been informally leading people to Lawudo in Nepal’s Solu Khumbu District since 1990. She shares about the October 5-22, 2018, trip she led for twenty-three people from around the world.
It was only a week before our journey to Lawudo, when my sister called me from England and mentioned how much she admired what I was undertaking—leading a group of twenty-three people up to a remote retreat center in Solu Khumbu District in the Mt. Everest region of Nepal.
When I hung up the phone, I realized I had been in denial about what we were planning to do. Of course the trip was well planned, thought-out, and supported, but when traveling to a high elevation in a remote area with incredibly challenging terrain, dire things can happen.
I swallowed my trepidation and forged ahead, landing in Nepal on September 28, 2018. I wanted to be rested and bright-eyed for the group’s arrival on October 5.
We converged at Khachoe Ghakyil Ling Nunnery (Kopan Nunnery) for dinner. Our group came from Australia and Wales, from points all over the United States, from North and South America, and Europe, and they penetrated deep into my heart.
Within a week we were family, helping each other in a variety of ways: listening to each other’s coughs, passing around diarrhea remedies, tissues, and advice about the toilets. We shared laughs and compared our lifestyles that were incredibly varied. We were nurses and teachers; paramedics; mental health workers; yoga instructors; husbands and wives; mothers, fathers, and grandparents; nuns; aspiring yogis and yoginis; massage therapists; healers; retired civil rights workers; administrators; cleaners; and human beings who had an urge to explore and test the outer edges of the envelope, and reach this place called “Lawudo.”
After an introductory day walking the dusty lanes of old Thamel in Kathmandu—visiting the holy Chenrezig and Tara Temples near the Asan Tole market, the magical Prajnaparamita Temple, the magnificent Boudhanath Stupa, and Kopan Monastery where we enjoyed a lovely visit with Thubten Rigsel Rinpoche, the reincarnation of Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Lama Lhundrup—we prepared to fly up to Lukla, a small trekking village in Solu Khumbu District the next morning.
It was a challenging time at the Kathmandu domestic airport, trying to get a group of twenty-five people up to Lukla in two planes. Somehow—after one group had already waited eight hours—the Red Sea parted. By 2:00 p.m. on October 7—with the clouds in Lukla still sitting high—the group landed on the mini landing strip in Lukla, and we were all ready for our walk.
Getting a late start, we offered tea lights and incense at the famous naga tree just outside of Lukla to aid our journey. We then crawled through some slippery rain—and eventually the dark—to arrive in Phakding, a small village in Solu Khumbu District, for our first night’s stay in the mountains. All was well.
The next day was our most rigorous with the Namche Hill enroute; most of us struggled our way to the top. We were exhausted and experiencing the altitude, but had three nights in Namche Bazaar and a hot shower (!) so there was time to re-energize.
Our lodge owners were lovely—Dawa who owns Himalaya Lodge in Lukla; old friends of mine who own Namaste Lodge in Phakding; and Nuru and Nawang who own Holiday Lodge in Namche—but the most phenomenal support came from Amber Tamang, our ground operator, and his amazing staff: Mingmar, Gausman, Pemba, and Sangay, along with a team of eight wonderful porters. We could not have done this trip without each of them.
We explored the rich trekking town of Namche—taking in views of Mt. Everest in the morning; hiking to the Everest View Hotel for lunch; visiting the Buddhist temple above the town; seeing museums; shopping for last minute items; and acclimatizing—all while becoming more and more bonded to each other.
The anticipation of Lawudo dangled in front of us, and finally on November 11, we were off ambling through the easiest part of the walk before the next big hill. We stopped in Teschio at the bottom of the hill for noodles, and then the final climb began.
A turn in the pine forest opened up a view; I gestured toward the massive expanse of a mountain and far above us: “Lawudo.”
We arrived at Lawudo in the afternoon of November 11 to a wonderful greeting from Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s sister and brother, Ani Ngawang Samten and Sangay Sherpa who were coming across the yard. The support they gave us—the spoiling; the amazing team they hired; the delicious food—it was all quite stunning as it is such a hard place to live and work. We settled in and I was able to sit with everyone in the Lawudo cave that afternoon.
Our three-day silent retreat began the next evening, and everyone in our group joined whether Buddhist or not. It was heart-warming to feel the interest of everyone; how hard they worked at their meditations; and how the Lawudo family joyously supported us.
At the end, much to my total surprise, Anila and Sangay offered a mandala to me (as if I was some holy being!), but I was able to convince Anila to move the mandala to Rinpoche’s throne as it was all a bit much for me. So kind!
The holy blessings of the guru; the concentration of the retreat in such a holy place; the tremendous effort made by the participants who were suffering from various colds and ailments; and the fantastic seamless support we received made it one of the richest experiences of my life. It felt like we were held in a sacred net of love.
The retreat finished the morning of November 16, and we went on some outings. We went on a twenty-minute walk behind Lawudo to Cherok to visit Pema Choden, a holy nun who lives in a cave, and walked a half hour down the hill from Lawudo to Thamo to visit the grand nunnery there and see some old friends.
On the way to Cherok we had the great fortune to pass and briefly talk with Cherok Lama, whom I have known since he was a child.
Ani Pema Choden, however is not one to open her home to twenty-some westerners. I was just hoping to borrow the keys to Merry and Harry’s caves, and show the caves to the group. She had other ideas, and ushered every last one of us inside for hot tang. Truly amazing!
We then hiked off to find the caves, and then slowly headed back to Lawudo for lunch, before heading down the hill to Thamo to visit the nunnery.
The nunnery’s gompa is over-the-top in beauty, and it’s wonderful that the nuns finally have an adequate place to live and practice. We were warmed up with tea while some of us sat in one of the nun’s rooms and the rest sat in the gompa during a puja. All were welcome, but as one pilgrim mentioned it was clearly a place of powerful women. No doubt!
The next day was a major trek to Thame—the birthplace of Lama Zopa Rinpoche—where we enjoyed lunch at Thame View Lodge. The lodge is now run by the brother of dear friends who live in Queens, New York, US, who are Rinpoche’s cousins. We were moved by the humble poor origins of Rinpoche’s birthplace. We visited Thame Gompa and the new stupa, modeled after the Boudhanath Stupa. We were fortunate to see wild mountain goats and returned to Lawudo for our last night.
After one week, we said our farewells to Lawudo—to the amazing team; to Anila and Sangay; the holy cave; and to a few pilgrims who were either staying at Lawudo for retreat or heading off to other treks—and then we beat it back down the hill for lunch in Namche. It felt a lot easier descending.
We spent the night at Monju Guest House before heading back to Lukla the next morning. It was lovely to reconnect with two pilgrims who stayed in Namche—and other than our three guys who split off from the group—we were all together again.
Next was the day we were supposed to fly down from Lukla to Kathmandu. And it didn’t go very well. So we waited, and Amber called everyone he knew to try to get us down off the mountain. We were divided up so we could travel to Kathmandu by helicopters. Some people left in helicopters, some didn’t. Some people that we thought had gotten down to Kathmandu were still standing around in Lukla hours later. Some people got down to Kathmandu and then waited on the tarmac in Kathmandu for luggage that hadn’t arrived.
Twelve of us got stuck in Lukla overnight, and after much eager anticipation earlier that morning—thinking about being at the luxurious Hyatt Hotel in Kathmandu that evening—by 6 p.m. we were back at Himalaya Lodge in Lukla, dazed and confused, meekly ordering yet another veg fried rice.
Yet the resiliency of the group prevailed, and for the most part everyone just dealt with what was happening without complaints or negativity. Our group energy—the family feeling—was a true boon for keeping our spirits high and our sense of humor intact. After all, Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s interest is often in how disciples bear hardship. Not that all of the participants were disciples, but I think we were doing our best to bear the hardships.
Amber’s efforts, along with lodge owner Dawa, were fully admirable. We would not have made it down to Kathmandu so early the next morning had it not been for their efforts. It seemed once we were down at the Hyatt Hotel, ensconced in the hotel’s overwhelming breakfast buffet, most of the airport fiasco went away. Many commented on how the experience really made them appreciate the ease of our lives in the west.
So now most everyone has moved on to return home or onto other journeys. I have never felt such gratitude for being held by all the powers that be, so we could make this trip and stay safe and relatively healthy.
There is much to digest, which I hope to do back on the mountain. I am hoping to fly back up tomorrow morning, and will try to make it to Thamo nunnery for two Nyung näs, and then back up to Lawudo for a six-week retreat.
I will no longer have to count to see if everyone is with us, and will no longer have to make sure the spirits of those slower on the trail are still upbeat, and that everyone has food and is warm enough. It will be a party of one, but I will miss them all. I have decided it’s best that I carry them all in my heart. During my retreat, if they need extra support, I will make sure Anila keeps them safe and warm in the folds of her robes.
Watch Ven. Amy Miller’s nine-minute video about a previous trip:
Feature image: Ani Ngawang Samten, Ven. Amy Miller, and trip participants at Lawudo, Solu Khumbu, Nepal, October 2018. Photo courtesy of Ven. Amy Miller.
For more information about Ven. Amy Miller, visit her website:
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