Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Tibetan Plateau

How do we act in the presence of what we cannot fully understand or control?  What does it take, in other words, to be in the presence of wildness?  Where do we place our trust?  The fear of letting go of everything that is comfortable and familiar and learning to listen to that little voice that has not often been allowed to express itself…….

 I asked that I be big enough and open enough to receive what was there to receive and humble enough to not ask for more.

 Feast your eyes on the landscape that enveloped us for the next leg of our journey as we climbed up from the Kali Gandaki River onto the Tibetan Plateau, swallowed up and embraced by the utter vastness!

Friday, January 14, 2011


The Sherpas' view of the universe is dominated by pujas; rituals and prayers and a knowledge that their gods are not just abstract concepts but living, present beings that can influence the human experience in very direct ways. Sherpas look for the divine in everything and everywhere.......from the trees, mountain peaks, and sacred river confluences to the daily greeting of "Namaste" which literally means "I greet the divine inside you". It is used very generically to mean "hello", "goodbye", "good morning" or "goodnight". But think how wonderful it is to meet a total stranger on the trekking trail, join your palms together in front of your chest, bow slightly forward, and utter the greeting "Namaste"..... the spirit in me meets the spirit in you. This goes a long way in breaking down all of those barriers that we work so hard to build up around ourselves for emotional, physical and psychological protection! I have found that "Namaste" is an incredibly disarming gesture of divine acknowledgement.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Gift idea for the holidays

The Himalayan Project is very pleased to announce a partnership with Cristina Vitiello, a New York based custom designer of handcrafted jewelry.  Cristina has created a signature brass, unisex bracelet knotted on silk and has generously offered a percentage of the sale of each bracelet to The Himalayan Project as she introduces her Give Back Collection.  World-wide travel has not only allowed Cristina to source different materials, but has also stimulated the creativity that keeps her designs unique and vibrant.  Enjoy browsing her website at and donate to The Himalayan Project by purchasing this signature bracelet.  For each bracelet sold you can help educate a Nepali child by providing a years' worth of school supplies.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Renjo Pass



 I'm perched alone in a cafe in Kathmandu after having bid farewell to my 3 traveling companions of the last 4 husband Peter, Cathryn MacLean and Melissa Davis.  They are winging their way home as I write this and I am desperately trying to put pen to paper in an attempt to share my journey of the past month.  Life at 18,000 feet becomes stripped  of everything that isn't essential; it becomes a blink, a spark, a clear moment of oneness with the world with maybe a flash of insight into the nature of things, no self or ego in the way.  If we are lucky we may have a few enlightened stumbles along the way as we walk through the incredible mystery of life, journeying as an infinitesimal speck before we return to the elements which are so raw here....wind, water, air, earth and fire.

 Life is extremely unforgiving and uncompromising when dealing with it's daily rhythms in these Himalayan villages .....hauling water for daily household use, collecting and drying yak dung for fuel when a village tests its survival above tree line, frost melting as the early morning sun begins its descent down the mountain, ice on the inside window of a local “teahouse” as we get the wake-up knock on the door.  And then as if to put everything in perspective and reduce life to its most simple and clearest beauty, one notice's a purple primrose stretching itself through a crack in a stone wall or a spider spinning a new home from prayer flag to prayer flag or the sound of oncoming yak bells as they begin their lumbering procession from the day before, carefully and artfully picking their way over the rockiest of trails which drop off hundreds of feet below.  As we climb up and up and up, we are serenaded daily by the mantras and prayers of local villagers, the raucous cawing of the ubiquitous ravens, the roar of the glacially fed swollen rivers and women preparing the land for potato planting, their voices brought to us on meandering breezes as we peek over stone walls and offer a simple “Namaste”.

 Life in these parts is fragile and cyclical and certainly a blend of human and natural, spiritual and temporal.  These are a few of my unfettered thoughts to share with you....



Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Everyone Says I'm Running Away

Everyone Says I’m Running Away

By Nomadic Matt | Published October 19th, 2009

Title: Running Away? I think not!My dad always asks what I’m running away from with my travels. A few weeks ago, a commenter told me to stop running away and live life. And I once came across a blog called “Mom says I’m running away.”

I’m not sure why, but there is this perception out there that anyone who travels long term and isn’t interested in settling down or getting a conventional job must be running away from something.

They are just trying to “escape life.”

The general opinion is that traveling is something everyone should do?—?that gap years after college and short vacations are acceptable. But for those of us who lead nomadic lifestyles, or who linger just a bit too long somewhere before reaching that final homestretch, we are accused of running away.

Yes, travel?—?but just not for too long.

We nomads must have awful, miserable lives, or are weird, or have had something traumatic happen to us that we are trying to escape. People assume that we are simply running away from our problems, running away from “the real world.”

And to all those people who say that, I say to you?—?you’re right.

Completely right.

am running away.

I’m running away from your idea of the “real” world.

I’m avoiding your life.

And, instead, I’m running towards everything – towards the world, exotic places, new people, different cultures, and my own idea of freedom.

While there may be exceptions (as there are with everything), most people who become vagabonds, nomads, and wanderers do so because they want to experience the world, not escape problems. We are running away from office life, commuting, and weekend errands, and running toward everything the world has to offer. We (I) want to experience every culture, see every mountain, eat weird food, attend crazy festivals, meet new people, and enjoy different holidays around the world.

Life is short, and we only get to live it once. I want to look back and say I did crazy things, not say I spent my life reading blogs like this while wishing I was doing the same thing.

As an American, my perspective might be different from the rest of yours. In my country, you go to school, you get a job, you get married, you buy a house, and have your 2.5 children. Society boxes you in and restricts your movements to their expectations. It’s like the matrix. And any deviation is considered abnormal and weird. People may want to travel, tell you they envy what you do, say they wish they could do the same thing. But really, they don’t. They are simply fascinated by a lifestyle so outside the norm. There’s nothing wrong with having a family or owning a house — most of my friends lead happy lives doing so. However, the general attitude in the States is “do it this way if you want to be normal.” And, well, I don’t want to be normal.

I feel like the reason why people tell us we are running away is because they can’t fathom the fact that we broke the mold and are living outside the norm. To want to break all of society’s conventions, there simply must be something wrong with us.

Years ago, at the height of the economic boom, a book called “The Secret” came out. According to “The Secret,” if you just wish for and want something badly enough, you’ll get it. But the real secret to life is that you get what you want when you do what you want.

Life is what you make it out to be. Life is yours to create. We are all chained down by the burdens we place upon ourselves, whether they are bills, errands, or, like me, self-imposed blogging deadlines. If you really want something, you have to go after it.

People who travel the world aren’t running away from life. Just the opposite. Those that break the mold, explore the world, and live on their own terms are running toward true living, in my opinion. We have a degree of freedom a lot of people will never experience. We get to be the captains of our ships. But it is a freedom we chose to have. We looked around and said, “I want something different.” It was that freedom and attitude I saw in travelers years ago that inspired me to do what I am doing now. I saw them break the mold and I thought to myself, “Why not me too?”

I’m not running away.

I am running towards the world and my idea of life.

And I never plan to look back.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Mustang……..a land of mystery, intrigue, complex history and certainly one of the most visually stunning regions of Nepal.  We have just returned from 3 weeks of trekking through this last forbidden kingdom, diverging extensively from the main trail that leads to the Tibetan border, and distributing 600 fleece jackets to four villages nestled into the virtually treeless, barren blue, gray and red cliffs that are reminiscent of the Grand Canyon.  Many of these villages had early beginnings in a network of caves, much like the early peoples of the American Southwest, and still these dwellings are in use as meditation retreats for the Tibetan Buddhist population of Upper Mustang.

 We were accompanied by my beloved friend and guide, Karsang Sherpa, 3 assistant guides, Mingma Dorje Sherpa, Pasang Sherpa and Kansa Rai whom I have known for 11 years…… our cook Purakitta and 4 kitchen boys, Mingma, Ram Kumar, Maila, and Jetta……and finally a mule and horse train of 20!  Quite a merry little band transporting all of our food and cooking fuel and camping gear for 2 ½ weeks, plus 17 duffle bags full of fleece jackets.

 As we started out by following the mighty Kali Ghandaki riverbed, mere specks in the landscape of towering sandstone cliffs that closed in on both sides of us, I was acutely aware that the length of our trek was very predictable……we had obtained a permit that allowed us 2 weeks to “peek” into the inner workings of this restricted culture that had only allowed foreigners access to it since 1992.  I picked my way along the riverbed littered with “saligrams”, black stones that, when broken open, reveal the fossilized remains of prehistoric ammonites formed more than 140 million years ago.  And like the riverbed, I knew the length of it, but realized I must nurture the width and the depth of the journey ahead.  What were the physical challenges that lay ahead?  How receptive would the villagers be upon our unannounced arrival?  As much as I try and prepare for each year’s trek into the wilds of Nepal, part of the allure for me is the adventure of the unknown……no blueprints, no expectations, a willingness to answer the call of spontaneity, inviting disturbance and reshuffling my assurances! 

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Is Anyone Game?


 As we enter into Losar, the Tibetan Buddhist New Year, I thought it would be a grand time to catch you all up on news about the Himalayan Project.  It has been a very productive AND instructive year for me beginning with the 3 months that I spent in Nepal last spring.  I witnessed the incredible “abdication” of King Gyanendra after centuries of rule by a monarch with the replacement of a Seven Party Alliance hoping to establish a Parliament with elected representatives from throughout the country.  This is an enormous undertaking for a little kingdom that has never allowed its disenfranchised to have a voice!  One can only pray that they have the courage and vision to move forward…

 The Himalayan Project has been growing and developing in a very organic way these past 3 years.  We have completed our initial building projects with great thanks to all of you….a school hall to house the entire student body of 300 under one roof, a library replete with Tibetan, Nepali and English books, a residance for visiting Lamas and a scholarship fund for village children whose parents cannot afford the $10 per month that it costs to educate a child.  Congratulations to all of you for your generosity towards making this happen!  Now we seem to be moving into another phase.  As I continue to return to Nepal and the Everest villages I have become very aware of the fact that many  indigenous traditions of the Sherpa culture are disappearing as the western model breaks into and permeates this ancient world…….an oral language fades out, traditional folk dances and songs of this Buddhist culture are replaced with either Hindi or Western alternatives and many young people can only see opportunity in Kathmandu.

 As “our” school in Chaurikharka grows stronger in both the programs that it offers and an expanding physical facility I have found myself “brainstorming” about the next step.  My dream is to handpick several young women who have graduated from this school, offer them a college education in Kathmandu to obtain a teaching degree and then be prepared to provide a salary commensurate with anything offered in Kathmandu as they return to their Sherpa villages to set up programs that will methodically pass on their own traditions.  The girls seem to be my focal point for a pilot program right now  as women in these mountain communities provide stability and backbone in farming and raising their families while the men leave to trek or go elsewhere in the world to find work.  My plan is to try and raise $1,000,000 for an endowment that will generate a yearly income to cover tuitions, salaries, school supplies and ongoing building projects.

 Is anyone game????  Look at what’s been generated and completed by all of you so far!  I may be the person on the ground but nothing could have been done without your incredible support these last 3 years.  If anyone is ever game to visit please don’t hesitate to contact me as I return to Nepal usually in the spring of every year.   I’m even now in the process of organizing a medical trip with a team of surgeons to go into a remote area up on the Tibetan plateau and set up M*A*S*H like tents to perform operations on people that will never, ever have access to any medical attention.  It’s a daunting process but your support could make this happen too.  The year of the Fire Pig is almost here and with burning determination from us all we can dream and move forward!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Gratitude musings


 As I sit down to write this letter right before Thanksgiving is upon us I am particularly moved to pause and not only acknowledge the many blessings in my own life but also to extend SUCH GRATITUDE to all of you who have made it possible for the Himalayan Project to move forward in the last 18 months.  Without your incredible outpouring of love and support our initial dreams and goals would have probably died on the vine!  Instead we have been able to complete the first phase of the project, inspite of great drama!  The school hall/community center was finally finished after 10 ½ months of having plan after plan for transporting building materials from Kathmandu foiled by the Maoist insurgents.  Twice the rebar poles and roofing materials were trucked to the end of the road, about 90 kilometers from Kathmandu, and coordinated to meet helicopters that would fly everything to the airstrip in Lukla, then be manually carried to Chaurikharka.  Each time the insurgents were informed and lurking to blow up the helicopters.  Finally on the third try the mission was successful!  Meanwhile, up in Chaurikharka the villagers were hauling rocks and boulders from the riverbed below to hand chisel the cobble stones which were to become the building blocks for the project.  Once all of the building materials were finally on site it only took about 3 weeks to complete the construction..  Also as part of the initial phase of the Himalayan project we have funded a library in Tibetan, Nepali and English books, have set up a small scholarship fund for local children whose parents cannot afford to send them to school for $1-$2 a month and finally, built a residence for visiting Lamas and Rinpoches (Buddhist spiritual teachers and priests)  when they are called upon to perform weddings, funerals and local ceremonies. 

 As I traveled back and forth to Nepal to keep track of the building progress I was always royally feted and entertained by the school children in Chaurikharka.  I watched them earnestly performing Nepali folk dances and songs.  What became glaringly apparent was the fact that since Nepal is 80% Hindu the native traditions that are being passed on from generation to generation are all Hindu based and there seems to be an apparent disconnect in  recognizing the value of this traditional Tibetan Buddhist culture.  Sooooooooo,  my dialogue continued with the Headmaster and his “School Board” and I have ratcheted up the Project to the next level of hopefully providing the means for this Everest Region school in Chaurikharka to become a model for the preservation of the Sherpa culture, methodically passing along to the next generation the song, dance, storytelling, language and cultural heritage of this vibrant and ancient culture.  My dream is to be able to raise enough funds to provide an endowment for this program that can then rely on a yearly income to educate young Sherpa women to become teachers who will commit to return to the Everest Region and receive salaries that are commensurate with Kathmandu incomes for similar teaching positions.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

One American’s Gift to Nepal

The children of Chaurikharka in the Everest region will stay warm this winter. They will be receiving fleece jackets collected by American school kids just before the harsh Himalayan winter begins.

Read More

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Building Logistics


My project this week was to help figure out the logistics of hauling 70 bags of cement from Kathmandu to Dawa’s village of Chaurikharka. We had several options to consider. Our first choice was to hire 70 porters in Kathmandu to walk a week until they reached the village of Chaurikharka. Economically that seemed like the most prudent choice. However, down-valley from Chaurikharka there seems to be a lot of Maoist unrest and a line of 70 porters walking along mountain trails would attract quite a bit of attention! Cement bags could easily be confiscated and sold to provide monies to fill the coffers of the insurgents. So rather than take that risk and cast a pall over the start of this project, we have decided to truck the bags of cement to Jiri where the road ends and then charter a Russian made helicopter (left over from the first Afghanistan invasion in the 80’s) to airlift it all to Lukla in the Everest region. From there it will only be an hour’s trek to Chaurikharka and hopefully we can commandeer lots of villagers to help out! Then in a similar fashion we will set to figuring out the transport of corrugated roofing material and support poles for the school building. It will then be the job of the villagers to haul up boulders from the Dudh Kosi river hundreds of feet below the village so that the “stone masons” can hand chisel each cobblestone building does seem rather incomprehensible!!!!

One of the main reasons that I feel so moved to go to Nepal in November is that I want to have some “ritual” around the start of this project. Yes, I could just wire the money and then go and visit when the project is completed hopefully in March. However, I am planning to call a “village meeting” when I get there in early November and explain (obviously through an interpreter) that a whole “community” of people have come together to make this dream a reality and that now we hope the village will engage through time and labor and take some ownership over this project. I hope to read off the names of everyone who has made a contribution and have each name drift off into the mountains the way that each Buddhist prayer wafts from the colorful prayer flags. It may sound corny but I think it sets an intention for the project ahead......Todd and his girlfriend Amanda will be traveling to Nepal two weeks before me and then fly up to Chaurikharka when I arrive. Amanda will be teaching in the school and Todd will be in the thick of the building project so it will be wonderful to have their eyes and ears recording it all for the next six months! These Sherpas who inhabit the southern flanks of the Himalayan range are good and bad, strong and weak, honest and dishonest like the rest of us. But few of those who visit them can remain indifferent to their loyalty, affection and charm, or unimpressed with their remarkable perseverence and courage.


So that seems to be enough for now. In closing I’d like to share a wonderful quote from Holly Payne who wrote the Virgin’s Knot:

Sometimes there are places in the world we have never been but the minute

we step into them we are forever changed. We have native towns, houses

where we grew up and return to now and then, but somehow, something

overtakes us when we set foot in our homeland. Some call it the karmic

debt land and we know it better than the place with which we are most familiar.

A crooked tree, a bend in the path, the way a mountain whispers. We need no

road signs here because we already know the way, and everything at once

becomes home.

I have felt such things in Nepal.......


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