NYEMA Projects, Inc.

Seven Weeks in Tibet:
A Summer in Nangchen with Lama Norlha Rinpoche

A culture in transition

From top to bottom:
Horse race in Yushu.
Riverside picnic with our hosts
 and driver en route to Korche.
Sheep and yaks grazing.
Greeting at Korche.
Approach to Korche Monastery.
Welcome dance at Korche School.

The road to Yushu was mostly paved; the portions that weren’t gave us pause to reflect on how fortunate we had been for the bulk of the trip. At the start of the trip, and on the auspicious high mountain passes draped in prayer flags, Rinpoche would chant quietly, reminding us of our pilgrimage, distracting us from our discomfort. Slowly, roadside Muslim noodle shops gave way to Tibetan outposts, where men and women in traditional dress rode up on motorcycles instead of horses, to play billiards instead of to trade yak butter: “modernity” that hadn’t shaken clean of its roots. Yushu was like that too: men in suits walking in the street carrying the meaty heads and ribcages of yaks, women shopping for face-whitening creams in the Avon store before buying vegetables from a street vendor on the way home, monks zipping around on motorcycles or eating watermelon in the square. All the bustle of a city populated with people who only a generation ago were living in tents scattered throughout the countryside.

A horse and motorcycle escort at Korche

And oh, that countryside. I didn’t expect so much diversity in the landscape, just mountains, I suppose. But there were streams and rivers, rolling hills and craggy gorges, stretches of grazing land for yaks, and impassibly high mountain peaks. We followed the winding dirt road riddled with holes and craters that would take us to Korche Monastery, Rinpoche’s home as a young monk, which he rebuilt in 1986. A procession of horses met us first, then motorcycles, all elaborately decorated with silk flowers and colorful blankets, their riders beaming with the honor and anticipation of Rinpoche’s visit. They led us to a clearing where a tent had been set up for us to sit and eat while Rinpoche received katas from monks of all ages as well as local villagers, some of whom had walked for days to make offerings to him. Then, and in moments like these throughout the trip, I was struck by the unwavering devotion these people of Nangchen have for Rinpoche, even though he resides halfway across the world. And I was of course reminded of how fortunate we are to have Rinpoche so close and available to us.

After a quick stop at Korche School for a tea and cookie snack (there would be many of these along the way) and a dance performance by the schoolchildren, we approached Korche Monastery. From the small stupas lining the hillside, to the new shedra building under construction, and of course the beautiful shrine room, I was now walking around in the manifestation of the great kindness of Lama Norlha Rinpoche on behalf of these people. It was nothing short of magnificent, and it was immediately clear how critical Rinpoche’s work is for them. And then of course, thanks to NYEMA’s recent water project, there were functioning fresh water spigots at various stations around the monastery grounds, which even provided hot showers to a weary Rinpoche and his dust-covered entourage.

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