In the past two months, I have had the incredible opportunity and privilege of living in Kathmandu and partaking in excursions to Dharamsala, India and Tsum Valley/Gorkha District, Nepal. My experiences have challenged me in ways I could have never imagined—from the three-hour intensive Tibetan language classes every day to the four-hour hikes moving from village to village in the Upper Tsum Valley and solo adventures to different monasteries and temples. In such a short period of time, I have obtained a newfound sense of confidence and maturity in myself. My journey thus far has been immensely transformative, perhaps in part because there were moments of hardship and obstacles that I needed to confront.
To begin with, one of the biggest challenges of being a study abroad student in my program (Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples) is that we are constantly immersing ourselves in different cultures, as there is a lot of traveling. To elaborate, our program itinerary was set up for us to spend two weeks in Kathmandu, Nepal, two weeks in Dharamsala, India followed by another week in Kathmandu, Nepal, then two weeks in the Tsum Valley, Nepal (Himalayas) and lastly a final week in Kathmandu, Nepal.
In a mere two months, we learned and immersed ourselves in four different cultures—Tibetan, Himalayan, Nepali and Indian. As a result of not being fluent in any of the languages and due to the excessive amount of traveling, I quickly felt overwhelmed. To be honest, I never imagined I would ever get overwhelmed by traveling too much, as I have always dreamed of traveling. However, this experience did teach me an important lesson: speaking isn’t the only form of communication. I have been reminded that a gesture of kindness can be as simple as a smile or making someone else tea and food. A generous amount of smiles and food these past two months have helped affirm my sense of belonging in the different places I was in. On the other hand, simple acts like honking excessively reminded me to be more cautious and swift when crossing the road!
To my surprise, another obstacle I had to confront was my emotions. In the past two months, I have met so many resilient individuals. I have been so blessed to have heard stories about journeys of hardship, perseverance, heartache, victory, and recovery from my peers, neighbors, mentors and even strangers. As a listener, these stories left me feeling speechless; I was blown away by the amount of courage and compassion those around me embodied. For example, a family in the Himalayas shared with me their concern over the new road that was being built in their valley. The government of Nepal did not take into consideration their voices making them feel both frustrated and disappointed.
Additionally, they saw people come and destroy the mountainsides using explosives. These stories also revealed an unpleasant side of humanity—testimonies that social injustice and inequality are alive and kicking. That said, I would lie in bed at night feeling emotions of vulnerability I have never felt before. Eventually, I reminded myself that it is precisely these emotions of discomfort and vulnerability that have revealed the crucial nature of my participation in social justice advocacy and the need to travel in order to further understand the complexities of our world. This particular experience has inspired me to be more motivated and courageous in the decisions I make.
Now that classes are over, all the students in my program are required to do one month’s worth of research or to pursue an internship in Nepal or India. I made the decision to travel to New Delhi, India where I will be conducting fieldwork about citizenship and statelessness. Additionally, I will also be mentored by legal professions in the field. Making the decision to depart from my cohort and to leave Kathmandu for a month was not an easy one. However, on the brighter side, I believe this was the best decision I could have made for myself! I am so excited to see what the future holds in store for me.
Hidden in the snow-covered mountain range of the Himalayas lies Tsum Valley, where a small settlement of villages are established, and home to thousands of Tsumbas (the indigenous people to the valley). The name “Hidden Valley of Happiness” was given to Tsum Valley for its concealed beauty and its quiet nature. With geography playing a pivotal factor in the mobility of transportation methods to the valley, beyond walking and flying on a helicopter there is an absence of highways, railroads, and cement paths. Many outsiders and trekkers look to Tsum Valley as a place of solace and peace-a location free from the man-made creations of highways, trains, cars, and buses. It is also a place conceived to be truly immersed in nature–thus being the Hidden Valley of Happiness. In the past weeks, I too witnessed the beauty and uniqueness of Tsum Valley. However, I would be lying if I think the name, “Hidden Valley of Happiness” is appropriate for this place, for the word happiness only captures a small portion of what I felt when I was there. In my short time there, I learned that for many of the locals, the future of Tsum seems to be standing on fragile foundations.
Global warming in the Upper Tsum Valley
Many climate activists present global warming as a catastrophe waiting to happen but for mountain indigenous communities like the Tsumbas this dystopian future we are so desperately trying to avoid has already become a reality. And like other historically underrepresented communities of color worldwide, their voices and faces have been left out in the mainstream climate activist movement. Scientists from outside this region have linked environmental changes to the increasing temperature (global warming). In particular, some changes in the last two decades include the melting of glaciers, unpredictable weather patterns, a decrease in snow coverage, wildlife and plant migration, and seasonal timing patterns. In alignment with the environmental changes occurring in the Himalayas, economic insecurity is quickly becoming an urgent concern–in particular, when looking at yartsa gunbu, a Himalayan caterpillar fungus. Yartsa gunbu is one of the most expensive traditional medicine ingredients in the world, with an economy generating over seven billion dollars worldwide, and provides a critical source of income for Himalayan communities – Upper Tsum Valley included. About a decade ago, collectors began noticing a decline in the population of this species. Initially, it was believed that the decline was due to overharvesting. However, recent research suggests that the decline is very likely due to global warming. That said, in the Himalayan region, global warming is not changing just the geography as we know it but also the economic futures of the people. At its core, the well-being of these people is at risk as we speak. This existing knowledge inspired me to use my 10-day in Upper Tsum Valley to deepen my understanding of the people’s perceptions of these changes, I aimed to have conversations with Tsumbas with three questions in mind, is the theory of global warming shared amongst Tsumbas?what are the theories that Tsumbas hold in regards to the decline of the yartsa gunbu population? And what are the theories that Tsumbas hold in regard to the changing environment? Alongside co-researchers, I had the privilege of having guided conversations (interviews) with households from across Upper Tsum Valley, which included the elected leader of Chhekampard Ward 07, Sonam Wangmo, and an architect who specializes in emergency housing and has worked with climate scientists in the past, Sonam Lama. My findings were startling.
In short, those who I talked to shared with me that there have been significant environmental changes in the last 10 years. The villagers confirmed the melting of glaciers, unpredictable weather patterns, a decrease in snow coverage, wildlife and plant migration, and seasonal timing patterns. In addition, many of them strongly expressed their concern about the changes in water supply and unpredictable precipitation patterns-they feared that these changes will make it more difficult to survive. When it came to yartsa gunbu, everyone shared with me that the population of yartsa gunbu has decreased drastically in the past 10 years. Collectively, everyone understood that the yartsa gunbu economy can collapse at any second whether it be because of the decline in demand or the extinction of the species. All and all, there were many theories that were shared with me, but not one person connected these changes to global warming. And when I brought up the theory of global warming, only two individuals have heard about it, Sonam Lama and one of our co-researchers (a student local to Upper Tsum). To be clear, I am not interpreting that the villagers’ are uneducated about global warming or the climate crisis, I stand by the belief that they are the most educated about the climate crisis. These people are the live witnesses and the first to be affected by these changes and without the contribution of their observations and knowledge, our understanding of the changing climate would have never advanced this far. With that being said, these findings not only shocked me but also left me in a state of confusion and disappointment. In more detail, I was confused as to why the conversation about global warming-an anthropogenic phenomenon hasn’t been sparked in Upper Tsum Valley. This confusion ultimately led me to feel disappointed in myself for blindly believing that there is an equal distribution of knowledge on global warming.
Coupled with the great experiences I had in Upper Tsum Valley, I was reminded during my time there that we cannot solve the climate crisis without allowing historically underrepresented communities to see themselves in climate activism – and in that, the mainstream climate justice movement has failed us. To face the challenges of the climate crisis in unity, we must not only take steps that bring attention to the ways in which global warming is affecting the livelihoods of those most vulnerable to these changes, but also ensure that existing knowledge on this issue is transparently shared these communities so that they can implement environmental practices based on their own interest. The path ahead may look intimidating but without these steps, the ability for humanity to launch toward a future that is inclusive to all life on earth will be undermined.
Storytelling: A beautiful tool of communication I have always appreciated. I am not necessarily talking about the stories that begin with, “Once upon a time…” Rather, I am talking about the stories each and every one of us buried deep inside us. The stories about our lived experiences and our journeys of hardship, loss, heartache, perseverance, courage, and recovery. Storytelling, and story exchange, has helped me understand so much about the world and myself.
I was born in America, but I grew up hearing about the stories of war, persecution, genocide, and displacement which generations before have endured. The previous generations had every reason to be angry at the world and yet they still managed to have hope in their eyes and compassion in their hearts. Ever since I was a child I admired the courage and strength of those before I had.
With so much literature, information, and technology around us all the time it is easy to forget to have meaningful conversations with those around us–we often are so restricted by our busy schedules and responsibilities. For a long period of time, storytelling and story exchanging were absent in my life; however, recently, I have been so humbled hearing the stories of those around me.
My appreciation for storytelling was renewed in my World Geography class a year ago through a project called “Migration Journey” and again this past summer while being a Doris Duke Conservation Scholar at the University of Washington. To hear the conservation stories of my cohort was absolutely touching and empowering. My time in McLeod Ganj, a suburb of Dharamsala, was no different, inspiring me and deepening my appreciation for storytelling.
Located in the Western Himalayas is the city of McLeod Ganj, a suburb of Dharamsala and the current home to thousands of Tibetans in exile. The town’s large population of Tibetans and for hosting the official residence of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama (HHDL) gave the town the name ‘Little Lhasa.’
During my stay in Little Lhasa, I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit amazing sites, institutions, and organizations. For example, some of the places include the Central Tibetan Administration, Tsuglag Khang (HHDL’s temple), Men-Tse-Khang (Sowa Rigpa) Museum, Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dolma Ling Nunery, Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, and Students for A Free Tibet. Together these places showed me the importance of cultural preservation and innovation. Learning about cultural preservation and innovation were just a couple of the themes out of the many we touched while we were there. To capture all that I learned into a blog post will be impossible. There were so many things that happened that will always stay with me–I can probably write a book describing every little detail of the conversations, lectures, and site visits that have touched me.
However, what really stuck with me were the stories that the locals, co-researchers, and my homestay family kindly shared with me. I’ve been so humbled hearing about the stories of lived experiences and journeys of recovery, relearning, and redemption of the Tibetans in Little Lhasa–their stories came from so deep within. No wonder I am still left blown away by their courage to dig deep into the rawness of their people’s past to understand their own experiences of the present. How admirable.
In the midst of all the traveling and learning, Little Lhasa reminded me that there are amazing stories around us all the time, we just have to be open to hearing the voices of those around us. In addition, we also have to be brave enough to share the stories we keep deep inside us. Storytelling allows us to understand ourselves and each other.
Photos of moments and places in Little Lhasa I will forever cherish.
Meeting His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
A man of grace. A man of inspiration. A man of resilience. A man of compassion. I never thought this day would never come, to have been in the presence of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama was a privilege I did not deserve. Our encounter is one I will always hold close to my heart.
Library for Tibetan Works and Archives
The Library for Tibetan Works and Archives (LTWA) was founded in 1970 by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and has become one of the best places in the world to learn about the Tibetan culture, history, and Tibetan Buddhism. The mission of the LTWA is to preserve and promote the Tibetan culture by storing plethora of Tibetan resources; just to name some, at the LTWA, one can find resources such as Tibetan artifacts, scriptures, photographs, and manuscripts.
Meeting Sikyong (President) of the Central Tibetan Administration, Lobsang Sangay
In 2012, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) inaugurated the title Sikyong (President) to serve as head and the political leader of the CTA. Prior to 2012, the Dalai Lama was the political leader. Sikyong Lobsang Sangay has served since 2012, making him the first Sikyong of the CTA.
We were so fortunate to have been an audience of his. In our time with him, he deepened our understanding of the role, mission, and goals of the CTA, the lives of Tibetans in exile, and contemporary politics relating to Tibetans. In addition, he shared with us his story on the lived experiences and journeys that led him to be where he is today.
Hearing him speak left me feeling empowered.
Here are some scenic pictures I captured!
Pictures from the day we met His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
Words cannot explain how challenging yet rewarding the first three weeks abroad have been. Living in the city of Kathmandu has brought so much joy and purpose into my life; the 35-minute walk to class every day, the taste of momos and milk tea, the exploration of new cafes, the establishment of new relationships, the excitement of learning a new language, and the early morning circumambulations around Boudha Stupa with my Pa la (home-stay father). Words simply cannot describe how grateful I am for the experiences thus far.
Photos of the week!!!
What inspires me?
Earlier this week someone asked me, “What inspires you?” And at that very moment my body stopped, my mind went blank, and I caught myself speechless–which does not happen often. Caught off guard by a simple yet complex question, my response was “Many things.”
“What inspires me?” I ask myself today, and finally I have an answer, “A good conversation.” There is nothing that invigorates and inspires me more than having a meaningful conversation with another human;our ability to connect through stories, passions, and experiences is a blessing. My love for meaningful conversations ultimately led me to this study abroad program. For this reason, I want to share with you all a few of the meaningful conversations I have so far. I hope you enjoy the notes I captured with five amazing individuals I have encountered.
Anil Chitrackar –Understanding the Himalaya & placing its issues in the global context
“History and geography can explain the past, present, and future.” Anil Chitrackar
Born and raised in Nepal, Anil Chitrakar is a social entrepreneur. He is the founder of the Environmental Camps for Conservation Awareness and the co-founder of the Himalayan Climate Initiative. His work lies at the intersection of conservation, geography, and international affairs.
“Everything is a jigsaw puzzle.” A phrase he repeated time and time again during his time with us. He eagerly wanted us to understand that there is intersectionality in everything. In particular, he impressed upon us the relationship between history, geography, biodiversity, international affairs, and power.
By being geographically located where the Himalayas lie, Nepal and Tibet are the water towers of east and southeast Asia. The Himalayas itself dictates the well-being of ⅓ of the human race.
Earthquakes can be destructive, which is why the people of Nepal make it a priority to pass the knowledge of traditional art, store seeds, and practice rituals, therefore earthquakes in Nepal inevitably preserve religion and culture, as well as create opportunities.
Quincy’s Question How will the increase in infrastructure [in particular roads] at the Nepal-China border, impact Nepal?
The increase in infrastructure at the Nepal-China border will bring together over 70 economies. Therefore, it will benefit not just Nepal’s economy, but the 70 others as well.
Nadine Plachta – Animals, culture and the environment in the Himalaya
“It is important that we are connected, but how we are connected is the test.” Nadine Plachta
Nadine Plachta is the Resident Representative of the South Asia Institute in Kathmandu. In the course of the past 5 years, she worked heavily on her Ph.D. research dissertation, Himalayan Borderland Communities: Identity, Belonging, and Place among the Tsumpas. In particular, her studies keen on narrating territory, sovereignty, Nepali history, and the Nepal-China border.
Tsum is an indigenous Himalayan province located at the Nepal-Tibet border, it is officially a province of Nepal.
Tsum has a long history of no political affiliation and no political leaders instead it had religious leaders. According to history, Tsum was a peaceful region with small occasions of conflict.
Tsum has a history of shifting its national affiliation between Nepal and Tibet. It is a cultural region always having to decide which sovereign nation to decide with.
Roads are coming to Tsum. Infrastructure will change the region drastically.
In an age where research is often coupled with economic profit, what does ethical research mean to you?
To be quite honest, when it comes to conducting research with a community outside of your own, you will always be an outsider, everyone knows you are going to leave sooner or later. My biggest advice to you is to form relationships with the community you are working with–there are too many scientists who don’t prioritize relationship building. Once relationships are built, it will be hard for you to forget about the community you have worked with, the emotional connection you build with people will inspire you to do many things for them and their community even if you are in a different part of the world. You must also remind yourself to give yourself time. Time forms relationships and it will help you understand what is the best way you can help a community.
Amchi Rinchen – Sowa Rigpa
Amchi Richen is both a monk and a doctor who specializes in Tibetan medicines and practices indigenous Tibetan healing methods. Amchi Rinchen currently serving at a clinic in Boudha, Kathmandu.
Sowa Rigpa is one of the oldest forms of medicine recorded in history, tracing back over 2,500 years.
The body, mind, and spirit are all connected. One’s diet, physical health, and mental health dictate how healthy an individual is.
There are three main techniques when it comes to diagnosis. These are urine analysis, pulse reading, and asking a series of questions about lifestyle.
Medication: lifestyle changes, diet changes, medicine, and therapy.
How do Western doctors view your medical practices? How do you convince doctors outside your field that your knowledge and practices are just as effective?
Amchi Rinchen’s Response
It is difficult to convince Western doctors that our medicine is effective. I have had many patients that come from foreign countries and when my diagnosis and prescription work they usually don’t tell their doctors because they weren’t supposed to come to me. Our medicine is very old and it has been successful for many people outside our community. But still, it is hard to convince different doctors that our medicine is impactful.
Deepti Gurung – Statelessness in Nepal, India, and China
“My only goal is to click that fire in you to do something.” Deepti Gurung
Short Biography Deepti Gurung, a Nepalese citizen, mother of two daughters, and human rights activist. Nepal is a country that discriminates against women in their ability to pass nationality onto their children. Due to unforeseen obstacles, Gurung was not able to pass citizenship to her daughters, leaving them stateless. Fueled by the unfair citizenship laws, she challenged the government of Nepal and demanded citizenship for her daughters. In time, she won her case at the Nepalese Supreme Court. Now, she is one of the leading voices in Nepal fighting for the voices of stateless folks.
Stateless people’s identities are denied and not recognized by institutions of power, these people are initially voiceless and faceless. Having a voice is a privilege.
Common causes of stateless: conflict of laws, discrimination, state secession, the inheritance of statelessness, deprivation of identity, and administrative barriers.
Borders are imaginary lines. Power, privilege, and identity play a vital role in how borders are created–there are winners and losers.
There are currently 10.6 million people who are stateless, of those 4.6 million reside in Nepal. These are some of the most vulnerable people, simply because they are not seen and not given a voice.
Sarita Pariyar – Caste and Gender/Politics of Dalit Dignity
“What can one learn about the life of Dalit women in a society where the vagina of Dalit women is touchable but the same Dalit women in public space are untouchable?” Sarita Pariyar
Short Biography Sarita Pariyar is a proud mother, writer, student, human rights advocate, and Dalit woman who fights for justice when it comes to the Dalit identity. She received a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in Sociology and is currently pursuing her law degree in Legal studies. She has written articles for The Kathmandu Times and The Record Nepal, one of her most well-known pieces is titled Untouchable stories of the touchable vaginas.
Growing up Dalit, she would ask herself “What is wrong with me?” This question ultimately led to her finding liberation within her identities.
Dalit women are seen as sub-human, impure, dirty, and untouchable.
The legal system and constitution in Nepal enforce the caste system.
The majority of the rape cases in Nepal involve a Dalit woman.
The more you make someone untouchable, the more you can exploit them.
Only two out of the four-hundred judges in Nepal are Dalit. Even if the stories and voices of Dalit individuals are getting more attention, if the justice system does not change, the Dalit reality will remain the same.
Those who need empowerment are the educated people.
Why do you write?
Write your story or someone else will.
The notes I shared above are my interpretations, I can’t speak for anyone else’s experiences and observations other than myself. The questions were authentically mine and I tried my best to echo the responses that were given. I hope you enjoyed what I have shared.
My next blog will talk about my time in Dharamsala, India! Stay tuned!
“Here I am, looking at the flight itinerary next to me, afraid to see who I will become after this journey; a feeling I’ve never felt before. Study abroad, an experience I have yearned for since a young boy is about to begin. If someone would have told me 10 years ago that I would be studying abroad someday, 10-year-old Quincy would have been in disbelief. Study abroad was an experience I was convinced not made for people like me–first-generation, low income, the child of immigrants–yet here I am. The problem remains my mind still inhabits the same mental space as my 10-year-old self, trapped in the thoughts of young Quincy. Am I ready to challenge the thoughts of my former self? Am I really ready to overcome my fears? Before me is a journey I have yearned, fought, and trained so hard for. Here I am pursuing a path no one before me has walked, anxious to see where it will take me.”
The paragraph above is an excerpt from my pre-departure writing assignment, the essence of the paper was to integrate my pre-departure feelings with one of the readings. The week prior to my departure was filled with an intimidating course-load of pre-departure assignments, coupled with feelings of uncertainty, excitement, and melancholy. In the midst of preparation, it occurred to me that the person I was when selecting this study abroad program and the person I am now are two different people. This confrontation awakened emotions of doubt and hesitancy. Am I ready to live in the collision of three cultures, learn two new languages, live with multiple new families, and conduct a one-month independent research project? Am I intellectually, physically, and mentally ready to confront these new tasks?
After nearly 35 hours of travel time, I felt defeated. I arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal around 11 am, where I went through immigration services, briefly introduced myself to my cohort, and got on a bus to Pharping, Nepal where orientation took place. The bus ride to Pharping swept away the feeling of defeat I initially began with–the Kathmandu valley, high hills, prayer flags, wide colored spectrum of buildings, and monasteries took my breath away–my eyes were captivated. We arrived at our destination, the Pure Vision Lodge late afternoon where orientation began.
The first days of orientation were filled with hours of Tibetan class, lectures, program overview, and introductions. In between sessions, we had 15-minute tea sessions where I journaled or had conversations. The Pure Vision Lodge in Pharping felt safe–my cohort and I spent time enjoying one another’s company, learning Tibetan, and eating every meal together. This routine was one I deeply enjoyed, I got the space to build relationships, explore, adjust to the new environment, and reflect.
After five days in Nepal, this routine came to an end and thus we departed Pharping, setting forth toward Boudha, Kathmandu where we were scheduled to begin official classes and homestays. I still remember how tense my body felt on the bus ride to Bouda–once again, the feeling of doubt and hesitancy I felt before coming to Nepal surfaced.
After just a few steps into Boudha, I immediately noticed the presence of the Tibetan diaspora–signs written in Tibetan filled the streets, Tibetan restaurants at every corner, a person dressed in Tibetan attire at every turn. Walking through the main gate into Boudha Stupa (the most popular place in Boudha) felt like walking into a different world. In front of me, was the Boudhanath Stupa, next to me were several shops, restaurants, and cafes, everywhere there were people. In just a few minutes, curiosity and inspiration conquered my mind–my mind knew that my time in Boudha will be filled with new exciting experiences and challenges.
Shortly after arriving in Boudha I met my homestay Pala (father), Tsering Wangyal. In the conversation we had while walking home, I learned that my Pala is a Tibetan language teacher, grew up in Bhutan, and studied in India for many years. When we arrived home, I met my Amala (mother) and Chochola (older brother) both welcomed me with the words Tashi Delek (hello) and a big smile. After introductions and milk tea with my host family, my Pala and I went to the Boudha Stupa where we had more milk tea–in our time there he further shared his journey, the history of Boudha and Nepal, and the Tibetan diaspora. We returned home around seven p.m. and had a family dinner, afterward I went to my room where I took a big breath, unpacked, and journaled. My first night in Boudha marked the end of my first week in Nepal.
Here I am, in Kathmandu, excited to see who I become after this journey–a feeling I am familiar with. Study abroad, an experience I have yearned for since a young boy, has begun. If someone would have told me 10 years ago that I would be studying abroad someday, 10-year-old Quincy would have been in disbelief. Study abroad was an experience I was convinced not made for people like me–first-generation, low income, the child of immigrants–yet here I am. The mentality that 10-year old Quincy had is now shattered. Am I ready to challenge the thoughts of young Quincy? Am I intellectually, physically, and mentally ready to confront these new tasks? Am I ready to overcome my fears?
I was reminded this week, that I will never be ready for anything; perhaps, that’s the beauty of the unknown. Finding the strength to set aside feelings of doubt and uncertainty to achieve my aspirations is a performance I have never been confident in performing, yet I still do it. Perhaps, the question I should ask myself more often is why do I do it? In reflection, I know deep down that the answer will always remain the same: I am more afraid of regret than I am of failure.
My first week in Nepal reconnected me with a phrase I repeat in times of hardship, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” It is important now more than ever to perform.