Wednesday, May 6, 2015

How Buddhist Monks Are Helping the Victims of the Earthquake in Nepal

Phakchuk Rimpoche coordinating Nepal Earthquake Relief team

By mid February I traveled from Delhi to Kathmandu to apply for a new Indian visa. Unfortunately that didn't work out so I had to stay in Nepal, but as we all know everything happens for a reason. An earthquake hit Nepal the 25th of April and I was giving a once in a life time opportunity to help and to witness first hand the amazing work that a group of Buddhist monks and foreign Buddhist volunteers are doing to help those affected by the earthquake.

A couple of days after the earthquake I decided to volunteer at the Bir Hospital in Kathmandu, although I have no medical training whatsoever. After two days at the hospital helping lifting seriously injured patients to the X-Ray table I felt I needed to go the affected villages where I could probably be more helpful. During my evening meditation I asked for guidance to be taken to the right place.

The next morning on April 30, when I was leaving my guesthouse in Boudhanath ready to go back to the hospital, I met my neighbor Shane Basi of US, a student of the Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling Monastery (also known as the White Gompa). For the past couple of days he had joined a rescue team, including three Buddhist monks, to bring first aid to some of the affected villages in the mountains.

Please read Shane's touching story in Helping a Little Angel Rebuild Her Life After Earthquake in Nepal

I asked him if I could help. He told me that another team was just about to leave from the White Gompa. Without hesitating I went straight to this Buddhist monastery and offered my help. Phakchuk Rimpoche, a Buddhist Master and the person in charge of the "Nepal Earthquake Relief" team, told me "You are going to drive for three hours and then probably walk for five hours. Are you sure you wanna go?" I answered "Yes!" right away. Half an hour later we were on our way.

I was not prepared at all, no special gear, no sleeping bag and no experience whatsoever. I only had my toothbrush and toothpaste with me because I was thinking to stay overnight at the hospital. I did manage to get a raincoat in the only shop that was open just before we left.

I joined a team of six including two students of the monastery, Gilad Yakir from Israel, Gonzalo Perilhou from Argentina and three wonderful Buddhist Monks from Nepal, Yeshe Tharchin Lama, Ratna Mangalam and Tsultrim Namgyal.  Gilad was in Shane's team before and this was his third trip to the villages, and Gonzalo was on his second trip so they both had a lot of experience about the situation and what was needed.

The plan was to go to Yangri, Tsultrim's village in the Sindhupalchowk region. No helicopter or any kind of help had reached his village and he had received the news that his father had died during the earthquake. He wanted to visit his family and pay his respect to his father.

We drove a jeep for about three/four hours from Boudhanath to the camp in Melamchi. From there Paul, one of the monastery's teachers, drove us a bit further through a dangerous and partially destroyed road to help us save a couple of hours from the long trek that we had ahead of us.

Once we reached the furthest accessible point by road we took with us all the medicine and the 25 tarps (long plastics that are used to make tents) that we had brought from Boudhanath and continued by foot. We walked for several hours passing by several destroyed villages and about 6pm we decided to find a spot on the way to camp until next morning.

Trekking to villages affected by earthquake

Trekking to villages affected by earthquake

Houses destroyed by earthquake

Houses destroyed by earthquake

Houses destroyed by earthquake

Camping on the way to Yangri
Believe it or not that's where we spent the night.  We were so lucky it didn't rain. During the night we felt three strong tremors.  I crossed my fingers hoping that there where no rocks above us.  It was dark when we managed to find a good spot to make our tent. 

Camping on the way to Yangri
Ready to continue our trek after a life saving breakfast prepared by Yeshe.  He is sitting on the right.

Early next morning after having a quick breakfast we continued our journey. It was a tough and long journey uphill.

Challenging uphill trek

Challenging uphill trek

Challenging uphill trek

Landscapes of Sindhupalchowk region, Nepal

Landscapes of Sindhupalchowk region, Nepal

The landscapes were amazing but every village on our way were destroyed. The deeper that we walked into the mountains the bigger the destruction. The image was devastating. Hundreds and hundreds of houses completely destroyed, entire villages gone.

On our way to Yangri we passed many villages like Dhap, Manekharka and Thulo Bhotang. The guys were in touch with the people at the camp in Melamchi so they knew where the helicopters had come to bring food, tents and to take the seriously injured to the hospitals. We continue further to find those villages where nobody had reached yet.

House destroyed by the earthquake in Nepal

Village destroyed by the earthquake in Nepal

Village destroyed by the earthquake in Nepal

Village destroyed by the earthquake in Nepal

Finally after about ten hours of trekking and stopping by in small villages donating tents and medicine to those who needed it we reached Yangri.  We decided to make our next camp in this village to provide them with some basic first aid and to make it as a base to reach the next village.

Tsultrim meets his sister
An emotional moment when Tsultrim finally reached his village.  Here he is hugging his sister Chandra Maya. A couple of minutes after he meet his mother.  Chandra Maya arrived to the village just two days after the earthquake.  In a desperate attempt to reach her family she did all the trek from Melanchi to Yangri by herself while there were many aftershocks and serious landslides risks.

Giving first aid to victims of earthquake

Giving first aid to victims of earthquake

Giving accupunture to victims of earthquake
Gilad applying acupuncture to one of the villagers to help him relief some physical pain 

Camping in Yangri
The locals offered to make the tent for us.  Compared to our first tent this one was like a five star hotel. Unfortunately the second night a heavy rain hit us and water started pouring from everywhere so we had to move to another spot next to the buffalos and some destroyed buildings.  
Although we brought with us just a few tents and medical supplies, for the inhabitants of Yangri this was a lot. Nobody had come to this remote village to offer any help so they were extremely grateful that we had come all the way to their forgotten home.

But even after all the serious difficulties that these people have been going through they are still very friendly and extremely hospitable. In Yangri, and in every other village that we passed by, we were treated with kindness and respect. People didn't run to us asking for help or money, on the contrary we had to insist and ask what kind of help they needed.

The next day we wanted to reach Bolgang, Tsultrim grandfather's village, but it was a very dangerous walk. Landslides had destroyed several sections of the path that connects Yangri to Bolgang. Thinking of Rinpoche's words "Do not try to be a hero" Gonzalo and I decided to stay with Tsultrim at his village while Gilad continued with Ratna, Yeshe and two other local guides.

Dangerous trek to Bolgang
The way to Bolgang.  This was probably a 100 meters fall.  At the bottom there were huge rocks and 100 meters above there were more rocks ready to fall over our heads at any time, and we had felt two tremors just a few minutes before. 

All 100 houses in Bolgang were destroyed by the earthquake and 34 people had died. The seriously injured had been evacuated by helicopter but, as Gilad said, the not so seriously injured are still quite serious.

While Gonzalo and I waited for Gilad we had the opportunity to talk with Tsultrim and his sister Chandra Maya to learn more about the lifestyle in Yangri and their current situation.

There are about 50 people in Tsultrim's village, all of them relatives. Tsultrim's father died during the earthquake. It took them four days to find him buried under the rubble. A young girl, one of Tsultrim cousins, also died during the earthquake.

Tsultrim contemplating about his future and of his family
Tsultrim sharing with us his worries about the future.  His father was the Lama (teacher and priest) of the village.  Whenever somebody in a nearby village needed a Lama for a puja (ritual) they will come to ask for the presence of his father.   They also had a small gompa (temple) where his father would make pujas for different purposes.  People from near and far villages would come to these pujas.  Now all the responsibility falls on Tsultrim but he still needs to finish his studies at the monastery and he is not even sure that they can continue living at the village.   

Image of Yangri after earthquake
This is the gompa where Tsultrim's father would organize the pujas.  Pretty much the only standing building at this village.  They were building a platform underneath the gompa to be used for some traditional Buddhist performances during special occasions.  They will probably never finish that construction as they might have to leave the village because of landslides risks.

Although the village has been destroyed, Yangri is still a little paradise. They are self sustainable, they grow pretty much all the food that they need. Rice, potatoes, onions, garlic, kidney beans, spinach and some type of lentils are some of the vegetables that they cultivate in their land.

They also get mushrooms from trees which they dry under the sun to be used all year round. Just a few items like salt and oil they need to purchase from other distant villages. During the earthquake their food stock was buried under the rubble but fortunately they've been ale to recover it little by little.

Life in Yangri

Family cooking in Yangri
Tsultrim's mother preparing lunch with other family members using their own vegetables.

Gonzalo and Tsultrim. This was the best meal that I've ever tasted in Nepal. Completely fresh made from 100% organic and self grown vegetables. We didn't want to eat their food but they insisted assuring us that they had enough.
To support this lifestyle they need to work really hard. They start very early in the morning, around 5 am, and work all day long. There is always a lot to do like collecting firewood from miles away, food for the buffalos, milking the buffalos, picking up the vegetables and so on. The winter is extremely cold and they have to endure heavy monsoon rains.

Unfortunately their lifestyle might be coming to an end. The earthquake not only destroyed all their houses, leaving them without any shelter but it has also soften their land. There are land cracks that goes through their small village, the trails the leads to their village are almost destroyed and even the bridge that connects them to other villages has been seriously damaged.

Yangri paths damaged by earthquake

Yangri paths damaged by earthquake

Yangri bridge damaged by earthquake

The monsoon is coming soon and we all fear that this can cause another catastrophe for their village. We are no experts but it is very evident that there are serious landslides risks. At the moment they don't know what to do. They have been living in this same place for many generations and now they might need to move to other places and rebuild their lives from nothing.

Before leaving Yangri we decided to donate all the remaining tents that we had to this village so we had no choice than to reach Kathmandu in one day as we wouldn't have a place to sleep. We were not sure we would make it but since most of the way was downhill we managed. We left Yangri at 6:30 am and walked for about 7 hours almost non stop until we reached the first bus stop. We waited for an hour for the bus to depart and reached Boudhanath the 3rd of May at 6:30 pm. Surprisingly still with the sunlight.

Donating tents to victims of earthquake in Yangri
Ratna donating some tents to the inhabitants of Yangri.  In total we donated about ten tents.

Group photo of rescue team
Tsultrim had to stay at his village as they are going to do a special puja for his father in a couple of weeks.  So we decided to take one group photo before departing from Yangri. From left to right: Yeshe Tharchin, Gonzalo Perilhou, myself, Tsultrim Namgyal, Gilad Yakir and Ratna Mangalam

We also insisted to one of the families that their daughter had to be taken urgently to the doctor in Manekharka, which was on our way. She has a deep big wound on her neck that needs special care. It took a while to convince them but at the end they agreed and we left together. Unfortunately we lost them on the way, they are locals and can walk much faster than us. We all hope that they manage to bring their daughter to the doctor.

Yangri is just an example of the situation that many villages in Nepal are going through. Some of them, like Bolgang, are hardly accessible or completely inaccessible because the landslides have destroyed the path that leads to them.

There are other serious problems that can affect the inhabitants of these regions. They all drink the natural spring water that comes from the mountains, which is normally pure and much better than the water of the city, but with the coming rains their water supply might get contaminated as there are still many dead bodies buried under the rubble. In some places the smell is unbearable.

As you can see there is still a lot of work to do to help those affected by the earthquake. There are still places where no help has reached, places where they need shelters, food and medical care and there is more work to do to help them rebuild their homes and to prepare for the monsoon and for the unpredictable.  If you wish to help you can donate now to the Chokgyur Linga Foundation Earthquake Relief, which is part of the Ka-Nying Monastery of Boudhanath. Every cent counts!

This story is just one little example of the many efforts that the foundation's "Nepal Earthquake Relief" under the guidance of Phakchok Rimpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist master, have made and continue making to help those affected by the earthquake. You can read about many other of their daily efforts here at

They are very organized and they know where and what kind of help is needed and how to get there since many of the monks from this monastery come from these villages and know the area well. They have sent rescue teams with medicine, tarps (used for tents) and food to remote areas where not even the military has reached. This morning they sent another team to bring food and tents to the inhabitants of Yangri, not only to Tsultrim's family but to every other family in this and nearby villages.

Phakchok Rimpoche coordinating Nepal Earthquake Relief efforts
Phakchok Rimpoche giving instructions and updating the team about the current situation of their work

Buddhist monks working to help victims of earthquake in Nepal

Buddhist monks working to help victims of earthquake
Monks of the Shedrub Monastery getting ready to leave to different villages to distribute tents and food

Map of affected areas

Food for villages in Nepal affected by earthquake

I've been very lucky to be at the right time and at the right place to offer some little help. Now it's your turn. The foundation needs your financial support so please go ahead and donate here, and if that's beyond your means you can still help by sharing this story with as many people as you can. Thanks for your support!


  1. In one of the rescue team missions, just a couple of days after the earthquake hit Nepal, Gilad Yakir and Shane Basse (thanks to whom I found out about the relief efforts of the Chokgyur Linga Foundation Earthquake Relief) rescued a girl who had a life threatening wound in her leg. After hours of difficult trekking they delivered her to the Nepali army base, where she was evacuated by helicopter to Kathmandu. Her leg had to be amputated but she is slowly recovering her health. Shane has been working tirelessly helping Angel and her family. He managed to get Handicap International to sent physical therapists to the hospital in Kathmandu and will be providing her with a prosthetic leg and rehabilitation. Shane now is raising funds to help them rebuild their house. You can also donate to this cause and read more about this beautiful story in

    1. Thanks for sharing this post with us Marco. It gives a lot more insight into things on the ground and how the help is getting out there. Very inspiring to read about this and is surely one of the great things coming out of this whole tragic situation. Makes me want to pack up and join in with the effort. Have shared on my timeline and will continue to encourage all i can to help and assist in this excellent work.

    2. Thanks for helping by spreading the word Lyse. Although this earthquake has been a tragedy for Nepal there are a lot of people out there helping in many different ways. The work that Shane has done is inspiring and we can all help by donating a bit to his cause.

  2. Here is a message from Phakchok Rimpoche

    "Dear friends, I want to update you on our progress in Nepal. Thanks to your donations, the Chokgyur Lingpa Foundation has provided aid to over 25,000 families affected by the earthquake. Sending out more than 6,000 tents and 1,000 sacks of food, we have been able to reach nearly 30 villages in desperate need.
    CGLF is one of the most effective organizations on the ground in Nepal today. With first-hand knowledge of the people and places most in need, an international support team and donations from the global community, CGLF is best-equipped to deliver desperately needed assistance to the mountain people of northwestern Nepal.
    Our work is nowhere near finished as we begin to approach our next phase that focuses on rebuilding. Please continue to support our efforts by visiting

    'It's very easy to read books on Buddhism, but what we really need is to apply and integrate the practice into every aspect of our lives.' -Phakchok Rinpoche"

  3. A great post Marco. It gives such a clear and detailed account of some of the really positive stuff that is going on under extremely difficult and challenging circumstances. It is inspiring and i am certain will bring in plenty of interest and i also hope a lot more funds so that the good work can continue... Thank you

    1. Thank you Lyse! Yes I also hope that it will help to bring more awareness and more funds so the monks and the students of this monastery can continue doing their amazing work.

  4. Marco thanks for sharing all of this with us. its so great to read an actual account of whats happening and see all the amazing work you have been doing... wish i could join you for it but we will do what we can from abroad.
    you're an ever inspiration! love and miss you lots.

    1. Thank you my dear Lakshya, but I just help a little bit, the guys working at the monastery, monks and western students, deserve all the merit, they've been working really hard since the beginning and continue to do so. I'm sure if you would have been here you'll have joined me to do this work, but what you are doing from Dubai is also amazing and definitely necessary. Miss you my friend.

  5. Here is a message published today by Phakchok Rimpoche.

    "Dear friends,
    As you may know, our humanitarian organization has been involved with providing earthquake relief to as many people as possible, especially in the harder-hit mountainous regions and villages of Nepal. Just as we were winding down our crisis management and rescue efforts and beginning to focus on the extensive rebuilding and medical care needed throughout Nepal, another earthquake measuring 7.3 hit, which was followed by several strong aftershocks. This has obviously had a serious impact on the direction of the work of our team in Nepal. More updates will be posted as soon as possible when we know how this latest development will affect our endeavors. Please continue to support our efforts by donating to CGLF’s Earthquake Relief Fund. You are helping us to help those in need."

  6. Marco

    It's Nadia, you remembered , i emailed you to ask you for the ashrams, and meditation center in india ...
    It's very sad what all these families are leaving ! Bravo to all of you to what you are doing,
    I gave a donation to Matthieu Riccard foundation karuna schechen,
    it's like earthquakerelief, the donation go to the earthquake victims,
    i will send the message to every body about this foundation ...
    It's amazing how the life goes on !
    A voyage is A life, In a voyage , you are in contact with the real people !!
    Les relations humaines sont profondes , VRAIES !!! C'est incroyable !

  7. Bonjour Marco

    C'est Nadia, you remember , i emailed you to have informations about the ashrams, two months ago ...
    It's very SAD what the families, moms, dads, childrens, grandmas, uncles ... are living ! but you wrote , that they keep smiling
    I gave a donation to karuna schechen the foundation of the french buddhist monk Mathieu riccard
    I will tell about the earthquakerelief to the people in New Caledonia , the island where i live !
    It's crazy how the life is ... Did you know that you will live this ?
    But i am not surprised because it's a part of LIFE,
    Le Voyage fait partie de la Vie, le RELATIONS HUMAINES sont VRAIES !!!

    NADIA §

    1. Bonjour Nadia! Thank you so much for your positive comment and for helping spreading the word. It doesn't matter to which organization one gives, the most important thing, I believe, is to give and Mathieu Riccard's foundation I'm sure is doing a great job, like many other independent groups working in the ground in Nepal. Mathieu is worldwide known and well respected western Buddhist monk. Well, I'm sure you know that.

      Marco :-)

  8. Well first of all to hats off to those people who are helping victims of Nepal. It a great and good thing to help a needy man. I just hope if I could also help them for anything. Thank you so much for this post.