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To Go With The Book
The relief of the Himalayas is difficult to comprehend. If you look closely at the right side of the forested ridge in the foreground of the photo, you’ll see the Thyangboche Monastery. The monastery sits at 12,700 feet (3870 meters). The top of Mt. Everest is visible behind the Lhotse-Nuptse wall at 29,032 feet (8848 meters).
The Pheriche Aid Post in 1979. The yaks in the left foreground belong to Ang Rita Sherpa, my assistant at the aid post. Pheriche was just a summer yak herding village before the advent of trekking tourism. The Aid Post was built with funds from the Tokyo Medical College.
This is a photo of Barbara, deeply unconscious and getting steadily worse, despite the oxygen that she is receiving. She was the first case of altitude illness I had ever treated, and to this day remains the most severe.
This photo is in 1980, as I was preparing to work my second season at the Pheriche Aid Post. I had arrived early with the American Baruntse Expedition, so I borrowed some skis and headed off with Richard Collins to ski on the Changri glacier, where “the man who skied down Everest” had prepared for his adventure in 1973. I’m standing at 17,000 feet (5180 meters) on the way to the glacier with Mt. Everest behind me.
This is the shot of Richard Collins skiing on the Changri Glacier, at around 19,000 feet, with Mt. Everest in the background. We were the first people to visit the glacier since the Japanese expedition was there in 1973.
This is my second season at Pheriche, in 1980. Firewood was very scarce in the Khumbu, so we limited ourselves to a fire in our wood stove for about an hour each evening while we ate dinner. Shown here are Ang Rita Sherpa, my assistant and companion at the clinic, myself, two volunteer Japanese doctors, and my new friend, Lynne.
The Khumbu Valley, in front of Mt. Everest in Nepal, is felt to be a beyul, a sacred valley. I’ve often thought that if one had to design a bird to be the main avian attraction in this valley, you would come up with something like the Danphe pheasant, shown here. This pheasant is unique to this part of the Himalayas.
On my last day working at Pheriche, we were called out in the middle of the night to assist in a delivery in a yak herding tent high above the village of Pangboche. When we got there, the baby had already been born. A few years ago, I managed to find the woman who had been born that night, in her native village of Pangboche (thanks to our trekking guide, who grew up nearby). She was now thirty-three years old with children of her own.
This is the only photo I have of the original CIWEC Clinic. I started work at this clinic in August 1983. This is where the second Jane first looked me up. The clinic was on the outskirts of Kathmandu. Two years later we had outgrown this building and moved closer into town.
My 1982 BMW R80 GS motorcycle. This was my main form of transportation during my time in Nepal. This photo was taken at Kakani, on the valley rim, overlooking the mountains due north of Kathmandu. I sold the bike to friends when I left Nepal, and it is still in use.
This is the front yard of our house in Kathmandu, where I lived for eleven of the fifteen years that I was in Nepal. The photo captures the lushness of Kathmandu Valley. People are usually surprised to learn that Kathmandu is at the same latitude as Orlando, Florida, but at 4300 feet in altitude (1310 meters). This allows for an extraordinarily wide variety of plants and trees to flourish, and to stay green all year long.
Lisa Choegyal figures prominently in my memoir, as she should. We shared a lot of experiences together over the fifteen years I lived in Nepal. Lisa, in those early days, was a key figure in running the Tiger Tops Lodge in Chitwan National Park. Her duties often took her down to the lodge which was about a thirty-minute flight from Kathmandu. Because we were friends, she often asked me to go with her.
At the end of our long, delightful walk through the jungles of Chitwan National Park, and having cooled off in the hidden Golden Pond, the first Jane and I waded down a river with our packs over our heads to keep them dry. An elephant and driver had been sent out from the lodge to pick us up and take us back through the elephant grass meadows.
Chakpori Hill was the site of a Tibetan Medicine College in old Lhasa. It was destroyed in 1959. I’m tying a sacred thread as an offering on the top of the hill, overlooking the Potala Palace. This was in 1987. A radio antenna was built on Chakpori Hill sometime later.
This photo is from a fall seminar, translated by Erik Pema Kunzang. This beautiful hall, with the large statues in front, personally crafted by Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, was damaged in the 2015 earthquake, and can no longer be used, although it is still standing.
This is a shot of the “Honeymoon Trek” gang at our high point in a meadow at 13,000 feet (3960 meters). From left to right is Vanessa, Don, Thekla, Brot, Jane, and me. When Jane and I left Nepal, we ended up living next door to Thekla in Kelly, Wyoming, while Brot ended up living about 20 miles away in Wilson, Wyoming.
Jane walking on the icy, precipitous trail through the canyon that led to the highpoint of the trek. This was one of the easier sections. The river at the bottom of the canyon was about two hundred feet straight down from here. Note that she is trekking in a skirt, which was considered culturally appropriate at the time, as few women in Nepal wore pants.
This is the day in May 1990 that Jane Gallie arrived back in Nepal. We were married five days later. This type of banner is traditional in Nepal for weddings and other celebrations.
Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche predicted that I would get married someday, and that he would perform the marriage ceremony in his Gompa. This photo shows the moment that he called us over, after we had made offerings at the front of the Gompa, and he placed traditional white scarves around our necks. He then said, “Now that you have decided to get married, you need to make up your minds to be nice to each other.”
Jane at Swayambunath Stupa, shortly after we were married. Not only does she look amazingly appealing in this photo, but the background also shows the delightful chaos that surrounds so many sites in Kathmandu. The guy in the leopard print shirt, the dog that seems to be posing, and the incredible artwork, for which the artisans of Kathmandu were famous throughout Asia.
Jane and I, with Gil Roberts and Erica Stone, overlooking the Kathmandu Valley. Gil and Erica played an outsized role in my life over the many years that I was working in Nepal (and beyond). Readers will recall that they were present when I proposed to Jane.
Having read about Sir Edmund Hillary first at age twelve, I was thrilled to be able to meet him in Nepal. One of the first times I met him was up in the Khumbu region. He had become ill, and I ended up taking care of him. Later, we would meet regularly when he came through Nepal each year. In this photo, he’s meeting our son, Matthew, for the first time, along with his wife, June.
This is one of my favorite photos of Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche. On many mornings he opens his chamber to the public, who come to him with requests for blessings, or for advice on problems that they may be having with health, work, school, travel, and so on. To see him do this so skillfully, with such joyful energy has been one of the biggest inspirations in my life.
Galen Rowell was a world-famous climber and photographer. He was working on assignment for a book and wanted a photo of Tulku Urgyen and myself. Here, Tulku Urgyen is giving me a blessing. The photo didn’t make the cut in the book, but it’s always been one of my favorites.
This is Taga, the Tibetan refugee whose moving story I tell in the book. He’s just a few days post-surgery in this photo. When he was sufficiently healed, he received prostheses that enabled him to walk. He moved to Dharamsala, India where he studied to be a Thangka painter. He married the girlfriend that escaped with him over that pass and carried him on her back when he could no longer walk.
I’ve always thought how fortunate our children have been to grow up around prayer flags, monks, nuns, and reincarnate lamas, and have it seem like it’s a normal way of life. These prayer flags are at Nagi Gompa, where Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche lived on the flanks of a mountain called Shivapuri, overlooking Kathmandu Valley.
Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche died at Nagi Gompa, on the side of a mountain above Kathmandu. The next day he was transported to Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche’s Gompa in Boudhanath. As the truck got closer to Boudhanath, the streets filled with throngs of grieving people.
This is the statue that Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche gave me at the moment that we first met. A photo of this statue was used by Eva Van Dam when she painted the cover of the book.
We went trekking with Matthew when he was just six months old. We stayed below 6000 feet (1800 meters), but obviously had stunning views.
Our daughter, Anna Tara, at age thirteen, posing in the Khumbu at 16,000 feet (4878 meters). Both our children have been back to Nepal many times and maintain a close connection with the country and the people.
At the end of significant prayer ceremonies (pujas), the head lamas give out blessings to the people in attendance. Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche is near the center of the photo in the large red hat. The young lama in the other red hat is the reincarnation of Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche’s father, Yangsi Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche.
In 2007, Prativa Pandey, shown here, became president of the International Society of Travel Medicine, becoming the first woman and the first person from Asia to hold that position. Six years later, I was elected to the same position. Our little clinic in Kathmandu has produced two presidents of the most important travel medicine society in the world.
In August of 2000 I hosted the first Medicine and Compassion conference. This is the group photo from that event (after it stopped raining). The conference was the first time that Tibetan Buddhist concepts of training in compassion were presented to a Western professional audience, mainly doctors and nurses.
“Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam…” When we decided to leave Kathmandu in 1998, we weren’t sure where we should live. We decided to move to Jackson Hole because we felt that, after 15 years (8 years for Jane) in Nepal, we needed to choose a place that had an edge to it. In this case, extreme natural beauty, filled with wildlife and easy access to all kinds of outdoor adventure.
Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche has come to visit us several times since we’ve moved to Jackson Hole. On this visit, we made a video of Rinpoche teaching my son Matthew how to meditate. This dog belonged to the filmmaker, and he sat patiently watching as we did the video. When Matthew got up to leave, Rinpoche remained seated, and the dog, on its own accord, came over and sat next to Rinpoche, crossed his paws, and appeared to meditate.
This photo shows my rescue on Teton Pass with a heart attack. It shows how difficult the terrain was: a steep snow slope with deep powder snow. Nine people are attempting to carry me across the slope so that we can reach the waiting helicopter. My wife, Jane, can be seen in the blue jacket at the back.
I don’t go into it much in the book but joining The Rolling Stones on tour over a three-year period was one of the highlights of my life. Thirteen years earlier, I had a nice dinner with Mick Jagger in Kathmandu at Lisa Choegyal’s house. On tour I was not allowed to take any photos backstage, so I slipped out front for this one.
Our son, Matthew, at age seventeen, with his namesake, Mathieu Ricard at our home in Kelly, Wyoming. Mathieu was one of the first Westerners to learn Tibetan and get teachings from great Tibetan masters. He’s had an extraordinary career as a Tibetan Buddhist monk, translator, author, photographer, and philanthropist.
This is the retreat house I stayed in at 15,000 feet, above the village of Dingboche. The dominant peak across from me is Ama Dablam. The seven days I spent there gave me a taste of what it might be like to do a longer-term retreat in such a setting. The beauty and isolation were incredibly inspiring.
This is a famous bench outside the Patan Museum near Patan Durbar Square. Men (mostly men) gather there every day to relax and chat. This photo was taken in a return visit to Kathmandu, many years after I lived there.