Altitude sickness Dehydratrion Guru Rinpoche cave Helambu Hyolmo Journey Milarepa Pilgrimage Reading week Rehydration salt Retreat center sacred caves songs Tibetan tea Trekking Tsampa

The sacred valley of Helambu: an adventurous pilgrimage in the reading week of 2017 fall semester.

(Photo credit: Tree:  Emily Polar) 

            In the middle of each semester at RYI there is a week long break called “reading week.´´ Although some do use this time to focus on studying and reading, which is wonderful,  it is also known amongst certain students as the retreat or trekking week.
            Not knowing whether I wanted to trekk or stay in retreat during this break, I ended up joining some friends who had plans of doing a pilgrimage to Helambu, also known as Yolmo. Which proved to be a great decision!
            It is surprising how such an amazing place lies within a few hours from Boudhanath, and how easy it can be to get there! It only takes one (crazy and cozy) Nepali bus from a nearby bus station, which took us around 5 hours leaving early morning to get to Timbu ( a small village within Nepal, not the Bhutanese Capital!).
            After arriving, we tried to make our way to Nakote but it was getting dark, and luckily we found a small family community that was celebrating one of the many Nepali festivals with lots of dancing, chanting and raksi (rice wine) drinking, and happily they invited us to stay for the night and join in the celebrations.
            After having an amazing  corny tsampa breakfast – this is also one of the main reasons which I love Yolmo: they have THE best tsampa I have ever eaten and also know how to make great Tibetan tea! –  we proceeded on our journey.

   There are just too many details to fit into this account, such as staying with a yogi in a retreat center and spending the night on a Guru Rinpoche cave.  Just please be careful when you venture into the high mountains! After arriving at our final destination at 4000 meters, because we ascended to quickly one of our friends got bad altitude sickness, which could have turned into something very serious, given the remoteness of the region and it being inaccessible to helicopter, if we hadn’t had rehydration salts (give small sips every 5 minutes to the sick person so they are less likely to vomit, and even they do so, this technique can avoid dehydration) and Diamox[1](I have a tendency of being very suspicious of western medicine, but in cases such as this it can be life saving!).

Hyolmo is a truly blessed place. Also known as the hidden snow enclosure, it conceals many sacred caves where the great masters of the past such as Guru Rinpoche and the Yogi Milarepa accomplished practice and subdued local spirits. One can still feel the profound presence of these masters and also the energy of the Mahasiddha Kyabje Chatral Rinpoche who in more recent times established many retreat centers in the region

            It is an extraordinary mandala, as mentioned By Padmasambhava in the “Essential Inventory of Yolmo´´ [2]
“(…) Various medicinal substances occur there|(…) In the upper valley is a glacial stream of water of the eight qualities| There are three great lakes| As there are many Dakinis and Ksetrapalas, one must refrain from the defilments of pollution and conflict| This is a most auspicious sanctuary where longevity, merits and resources all multiply| Those living in the degenerate age who would practice what I (Padmasambhava) have taught. Go find that sanctuary! (…)´´
And also contained in “The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa´´ concerning Hyolmo:
“ I bow to the noble Lama, whom I encountered due to my accumulated merit. Now I have reached the place of attainment indicated by him. Pleasant stronghold in the forested mountains of Mön. Land of flower-spangled meadows. Forest clearing where the trees dance, where the monkeys play, where all kinds of birdsong is heard, where bees hover, where rainbows shimmer day and night.
 “In such a secluded place, I, the Yogi Milarepa, experience the blissful luminosity of meditation on mind as void.´´
            Such is the blissful land of Yolmo! May all who aspire to visit it have their wishes fulfilled!
Victor, from Brazil.
Written after a pilgrimage on the Yolmo mountains in the 2017 fall semester.

[1] There are many kinds of altitude sickness one could get, in which different medicines can be more appropriate, so do your own research, and don´t take this as a medical advice!
[2] “The Guide to The Hidden Land of The Yolmo Snow Enclosure and its History.´´ By Khenpo Nyima Dondrup, translated by Matthew Akester. Vajra publications.