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Lessons Learned from the Himalayas – Nomads, Monks, & Me!!

The most important life lesson I have learnt so far can be summarised in just 2 words!! And it can really change your life - for the better...

The most important lesson I have learnt so far was whilst I was living with and teaching Tibetan refugees in India at the foot of the Himalayas.

And it can be summarised in JUST 2 WORDS!!

I was working as an English teacher, teaching Tibetan refugees at the foot of the mountains, and my bedroom window looked out over the Himalayan mountains.

Based in Sukkar village, Himachal Pradesh, I was working with the most amazing Tibetan people, men and women, mostly in their twenties, who had risked life and limb, literally, to escape the Chinese government. They had taken their life into their own hands, fleeing their beloved Tibet, in search of freedom and a better life.

They had walked and climbed over the Himalayan mountains, not with sophisticated mountaineering equipment, but with a simple day bag and shoes, and barely enough provisions. Many had been shot at by the Chinese army, or captured and imprisoned.

Only to later be released from prison, and try again, and again…

For some it was their fifth or sixth attempt when they finally made it safely over the mountains into India.

They had taken the same route that the Dalai Lama, their spiritual leader, had once made, who now resides in McCleod Ganj, also in Himachal Pradesh.

The people I met and lived with had made their way and had somehow been lucky enough to find and take refuge in an English School, where they could receive English lessons, have somewhere to sleep, and food to eat.

Previously, they had either lived a nomadic life, living off the land, and rearing yaks with their families, or they had lived in monasteries as Buddhist monks.

Many of the monasteries had been closed, burned down and destroyed by the Chinese army.

And the nomads were also severely targeted by the army, either having their yaks confiscated or taken as fines, and moved off their land, having to leave everything behind, losing all their belongings and with no livelihood remaining.

Living off the land was the only life they had known, with little knowledge of the outside world.

The twenty-somethings had been encouraged by their loved ones and elders to escape in search of a better life…


Mornings began at 5am when our school bell would ring to wake us all up, staff and students alike. Lessons, routine and trips to the village filled the day until dusk, when the village was lost into complete darkness.

The students would take it in turns to cook all the meals for each other, the 25 students and staff. Using just a gas burner, and large urns of water carried from the nearby stream, somehow a veritable feast would be created out of nothing! Dishes and clothes were simply hand-washed in the stream, and showers and baths were also taken in the stream or under the spring.

Although my personal favourite was making the most out of the Monsoon rains and waiting until the afternoon when the heavy rains were due, get my shampoo and soap out at the ready, and just stand outside in the rain, and take my shower there and then!!

Night-time washes and brushing our teeth was also a favourite. A chance to walk to the spring together in pitch black darkness, brush our teeth under the moonlight and stars, and be serenaded by the fireflies…

Pure Magic!!

But the most important lesson I learned from all of this was how happy, content, and at peace the Tibetan students were with everything.

They had left their homes, their families, loved ones, and everything they once knew, to risk their lives trying to escape, and then to live communally in a refugee school.

And yet they were so happy. They never complained, and never looked sad or miserable.

They took great pleasure in the SIMPLE THINGS!!

They were grateful for a warm meal, for clean clothes, for a shower, a bed, an English lesson, a kind word, a friend, a smile, a cup of tea, sitting on a rock watching the sunset, meditating under the morning sun, a shared dormitory with people who had shared and similar experiences, a notebook to write a newly learnt English word in, …

And it wasn’t just the Tibetans who taught me this, but the local Indian villagers of Sukkar village too.

Living in shacks, rearing animals, tending to their rice fields, carrying unbearably large urns on their heads, washing in the stream, and driving donkeys and carts, the Indian villagers seemed to work so hard, live such a simple life, and would endlessy smile and laugh.

Everything they owned was treasured and loved, and usually decorated with bright colours, flashing lights and a horn if applicable, from tractors, to a mirror. And everything they owned was celebrated and revered.

Nothing was taken for granted. Each building, object, artifact or trinket was valued and spotlessy clean – no mean feat in India!!

And so it was…

And it made me realise that here were two completely different communities, one Tibetan and one Indian, living side by side in a small Indian village, and yet with many things in common.

Both had few things to call their own, yet both had a million simple things to share and rejoice in, and both had massive smiles on their faces…


I feel honoured and blessed to have met these remarkable people and to have had these priceless experiences.

Thank you. x

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