Gen Dawa told me to go to Aloobari village outside of Darjeeling, if I want to learn about Hyolmo people in order to understand the text I acquired a few days before. It was 2005, and Gen Dawa was my teacher at the Manjushree Institute in Darjeeling, India where I studied colloquial Tibetan. I was fascinated with Tibetan stories of „people, who returned from hell” (‘das log), and wanted to translate one of them (‘Das log Lha mo lham bcung). The main character of this story lived in Nepal near the Tibetan border in Helambu. A small group from this area moved to the Darjeeling in the 1910s and built their own temple village called Aloobari. I was eager to go there and learn about the text and the people of Hyolmo.
I was introduced to Nyima Chogyal, a retired principal and fervent supporter of the preservation of Hyolmo culture living in Aloobari, Darjeeling. He was so enthusiastic to share his knowledge with me, that I started spending my Saturdays in his Aloobari home, listening to his stories of a faraway homeland he has never been to. He was one of the last people in the village who could still speak the Hyolmo language. Everyone spoke Hindi and Nepali instead. A few months later the Darjeeling Carnival was approaching, where the local ethnic groups were about to present the best of their cultural heritage, and Nyima Chogyal was worried what songs they should perform, and if there will be anyone to remember all the lyrics. As I had to go to Kathmandu for a few days, he asked me to go up to Hyolmo and record some songs for his people.
And what started off as an eight-day trek in Helambu to collect songs and film sacred places for my Aloobari friends, turned into a long-term passion and interest. Accompanied by Sangye Lama of Bremang, an excellent Yolmo trekking guide, I visited the Milarepa cave, Melamchighyang, Tarkeghyang, Gotsangling, Gangyul and Sermathang first time in the summer of 2006. The local lamas were kindly sharing their knowledge with me, and some even lent me texts on Yolmo history to photocopy. In spite of the difficult conditions caused by the monsoon and numberless leeches crawling on my legs, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of Hyolmo and the generosity of its people.
In 2010 I returned to Yolmo for one month to work as a volunteer teacher at the Gangkharkha school, and stayed with a family in the village. It was a great chance to experience the hardships and joys of everyday life and learn about Buddhist and shamanic practices as well.
In 2011 I applied for a PhD course at the University of Vienna, and became a member of the Doctoral College for Cultural Transfers and Cross-contacts on the Himalayan Borderlands. It was great to work in an academic setting, study about methodology, and do extended fieldwork a few times in Hyolmo. I was interested in every single element of Hyolmo culture, and collected a lot of material about history, religious practice, mountain cult, clans, songs and dances. It took a while for my dissertation to take shape, but in its final form it is concerned with sacred geography, Tibetan texts on the Beyül, the hidden land (sBas yul Yol mo gangs ra) and the history of Buddhist lineages of Hyolmo. I made many friends on the way, received teachings from generous lamas, and realized how much more there is to learn.
In 2015 I was working as a Khyentse Fellow at ELTE university in Budapest, Hungary, heading the Buddhist Research Centre, when the earthquake hit Nepal. I rushed to Hyolmo to find out how I could help. It was devastating to see and hear what happened. After a lot of thinking and discussion with friends the best contribution from my side seemed to be to set up a website where we can share our memories and knowledge. In 2016 Dorje Wangchuck and Mingur Lama joined me and made some wonderful interviews with various members of the Hyolmo community in a framework we named Hyolmo Heritage Project. Sixteen of these interviews conducted in Hyolmo language are already uploaded on the website along with their English translation. In 2017 Lama Sherab Tharchen made some interviews with lamas about the Buddhist history and practice, and Chatral Rinpoche’s activities in Hyolmo, and soon they will be also available here.
If you have any story, photo, video, music made in or about Hyolmo you want to share, don’t hesitate to contact us (firstname.lastname@example.org), and we will add it to the website. Thank you!
Lama Sherab Tharchen
Life is not only happiness, suffering is also part of life. Well, there is a story I really like, and want to share with you. Once there were two ladies, one was called Black Nose, and the other’s name was Lucky. Where ever Black Nose went, always something bad happened. Where ever Lucky visited, always good luck followed. People always wanted Lucky to come, but nobody wanted Black Nose. However, these two ladies were good friends, they would never part from each other, they were like two sides of a coin. I you want to have Lucky, Black Nose will also come along. Welcome them both!