MINGMA TENZIN SHERPA
I first met Mingma Tenzin in 2010. My arrival in Nepal had been delayed for three weeks due to a death in my immediate family. Because of that, my planned treks to the north side of Everest and the Tibet side of Cholomunga were now impossible. There were just two short weeks left to salvage some time in the Himalayas. Dan Mazur, my climbing mentor, suggested I make a “reconnaissance” trek into the Khumbu valley to explore the possibility of forming a non-profit to restore the Deboche nunnery. He said he knew just the person to guide our trek…and arranged for Mingma Tenzin Sherpa to join me for dinner.
I was immediately taken with Mingma, who seemed to know absolutely everyone in the Khumbu. Born in the Sherpa capital of Namache, he had made a name for himself while still a student by achieving the highest-ever score on his scholastic exams. After graduating from the university in Kathmandu he returned to the Everest region to design and implement a new water system for the village of Thame. From there he went on to work in a research and engineering capacity in Luboche. He also began to lead treks, often accompanied by his wife Yangji, who is also very accomplished.
Minga is now considered to be one of the leading trekking guides in the Khumbu. He is always concerned with keeping his clients safe and making sure that they experience the true essence of this enchanting mountain kingdom. His treks are full of exciting adventures, physically demanding challenges, and unique cultural experiences… all capped off by his endearing charisma and never-ending humor. Mingma is so well thought of by clients that in the off season he often finds himself a guest leader in faraway mountain ranges in South America, Europe, Africa and the US.
The morning after our first dinner together, we found ourselves winging our way into the mountains, embarking on what friends and I now refer to as the “300 cups of Tea and Mushroom Soup Karma” trek. As we walked from village to village interviewing residents and their leaders, we were greeting at every meeting with cups of tea, which custom demanded we accept. We came to understand just how much the nunnery at Deboche is revered, not just by the nuns residing there, but by villagers and village leaders and high llamas in both secular and religious realms. Many community members had at sometime or other had someone living and practicing at Deboche and many of the families had donated money, supplies and even houses to the nuns. As we talked with everyone from village presidents and ward leaders to the Abbot of Tengboche who resides over the Deboche Convent, I came to understand that Deboche is believed to be a center of Tibetan/Sherpa cultural preservation and Buddhist tradition. As Lama Geshi the head llama of Panboche stated in an interview, “Dharma seeds can come to fruition anywhere, but this area is closest to the true Tibetan Dharma and must be preserved….work at Deboche is most important!”
While Mingma and I journeyed we began to formulate plans to help with the restoration of the Deboche convent—many of the buildings were in desperate need of repairs—and to develop a core community to help us succeed in achieving a better world for these incredible women, who are so deeply dedicated to their historic convent. And so it was while walking those many miles in the shadow of Everest that the foundation for the Deboche Project was formed and the groundwork laid to begin the challenge of financing such a demanding project. Without Mingma’s wonderful demeanor and his ability to gain access to every leader, both secular and within the strict Buddhist monastic realm, we would never been able to start this quest.
But Mingma is much more then just a knowledgeable translator, infamous trekking leader and goodwill ambassador. A devout Buddhist, he has dedicated himself to seeing the Deboche nunnery become a foundation to preserve the heritage of the Tibetan/Sherpa culture and its Buddhist traditions. He was a natural for the role of Deboche’s Project Coordinator and has taken on the monumental task of coordinating the engineering and architectural design aspects of the new construction, as well as procuring materials and making sure that they get to the site in time to start construction this spring. Mingma Tenzin embodies the true essence of what the Deboche Project represents.
Oh, and what of Mushroom Soup Karma? Mingma and I had searched throughout the Khumbu for the woman who ran the medical outpost at Deboche, who was reputed to be a great supporter of the convent and a potential key player in its restoration. Finally giving up on our search, hungry and exhausted, we stumbled into a tiny tea house craving a cup of warming soup. There she was, Ani Kanchi, resplendent in Sherpa costume and a bowler hat crowned with feathers… consuming a steaming bowl of mushroom soup!