Discovering meaning in the Himalayas

The Himalayas are where the heart is.

Having visited Nepal twenty eight times in the past six years, the Himalayas have become a second home to Klasie Wessels. When it comes to these mountains, his mind and heart are always on the same page. Check out this video to see what keeps him coming back year after year.



Klasie is the founder of Streetschool, an adventure tourism company that helps you discover your unique avenues to meaning, inner strength, dreams and vision through experiential journeys. Moving off the beaten path in Nepal to find life affirming experiences, he shares some of his favourite stories from people who have found meaning here, and the reasons that keep him going back year after year.



The love of a mother

The Himalayas stretches for 4,000 kilometres across central Asia from Pakistan across the borders between Northern India and occupied Tibet to China and Bhutan in the East. Home to Everest, this is where you will find the highest peaks in the world. There are 14 peaks above 8,000 meters in the world, all in the Himalayas and 9 of them in Nepal. This is a fascinating world filled with mystery and wonder.

You will also find Tibetan exiles escaping to freedom. In 1959 China occupied Tibet and since then thousands of Tibetans have escaped to freedom in India. One such story involves a 6-year-old boy. Now at 65, Migyur Dorjee recalls when their escaping group was navigating around Chinese guard posts at night in an attempt to reach safety in India. As a young boy he was restless and making some noise. At one point his father said to his mother “we have to leave the boy behind, he’s making too much noise and we will be caught”. Faced with the choice of staying behind the mother defiantly said, “I’m not leaving without him. If he stays, I stay”.

Migyur still gets tearful when he recalls this story and his love and appreciation for his mother has been with him ever since. These stories of the Himalayas capture what is true and meaningful about life. It shows us a human truth and reminds us of what it takes to be happy.



Discovering meaning after cancer

An icy wild sweeps of the 8,000-meter high Himalayans Mountains into the valley below where a South African woman is struggling up a steep pass. At an altitude of 4,200 meters she has less than half the oxygen available than at sea level. Despite severe headaches and nausea she is set on reaching Everest Base Camp to fulfil her dream of showing other woman what is possible despite having had cancer. But Ntokozo is struggling with another issue. As an employee of the Breast Health Foundation she suffers from “survivors guilt” plagued by questions of why she survived cancer while so many others have died.

On the 6th day of the 12-day trek we reached a particularly difficult section called Thukla Pass that at 4,400 meters is higher than any point in Southern Africa. She was unable to continue and a helicopter evacuation had to be arranged. The challenge was to turn this potential disappointment into a triumphant moment. She slogged and struggled for 6 days, defiantly taking each day despite the headaches, nausea and fatigue. Now she has to face failure.

But Ntokozo realised that the disappointment of not reaching the major goal, was paradoxically likened to cancer survivors dying “not making it”. She identified herself with those survivors who passed away and in a paradoxical twist said: “now I know what it’s like to not make it, now I can stand up and represent all those survivors who died”. With this amazing turnaround, Ntokozo manifested a new outlook of her in life and got a renewed sense of power freed from the guilt to continue with her work back in SA.



A corporate lawyer gives up Starbucks Frappe chinos for the hills of northern India

At 45 years, Lobsang Sangay was the first Tibetan to get a PhD at Law from Harvard. With a successful teaching career and thriving private practice, he was living the dream. Tibetans are in exile, mostly in India, after China occupied their country in 1959. As a farm boy he managed to get a scholarship to study in the USA and was now successful in all respects.

Based in the hilltop village of Dharamsala at the foothills of the Indian Himalayan mountains the Dalai Lama who himself escaped to safety in 1959, decided to appoint an exile government to deal with political negotiations for freedom. Lobsang decided to put up his hand and was elected as the first Prime Minister of the Tibetan Exile government in 2010. He had to move back to India and as he put it, “I gave up Starbucks frappe chinos for Dharamsala”. Earning a salary of USD650 he was not doing it for the money! His is a cause for what is right.

A year or so later a group of South African students visiting Dharamsala met with Dr Sangay. Extremely knowledgeable of the South African political situation, he looked at South Africa as the one country that will understand their plight, and who will be able to help.

One of the students asked if he had to sacrifice a lot by moving from Boston to Dharamsala, a very different world from the sophisticated USA. And with a simple statement, like a silver bullet to the heart, he said, “I’m not making a sacrifice, I’m making a contribution”. With this attitude he demonstrated the way to deal with difficult challenges in life. An attitudinal shift enables us to achieve the most amazing things.



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