Gompas, Stupas, or Momos?

posted in: Mom's Musings | 0

We awoke in Tal to rain and a little snow, shivering down into our mummy bags. Ella’s stomach was improving and Walden seemed to be back to normal, but the cold was really impossible to escape. However, It was one good reason to keep you hiking!


The hike to Chame was cold and cloudy, but the walk through the pine forest in the snow was marvelous. Walden commented in many ways it reminded him of hiking in the Smokies at home.



The snow was perfect for a quick snow fight! Especially following Ella’s playful shaking of the tree limbs right as her brother walked underneath, she was asking for it!



This military entourage was a little frightening, but they were all smiling. Unfortunately, they knew as little as anyone else about whether Thorang La pass was open yet or not. We were still hearing the snow in Manang was up to your waist, and everyone was having to turn back. However, weather forecasts here are laughably different depending on where you check, so we continued forward for now.



As we climbed, we noticed the Tibetan Buddhist culture becoming more prominent. So what is the difference between a gompa, a stupa, or a chorten? What’s a mani? How do prayer flags and prayer wheels work? So here is our quick tutorial as far as we understand, but we found it incredibly difficult to pin down:

  • Prayer flags are printed with prayers or mantras, as well as symbols and often come in sets of five. The colors represent the elements: yellow–earth, green–water, red–fire, white–air, blue–space. While the flags are blown by the wind, they are believed to spread good will, compassion, peace, strength, and wisdom to all.

  • Prayer wheels, or mani wheels, are used to accumulate wisdom and merit and eliminate bad karma. Mantras are written in a clockwise direction on the outer surface of each wheel, clockwise because this is how the sun moves across the sky. Inside the wheels are rolls of prayers and scripture. One is supposed to spin the wheels in a clockwise direction.

This was another type of structure that housed prayer wheels and welcomed you into a village.

  • Stupas were often found in the middle of the village, which serves in a way as a center for worship. Also called chörtens, stupas were originally built to house the cremated relics of the historical Buddha, but now they are a symbol of Buddha and his teachings and sometimes have buried relics. Usually they have five levels representing the four elements and eternal space: the square base symbolizes earth, the dome is water, the spire is fire and the top moon and sun are air and space. However, these delineations are not as clear in the more primitive examples we saw mostly.


  • Gompas – Our next stop in Upper Pisang would have an impressive, newly built gompa, or Tibetan monastery. Usually, they have a contribution box inside to help preserve the gompa. Often inside you will find elaborate, ornate depictions of Buddha. The depictions may be of the historical, future, medicinal, or one of the five Dhyani Buddhas who represent the five perfect qualities of the Buddha (I would tell you what those are, but it is not as simple as it sounds!).




  • Last but not least, mani stones and mani walls. These are usually decorated with the six syllabled mantra of Avalokiteshvara, or “Om mani padme hum,” which is a form of prayer in Tibetan Buddhism. Other mantras may also be inscribed. They are usually located together in a group as an offering to spirits of place. Creating these stones is a devotional process. The mantra of Avalokiteshvara is loosely translated, “Hail to the jewel in the lotus”. You should always pass these walls in the clockwise direction, the same as prayer wheels.



Hope that is clearer for you than it was for us. It continued to rain off and on, so we traveled most of the day in full rain gear. Walden and I had to switch pants since he has grown too much and need more length.


You can not imagine what the Nepalese carry using just a strap across their forehead. We found some interesting studies, but still wonder if they suffer from severe headaches or neck pain. On average, Nepalese porters who work on all of the trails, not just Everest, carry nearly 90 percent of their body weight and a quarter of them carry more than 125 percent. I consider us considerably fit at present, especially after our month in New Zealand, but carrying a pack that weights less than 25% of our body weight starts to get old and painful after a few days.

We long debated using a porter for our trek. The price is minimal considering, and many studies encourage you to utilize one in order to help provide jobs and support the economy. However, Ella and I just couldn’t do it, and Walden and Chris didn’t really need it. The thought of me flitting around with a tiny pack and a walking stick, while a nepalese gentleman about my size hauls that kind of weight, because of me, just hurt us and we couldn’t stomach it. So, we decided to eat all our meals on the trail, spreading our support to teahouses throughout the trek and adding to the experience along the way.


By the time we arrived in Chame, it was snowing and we were pretty cold already! Our little room that night had a few less cracks and, for that reason thank goodness, was a little more protected from the -15 temperatures. We had a good night as we all sat around and talked about the upcoming days on the trek and how to manage the cold. We met a kind couple from Germany, an experienced trekker from Seattle, and young bloke from London, who we would see again and again the rest of the trip and develop friendships. We met several people suffering from GI symptoms and heard about several who had turned back due to illness to our dismay. The kids also observed later than night, “You know Mom, it seems like people everywhere hate their government.” History and politics on the road.

Tonight, we also discovered fried cheese momos. We have had the steamed kind and they are okay, but these were really good. Ella ate for the first time with more than picking at her food and didn’t need to be encouraged to take every bite!

During the night a significant amount of snow fell, and we prayed we would not find our way blocked soon due to weather. The sun peaked out in the morning though, and we were quickly on our way to Upper Pisang.


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