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Review: An insider's guide to Helambu

September 19, 2010

Review of the English translation of Khenpo Nyima
Dondrup's guide to Yolmo (Helambu)
Mark Turin
The Nepal Times
FROM ISSUE #520 (17 Sept 2010 - 23 Sept 2010)

"Khenpo Nyima Dondrup's guide to Yolmo (Helambu)"

Centuries before weighty tomes such as the Lonely
Planet and the Rough Guide became essential
packing for Western visitors to Nepal, Lamas and
other literate figures in greater Tibet were busy
compiling their own religious and cultural
guidebooks about the far reaches of their territory.

The genre of scholarly production that can be
called 'Tibetan guidebook literature' ranges in
quality and interest, but all these travel texts
invariably include lists of auspicious and
powerful holy places to visit and meditate at
while en route. In addition, the more absorbing
handbooks include ethnological observations on
local cultural traditions and the communities who
practice them. One particularly noted example is
the Guidebook to Lapchi (extensively studied by
anthropologist and Tibetologist Tony Huber),
which, according to its colophon, was compiled by a Buddhist monk in 1901.

Guide to the Hidden Land of the Yolmo Snow
Enclosure and its History, a 28-page religious
travel companion by Khenpo Nyima Dondrup,
translated into Nepali by Punya Prasad Parajuli
and Padam Singh Gale, and into English by Matthew
Akester, is an edited and annotated compilation
of a number of Tibetan-language guides to Yolmo
(also known as Helambu in Nepali). Although
somewhat marred by a shortage of contextual
information about the documents that it surveys,
the booklet includes a black and white pilgrimage
map to the region and 39 colour plates
illustrating notable sites, sections on the two
major Tibetan Buddhist religious traditions found
in the area (Nyingma and Kagyu), a synopsis of
the existing guidebooks on the region, a
discussion of the Yangdak Chok meditation cave
and a list of 33 locally-important religious sites.

Although certainly portable and reasonably priced
at Nrs 300, it is not immediately clear for whom
this pocketbook was written, other than the
well-networked community of English speaking
Western Buddhists. Of course, not all books need
to be written for a specific readership, but the
present Guide seems to fall between categories.
However, kudos goes to Vajra Publications for
continuing to translate, publish and disseminate
such material to a wider public.

Guide to the Hidden Land of the Yolmo Snow Enclosure and its History
by Khenpo Nyima Dondrup
Vajra Publications 2010
ISBN: 978-9937-506-465, 28 pp, colour plates, monochrome map

Mark Turin directs the Digital Himalaya and World
Oral Literature Projects at the University of Cambridge.
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