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Lawudo Lama

Personal Experiences

Getting There

The Keeper of Lawudo – Ani Ngawang Samten

Altitude Sickness


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It was to Lawudo that Lama Kunzang Yeshe (1865-1946), later to be known as the Lawudo Lama, at the age of 51, came to meditate in a cave that he dug out himself from beneath a large rock. He was a married Lama, a Nyingma yogi and until his death he remained at the Lawudo cave meditating day and night without the need for sleep. This great holy Lama who always appeared as an extremely humble, simple Dharma practitioner was widely respected and revered and had many disciples among the Sherpa people of that area.

At the age of 81 the Lawudo Lama Kunzang Yeshe passed away  - “After four days had elapsed, in the first watch of the morning, Kunzang Yeshe arose from his absorption into the space-like concentration. Having purified even the subtlest defilement of his mind and energies he attainted the exhaustion of phenomena into the ultimate nature of the forth and last stage of the Togal training. The ultimate reality of his intrinsic awareness based upon the physical body became unified with the natural, absolute expanse of reality just as the space inside a vase merges with the surrounding space when the vase breaks. Kunzan Yeshe’s mind entered into the space-like primordial ground indivisible from the mind of the Primordial Buddha Kuntuzangpo (Samamtabhadra). As a sign of his enlightenment the sound of emptiness was heard along with many other auspicious signs.”

A few years later in a small village called Thangme just below the Lawudo cave a four year old boy who had continually tried to climb the path to Lawudo and insisted he was the Lawudo Lama was officially recognized as the reincarnation of Lama Kunzang Yeshe. Today, he is known as Kyabje Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche, a great Dharma teacher and guide to thousands of disciple’s world wide and whose whole life is devoted to serving the Dharma and living beings.

In April 1969 Lama Zopa Rinpoche returned to Lawudo. Rinpoche was 24 years old and it was the first time he had been back to Lawudo, since he had left as a monk at the age of six to study in the monasteries of Tibet. It was at this time that, in Rinpoche’s words,

Lawudo Cave

“…. the villagers who had young sons and had been disciples or benefactors of the previous Lawudo Lama requested me to build a small gompa at Lawudo where eight or ten boys could receive a good education, I accepted their request….”

The Kari Rinpoche who himself had built a new Gompa just below Lawudo and for whom Lama Zopa Rinpoche had great respect gave Rinpoche the following advice,

“You should not have a narrow mind and build a small monastery because of the expenses involved. You should have a very wide strong mind and build it as large as possible. It will be very beneficial for the Dharma”.

So began the task of building Lawudo Gompa. In those days as today the cost of building materials in this area was very high. Most of the materials cost three times what they did in Kathmandu due to them having to be transported long distances over very difficult terrain mostly on the backs of porters. The Gompa was completed towards the end of 1972 and by that time there was a growing community of young monks studying there. However as Rinpoche explained….
  “….in October 1974 the monks returned to Kopan and never went back to the mountains. The conditions at Lawudo had always been difficult for the young monks…besides the number of monks had increased and so from 1974 onwards Lawudo returned to what it had been in previous times: a hermitage”.

Lawudo gompa

From 1970 Lawudo was maintained and cared for by Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s mother ( Amala) and sister (Anila Ngawang Samten) however in 1991 Rinpoches mother passed away and since then Anila Ngawang Samten together with the monk Ven.Tsultrim Norbu have cared for Lawudo and the people who visit there.

Information and quotes were taken from the excellent book “The Lawudo Lama’ by Ven. Jamyang Wongmo” and are used here with permission.

Lawudo Lama
The previous incarnation of Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche

Here is a short life story of the Lawudo Lama Kunzang Yeshe, whose present incarnation is the holy and venerable Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche. The text is based on a biography called "Garland of Devotion" written by Lawudo Lama's attendant Nyowang Chopel at the request of Lama Thubten Yeshe.

The Khumbu valley is about 10 days walk north east of Kathmandu, and it's main village is Namche Bazaar. The country is divided into two main valleys. Lawudo is situated in the Thami valley, which runs north west towards Tibet, and was the home of Lama Kunzang Yeshe, also known as the Lawudo Lama. He was a ngagpa Lama, a layman, having a wife, a son and a daughter. His son was also married, but his daughter Karzang became a nun and took care of him.

The Lawudo Lama had taken many initiations and teachings from the great Lamas of the region. In order to look after his family he would travel on foot to Tibet as many as thirteen times per year to buy provisions which he would trade for food in Karikola village to the south of Namche. The Lawudo Lama had many obstacles to his Dharma practice, but he would always say that these were a help in accomplishing that practice

Solo Kombu
In Khumbu there are three old monasteries. One of them, situated above Thami is called Dechen Khorlo, and it was below this monastery that Lawudo Lama decided to build his retreat house after returning from a pilgrimage to Bodhgaya. He put together all the necessary provisions and wished to stay in that place for many years in order to follow the advice given to him by his precious Lamas, and to perform the different retreats. After completing the dwelling, however, he looked up to the mountain and saw a large rock that the locals called Horse Body. "If there is a landslide, this rock will fall and hit my retreat house" he thought, so he went up the hill and built a wall to stabilize the rock. As soon as this was finished, however, he became very sick due to the powerful spirit landlord who dwelt in that place, and decided it was better to move elsewhere.

Nearby, on the other side of the river, there was a greatly blessed place of holy beings called the Magnificent Cave of Attainments, which was a stomach-shaped cave known to the local people as Lawudo. The Lawudo Lama went to this place and dug out the earth to find a beautifully shaped cave with various auspicious signs. Therefore he declared that it was a self-created cave given to him by Padmasambhava himself. Such a cave was mentioned in a very secret terma (text) of Padmasambhava. Leaving his wife and family in his old home near Thami, he then moved to the Lawudo cave.

There, the residues of his previous illness returned very strongly. He couldn't move his body or articulate speech and for six months he needed the help of his daughter Karzang to go outside. Eventually, the main sickness was pacified, although he could not walk without experiencing great pain in his feet. Thus he was to spend thirteen years on one seat, without going anywhere, meditating day and night with great energy. He also gave transmissions, commentaries and long-life initiations to his disciples from Khumbu. The Lawudo Lama believed it was his protector that had made him sick so that he had the opportunity to do many Dharma practices.

lawudo lama

On the twelfth day of the first month of the Wood-Bird year (March 1945), the Lawudo Lama commented to his attendant Ngowang Chopel that he may have caught a cold. That day there was a landslide and the nearby water spring dried up, along with the tree of the local protector deity.

On the thirteenth day at midnight, Nyowang Chopel heard the sound of many girls crying in front of the Lama's cave. He thought the Lama was scolding his daughter and went to see, but there was no-one there and everything was very quiet. Thus the Buddhist deities of the 'white direction' were showing various signs of sorrow.

On the fourteenth day, the Lama's daughter summoned Nyowang Chopel and he saw that although the Lama was not ill, he was showing the aspect of being tired and would not eat the food offered by his daughter. When offered the food by Nyowang Chopel, however the Lawudo Lama said "I do not need any food, but for the sake of your livelihood to be successful, I shall eat", and he took a bowl of meat soup from the attendant.

Then, asking the date, the Lawudo Lama told Nyowang Chopel, "Good, Jetsun Mila went to the pureland of the Dakinis on the fourteenth, now go out and look at the sky". Nyowang did so and reported that the sky was clear. "And the moon?", asked the Lama. "There is a rainbow around the moon" replied Nyowang Chopel. "Can you hear a sound 'uhr-uhr' like an earthquake?" and Nyowang Chopel listened and reported that he could hear such a sound.

Lawudo Lama then instructed his attendant Nyowang Chopel to close the door of the cave and not let anybody in, not even his own daughter. Getting up suddenly he sat alternately in the three postures of the three Kayas and said many heartfelt prayers. He then said "Our teacher, Shakyamuni, when adopting this posture passed into the sorrowless state" and he lay down in the lion's posture, recited the syllable 'Ah' three times and passed away.

On the fifth day after his passing, a cremation house was built. The sun was shining brightly at the time of offering his holy body to fire, but some snowflakes in the shape of flowers fell. From the southwest, came a white cloud above the mountain tops, and gradually various clouds of rainbow colours gathered there. The sound of thousands of different musics were heard by all present, causing great amazement in their minds and they made prostrations and shed many tears.

Before his death, the ignorant people of Khumbu did not recognize Lawudo Lama as a realized being. He never went to perform rituals in people's homes, but always stayed in his cave meditating. He wore no external signs of a Dharma practitioner, but always wore an old white animal skin coat, long hair and big, round earrings. He used to be always on his seat, and if visitors should come by, he would open his hands in a warm giving attitude and invite them in. He could not write or speak well, but spent all his time meditating. Sometimes people laughed at him, saying "what kind of Lama are you?"

lama zopa rinpoche
Thus the ignorant people had doubts, but after his death, when they saw and heard the signs with their own eyes and ears, their minds changed and Lawudo Lama became a great object of devotion.

Personal Experiences

Return to Lawudo By Fiona O’Shaughnessy

I first went to Lawudo two years ago, in December 2004, to do a three week retreat. The silence, breathtaking beauty of the place itself, and the favourable environment led me back there again to do retreat in December 2006.

Lawudo is not the birthplace of Lama Zopa Rinpoche but the place where he spent the last 20 years of his previous life in intense retreat. When he was born in Thame, about one hour’s walk from Lawudo, he was quickly recognised as the reincarnation of the Lawudo Lama. However, the family of the previous Lawudo Lama did not recognise him until almost thirty years later. They donated the farm and all the Lawudo Lama’s belongings to Lama Zopa Rinpoche. This is when his mother and his sister, Ani Ngawang Samten, moved there to live. There were joined by a local Sherpa monk, Ven Tsultrim Norbu, about 25 years ago. Fiona

Lawudo the hermitage

Lawudo is not an easy place to get to; from Kathmandu one gets a small plane to Lukla, which is the small airport carved into the mountain in the Everest region of Solu Khumbu.

Then, one has to walk for three days up rather steep mountains. There are no other homes on that part of the mountain apart from the gompa. There is a hamlet called Mende at the foot of Lawudo, where there is a new lodge built exclusively for wealthy trekkers. It takes a fit person an hour to climb from Mende to the gompa. There are no shops nearby so if you run out of rice or flour, you have to walk to Namche Bazaar – a three hour trek! airport
This is great if you are on retreat and don’t want any distractions but it makes for a tough living environment. Lawudo frequently gets snowed in in wintertime; I experienced what I thought was a heavy snow storm when I was there. Apparently it was a “light shower.” Sherpas are hardy people and they are used to the harsh conditions but no matter how hardy one is, the body eventually gets old and decrepit and one can no longer perform all the tasks one used to do with ease.

The history of Lawudo and its lamas pervades the place. The Lawudo Lama’s relics stupa is kept in the cave. The purkhang (cremation stupa) is a ten minute walk from the cave. Inside the cave itself there is a whole collection of items belonging to the Lawudo Lama and Lama Zopa Rinpoche including a statue of Guru Rinpoche Padmasambvha, and a statue of the Lawudo Lama himself. One gets a great sense of the compassionate bodhisattva at work, returning life after lifetime to help living beings escape their suffering.

mountains and sky
In this life, Rinpoche did several retreats in the cave and he often refers to his time there as a very special experience. His book, The Door To Satisfaction, was conceptualised while he was in Lawudo to oversee the building of the gompa. His plan was to build a monastery where Sherpa boys could get a traditional monastic education. However, this plan changed when it became clear that it was untenable to ferry large groups of young monks between Kopan and Lawudo. So now it is simply a hermitage for those who want to live in isolation but enjoy the great care offered by Rinpoche’s family.
Lawudo is not just a beautiful place surrounded by stunning scenery. It is the place where our guru achieved states of consciousness we cannot comprehend. The place is steeped in history and Sherpa culture. Most importantly though, is the atmosphere in Lawudo; it feels as if it steeped in blessings. Sitting in the cave and just being in the moment, without reciting, without prostrating, doing nothing but just being in the presence, this is my abiding memory of Lawudo. Lawudo Nepal Mountains Sunset

Getting There

Lawudo (altitude circa 4,000 meters/13,000 feet) is situated in the highest area of Solu Khumbu, the northeastern region of Nepal bordering Upper Tsang in Southern Tibet.

There are two ways of getting to Lawudo.

1. The quickest and relatively easier way is to fly from Kathmandu to Lukla and then walk for 2-3 days from Lukla (2,800 m.-9,100 ft.) to Namche Bazaar (3,440 meters/11,180 feet). It is strongly recommended to have a rest day in Namche Bazaar for high-altitude acclimatization, especially for those living at sea level. During the rest day you can visit various some interesting places like Hotel Mt. Everest View, Khumjung, etc. It is recommended for the acclimatization process to walk higher up and sleep lower.

Lawudo is a further 3-5 hours walk up a very steep path from Namche Bazaar.

2. Vehicle transportation from Kathmandu to near Lukla and then walk to Namche Bazaar.

If you have time and like to walk: first travel by bus from Kathmandu to Jiri, which takes around 10 hours. Jiri has long been the traditional starting point for the approach trek to the Solu Khumbu region. The trek from Jiri to Namche Bazaar takes 9 days and is a great way to see some of Nepal's spectacular countryside.


Whether you decide to start your walk from Jiri or from Lukla you will find plenty of teahouses and lodges offering overnight accommodation on the trail. As Lawudo is situated in the Sagarmatha (Everest) National Park area you will have to pay an entrance fee in Lukla of NRS 5,000.

Namche Bazaar is the main administrative center in the Solu Khumbu region and has shops, restaurants, bakeries and hotels with hot showers and ATMs. All the treks to Everest base camp from the Nepali side leave from Namche Bazaar. However, prices are much higher than in Kathmandu!

It is strongly recommended that you use a porter to carry your backpack unless you are very fit and used to walking in high altitude terrain. In any case you will need to hire a porter/guide in Namche Bazaar to show you the way to Lawudo.


Lawudo Gompa Lama Zopa Rinpoche Retreat Cave Nepal Mountain

The Keeper of Lawudo – Ani Ngawang Samten

Before starting her retreat in Lawudo in 2004 Fiona O’Shaughnessy an FPMT student living in Singapore at the time interviewed Ani Ngawang Samten for the Singapore Centers newsletter, the interview is reproduced here with her permission.

Before getting right into my retreat, I had the good fortune to spend some time with Rinpoche’s sister, Ani Ngawang Samten. It is uncanny speaking with Anila; she has the same hearty laugh as her brother, some of the same facial expressions, and of course her pronunciation is similar but they are totally different in other ways Anila was born in Thame, Solu Khumbu – the Everest region of Nepal. One of six children, Anila and her two brothers survived, the other three children passed away when they were very young. Her two younger brothers are Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Sangye. Anila is a renowned cook so I was most fortunate to have her cook for me the first week, until she joined Rinpoche in Sarnath. She told me her story, which I taped and transcribed. It’s a story told simply without self-pity or regret though it sounds like a lot of hardship. Anila

Life was hard when we were young. My father died before my mother even gave birth to Sangye. Rinpoche was only 2 or 3 at the time and he says he can’t remember our father. We were very poor so my mother worked as a porter carrying things for other people and as a farm hand. I started to work when I was 10 years old also as a porter. I could carry up to 40 or 50Kg and get paid for it. I didn’t get an education. I still can’t read or write. I can’t read the Dharma.

When I was 27 years old I got very sick. The previous Charok Lama did a divination for me and he told me that if I became a nun I would have a longer life; if not, I would die young. So, I got ordained by Trulshig Rinpoche. When Lama Zopa came back to Nepal and Lawudo was returned to him by the family of the previous Lawudo Lama, Amala (mother) and I moved there to take care of the farm. We got cows because Amala wanted them. We still have three of these cows from Amala’s time as well as the newer ones. That must mean these cows are 25 years old!

We use the cows for milk, butter and yoghurt. In wintertime there is not very much yield from the cows. Before, we had 12 to 13 cows and their calves. Now we are down to six of them. Some were killed by snow leopards some time back. The old cows need a lot of taking care of but there is little return in milk! But we have to take care of them. Other Sherpas send their cows to be killed when they are old but we are a gompa and we never harm living beings.

We also have to take care of six gardens; these were donated to Rinpoche and the gompa by Sherpas in Mende (nearby hamlet). They involve a lot of work - digging, planting, spreading cow dung, harvesting. This year the harvest was no good because heavy rain earlier in the year destroyed the potato crop. The cost of paying farm hands to help plant and dig and the cost of buying potatoes are almost the same, depending on how much yield there is.

We also need to buy flour, rice, beans, tsampa, salt etc. Porters are unwilling to climb up Lawudo mountain with heavy loads so my cousins in Thame (nearby village) watch out for the arrival of the Tibetan traders. These people bring yak trains over and back from Solu Khumbu to Tibet. My cousins send them to Lawudo because the yaks can climb the mountain with the heavy loads. Otherwise, Sundar, our porter and farm helper, goes to Namche Bazaar (market town) every Saturday to the market and carries the load back on his back.


Ven Tsultrim Norbu is the other Sangha member who lives here at Lawudo. He takes care of the gompa and pujas. I take care of the kitchen, Rinpoche’s cave and the farm work. Sundar helps out but he can’t manage much because he has low intelligence. Tsultrim Norbu used to help out with the farm but these days he says he can’t run very much either.

I will be 67 the next Saka Dawa (Tibetan New Year) and Tsultrim Norbu is 60. My mind is willing but my body is less and less able to run around the mountain after cows. I want to take care of the place as best I can like I’ve always done but I just can’t do as much as I used to.

We get Ani Lobsang Drolma from Khari Gompa (nearby nunnery) to come and help out sometimes. For example when we organise the eight sets of Nyung Nay every year, she stays here and she is a wonderful help. She is a great cook and she cooks for Khari Rinpoche, the head of Khari Gompa. When Khari Rinpoche is away in Kathmandu, she can come and help out here. Of course we pay her a small salary for this, 200Rupees a day.

I go to Kopan almost every year. I walk down to Lukla airport; before it used to take me just a day, now it takes me two days! I usually get to see Rinpoche in Kopan and sometimes I go on pilgrimage or attend His Holiness’ teachings. This year I’m going to Sarnath.

Ani Ngawang Samten
I worry about what will become of Lawudo. Lama Zopa hasn’t been here since 1999 and he is always so busy. I worry about what will happen when I get too old to take care of the farm and the cave. I know it’s difficult to live here in Lawudo but it’s been my home for so long.

Altitude Sickness

  • Has been reported as low as 6000ft/1800m; Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is more common and more severe at elevations greater than 10,000ft/3000m
  • Acclimatization is the process by which your body adjusts to higher altitudes
  • How? By increasing rate/depth of breathing; increasing heart rate; a slow increase of red blood cells to carry oxygen
  • How you adapt to altitude is not related to how fit you are; it seems to be more related to how well your breathingadapts to a higher elevation
  • AMS develops as a result of failure to adapt to higher altitude
  • How? Fluid accumulates in between the cells of the brain and/or lungs
  • Symptoms can be mild or severe

Mild Symptoms of AMS
· Headache
· Loss of appetite
· Nausea
· Lethargy
· Lack of sleep
· Dizziness
· Swelling of hands, feet, & face


What to do?
· This is a warning that your body has reached it’s limit & needs more time to acclimate
· Do not climb/trek higher; most importantly, do not sleep at a higher altitude
· Symptoms should clear in 24/48 hrs; if not, or you are getting worse at that altitude, DESCEND at least to the last altitude that you felt well
· When you feel well again, you can continue higher
·  Ibuprofen (Motrin/Advil). Aspirin or  Tylenol/Paracetamol can be taken for headache

Severe symptoms of AMS
· Early symptoms can progress to severe symptoms
· Fluid filling the lungs is known as HIGH ALTITUDE PULMONARY OEDEMA or HAPE
· Fluid found in the brain is known as HIGH ALTITUDE CEREBRAL OEDEMA or HACE
· HAPE symptoms include: breathlessness with exertion, then with rest
· Cough, at first dry, then “wet” with pink, frothy sputum
· Chest tightness
· Extreme fatigue
· HACE symptoms include: headache, usually severe
· Decreased appetite
· Nausea/vomiting
· Mental confusion
· Difficulty with balance/ coordination; can’t walk in a straight line
· HAPE & HACE can occur separately or together

What to do?
· DESCEND IMMEDIATELY! These are life-threatening emergencies; descent must not be delayed for therapy or because it is in the middle of the night. Get help in the form of porters or animals.
· Do not leave someone with Acute Mountain Sickness  alone or send them down the trail to descend by themselves. They must be accompanied by a healthy person.

· Recognize the early symptoms of AMS; if you feel ill at altitude & not sure why, assume it is AMS & act accordingly
· Plan a sensible itinerary; have extra days built into your schedule to allow for flexibility
· Do not trek more than 1000ft/300m a day in elevations greater than 10,000ft/3000m
· Trek high; sleep low. You can go higher than 1000ft/300m per day; however, go back down to sleep
· If symptoms of AMS develop, rest at least 1-2 days; if not better or getting worse, descend
· Stay hydrated & drink enough so that your urine is straw colored
· High carbohydrate diet may help
· Diamox (acetazolamide) can be used to prevent and/or treat mild/moderate symptoms of AMS


For further detailed information on altitude sickness and acute mountain sickness please see the websites listed below:


In general Nepal has a typical monsoonal, two season year. There’s a dry season from October to May and there’s the wet season (monsoon) form June to September.

The trekking season, April-May and October-November are probably the best times to visit Lawudo or do retreat there. The summer, June, July and August is also a good time for retreat in Lawudo but it is mostly monsoon and getting flights to Lukla from Kathmandu can be difficult due to the thick monsoonal clouds in Lukla, however the clouds do eventually clear and flights resume, delays are never more then a couple of days.

Lawudo Retreat Center is an FPMT Center. For more details visit the FPMT web site

The Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition is an international, non-profit organization, founded in 1975 by Lama Thubten Yeshe (1935-84), a Tibetan Buddhist monk. The Foundation is devoted to the transmission of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition and values worldwide through teaching, meditation, and community service. We provide integrated education through which people's minds and hearts can be transformed into their highest potential for the benefit of others, inspired by an attitude of universal responsibility. We are committed to creating harmonious environments and helping all beings develop their full potential of infinite wisdom and compassion. Our organization is based on the Buddhist tradition of Lama Tsong Khapa of Tibet as taught to us by our founder Lama Thubten Yeshe and spiritual director Lama Zopa Rinpoche.

Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition FPMT