Windhorse Warrior: Why a Chinese Protagonist?

My novel, Windhorse Warrior, is about the Chinese Communist invasion and occupation of Tibet during the 1950s.

Lithang Monastery in 2005

QWhy did you write this story about the Chinese occupation of Tibet from the point of view of a Chinese communist?

A. I’m not Tibetan; I’m an outsider to their culture and society. It would be too presumptuous to write this story as if I were one of them. Actually, I began writing it in the third person focusing on one of the Tibetan characters but it was a Tibetan who suggested I write it from the point of view of the Chinese communist in the story. I was able to represent his point of view because of my experience as a teacher in Hong Kong for many years and my experience visiting Tibet several times as a tourist, an outsider. I taught high school age students at one of Hong Kong’s best private school with similar privileges and entitlements as Chuang Wei Ming, my protagonist in the Shanghai of the 1940s. The school had a week-long Interim travel program every March. Between 2004 and 2008 I took groups of students to the part of Sichuan, China on the Eastern Tibetan Plateau, the region Tibetans call Kham.

Chuang grows up as a privileged son of a capitalist banker in Shanghai. At the end of World War II, after the Japanese leave, he goes to university to study medicine. He meets a vivacious, intelligent young woman who turns his head in several directions. She’s anti-capitalist and leads a student cadre of young communist sympathizers. He resists becoming involved himself until she is martyred in a protest march against the Nationalist Government. Because he has been associated with her, her friends who regard her as a hero, befriend him and help him through his loss. Gradually Chuang understands what the communist movement is all about and joins. By the time Shanghai is taken over, he has split from his family and sadly sees them off as they sail away to Hong Kong.

At a communist rally on campus Chuang volunteers to take the Revolution to the people of Tibet who, he believes, live in an oppressive feudalistic system. He idealistically believes he can take the message for revolution to them and the people will rise up against their corrupt overlords and join the brotherhood of communist nations.

Chuang’s experience, once he gets there, is quite different. He is blown away by the beauty and spiritual power of the landscape, as I have been every time I go there. And like myself, Chaung had prior introductions to the people and their spiritual heritage. Chuang’s martyred girlfriend is half Tibetan, he discovers just before he goes to Tibet. Another prominent person in his life, his Juijitsu and horse riding teacher is Tibetan and instilled a spiritual awareness in him he begins to recognize only after he got to Tibet.

The author with Khampa elders

Originally posted on November 19, 2019.

A New Story: How to Build a Better World

It’s been a while since I watched a TED Talk, but this one caught my attention today because of the headline: ‘A new political story that could change everything.’

So I listened to what George Monbiot, British author and journalist, had to say. (Watch his TED Talk here.) In brief, we have organized our world around particular stories that explain our situation and give us hope for the future. Monbiot’s message is similar to Charles Eisenstein‘s. I have appreciated Charles Eisenstein’s books and talks for many years. While Charles talks more about values, Monbiot talks about our recurring political stories, the ones that change periodically and give us a new direction. 

The recurring theme of these political stories, Monbiot says, goes like this, and I quote from the TED Talk: “Disorder afflicts the land caused by the powerful and nefarious forces of the very mighty State (for example) whose collective tendencies crush freedom, individualism and opportunity. But the hero of the story, the entrepreneur (as in the story of neo liberalism) will fight those powerful forces, roll back the State and, through creating wealth and opportunity, restore the harmony in the world.”

The Buddha infecting the world with a New Story.

The story we are stuck in recycles endlessly — out with the current evil and in with the promise of something good. It has been going on as long as humanity has existed. Once a prevailing system begins to collapse, a hero pops up with a new theme but the same plot repeats itself: the ‘forces of evil’ must be thrown out so a ‘new’ system can restore harmony. This is how kingdoms and empires have functioned and how political parties operate today. 

The endless cycle conditions us as a society for competitive wealth generation. The current, neo-liberal story started in the 1970s and held sway until 2008. Unfortunately, it continues to limp along propped up by people rich enough to control governments and the media.

As a result of our conditioning we no longer trust each other and we feel alone. Greed and self-centeredness is what’s tearing our world apart at every level — from the community level to our planetary environmental crisis. Unfortunately, as long as the old story lives on we will continue to spiral into crisis and chaos. 

There is a New Story but it is being suppressed. In the media we never hear about the imaginative, positive New Story that can take us into the future. The voices of people like Eisenstein and Monbiot are drowned out – are trumped! – by the loud voices of those who cling to the old story. Both Eisenstein and Monbiot, as well as many others, point to the fact that human beings are innately altruistic and crave community. The Story of Separation, as Eisenstein points out, strives to deny us these human values. And Monbiot says, ‘We are a society of altruists but we are governed by psychopaths!’

I’ve given this a lot of thought and struggle to find the way forward. I agree with Monbiot that we need ‘engaged, inclusive and generous communities’ and a return to the idea of the commons. Like Native Americans, Tibetan nomads, and other indigenous peoples who regard the land as a common resource never to be owned or divided, we need to honor the earth’s resources in this way. We need to organize communities to manage common resources by establishing rules of use and care. This can apply to everything from forests and fields to factories. We need to organize our communities so that decisions directly effecting us are made locally. We need to recover democracy from the ‘psychopaths’ who have captured it…and create new rules and methods of elections to make sure financial power never ‘trumps’ democracy again.    

Will a New Story ‘…light the path to a better world?’ I believe so. Enlightened ones like Buddha and Jesus have, long ago, described a New Story that can put an end to the endless round of the ‘new political stories’ we keep coming up. So far we have refused to hear it.

Now we have reached a point of no return. If we don’t change we are going to destroy life on this planet. We have to start telling a story of spiritually enlightened human beings living together in enlightened societies in which we can all thrive. We are, after all and by design, loving and cooperative creatures who yearn to live in a better world! 

If the change is to happen, we need people willing to live this New Story so that it ‘will infect minds across the political spectrum.’

(All direct quotes are from Geogre Monbiot’s TED Talk.)

Originally posted July 31, 2019

A Third Way

In my novel Windhorse Warrior, I described what happened when the People’s Republic of China claimed and occupied the Tibetan plateau in the 1950s. The ancient and isolated Tibetan civilization was, at that point, stagnant and in need of socio-economic reforms. As the modern world encroached on Tibet, it was the Chinese communists who forced their own brand of reforms. Sixty years later, the Tibetan people are second class citizens in their own land similar to Native Americans in the United States and Canada.

Prayer Flags honoring King Gesar, featured in Windhorse Warrior

In Windhorse Warrior, I provide an alternative option. A local community accepts the limitations of their own system while recognizing the oppressive nature of the Chinese communist reforms demanded of them. They are given a choice by the occupying People’s Liberation Army: follow the Red Road of compliance with communist reforms, or walk the Black Road of resistance which means armed conquest. Rejecting both of these options, the people propose a third way; the Golden Way. This is not a compromise but a way of life that more than meets the demands of communist reform while living up to their ancient buddhist roots.

Read the book and find out what the nomads and villagers of Gyawa and Mola propose; then I’d like to hear your suggestions for a third way that might get us out of the situation facing our whole world now.

In my opinion we live in a broken, stagnant civilization not unlike Tibet prior to 1950. Our economic and social systems need reform. Capitalism in the West only creates wealth for the few who control our governments. Communism, especially in China, is broken because it no longer represents the people; like capitalism it benefits only those in power.

What is, or should be, driving reforms? I suggest it is climate change and its many man-made causes! It is not out of the question that, if we continue ignoring our predicament, civilization as we know it may be over by 2050! We need drastic changes but the way we have been trying to reduce our impact on the environment is not going to be enough.

We need something completely new, something everyone can accept, something that will benefit everyone equally; a new socio-economic system based on love. We all want a better world; we know in our hearts that a more beautiful world is possible – but how do we make it happen? Let me know your ideas and, who knows, I might consider including it in my next novel.

Read Windhorse Warrior by R C Friedericks

Available now in bookstores including Barnes & Noble. Order the hardcover or buy a Kindle version from Amazon.

White Crane

White Crane, a song by Tshangyang Gyatso, the Sixth Dalai Lama.

Oh marvelous white crane

Lend me your wings

I shall not fly far

From Lithang I shall return!

This is a popular song in Tibet and is beautifully sung in the video below by Dolma who runs the Golden Sun Hotel in a small town in Kham. Before building and running this hotel, Dolma was a professional singer. She sang Tibetan songs in Chengdu and other big cities across China. She is a devout Buddhist and her uncle is a well known lama.

As you can imagine, Dolma’s beautiful voice and face stayed with me as I created Dechen, one of the female characters in my novel Windhorse Warrior.


History repeats itself.

Three hundred years ago, the people tried to protect the Sixth Dalai Lama to keep him from being taken away to China.

Sixty years ago, the Tibetan people rebelled against Communist Chinese attempt to remove the Fourteenth Dalai Lama from spiritual and temporal power. They came out to surround the Norbu Lingka, where the Dalai Lama was residing, to protect him and to keep him from accepting an invitation to attend a Chinese function. Within a few days, the Dalai Lama agreed to go into exile in India.

Three hundred years ago ‘The Great Fifth’ Dalai Lama, Ngawang Losang Gyatso, was the first of the Dalai Lama lineage to assume full spiritual and secular control over the whole of Tibet. When the Great Fifth died suddenly in 1682, at age 68, Desi (regent) Sangay Gyatso kept secret the Dalai Lama’s death for 15 years. He told the Tibetan people, the Mongol princes and the Manchu emperor that the Dalai Lama was doing an indefinite meditation retreat. Meanwhile the Regent started the search for the Fifth’s reincarnation by telling the search party that the search was for someone else. In 1685, an extraordinary boy was discovered. He was born two years earlier on March 1, 1683, in the land of Mon (Tawang — east of present day Bhutan). 

The Regent accepted this child as the true reincarnation but to keep the boy’s existence secret, he and his mother were under virtual house arrest until he was fifteen years old. In 1697, a message was sent to the Manchu court in Peking officially announcing the Fifth Dalai Lama’s death and the discovery of his reincarnation. In October of that year, Losang Rigdzin Tshangyang Gyatso (Precious Ocean of Pure Melody) was enthroned as the Sixth Dalai Lama. The fact that the reincarnation was already 15 years old was explained as the Great Fifth’s request that his death be kept secret for the stability of Tibet. The Tibetan and Mongolians believed this and accepted the boy as the Sixth Dalai Lama.

Up until that time the young man had not received any of the rigorous training ordinarily given to a Dalai Lama before his enthronement. When his training began, the tall, handsome, talented and intelligent lad was not very diligent. He preferred archery, horseback riding and an outdoor life. His nature was humble and he preferred a simple life to the pomp and ceremony of life at the Potala. He lived in the Potala without servants and made his own tea which he readily served visitors. 

Though Tshangyang Gyatso was not dedicated to his monastic training, he was highly intellectual and wrote learned treatises on a variety of subjects. He was an architect and remodeled the Norbu Lingka summer palace. He was an enthusiastic dancer and modified many aspects of Tibetan monastic opera. As a result the Regent, who was responsible for the young man’s political and spiritual education grew frustrated and pleaded with the young Dalai Lama to take his office seriously. 

By the time he was twenty, Tshangyang Gyatso refused to take the gelong vow, the final initiation of consecration as a monk, he went further and even renounced his novice vow he took in 1697 when he was enthroned. He returned to the status of layman and, though not able to fulfill his responsibility as spiritual leader, he remained the temporal head of Tibetan society. 

From the day he renounced his vows, he dressed as a layman, kept his hair long and wore elaborate clothing and rings on his fingers. Though he continued to live at the Potala, he wandered the streets of Lhasa and other nearby towns. He spent time with friends practicing archery, riding horses and, in the evenings, visiting taverns, drinking, composing and singing love songs, and dallying with his lovers.

This was during a time of a great power play between the Mongols and the Manchus over Tibet. The Mongols had helped the Fifth Dalai Lama establish control over all of Tibet, but were now divided among themselves and susceptible to influence by the Manchus who suggested that keeping the existence of the Sixth Dalai Lama secret was a ploy used by the Regent to remain in power. This was not the case, but the idea turned the Mongols against the Regent, and later the Sixth Dalai Lama. Because of this distrust, the Regent was overthrown and beheaded in 1705 by the Mongols.  

Not long after, a faction of the Mongols attempted to depose the Sixth Dalai Lama from power but they misjudged the Tibetan people. Even though Tshangyang Gyatso was a layman, the people loved him. 

With help from the Manchu emperor, the Mongols eventually deposed the Sixth Dalai Lama on June 27, 1706 and tried to send him to China under armed guards. The Tibetan people rose up to rescue him near Drepung monastery where he took refuge. The next day the Mongols surrounded the monastery and threatened to destroy it with artillery. To prevent bloodshed, Tshangyang Gyatso, walked out of the monastery and surrendered. But the monastery was looted and destroyed anyway for harboring the Sixth Dalai Lama. 

Tshangyang Gyatso was once again taken away toward China. When he reached Gung-nor, south of Kokonor, he ‘disappeared’ — that is, he was most likely murdered. He must have known this would happen because this is when he composed the ‘White Crane’ song foretelling his reincarnation in Lithang. It was written and sent to a lady-friend in Shol, an area of Lhasa he frequented.

And again, the Mongols misjudged the Tibetans. After the Sixth Dalai Lama’s ‘disappearance’, the Mongols appointed a young monk as the ‘real’ Sixth Dalai Lama! Believing the Mongols had gone too far, the Manchu emperor delayed recognizing the new Sixth Dalai Lama. And when the Seventh Dalai Lama was found in Lithang, he was secretly moved to Derge, in northern Kham, to protect him from the Mongols. 

The Manchu’s found their opportunity to intervene in Tibetan politics by protecting the young Seventh Dalai Lama, sending an army to defeat the Mongols in Lhasa and enthroning Kalzang Gyatso, the boy from Lithang, but recognized him as the Sixth Dalai Lama rather than the Seventh. This, of course, enraged the Tibetans. 

The Mongols were driven out of Tibet for good, with the help of the Manchus but modern Chinese propaganda uses this turn of events as the beginning of Chinese control in Tibet. 


Tshangyang Gyatso, the Sixth Dalai Lama had made another prophesy. He said that he would return to Tawang, his birth place, when three identical sandalwood trees grew beside each other. In 1959, the people of Tawang noticed these trees and soon after, the Dalai Lama came to Tawang again, this time as the Great Fourtheenth on his way to exile in India.

The succession of the next Dalai Lama, the Fifteenth, is sure to be complicated by the Chinese if they assert their so-called right to enthrone a Dalai Lama of their own choice. This is exactly what the Mongols and Manchus attempted three hundred years ago. The present Dalai Lama jokes that he will return as a Western woman to indicate that any choice by Chinese officials is bound to be false. 

Some of Tshangyang Gyatso’s songs:

Drops of rain wash away

The love songs written in

Black and White

But love, though unwritten

Remains long after, in the heart.


She sparkled her smile

To the crowd in the tavern

But from the corner of her eyes

She spoke to me of her love.


Accepting the desires of my beloved

Will ruin my chance to profess dharma

Yet my retreat into a solitary hermitage

Will break my beloved’s tender heart.


I incline myself

To the teachings of my lama

But my heart secretly escapes

To thoughts of my beloved


If I could meditate on dharma

As intensely as on my beloved

I would attain enlightenment

In this one life-time.

The Sixth Dalai Lama was a poet of the people. His songs found ‘a permanent place in the heart of the Tibetan people, especially in the young whose joy of love, despair in loneliness and frustration with social injustice so often were reflected in his songs.’ (K. Dhondup, Songs of the Sixth Dalai Lama) His songs were filled with protest against the feudal order which oppressed the common people. Shorn of literary devices, the poetry excels in ‘rare descriptions of basic human emotion and experiences of love, loyalty, loneliness and betrayal etc., with the use of a wide range of images.’ (ibid) Other songs mock monks who are not true to their vows. 

One of his songs expresses his situation clearly:

In my Palace, the place of Heaven on Earth

They call me Rigdzin Tshangyang Gyatso

Chenresig Reincarnate.

But below my Palace,

In the little town of Shol,

They call me Chebo Tangsang Wangpo,

The Profligate,

For my lovers are many.

It is thought that the courtesans of Lhasa had their own version of this song:

In the Potala he is Rigdzin Tshangyang Gyatso

But in Lhasa and Shol, he is a delightful young blade!


With thanks to K. Dhondup of Dharmsala who translated these verses and wrote an informative introduction in Songs of the Sixth Dalai Lama in 1981.

Tibetan Nomads in the City

Here is song from a young Tibetan lamenting what is happening to the once freely roaming nomads of the high Tibetan Plateau. More and more Tibetans are forced to live in crowded cities where they feel cut off from their way of life and their spiritual roots. Lobsang Nyima sings in the traditional Tibetan style.

The lyrics were written by Menlha Kyab and an English translation is below:

The sky was bluer than turquoise
From the mountain peaks I came
The buildings are taller than steep mountains
In this city where I am left
The buildings are taller than steep mountains
In this city where I am left

The true path is covered in dust
People’s minds are driven by the rush
Although the city is bustle and noise
There is no one to be trusted
Although the city is bustle and noise
There is no one to be trusted

Accompanying the white-tailed vulture
This mind has slipped out of its den
The vast expanse of my love
Is lost in this city

Accompanying the white-tailed vulture
This mind has slipped out of its den
The vast expanse of my love
Is lost in this city

The true path is covered in dust
People’s minds are driven by the rush
Although the city is bustle and noise
There is no one to be trusted

The city of electricity
The path is a painting of a rainbow

Yet there is no bridge for the mind
In this great ocean of samsara
Yet there is no bridge for the mind
In this great ocean of samsara

Accompanying the white-tailed vulture
This mind has slipped out of its den
The cloud that is whiter than yogurt
Is lost in this city

Accompanying the white-tailed vulture
This mind has slipped out of its den
The cloud that is whiter than yogurt
Is lost in this city

Accompanying the white-tailed vulture
This mind has slipped out of its den
The cloud that is whiter than yogurt
Is lost in this city
The cloud that is whiter than yogurt
Is lost in this city

Translation by High Peaks Pure Earth

Gesar and Arthur: Legendary Kings East and West


My son David recently rediscovered a paper he wrote in college comparing King Arthur of Great Britain and King Gesar of Ling in Central Asia.  We had several conversations at the time and since then we have had more discussions about the way these two legends helped guide and mold their respective civilizations. Many of our discussions occurred during the years I was writing Windhorse Warrior, a novel about Eastern Tibet during the Chinese Communist invasion and occupation.  In my novel the story of King Gesar inspires a small group of people to create a socioeconomic structure based on Buddhist and true Communist principles that would provide an alternative to what was being forced upon the Tibetan people. Besides promoting my novel I hope this, and following posts, can help the West discover and understand King Gesar and the East, King Arthur.

Gesar BardsThe legend of King Gesar is an orally transmitted epic poem. The verse of the songs and opera performances were not written down until the late 19th or early 20th Centuries. The legend still has significance among Tibetans, both in exile and those still in Tibet, and among the people of Mongolia, Tuva, Buryatia, Kalmyk and other Buddhist groups in Central Asia. The story is kept ‘alive’ by bards who enter a shamanic trance, visit Gesar’s time and place, the Kingdom of Ling, and recite the legend from first-hand experience. The female or male bard observes and gives voice to the activities of Gesar and his warriors and courtiers in their separate reality though at the present moment. In this way the story deepens and evolves with each bardic visitor. Each one sees and understands some unique part of the mythic motif of ‘once upon a time, far, far away’ which magically unifies the present with the past and future, the eternal now.

Literary accounts of King Arthur began before the 9th Century but it is likely these were preceded by an oral tradition transmitted from generation to generation and place to place by Celtic bards and perhaps the Druids themselves who kept ‘alive’ a legend of a warrior king who embodied their highest ideals. We might assume that they did so in the same way as the shamanic bards of Central Asia: by ‘spirit journeys’ into a parallel world. We can assume this because shamanic methods of spirit journey are universal and thousands of years old.

Medieval ArthurThere are Celtic mythological roots to stories of Arthur and Merlin throughout Britain, Wales, Ireland and Britany including tales of Merlin involved in the creation of Stonehenge. If so, these stories go back at least 4000 or 5000 years. The Celts developed an extensive empire that, by 200 BC, reached across Britain, northern France and into the Italian peninsula. They were eventually conquered by the Romans in the 1st Century BC. This began a period of Roman and Christian influence over the Celtic culture.

Historians believe there never was a British king named Arthur but his name first appears in an account of British history written by Nennius, a 9th Century monk. He wrote of King Arthur as victorious over the Roman empire in the 2nd Century BC while also waging a 5th Century war on the Saxons. The name Arthur appears in this account because Nennius needed “the Welsh-sounding name to add focus to what was principally a political treatise” (Scott-Robinson). By using the name of a well know mythological hero of Welsh epic poetry, Nennius added deep significance to his fanciful history. In the 12th Century Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote a ‘History of the Kings of Britain’ and further embellished Nennius’ account. This book “owes a great deal to Geoffrey’s fertile imagination” (Scott-Robinson).

Thus an earlier bardic legend of Arthur, a heroic war leader, was co-opted and modified to fit political intentions and contemporary cultural values. By the time novels were written and printed for the literate noble class in the 15th Century, Arthur had become more of a figurehead while the real action of the stories centered on his knights. Western civilization was changing; the individual began to take center stage rather than the collective represented by the King.

By this time, too, creative imagination was the novelist’s tool instead of shamanic spiritual journey. The modern writer imagines his or her own world and shares it with the reader or audience through text or screen. Culturally popular stories such as Star Wars, the Lord of the Rings, Narnia or Harry Potter evoke an alternative world ‘in a galaxy far, far away’ or just through the wardrobe. A good writer or director enables us to participate in other worlds of the imagination but seldom enter, like a shamanic bard, the “zone unknown,” as Joseph Campbell called it. Gifted writers, nevertheless, if they are open to the muse, can tap into mythic truth* and a good listener can participate in the imaginative journey ‘further in and higher up’ into Narnia.

Over the past seven to five hundred years, the ability to have direct access to deeper realms of spiritual insight has faded away from industrializing societies. The result is that today stories of King Arthur are nearly unrecognizable as a spiritually or socially uplifting saga. For example, a recent movie about King Arthur ( is an action film presenting a tumultuous Camelot with characters mirroring the violent, competitive, self-serving values of our patristic system. There remains not a shred of the ideal good king who created an ‘enlightened society’ in which all the people could thrive. As the global ‘babylon’ of self-centered consumerism continues to expand its reach, the legend of King Arthur will continue to succumb to this erosion. And even the legend of King Gesar, as it catches on and is translated into Communist Chinese culture, will experience a similar erosion.

I have some questions that are open to discussion: If these old epic legends are the result of spiritual journeys, how do shamanic bards tapped into the same inner landscapes, heroic personalities, and events? Are Camelot and Ling actual places in a parallel world? Or is it the power of suggestions; one bard follows another’s lead in describing the place and events? And what about the modern novelist or screenwriter; would their stories about Camelot differ from what we are given to read and watch now if they could cross into that parallel world through shamanic trance?

Shamans held places of importance in early societies. In many places in the world today she or he is someone who walks with one foot in the everyday world and the other foot in the spirit world.  Epic legends, including Arthur’s and Gesar’s, are told by shaman to remind the community that all life is a manifestation of a greater Reality. They remind people that they are interdependent and filled with the capacity to know Reality directly. They guide the community in the ethic of universal justice and compassion toward all beings. Both King Arthur and King Gesar manifested what it is to be fully human; fully awakened, compassionate beings.

I am exploring these two legends because I feel it is important that we maintain contact with the spiritual insights of the ancients. The legend of Gesar, and most likely the early oral accounts of Arthur, carry values and wisdom teachings that go back over 50,000 years into our past and, as the protagonists in Windhorse Warrior discover, the Legend of King Gesar holds a key to helping us establish an ‘enlightened society’ and overcome our current environmental and social crises.


Quotes from:’ The Old Religion of Britain, Weird Tales from the Middle Ages,’ Richard Scott-Robinson:

Other resource: The Epic of Gesar of Ling: Gesar’s Magical Birth, Early Years, and Coronation as King, translated by Robin Kornman, Sangye Khandro, and Lama Chonam, 2015

*If ‘mythic truth’ strikes you as an oxymoron you have clearly been duped by the current cultural system that is out of touch with ancient wisdom. A ‘myth’ is not a fantasy nor is it a false belief. Used in the sense of this article, it refers to archetypal stories that communicate universal facts about our selves and our world.


The main female character in “Windhorse Warrior,” the historical novel to be released in 2018, is a Tibetan woman named Dechen.  The name means ‘great happiness’ and, of course, she brings great happiness to all the people who know her.

Educated outside of Tibet in Darjeeling, India at a Catholic school and going on to study in America, she returns to her home town in Kham to discover she no longer fits in.  Among her troubles when she returns is her father’s wish for her to marry a local young man.  She finds few people she can relate to and eventually returns to Kalimpong, near where she went to school, where her uncle, Palden Rinpoche, is a much loved spiritual teacher.  With her uncle’s encouragement, Dechen begins to study her spiritual heritage, something she had neglected during her many years as a scholar in Western schools.

You will have to read the novel to find out the rest of the story but I wanted to introduce you to someone who inspired the character of Dechen.  Below are two short videos that feature Dolma, a Tibetan woman who runs a motel in Bamei, Kham.

The first video is about our visit there to see her:


Below Dolma sings a song called “White Crane, Lend Me Your Wings.”  It is from a poem written by the Sixth Dalai Lama to say where he would be reincarnated.  It goes “White crane, white crane; lend me your wings.  I won’t fly far. I’ll return from Lithang.”


Dechen’s singing is an important part of the story.  She becomes a ‘drungma’ or shamanic bard who sings and recites from the epic poem about King Gesar of Ling.

For a synopsis of Windhorse Warrior see the previous post.


The next phase of our eleven full days in Nepal between May 8 – May 18 started on the morning of Sunday, May 10. It began with the arrival of a van hired from Nepal Sanctuary Treks at Ron and Cheryl’s in Bhukuntole near the British School. After expressing our gratitude to Ron and Cheryl we went to Kalimati and picked up the other three people of our original group (Lisa, Knight, Heather Knight, and Chris Butler) and the four other’s who had decided to join us – a paramedic from South Africa, two EMT’s from Texas, and a volunteer firefighter from Virginia.

On our drive out of the Kathmandu valley, David decided to call Becky Paris, a friend from our time in Pokhara when he was in primary school. Becky is now an anesthesiologist/trainer at Tansen Hospital. David asked her what she knew of NGOs involved in Gorkha district and she suggested we look up World Vision, as they had been assigned that district. Gurkha is not too far off the road to Pokhara so we decided to take the detour and see if we could make a connection right away with World Vision.

We arrived in Gorkha around two in the afternoon. I had called my friend Kiran Shrestha in Pokhara. He’s a Rotarian with connections. He called Nakul Thapa, the President of the the Gorkha Rotary Club, who met us when we arrived in town. We asked him if he knew where World Vision was in Gorkha but he had no idea. Wondering what to do next we saw several UN vehicles drive by and enter the Gorkha Inn which had been set up as their headquarters in the district. We made our way toward the Inn with the intention of finding out what was going on and how we might fit in. As we reached the entrance, Nakul recognized a man in a vehicle exiting the Gorkha Inn parking lot. After a brief conversation between Nakul and the man in the car, he stepped out and introduced himself as Dr. Joshi of WHO. I introduced our group as firefighters and paramedics.

Dr. Joshi recommended that we follow him up to the Gorkha District Health Office. When we arrived he invited us in and asked what kind of work we might be able to do. After explaining our skills which included treating injuries and building temporary shelters, he suggested we might be able to help construct temporary shelters in which local health workers could continue seeing patients. We thought this was an excellent idea and a perfect fit for our abilities.

I was impressed that Dr. Joshi opened up his laptop and brought up the same UN coordinating website that Ron has shown me the night before. He began looking at the health cluster pages to see which villages had health posts that had been destroyed in the earthquake. He found two that were fairly close and we could possibly complete in the few days were had to offer. Dr. Joshi spoke with us in English, but I occasionally spoke Nepali with his staff members. I explained that I’d learned Nepali as a child in Tansen and that my father, Dr. Carl Friedericks, had started the hospital there. This, I’m sure added to our credibility and their willingness to give us an assignment.

We left the District Health Office with assignments to build two temporary village health centers. We were given two letters introducing us to each VDC (Village Development Committee). The two areas were Gankhu VDC (population about 3000) and one for Mirkot VDC (population about 6000). One of the letters was for the health worker in charge of the VDC Health Centre. The other letter was for the Secretary of the VDC, an appointed administrator and representative of the Government. The letters authorized us and instructed the local officials to allow us to operate in the village area.

Authorization letter from Gorkha District Health Office

Authorization letter from Gorkha District Health Office

IMG_3877 - 2015-05-10 at 19-53-49The road to Gankhu was unfinished but passable, we were told, but even so our driver was unwilling to take his van on it. The road to Mirkot was even worse. We decided to go to Gankhu first; it was a smaller place and easier to get to. If we were successful there, and we had enough time, we would go on to Mirkot.


IMG_3868 - 2015-05-10 at 18-38-07We asked Nakul Thapa, the Gorkha District Rotarian, to help us find transportation to Gankhu. He found us a small bus which we hired for the journey. It was a hair raising journey!  Chris Butler admitted he made a mistake sitting at the front of the bus as it careened down the hill from Gorkha, swinging off the single lane tarmac on the outside to pass a bus or truck laboring uphill. He said, “I run into burning buildings, but this scares the sh*t out of me!”

Despite hiring the entire bus, we picked up passengers along the way. They turned out to be family members of the owner of the bus returning to their village after the earthquake had frightened them away. We were happy to share our bus as we ventured deeper into the hills and submitted to the same environment and risks everyone in Nepal was facing.IMG_3874 - 2015-05-10 at 18-40-28 This family had lost their house, but were returning to the village to pick up the pieces and continue. Besides two young boys, there was a new born baby girl. David began talking with the young mother and shared his own family pictures with her. Chris later commented on how gorgeous this woman was.

When we arrived the Nayasanghu, the main village of Gankhu VDC on the new motor road, I showed the letters to a shopkeeper who informed us that the health worker had returned to Gorkha for the night but would return the next morning. The letter, however, immediately gave us credibility among the townspeople. My fluency with the language was also immediately noted and appreciated. Feeling welcomed, I said we would consult with the health worker about a location for a temporary health center and we would like to camp somewhere for a few days. Our bags and totes containing medical supplies were unloaded from the bus and we were taken to the school yard where we pitched camp.

Nayasanghu School, Gankhu, Ward 5

Nayasanghu School, Gankhu, Ward 5

The school was very close to the old health center so we thought it was a good location. We could also treat people who would show up when word got out that we had medical supplies. The District Health Office also authorized us to treat patients with injuries and had given us forms to use to help with district-wide data collection.

IMG_3910 - 2015-05-10 at 20-12-17

Collapsed classroom walls.

The outer structure of the school buildings, at first glance, looked okay. But looking closer we saw that several interior walls had collapsed and parts of exterior walls bulged or had collapsed. They were all too dangerous to enter. During April and May schools in Nepal are on summer holiday. Annual exams are in March followed by a two month break. But school was due to begin again by the end of May or early June. No temporary shelters had been built for classes in this village and we wondered where teachers and students would be meeting. Hopefully another group like ours would be assigned to set up temporary classrooms in the school yard.

Village children came to see what was going on when we set up camp in their school yard. Though all of them were living in make-shift structures, usually under a tarp, they were all clean, well dressed and happy. They enjoyed playing football (soccer) and being curious children. Several practiced their English with us and one boy was even able to act as translator when people showed up for treatment.

Playing football with village children.

David and Chris playing football with village boys at our camp in their school yard.

It was evening by the time we settled in. Still gripped by jet lag and several days of travel we were in our tents and asleep by about 8:30. It was hot and it didn’t cool down much at night. We never knew exactly how hot it was but we guessed it was around 95 degrees F.



Chaku village in Sindhupalchowk We arrived in Kathmandu on Wednesday night, May 7, just before 9:00 local time. It was 11:30 before we got our baggage and walked out of Tribhuvan International Airport. We were met by CRI and taken to a Christian guest house for the night. All of us slept in the same room. Beds were comfortable and it was wonderful to stretch out after more than 20 hours in three different aircraft. The fan rattled badly but David found a way to fix it. It was very hot; we needed that fan! The Internet didn’t work but we wanted sleep!

In the morning we were told we were being deployed to Sindhupalchowk. There was no discussion, no suggestion that we might have an idea where our skills would be most useful. As a group we decided to see where this might lead and proceeded to load a couple pickup trucks with our stuff along with some bags of rice and instant noodles (Wai Wai). We went shopping in Patan for more supplies. First stop happened to be near Patan Darbar Square where several ancient structures had colpased. The clean up had begun and we were not allowed in the area. Nearby we were able to buy plastic buckets with lids for the Swayer water filter kits, a couple cooking pots and bowls for ourselves, snacks, oatmeal and coffee. Later we stopped to pick up several more bags of rice. Both trucks were quite full. The last stop before heading out of the Kathmandu valley was to buy SIM cards for our phones that would work in Nepal.

Hannah, a Nepali Christian girl, came with us as a translator for CRI personnel in Sindhupalchowk.  There were also two hired drivers with trucks that belonged to a church in Kathmandu. One truck had “Jesuse Love You” in English across the front windscreen.

David’s Nepali was coming back. It is quite amazing how the mind digs up the words when you’re in context. He did a lot of the negotiating in the shops. It was fun to watch!

As we drove around Kathmandu we noticed that the city was very much back to normal. We saw evidence of collapsed walls along streets, but most had been cleared away. Traffic seemed light. We speculated that many vehicles were outside the valley either taking people out of the valley or were being used to transport relief supplies. Shops were open and many people seemed to be living inside again. People were going to work. As Robert Frost said ‘Life goes on’.

Outside the city, as we drove east, we didn’t see much damage initially. We travelled down to the Sun Kosi River and then north along this river toward Kodari, at the Chinese border. The farther we travelled up the river, the steeper the sides of the valley became and we saw more damage to houses, landslides and boulders hanging precariously.

Ghost town along the road

Ghost town along the road

At 3:00 we reached our destination – Chaku, a series of houses along the road. When we got out of the trucks we had no idea where we were supposed to go or who would meet us. As we stood waiting for phone contact, we noticed that it was basically a ghost town.

Soon a small group of foreigners came up a side road from the rest of the village. They welcomed us as part of the CRI team and showed us where to park the trucks. The houses along the road, they said, had been abandoned. Their owners had returned to villages high up in the mountains because they felt safer up their away from the possibility of landslides in the steep slopes by the river. What many of them found on returning to their villages, however, was that their village homes had collapsed. But on higher ground they could, at least, set up temporary shelter in open ground and they could take care of their animals and fields. Many villagers rented or build houses for shops of some kind along the roads where members of the family could generate cash income. Those who stay back in the villages continued farming and raising animals.

The lower part of Chaku village where the original residents live.

The lower part of Chaku village where the original residents live.

The CRI team of three women and four men had been in the village 5 days. Among them was a nurse, two young EMTs from Texas, a volunteer firefighter from Virginia, and three who called themselves CRI co-leaders. Soon after we unloaded the trucks we had a meeting at the local church, one of the only buildings in reasonably good condition since it had recently been build of concrete and rebar. We heard that they had re-established a water supply for the remaining villagers, the original settlers of the area who had lived here before the motor road had been built. Their settlement was below the road on an extended ridge between two streams.

It soon became clear that the CRI team had not done much and the primary focus of the co-leaders was to work with the pastor of local churches in this and surrounding villages. They were waiting for the pastor of the local church to return from visiting other churches so they could assess needs. We were told we would not be able to visit any other villages unless we were invited by its local church, that the pastor of that church accompanied us and one of the CRI co-leaders also accompanied us. We took this information in silently but we each realized it was going to be difficult finding a way to use the energy we had brought to this place.

After this meeting we newcomers were invited to set up camp in a field next to the one the others were camped in. It was well away from any houses and also away from the danger of landslides and falling boulders. After pitching the tents we walked around the village to assess damaged houses. David and I talked with several local people. Because of our language ability, we immediately established a rapport and learned that the primary need was for a clinic. Even though seriously injured people had been transported out to hospitals by road, others needed dressings changed or had various “routine” complaints. We discovered there was a local pharmacy but no villagers had cash to buy needed medicines. There were no real medical emergencies here any longer. The people would need continuing medical attention the longer they stayed in temporary shelters.

After an aftershock that evening the top corner was even more precarious.

After an aftershock that evening the top corner was even more precarious.

There were several houses posing a critical danger along the street. Walls could collapse at any time. We debated the risks of brining them down completely. We spoke to the owners who were eager for us to do what we could. Standing as they were was of no use to them; they were too dangerous to enter and posed a danger to everyone until they collapsed completely.

We thought we could bring one house down relatively safely. There were no buildings below it but on a closer look we noticed a row of houses was leaning against it. We could not speak with the owners of these building because they had left the village. We could not proceed without their permission.

One thing we were able to do was distribute five Sawyer water filters to family groups camped in open spaces away from the broken buildings. We put a hole in the side of five buckets and fit the filters. When we set them up we made be sure the women knew how to use and clean them.

Demonstrating a Sawyer water filter.

Demonstrating a Sawyer water filter.

That evening after a meal prepared for us by the local church, the three CRI co-leaders called a meeting. This consisted of twenty minutes of singing songs, praying and then sharing what we had done that day. It became clear to us that the leadership really had no idea of what to do; they were completely reliant on the local pastor who was away. During that meeting we were not consulted nor were we encouraged to present any ideas we might have had. We felt frustrated. Later that evening, after discussing amongst ourselves, we met with the co-leaders to ask directly what we would be able to do. We suggested visiting other villages and setting up a medical clinic but these ideas were not encouraged. We were told that since the following day was a Saturday, the day of rest and worship for the local church, we would be required to respect this situation. We would be expected to attend the church service and stay in the village. We would have to wait for the pastor to return. The ineffective leadership frustrated us and we decided to discontinue our relationship with CRI and go with our original intention to work in Gorkha district. We realized CRI really had no track record in Nepal and no real understanding of the culture or situation of the people.

Loaded for the return journey.

Loaded for the return journey.

The next morning we packed and loaded up a truck. Our exodus sparked three others to leave, too. The two Texans and the Virginian who had come with the CRI team were as frustrated as we were. Besides setting up the water supply system and helping people remove belongings out of the rubble of their houses, these young people had done nothing for five days. They wanted to join our group.

I called Tulsi Gyawali, my travel agent friend in Kathmandu with Nepal Sanctuary Treks, to send a van to meet us in Barabese, about an hour’s drive down the valley. There were too many of us to go in the pick up truck so it made two trips to Barabese. Our original group went first then it returned for the Texans and Virginian.

We all arrived in Kathmandu in the late afternoon. David and I went to our friend’s place while the rest went to an Air B&B that Heather Knight arranged. Ron Hess and Cheryl Groff, our friends from my childhood at Woodstock School in India, live in a very nice, strong house that had survived every earthquake and tremor so far without a crack. We felt safe and they fed us a great meal. After showing David around our old neighborhood in Sanepa, Ron showed me the UN coordination website that list every village area in the effected areas. Each cluster group oversees health or shelter or food distribution. NGOs are assigned to operate in different districts. In effect, it showed that the UN had taken over the job of coordinating relief and rebuilding efforts by working with the Government of Nepal. We later had first hand experience of this process.

What we learned from this experience was that working with NGOs that had little or not track record in the country was both ineffective and inappropriate. It is important to connect with established NGOs such as World Vision, Mercy Corps, Save the Children. Making contact with the government also gives legitimacy at the local level to your presence in rural areas. From what we observed, CRI wanted to work only through the Nepali Church.

Nepal Earthquake Response

It is now a week after the 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal. The Indian subcontinent is said to have moved 10 feet northward. Parts of Nepal rose 3 feet while Mt. Everest is 1 inch lower. Kathmandu moved 10 feet south and rose 3 feet. The Indian subcontinent continues to collide with Eurasia. It is sliding under and raising up the Tibetan plateau. The 2008 Sichuan earthquake was a related event.  A 9 on the Ritcher scale had/has been predicted. The last ‘big one’ in Nepal was 1934. There is an 80 cycle; a blink of an eye for Gaia.

That’s the geophysics. In the biosphere, though the loss of life and property is colossal, it could have been much worse. Taking place at midday on a Saturday was most fortunate. People were not in offices and schools. Most people were able to get out of their homes and shops in the cities and towns. Christians, however, were crowded in churches. There are reports of congregations trapped in collapsed buildings. In the countryside, it is a different story. Like the epicenter at Barpak, Gorkha District, most villages effected are on the sides of high mountains. Many an entire village was whipped away by landslides; roads were taken out or covered over, streams dammed. Grazing cattle were killed by falling rocks or collapsing makeshift shelters of stone. Spring rains have brought misery at night, muddy roads, and more danger of landslides and swollen rivers but there is a positive side to the extra heavy rains this year. It is usually very dry, dusty and hot in May and early June. Temperatures are lower, water tanks are not empty and reservoirs have not dried up. This year the planting season has been extended.

Though the situation is not as bleak as originally expected, there are still many people suffering. They are sleeping without proper shelter, many are injured and food is scarce. In situations like this it is the poor who are affected most. The homes of the rich are stronger and still standing. Many people in Nepal recognize this and have begun sharing what they have with their neighbors and are organizing teams to take temporary shelter and food to villages outside Kathmandu. It is wonderful to see this happening.

I will be going to Nepal this Tuesday, May 5, with four firefighters from Portland, OR.  Our son, David, is one of them. He has a heart for Nepal, as I do. He lived there as a child from age 4 until he was 14. Suzanne and I went to Nepal in 1981. David was 4 years old, his brother Ethan was just 2. A year later our daughter Elizabeth was born in Pokhara. We lived in Pokhara for six years and for four years in Kathmandu until 1991.

In Pokhara, 1983 - Elizabeth 1, Ethan 4, David 6.

In Pokhara, 1983 – Elizabeth 1, Ethan 4, David 6.

I have a much longer history with Nepal. I first went there in 1954. I was seven. My father, Dr. Carl Friedericks, started a hospital in Tansen, Palpa District to the south of Pokhara, at the invitation of the Governor of Palpa and the Government of Nepal. The hospital is still running and is very busy now as one of the destinations for helicopters to take the most seriously injured people from remote villages. It is crowded with hundreds of patients. Please see Dr. Rebecca MacAteer’s blog about her involvement. She is currently one of the doctors in Tansen.

My work in Nepal between 1981 and 1991 was to create health education media of all kinds to raise awareness about medical treatment for leprosy and a variety of community health and development issues. Since 2009, as a media teacher at Hong Kong International School, I have taken groups of high school students to Pokhara yearly to build awareness of Nepal and it’s needs. In this way I have kept up my involvement with Nepali people and my language skills.

The goal of our small group of firefighters and me, the Nepali language interpreter, is to take relief supplies and go to Pokhara. Once there we will connect with the Rotary Club of Pokhara Annapurna through my friend Kiran Lal Shrestha. The club is organizing 1500 “bucket packs” to send to villagers in need. They have also arranged for Kolkata Rotary in India to supply 1500 “shelter boxes” which the Indian Army is delivering to the Nepal border. Then the Nepal Army is transporting them from the border to villages in the high mountains. Kiran will help us connect with groups going into the mountains with these supplies. We will offer help in setting up shelters, distributing food, and treating injuries.

We are being sponsored by Crisis Relief International (CRI) and we have been raising funds through Firefighters For Nepal Fund. Please donate to either of these groups.

I will do my best, given access to the Internet, power for charging devices, and time, to keep you aware of what is happening while we are in Nepal.