Environmental degradation and a rapidly changing climate have left populations in the Himalayas vulnerable. Cloudbursts and mudslides have destroyed villages while growing levels of plastic wastes and other kinds of trash pollute rivers, harming the people who drink from them.
In a journey as spiritual as it was physical, 700 voyagers trekked through the land of 15,000 glaciers in 2010 to spread a message of love and ecological compassion. The journey, led by His Holiness Gyalwang Drupka, a Buddhist spiritual leader in the region, passed through 725 kilometers of some of the world’s most dangerous and most stunning landscapes. Pad Yatras, or pilgrimages on foot, have taken place annually since 2007 in different parts of the Himalayas and South Asia.
“Many of the problems in this world are based on selfish and egoistic kinds of fighting,” said His Holiness Gyalwang Drupka. “But the spirituality is the kindness – real kindness – not only just being kind but real, true kindness to not only human beings, but nature. Including the trees and rocks and mountains.”
The current Gyalwang Drupka, Jigme Pema Wangchen, is believed to be the twelfth reincarnation of the first Drupka, Tsangpa Gyare, who was born in the 12th century. Today’s reincarnation of the Drupka is known for his environmental activism. In 2007, he launched Live to Love, a humanitarian organization that aims to address the environment protection, education, relief aid, medical services and heritage preservation.
For the Drupka, sharing a message of kindness and compassion is essential for people living in high altitudes who often feel forgotten by their country when faced with natural disasters and uncertainties caused by a warming world. In an interview, he said he wanted people in the Himalayas to feel they played a role in the protecting the world.
The group survived conditions well below freezing, off-season snow storms and came close to starving when weather conditions made it impossible for them to carry some of their supplies through the mountains.
The experience was documented by Himalayan monk Ngawang Sodpa, who used solar power to charge his camera, in a film produced by Michelle Yeo. Nearly a third of Sodpa’s footage was lost from weather and physical damage at altitudes higher than 5,000 meters.
Along the path, the voyagers, all followers of the Buddhist Drupka Lineage, encountered hundreds of remote villages, passing on knowledge about the dangers of non-biodegradeable waste and planting trees. Native communities from the Himalayas were accompanied by travelers from around the world. As they walked, they picked up half a ton of waste, which they carried with them to the end of the journey.
“While modern products have made their way to these areas, they have not come with a sustainable means for disposal,” narrated American actress Darryl Hannah.
Trekkers planted more than 50,000 trees and rescued trapped and hurt animals. To avoid unnecessary suffering in the world, they gently blew ants off the paths they traveled along so the ants would not be crushed under hundreds of feet.
“A respect for life, no matter how small, is a defining character for this philosophy,” said Hannah. “It is the same philosophy of compassion that motivates this effort to motivate the national environment at large.”
The legacy of the Pad Yatra continues from year to year as one of the largest environmental movements the world has ever seen. Numerous villages in the Himalayas have banned plastics in their communities and have undertaken projects to plant trees.
Watch the trailer here: