Photos: Duksangh Sherpa

Dorje Dolma was ten when her mother detected a lump in her back. Her father was a Tibetan healer, and took her to Kathmandu where her condition was diagnosed as advanced scoliosis.

That month-long journey on foot from her remote village in Karang of Dolpo to Kathmandu across treacherous mountain trails and blizzards is still vivid in Dorje’s mind.

When they got to Kathmandu, there was little food and money and few to help them. People did not want to rent rooms to a family from Dolpo, and little Dorje ended up begging in Boudha.

As fate would have it, Dorje landed up at Rokpa House in Boudha where the founder, Lea Wyler, helped her go to school. Even as a child, she instinctively knew the importance of education. Dorje was soon adopted by an American family and taken to the US for four operations to correct her spine.

It was while in the US, at age 15, when her German grandmother strongly encouraged her to start writing a book. It was this belief that has made her the woman she is today: an artist, author, teacher, and above all, a humanitarian.

Dorje Dolma’s book YAK GIRL: Growing Up in the Remote Dolpo Region of Nepal is memoir of her early childhood in Upper Dolpo. She remembers growing up amidst snow capped peaks, tending yaks in the high pastures and taking care of her siblings.

Dorje with her parents and sisters.

In her book, Dorje takes us to Dolpo’s otherworldly setting with a deeply personal insight into the culture and daily life of a place that is the farthest you could be from the modern world: no electricity, no cars, no schools or hospitals.

She recounts encounters with the wild wolves and snow leopards while protecting her yaks. Laced with humour, beauty, depth, sorrow, pain, courage and strength, Dorje’s book is a testament to the indomitable human spirit. Her courage, strength, resilience and gentle approach towards life despite its crude challenges, reminds us of the importance of never losing hope.

Dorje graduated in Fine Arts from the University of Colorado, worked as a teacher before taking up where she had left off at age 15 with her book. Writing the stories of her life has helped Dorje process her life so far, the remarkable blend of multiple cultures. She belongs to two different worlds, and being  a daughter of completely different sets of parents, writing has helped her process her experiences, balance the polarities and has allowed her to meld the two distinct worlds to come together to form her own unique world.

It has been 20 years since Dorje left Dolpo for medical treatment, but very little has changed in her homeland. Dolpo still does not have proper health facilities and people have to travel long distances to go to school.

“People in Dolpo don’t want to leave, the land is majestically beautiful, but they need to get out for education or health,” says Dorje, who plans to build a clinic in her village. Part of the proceeds of her book will go towards the Dolpo Tulku Foundation. Yak Girl was released in the US in January and will soon be available in Nepal this month at Pilgrim Bookshop.

Dorje spoke of her life and book at the Siddhartha Art Gallery last week, followed by the screening of a Dutch documentary The Only Son which is about Dorje’s family and the challenges of modern and traditional ways of life.

The book launch was followed by a three-day exhibition of artwork by Dorje, her sister Sumchog Kersbergen and her uncle Tenzin Norbu, a celebrated Dolpo artist.