Switzerland 1931
Denmark & Sweden 1932
Germany 1934
Istanbul 1935
Berlin 1936
Norway 1940
Berlin 1943
The Flight - Oslo
Sweden 1944
End of War

India 1953
Nepal 1954
Kathmandu, Swayanbhunath
and becoming a monk
Kali Gankaki 1950
Sugata accomapnied Sherchan
to take photograhs of the
Devil Dances up in Tukuche
2001 Bodhgaya, Sarnath, and Goa
Sugata at 90
in Tatopani and returning to
Tukuche and Chhairo

Sugata's homeland

2005 Sugata's footsteps
1940 Norway


Sugata at 90


In April 18, 2001, trekking in the Himalayan mountains, Sugata turned 90.

This story was written for a local Kathmandu newspaper.

Turning 90 at 2,500 meters






'How old is he?'
'Nubbe' (90)
'Nubbe! Is she is daughter?'
'Sathi (friend)

If I had a rupee for every time some one asked us or Saligrame our porter/guide these questions we'd have been kept in apple pie for our 20 days on the Annapurna mountain trek. The questions started from the beginning and, in a way, we never tired of them - honest and direct, they caused a smile of amazement, accomplishment or disbelief. And that '90' was one of the reasons we were here, to celebrate Sugata's birthday amongst his old friends, the Himalayas.

There was another reason we were here. Sugata first came to Nepal in 1954, and to these mountains in 1960; in writing his life story, we were remembering and re-living these times. Surprisingly we ended up adding to the story, tying up a 1960 loose end.

In 1954 Sugata travelled overland from Sweden, then his home, to India and from there to Nepal where he became a Buddhist monk of the Theravada tradition under Amrit Ananda, in Ananda Kuti, Swayambhunath, Kathmandu. He was as much an object of interest then being the only white skinned monk as he was in the mountains 2001 aged 90. Already a monk with a difference, he had a further trademark of 3 Leica cameras hanging around his neck, and because of this attracted the attention of a certain Sham Sherchan, a merchant from Tukuche who invited this convenient combination of monk and photographer to accompany him in up to Tukuche to photograph what is sometimes called 'Devil Dancing' or more correctly Sha Na, or Black Hat. These were Buddhist celebrations that took place every year to reinact, with elaborate dance and dramatic masks, the victory of good over evil.

In November 1960 Sugata travelled with Sham Sherchan from Pokhara to Tukuche, part in a bamboo basket on the back of a porter (he was recovering from blood poisoning in his leg), part on a mule, (that died in Ulleri) and finally on foot. It took 3 months there and back.

In 2001 we took the aeroplane from Pokhara airport (which was no longer a meadow full of cows that had to be herded away) to Jomson. We went first uphill to Muktinath, where we were amongst fellow eccentrics like bare footed Sadhus of indeterminate age and perhaps because of this, the questions began slowly, but I learned the vocabulary, the words nubbe and 'sathi. I, the 'sathi, am exactly Sugata's age when he first arrived in Nepal, 43, and from the start I enjoy the pace we travel at, it suits me fine: off at 7, walking no more than 6 hours a day and with frequent stops for Nepali chai and its antidote apple pie.



Sugata crossing the Kali Gandaki supported by our guide, Sallygrame


Just after Marpha on our way down now, we crossed the bridge to the Tibetan Refugee camp in Chhairo where an unusual grove of tall evergreen deodar trees gave shade and protection from the wind whipping up the Kali Gandaki (as it does) to an isolated settlement of 200 Tibetan refugees, and a substantial and old walled Gompa.

Sugata came alone to this Gompa in 1960 and took many photographs of the ornate brass and the elegantly carved wooden Buddha figures along with the magnificent thanka wall paintings. It must have been soon after his visit that all that could be carried away were stolen; when he came again in 1979 the empty Gompa was guarded 'after the horse had bolted' by Gorkhas.

Today the wall paintings had all but disappeared to water penetration, and only the fixed Buddha figures remained. In their faded glory they were still impressive, perhaps even more so, humanly worn as we all are with age; particularly the giant painted clay image of Padmasambhava, broken but still firmly holding the heads of greed, hate, delusion - still overcoming.

Outside Tukuche we visited another ruin, the original Tukuche Gompa where Sugata had photographed the Black Hat ceremony. In November 1960 people had travelled for days over high passes, no doubt snow covered then and treacherous, and the Gompa was milling. The masks were taken out of their locked caskets, under the umbrella the Guru Rimpoche arrived, the dance commenced, and Sugata photographed from sun rise to sun set. Today, despite being a ruin, it was a magical place, tucked behind a hill in a protected valley, patched green with new grain shoots and apple trees, still fertile from the time the monks worked the land.


Sugata on his 90th birthday in the Tatopani hot springs.



Sugata's birthday itself was spent mostly in the hot springs of Tatopani, where he more or less lived for 4 days. In the evening however, he ascended the stone steps to the garden of the Dhaulageri Lodge and partook of a Tuborg beer and birthday cake under the falling clementine trees. Our courteous and friendly host, Bhuwan Gauchan, invited him the next day for a feast of milk rice in memory of his 1960 journey. Then, under strict orders from Amrit Ananda, Sham Sherchan fed him milk rice for his entire 3 months expedition, turning Sugata's finger nails white but avoiding the uncertainties of local food.

When asked what had changed in the valley over the years Sugata would reply 'The ubiquitous trail of pink Chinese toilet paper is no longer around - which means there are more toilets. And there are less blisters - when I came in 1979 everyone seemed to suffer from blisters. But the mountains, they are the same, and still as awe inspiring.' The whole trek, organised by Explore Alpine Adventures (Kathmandu), was for both of us a gentle unravelling of a past as well as plenty of the here and now, in a timelessly inspiring setting of great mountains.


Sashi Djoj Tukuche and Sugata, artists togethe, discussing mixing colours.


 The Chhairo Gompa circle

In the end the photographs commissioned by Sham Sharchan in 1960 were not used - the Lamas did not want to publicise their ceremonies and, like the masks, the hundreds of photographs and slides lay in Sugata's boxes these many years.

Until now that is. Until we had dinner with Shashi Dhoj Tulachan, a Thanka artist, on our 2nd last evening in Kathmandu. Over an extraordinary dinner he told us that with a committee (the Kali Gandaki Foundation Trust) he is raising funds to restore the Chhairo Gompa, and yes, definitely the 1960 photographs would be extremely useful for the restoration work. It took a circuitous and fascinating route, every turn of which was a surprising adventure, to get to Shashi. We had to meet Patrick and Purna in Tukuche who first mentioned Shashi Dhoj Tulachan's interest in restoring the Gompa. We had to meet Bhuwan in Dhaulagiri lodge, Tatopani, and talk to him about the Sham Sherchan family; Bhuwan had to meet the widow of Sham Sherchan at a wedding in Pokara and mention Sugata's travels with her husband in 1960; Mrs Sham Sherchan had to be so interested to meet us she returned a day early from another wedding in Pokhara and when we met her she had to be immediately decisive enough to telephone Shashi Dhoj Tulachan. Shashi, without knowing anything about us, said we should meet immediately.

There was a touching moment when we first met Shashi. Inspired by a memory of a photograph taken at that time, Sugata turned to Shashi and said: 'When I came up to Tukuche I visited a thanka artist. He had two houses, one he used exclusively to paint in and it was little way from his family house to give him isolation and concentration. I took a photograph of him and another of him with his little son, who was just beginning to lean this old tradition. In the courtyard was a hen, and I asked if it was the hen that provided the yolk for the tempera. 'Yes' said the man, and I took a photograph of the hen as well.'

Shashi's face became more and more incredulous and finally bust in laughter.

'I was that little son,' he finally said.

Sugata in the mountains - Dhaulageri in the background.

Reflections in Kathmandu

I am thinking on Sugata's longevity. This morning at breakfast he had his usual 'petrol' as he calls it - porridge, 3 eggs, 4 cups of chai and curd. There has to be more to it than nearly 80 years a fulsome vegetarian.

There is his forehead shiva lingha, that strong horizontal line between his eye brows, that indicator of the 'will do'. 'Whatever you want you will get', said the Sadhu we met on his way up to Muktinath on the Kali Gandaki plain who sat down on a stone and gave Sugata his astrological reading. (I've watched Sugata passing a loiterer on the Annapurna circuit, I've seen him pick up speed.) '108 will be your best year,' were the Sadhu's parting words.

But there is something more. It is his depth and serenity of enjoyment. Hours he spent in the Tatopani hot springs, 2-3-4 times a day, often returning well after dusk in torch light feeling his way up the stone steps to a beer or hot chocolate. He can sleep any where any time. Never that modern cry of 'I had a restless night'. None of that. Gone. Fast asleep. In a bed or in an Nepali bus from Pokhara to Kathmandu, over paved and unpaved roads, he sleeps. No problem.

April 2001

The bare footed sadhu and Sugata share an astrological joke on Kali Gandaki.
'2001 will be your best year yet, and you will live to be 108',he predicted.




Mrs Sam Sherchan, the widow of Sam Sherchan who Sugata travelled with in 1960, Sugata and I outside her Kathmandu home.



The Kali Gandaki Foundation Trust can be contacted at kgft@unlimit.com, or www.kgft.org

Explore Alpine Adventure, the honest and friendly people who organised our trek, are based in Kathmandu: PO Box 5371, Kathmandu, Nepal. Tel 422714 explore@ccsl.com.np 





Part1 in PicturesIndia 1953Nepal 1954 | Kali Gandaki 1960 | Sugata at 90 | Sugata in India 2001 | Norway 1940-2001

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