I first heard the name of Wong How Man through a common friend, Stéphane Gros, himself a researcher, colleague and friend at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris. Knowing that my research on pilgrimages around sacred mountains was going to lead me to make the pilgrimage around Kawakarpo Mountain in 2003, he put me in contact with How Man. In fact, that year was a water-sheep year, considered to be the most auspicious one for the Kawakarpo pilgrimage, since it is said to be the mountain god’s birth year and the sixtieth year in the Tibetan sexagenary calendrical system. I thus met How Man, a man of immense generosity and faithful in friendship at a very auspicious time. Not only did he open to me the doors of the CERS Center beside Napa Lake, close to the city of Gyalthang, but he also invited me to participate in the program he had conceived for the pilgrims journeying to Kawakarpo mountain in that very special year. CERS first took care in repairing the wooden bridge across the Mekong, and built a tea house and a clinic next to the bridge, a compulsory passage for all pilgrims. With the help of a team of young Tibetans and Chinese, we were in a perfect situation not only to offer tea and first aid to the pilgrims but also to count the pilgrims (daily from 6AM to 8PM) and to ask a series of questions that had been chosen by How Man and the team.
It was for me a tremendous help since it is always nearly impossible to determine how many people are doing a pilgrimage in a given year. We calculated a total of 67,152 people arriving between June and October 2003. My curiosity was not yet satisfied and I wanted to go deeper in my research, so I came back in 2004, then in 2005. Again, I was able to benefit not only from the
charm of the facilities of the CERS Center but also to meet once more with How Man. I even attended a conference he gave, which allowed me to know better the multiple programs in which he himself and CERS were engaged. That was impressive. One of the programs that I found particularly exciting was the reintroduction of pure-bred mastiffs in Tibet. Ten of those beautiful dogs were living in the Center at that time.
How Man’s talent for finding particularly sublime sites is awesome and all the houses he has built, even the most simple, are beautiful and pleasant to live in. The Napa Lake Center is one example, but I especially remember the nights spent in the tea house by the bridge, rocked by the roar of the Mekong below. Then, there was the center he founded near Dechen, which became the kennel for the dogs and from where you have one of the best views of the Kawakarpo range that you could ever dream about.
Another characteristic of How Man is his insatiable curiosity and his multiple interests. He is the initiator of various
projects of renovation of Tibetan nunneries and temples, but this did not prevent him from being interested in Christian missionaries as well. The Missions étrangères and the priests of the Grand Saint-Bernard hospice were very active in the region between 1846 and 1946. In 2008, with film-maker Chris Dickinson, we went to the Saint-Bernard Mission in Martigny (Switzerland) in order to interview and film Father Savioz, the last living priest of the Saint Bernard Mission to Tibet. How Man had been in contact with him over many years and had even invited him several times to come back to Tibet, but it was only in 2003, when the priest was 84 years old, that this project could be realized. Thanks to How Man, Father Savioz could come back to Tibet one last time, to a place where he had spent many years and for which he felt great love.
From all his explorations and travels, How Man brought back many extraordinary photos that everyone can admire, among other places, on the walls of the Center at Napa Lake. These photos give an idea of the numerous and varied explorations he has led. This CERS Center is also a magical place for those who want to work or write. Nearby, a wooden house rises in the woods. Divided into two parts, one for writers and the other for musicians, it offers its inhabitants the perfect quietude to write or compose. I am one of the privileged few who have lived in this house, and the weeks that I spent there were only pure happiness.
According to the Tibetan tradition, the thaumaturge Padmasambhava who introduced Tantric Buddhism to Tibet, hid spiritual treasures (terma) in the earth or in the minds of his disciples in order that they be rediscovered in due course by predestined beings called “discoverers of treasures” (tertön). With his books, newsletters, exhibits and lectures, How Man plays somehow the role of a tertön, offering to all interested people the results of his discoveries and often introducing fascinating places where he himself does not stay long, thus leaving for others the pleasure of continuing the research.
Dear How Man, in this year that sees you reaching your 70th year, influenced by the Tibetan tradition, I wish you Tsering (Long life)!