Giving and Receiving

Young nuns returning with wood, Chulichan, Ladakh

(7 minute read)
Always, whatever I give is so little compared to what I receive. 

Fall leaves, brilliant blue Indus River, Ladakh
Stupas Overlooking the Indus River at Saspol, Ladakh

Another trip to Chulichan, Rizong Nunnery, the oldest Tibetan Buddhist nunnery in Ladakh, fills me with gratitude, each and every time.

Sewing resusable menstrual pads together
During my last visit there, I was told how financially difficult it is to provide menstrual pads for the young nuns. Not only is it a continual cost not covered by the funds provided by the monastery for food, but there is also no way to dispose of them. They can’t be burned and to bury anything in Ladakh requires rigorous digging through rock. Upon returning home from that visit, I did some research and found an NGO in India that produces and supplies reusable pads to woman nationally and internationally (Eco Femme). I purchased 75 pads, 45 pre-made and 30 sew-your-own pads, which is five pads for each menstruating female. After a long month of tracking the box from southern India (Pondicherry) to Chandigarh, to Srinagar, to Jammu, to Delhi and finally to Leh, a round about way to say the least, and this is through India’s “speed post”, the box finally arrived.

The striking contrast of fall in Ladakh along the Indus River

Before leaving my home, a friend asked me to drop a few plants to a home in a village along the way. As I approached this village two hours later, a woman was waiting on the road for me. I gave her the plants and she gifted me a bag of fresh large red apples from her home. I later shared half with the nuns and gave the other half to a monk friend I met on the way back. Give and receive, sharing always is the way of life here.

Making the three hour trip to Chulichan (place of many apricots), stopping at times to capture the dramatic contrast of fall leaves against the brilliant blue Indus backed by the stark brown soil and rocks of the desert landscape, I arrived at my favorite place of peace and community. Welcomed by the young nuns, they immediately run down to great me and carry any and all goods up to the kitchen. 

Drying Bananas

Drying bananas for the long winter
I brought a box of 100 bananas to dry for the winter, dried blueberries, cherries, raisins, and strawberries, a case of eggs, and our new pads. A group of the girls took the bananas and started peeling, cutting and laying out to dry. We have learned the simplest way is to cut the bananas in half and then cut each half in four long wedges. The peels were saved for me, laid out to dry, so that I could burn them and collect                                                                          the ash to make soap later.

Kunzes and her beloved dog Sentuk
Kunzes, the head nun for the last 16 years, and I sat down to drink tea and reconnect. She is such a precious friend in my life. I can share anything with her and I am supported and loved. She understands me and speaks enough English for us to get by. I explained the process of making the pads and showed her the 10-minute instructional video that took me two days to download to my computer. We then brought in five of the older nuns. Sitting on the cushions, I shared the process of sewing-your-own, Kunzes translating, then showed them the video, pausing when needed for more explanation and translation. And we began. 

After an hour or so, Kunzes called several other young nuns to join us and the older ones instructed the younger, working in pairs. The fist day we worked together for nearly three hours and had only one pad completed by the end, laughing and laughing at the process, the mistakes. We did however have many in various stages, as each pad requires at least three thorough stitchings by hand. At one point the old hand-turning sewing machine was brought up to explore if it might be beneficial. It was generally decided that by hand was a better plan, although requiring a great deal more time.

I stayed three days with my sisters here. Afternoons we sat sewing and laughing together. They tried to teach me the word for scissors (we had one small pair of scissors to share between the ten of us). It became a song. I thought I was learning a song and singing along when they kept laughing and finally said, Kelly, please pass the scissors! By the time I left, we were close to having completed half of the pads.

The Old Kitchen

The old kitchen
The women and girls awaken each morning at 6 and spend the next hour or so in morning prayers and then sitting independently studying or memorizing new prayers/teachings. Then a light breakfast and tea is served. Two girls are assigned cooking duty for a day, always an older and younger girl paired together to offer teaching and support to the younger. Most cooking is done in the old kitchen, a blackened mud room with a hole for smoke to escape, piled high with branches and wood that is collected daily. Others have rotating jobs of washing dishes in the now frigid water running from further up the valley. With the beauty of fall and leaves dropping, the canal and pipes become blocked frequently and we spent some time finding the source of the block and to allow water to flow again.

Water and Washing Area

Water for drinking, washing clothes and dishes, Rizong Nunnery, Ladakh

Others have rotating jobs of washing dishes in the now frigid water running from further up the valley. With the beauty of fall and leaves dropping, the canal and pipes become blocked frequently and we spent some time finding the source of the block and to allow water to flow again.

Kunzes and I shelling walnuts

Kunzes gifted me with two and a half kilos of walnuts from the nearest village. In the warmth of sunlight, we sat together cracking and hulling them, shells saved for the winter fires, the meat of the nut saved for me to take home. 
I spent the next morning making a fire in the old kitchen and burning the banana skins to get the precious ashes needed for me to make soap.

Mitakpa, "impermanence"

When I return next time, I want to take my little hammer and mix of nails, glue, and a saw and do some repairs on things like doors and making shelves.

I love this old broken thermos that was used for a flower pot. Now the metal has all worn away and yet the roots and soil still hold it together.

Fall colors in the narrow valley of Chulichan, Rizong Nunnery, Ladakh
I treasure the evenings visiting with Kunzes, sitting in her little room together with her pup, Sentuk, and talking about Buddhism, or personal challenges and how we overcome them, or perceptions, or understanding of the teachings. Unfortunately, the last several visits when I slept in the room with her, I have been badly bitten by bedbugs, and my body reacts quite severely with welts that itch and hurt for days. Fascinating little critters that seem to ignore some people and love others. Some people have no reaction to bites and others react allergically. Kunzes believed that now that the cold has set in, the bedbugs, “chari” are less active or have died off. The first night I spent with her and found only about 10 bites the next day, but more than I care for. The second night I took my pad and sleeping bag to the rooftop where I marveled at the stars and constellations each time I awoke to bundle deeper into my down bag as the temps dropped to freezing. Twice I awoke to rock falls coming down the steep walls of the valley, probably from the blue sheep who can navigate the sheerest of slopes. In the morning Kunzes called out my name from the floor below, asking if I was good. I joined her in her room for a treasured cup of coffee and we sat together for morning mediation/prayers.

Milking the cow wherever she is, like in the middle of the road..

How can I express the joy, the peace, the love of sharing time in this community? The riches of living with so little, sharing the daily life and chores, the gifts of laughter and work. You might think this way of life is such a struggle, a difficult life, and feel the urge to want to give things, to make life easier. Yet Kunzes and I both agree that we are the ones who are rich, that we have such a precious life, making do with what we have, working together for what we need, not desiring more. We are the ones who feel we have all we need, rich beyond measure, and wanting to share this with you…

Terraced for growing along the Indus..


  1. Lovely post, Kelly dear! Makes me feel joy and hope. Do you know that when I was 13 (to 17) I was living in Pakistan and we were building a huge dam over Indus River? Tarbela Dam, I think it's the biggest in the world. Love to you!

  2. Very interesting Nicoletta! I have not yet been to Pakistan... Much love to you friend..

  3. Jane Legge
    Hi Kelly, I was really moved to read this account of visiting the nunnery and sewing cloth pads with the nuns!! I'm so glad you made this happen despite the challenges of getting the pads there. What an experience, and how fortunate indeed to have this special connection with Kunzes. I just read this article from the link from the EcoFemme Newsletter, as I'm also an EF ambassador. I travel to India when I can, and find that speaking about menstrual health aligns so perfectly with who I am and what I feel I have to give to this world. Also with Buddhism. I've also thought a lot about the potential need for cloth pads at nunneries, but what you did was to discover the need and then fulfil it, which is why it was so special! Let me know if you are ever going to be doing similar projects in other nunneries, I'd love to help somehow :) Much love Xx

    1. Julley Jane ley, Thank you so much for reading and commenting and the work you do for women everywhere. Kunzes and I are exploring the need for pads in the other nunneries in Ladakh., and her senior nuns would be the ones teaching how to make them, with my help. I would love to provide them all with pads but of course will need to do a little fundraising to make that happen. What a great gift you share. Many thanks, julleys form the Himalayas!!

  4. Thank you for sharing your was a heart warming read. Sending you love and hoping to meet all those lovely women one day.. <3 (I work at Eco Femme as the Ambassador Coordinator)

    1. That would be so wonderful. They would love to met you too. They are very happy and grateful to have these pads!!

  5. Absolutely amazing, Kelly. Your blog is incredibly inspiring. I would love to help with the cloth pads . Just let me know how.
    I look forward to visiting Ladakh Much love. Anna

  6. Beautiful,it's a heart touching journey!a little simple thing such as menstrual pad that I always take it for granted.
    It also teaching me to live and appreciate what I hav.
    Much love from swee,big hugs to u and what u had done 💕♥️

  7. Such a beautiful read - I enjoy your writing and your experiences and viewpoint so much

  8. Hello Kelly! It's Lorrie from ID - your blog is amazing! I am going to read it all...for now, I send you love and I am so deeply impacted by what you have shared...imagine, not needing "more" and being so at peace with each other. Thank you thank you


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