Movie Searches for New Lama in Nepal

Destination: Nepal

Movie: Unmistaken Child (2008)

I gasped as the camera panned over a crystal steam and showed a misty green valley shadowed by the moutains that climbers dream of.  The camera tracks characters through the otherworldly narrow passageways between rough stone buildings that could just as well have been built in Middle Ages Europe as living villages in Nepal. Not just once, but several times while watching  Unmistaken Child, I had to fight the urge to call an airline– book a flight– get to Nepal. Now!

You’ll want to travel. This is the kind of movie that could make a bump on a log turn into a wheel.

No mere travelogue,  the documentary film about a gentle Buddhist monk and his search for the reincarnation of his master, could make the staunchest practioner of any other faith more seriously consider Buddhism.

I learned so much about the culture of Nepal and the traditions of Buddhism as I watched this film. An Israel director, Nati Baratz, filmed the documentary with great sensitivity and a great eye for natural beauty of landscapes and people.

The monk who is sent on this quest, Tenzin Zopa, had spent more than twenty years serving his master, the Lama.

We’re not talking about the Dalai Lama, who as most everybody knows fled Tibet and now travels the world. But the Dalai Lama himself asks Zopa to go on this journey. Dalai Lama fans will be thrilled to see a brief appearance by His Holiness.

Dalai Lama and the reincarnation child
Dalai Lama performing ceremony with the child

Zopa served a lower-ranked but still world-famous Lama, Geshe Lama Konchog. Konchog was a man who inspired love form a multitude of people around the world and everyone in Nepal is eager to help find his reincarnation.

The younger monk grieves and explains that he truly does not know what to do next.  He has never had to think about what he is going to do, since his was the life of a follower.  Despite–or because of–this unworldliness, the lamas of his monastery recommend him for the task of finding the Rimpoche–the true reincarnation of the recently deceased. And as the movie site explains, Tenzin Zopa is in reality a pretty impressive person himself.

Prayers go up and astrological calculations fill sheets of paper.  Some clues emerge.  He must go to the valley where he was born–the valley where his late master had a stone-walled retreat on the mountainside. The second clue–the child’s father’s name starts with “A”.  Not a lot to go on, but he walks through small villages asking for a child one to one and a half years old becasue when he starts out, it has been just over a year since the lama died.

We follow along as Zopa shows little boys the rosaries he carries, until he finally finds a child who does not want to give back the rosary that had belonged to Konchog.  Zopa conducts some simple tests. Miraculously, the toddler’s favorite occupation is dragging a hose to water a particular tree–one that was planted by the lama who died. The senior monks at the monastery test the child again and he chooses all the right objects that belonged to his former self. They give him their blessing, he is presented to the Dalai Lama, and the young monk has a new master–or rather he has his old master back in a young body. The very human story of the bewilderment of the small child at having his hair cut off and being separated from his parents and the mixture of pride and grief of his parents makes this a heart wrenching story.

The child being presented to the Dalai Lama
The child being presented to the Dalai Lama

It is a very satisfying film for traveler’s libraries. As my brother, the cynical film critic said (was that sarcasm I detected?), “You mean its even better than Brad Pitt in Seven Years in Tibet?”  Well, yes, I preferred the documentary movie, Unmistaken Child.

I have become more and more fascinated with Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet.  You can read frequently about these cultures at Wanderlust and Lipstick and Hole in the Donut.

Posts here at A Traveler’s Library on similar subjects:

Want to know more about Tenzin Zopa? Visit his Facebook page. But wait, there’s more. Here’s the Dalai Lama on Facebook.

Have you been to Nepal or Tibet? Have you seen the Dalai Lama? Do you practice Buddhism? Tell us about your experiences



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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

11 thoughts on “Movie Searches for New Lama in Nepal

  1. Nepal has been on my “to travel list” for years. Perhaps it has to do with the beautiful mountain scenery that you described from the film. Unmistaken Child sounds fascinating. I can’t imagine the confusion of the poor little boy as he is thrust into a life away from his family.

    1. Donna: Yes, seeing the little boy begging the monk to keep his parents there was heartbreaking. But it was also so interesting to see the reactions of his parents and others who were hoping, yet dreading, that their own child was the “unmistakeable” child.

  2. did you know that the Dalai Lama’s elder brother founded a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Bloomington, Indiana? though his brother has passed on the monastery continues, and the Dalai Lama still visits Bloomington. a friend of mine went to see him there last May.

  3. I can’t wait to see this. I have a real fascination with Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet, as well as the Dalai Lama. I’ve bought CDs to hear him speak and have been captivated by him for years. In fact, Buddhism really intrigues me. This sounds great.

  4. With the way I love Nepal, and the fact that I’m a Tibetan Buddhist to boot, I simply must see this movie. A fascinating review, and I can personally attest to the beauty of Nepal.

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