Nepal's Oscar phenomenon grappling with cancer
Mar 9, 2007 - 1:42:57 PM

Kathmandu, March 9 - While Australian diva Kylie Minogue's battle with cancer made the headlines, few know about the fight against the dreaded disease being waged by Nepal's Oscar phenomenon, a yak herder who has provided the plot for the only Nepali film to have been nominated for an Academy Award.

All his life Thinley Lundup Lama struggled in Dolpo district's Saldang village in the mountainous north to eke out a precarious living trading salt laden on yak back for corn and other crops.

A tiny break occurred in the 1990s when French photographer Eric Valli made a film in Nepali, capturing the life of the yak caravan traders pitted against the harsh mountains, nature and their culture.

From tending yaks, Thinley was catapulted into the tinsel world, playing the lead in Valli's 'Caravan'. The film, that resembles more a documentary than a feature, was an eight-day wonder, shot with a cast who were all first-time actors playing their own lives.

In 1999, 'Caravan' was nominated in the best foreign film category, a feat that no Nepali film has been able to repeat since.

The craggy, white-haired Thinley became a celebrity in Nepal almost overnight. Recently, a maverick music band sought him out for their music video, 'Sa Karnali', where he briefly plays a trader once again in a single song.

Two years after the film, a local daily reported how he struggled to raise money for the treatment of his son, who was suffering from chest and back pain.

Now the patriarch himself is in Kathmandu's B and B Hospital, fighting stomach cancer, local daily Kantipur reported Friday.

Diagnosed with stomach cancer, Thinley is undergoing chemotherapy. He felt the first pains about three months ago and like the people in his part of the world, tried traditional herbs and medicines.

However, there was no cure and he went to Mumbai's Tata Hospital. There his disease was diagnosed and after a week, he was referred to Nepal for treatment.

Therapy has changed Thinley beyond description. Gone are his trademark flowing locks and long moustache.

'It was chhang - that caused my affliction,' the patriarch rued in the hospital.

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