Kung Fu Nuns

Thousands of years ago, the Buddha shared his wisdom about the virtue of patience, or as he sometimes called it, endurance. In modern times, this eastern tradition of overcoming suffering and remaining calm in the face of challenges has been adopted by the crazy world of extreme sports. To see it in its rawest form, we must journey to South Asia, where testing physical and mental limits is a local pastime. Over the years, the region has become a Mecca for those daring to move mountains.

Just outside Kathmandu, the Amitabha monastery houses a peculiar Buddhist sect called the Drukpa Order. These nuns who don’t just pray and meditate. Here, fearless girls, some as young as nine, train in endurance cycling, long-distance walking and martial arts. Their focus: promote gender equality and environmentalism, which is shown through their world-renowned yatras, or extreme pilgrimages.

Buddhist nun. Photo: kungfununs.org


Since 2006, they have organized annual walking tours known as eco-yatras. These are normally over 400km long, starting in Kathmandu and proceeding to cities as far away as Delhi. In 2014, the nuns walked 800km from the Nepalese border to the Indian city of Varanasi, picking up trash along the way. In between, they make shorter yatras to nearby villages every few months to deliver supplies to the needy, as they did after the devastating 2015 earthquake. However, their impressive feats do not stop there. 

The Drupe Order’s iconic uniforms. Photo: Kung Fu Nuns


In 2016, a 500-nun-long line of red uniforms and bicycles glided along the roads from Kathmandu to the Indian city of Leh, a whopping 5,000km of stamina and conviction to highlight the plague of human trafficking. Along the way, the nuns prayed, meditated, taught in villages and even repaired their own bikes. Last year, 200 nuns set off again for a 3,000km cycling pilgrimage from Nepal to Darjeeling, marking their fifth cycling yatra, to teach young women and men about female empowerment.

Opposition from traditionalists and the land’s volatility did not deter these kung fu nuns from breaking through the 2,000-year-old societal fabric, showing from where extreme sports gets its backbone.