In their home, Pasang G. Sherpa’s widow, Khandoe Lama, keeps a table for doing puja, a ceremony of prayers offered to the Buddhas. Photo: Ambar Castillo

In his past decade and a half of public activism in New York City, the late Pasang Gelzen Sherpa had met the Dalai Lama, Karmapa Lama and the Tibetan prime minister. 

Pasang, who died on Dec. 4 at the age of 54, was diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer in early 2022. Despite having few family members in the country, Pasang’s funeral service in Elmhurst was packed on the morning of Dec. 7. 

At home, his gray and blue binders, dotted with “Free Tibet” stickers, are filled with photos of Pasang at countless community functions and protests. Just as impressive is the collection of certificates and plaques from local politicians and organizations: among them, a City Council citation and community service award from 25th district council member Shekar Krishnan and former council member Daniel Dromm, and recognitions from the local chapters of the Tibetan Youth Congress, Students for a Free Tibet and the United Sherpa Association

A “Covid Heroes” award from New York State Assembly member Jeffrion L. Aubry also features in the collection. During the pandemic, Pasang had been a key coordinator of food distribution efforts, blood drives and intergenerational cultural initiatives in the Elmhurst, Woodside and Jackson Heights areas. 

Khandoe Lama points out awards and recognitions Pasang G. Sherpa garnered for his years of community activism. Photo: Ambar Castillo

His widow, Khandoe Lama, had gathered up these treasures last Sunday, just before one of her pujas, ceremonies of prayers offered to the Buddhas to help bless and guide the deceased to a higher state of rebirth. In her incense-scented living room, a monk sat, eyes crinkling behind his glasses, cross-legged on the couch; he was there to help with the puja. On a small wooden table, a beaded necklace and butter lamps faced a headshot of Pasang in a chuba, or traditional Sherpa dress.  

Who was Pasang G. Sherpa?

Pasang was born on Aug. 19, 1969 in Solukhumbu, a district in eastern Nepal, home to Mount Everest. He was raised by his grandfather, a monk who taught him Tibetan history.

“From childhood, in his brain, he thought, ‘Tibet, Tibet, Tibet,’” Khandoe said. “That’s why I think he is more close with the Tibet cause. Even though he didn’t become as active in the demonstrations until later on, until maybe 2008, he still had that in his heart while he was in Nepal.”

As a teen, Pasang moved to Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, where he would go on to lead mountain treks, something Sherpas are particularly renowned for doing at very high altitudes. 

It was in Kathmandu that Pasang met Khandoe. After years of friendship, much of which was long-distance (Pasang migrated to New York City in 1997, settling in Jackson Heights), they were married on July 22, 2016.   

Pasang loved living in New York, Khandoe said. The ability to protest without fear of repercussions won his gratitude. So did finding a large community from Nepal and Tibet who cared about keeping the culture alive. His one gripe, said Khandoe, was the dust that sometimes settled around Diversity Plaza; Pasang would often volunteer to help sweep the streets. 

“He had a huge mole on his face — he was very hard to miss,” said Tenzin Dorjee, a senior researcher at the Tibet Action Institute, laughing. “And he always had a flag with him because he wanted to be prepared.”

Because he was so well known in the NYC Tibetan community, Pasang got a chance to meet the Dalai Lama more than once during the latter’s world tours. Each time, Pasang presented the spiritual leader of Tibet with a Tibetan flag.

Pasang G. Sherpa with Assemblymember Steven Raga at Diversity Plaza. Photo courtesy of the office of Steven Raga. 

“More Tibetanness than most Tibetans”

Sonam Wangdue, like other local activists for the Tibetan cause, met Pasang in 2008 — the year of the largest Tibetan uprising in decades — while protesting outside the Chinese consulate. Sonam was then an executive member of the New York chapter of the Tibetan Youth Congress. Sonam could tell by his accent that Pasang, who hails from Nepal, wasn’t a native of Tibet. 

“I was like, ‘who’s this strange guy who speaks not fluent Tibetan, but I feel has more Tibetanness than most Tibetans?’” he said. 

This “Tibetanness,” he says, is measured in terms of the pain one feels about the colonial occupation of Tibet. It’s a feeling shared by Sonam, a Jackson Heights resident who was born and raised in India but considers Tibet his true home.

Pasang’s friend and fellow activist Tenzin, who lived much of his early life as a Tibetan exile in India, would often take a break from political talk after seeing each other in rallies all the time, he told Epicenter. Not Pasang. He would order a coffee and take it outside, where he could chat with passersby.

“Everything that he felt, he felt very strongly,” Tenzin said. “Even though I had seen him and talked with him so many times, every time we spoke, he always liked to talk about politics.”

While there are huge Tibetan communities in India, Nepal and Bhutan, they don’t have a right to peaceful protest, as guaranteed in the United States constitution (albeit with certain limitations). Tibetan protesters abroad often face human rights violations such as excessive use of force, arbitrary arrest, beatings in detention and unlawful threats to deport Tibetans to China. 

Any time Pasang would hear about another lathi charge, or instance of the police charging at crowds of demonstrators with batons, he would be equal parts irate at the Nepali government and sympathetic to Tibetans who lacked the freedom to protest he enjoyed in New York City. He was a frequent attendee at fundraisers for the cause. Even after his diagnosis, he rarely skipped the weekly circle dance at Moore Homestead Playground in Elmhurst. Known as Gorshey, the dance circle is part of a cultural resistance movement called Lhakar, or “white Wednesday,” in Tibetan. 

Nearly everyone Epicenter spoke with at a recent Gorshey dance recognized Pasang by face and name. In the fine silk chupas and the swaying movements of the circle, it’s easy to picture Pasang dancing alongside Tibetans in Queens.  

“He used to dress up very well,” said Tempa Sherpa, president of the local chapter of the United Sherpa Association.

“As a social worker and fighter for human rights working with other communities — sometimes with Tibetans, other Nepali [ethnicities] — none of our Sherpas are as active as he,” Tempa added. “Whatever he did, it was our Sherpa pride.” 

Pasang G. Sherpa would often attend Gorshey, a weekly circle dance held as part of a movement called Lhakar, or “white Wednesday,” at Moore Homestead Playground in Elmhurst. Photo: Ambar Castillo

“Even death couldn’t stop him”

“Just like his dedication to the political cause was unwavering, he fought back tooth and nail; he never gave up until the last moment,” Tenzin said. 

In between sessions of chemotherapy, as soon as he was feeling a bit better, Pasang would head back to the protests with a zest that led others to believe he had recovered.

“I was a little misled into thinking that he was going to be totally fine,” Tenzin said. “The last few months, I would see a picture of him at a particular rally or event, and I would think, ‘he’s getting better now; that’s a great sign.’ He had this nature, like even death couldn’t stop him.”

When Pasang could no longer leave his home, friends visited him, offering fruit and fresh juice, as was their custom. 

“I’m not down, I’m still up,” Pasang would tell visitors, says Sonam. He wasn’t afraid of what came next, just as he knew he wouldn’t surrender, friends remembered him saying. 

“I’m not worried about his next life because he has so much good karma,” Sonam said, laughing. “The only thing I request to God is [for Pasang to] please come back with a mole on his face. Because I can’t recognize him without that.”

Neighborhood Recommendation

Among the coffeeshops he loved along 37th Ave., one of Pasang’s favorite spots to get coffee and chat with passersby was Caffe Bene Café in Jackson Heights, according to Khandoe Lama.

How to Support

With the 49th day of Pasang Sherpa’s passing approaching (in Buddhist tradition, 49 days is the amount of time said that a deceased being spends in the bardo, or the intermediate state between births), Khandoe Lama is planning a special puja. You can email her at if you would like to support. 


This is the first in a series of stories remembering the life and death of New York residents who impacted their community, but may not have been recognized by traditional media. If you know someone you would like honored in this way, email  

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