Students and instructors stand on a solitary path that winds through the Milam Valley in the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains. The Gori Ganga River rushes by below. They stand together to hang a few brass bells to memorialize their lost coursemate, Tom Plotkin or, as they came to call him, “T-Plot.”
These students, Tom’s family and friends, and the NOLS community lost a truly outstanding individual when he fell off the trail here nearly two weeks ago. A week later, on Sept. 29, his coursemates and instructors returned to honor Tom’s memory, hanging one large bell etched with his name and moniker in a shrine in a nearby village and a few small bells from a branch on the trail where he was last seen.
Bells are traditionally hung in the entrances of temples or shrines or on high passes of the region, often with prayer cloths hanging from the hammer, to carry sound and energy across vast distances. As the wind picks up the prayer cloth and the bell rings, a connection is believed to be made between the hearer, the message of the bell, and cosmic energy.
“Any time that bell rings, it resonates the students’ feelings toward Thomas’ soul for peace and happiness,” NOLS India Director Ravi Kumar said explained.
This group started traveling and living together Aug. 23; they were 29 days into the semester course when Tom fell. They had completed the first aid portion of the course and had moved into the backpacking section. Since the accident, the semester course members have received support from additional staff rushed to the area and a counselor.
After the solemn occasion, the students continued their NOLS experience in India, embarking on the next section of the semester. They are now immersed in a cultural experience Tom, who helped teach his coursemates Hindi and sought answers to world hunger, surely would have relished. Students will explore the culture of a village in the Munsiari region for approximately two weeks before moving into a second backpacking portion.
Events like this rock NOLS to its very core. Thank you for your support, care and concern. Join us as we keep Tom's family, friends and coursemates in our thoughts and prayers.
Casey worked as a writer and PR specialist for NOLS.