Tuesday, October 21, 2008

MC Yogi: Obama '08 - Vote for Hope

This Rocks! I'm not that political, but was very moved by this.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Buddhist Recipe for Optimism

How can one be optimistic in the time we live in? It's not as difficult as you think. It takes having a prospective and understanding the nature of the mind. Here are some tips from and incurable Buddhist Optimist.

I have noticed that pessimism is always so much more popular then optimism. As an incurable optimist I have mostly avoided this pitfall, but there are practical precautions that can really help. Here are some of my best ones:

1) Meditation: I sit silently for about an hour a day and try to do longer retreats every year for a little quiet time. Basically, the modern world doesn’t appreciate the joy of silence. It has been quoted by Meher Baba (Avatar, Mystic, Prophet} and also in the Vedas (Ancient Indian Scriptures) that this is the age of noise, vice and ignorance of our own true nature (Kali Yuga). Well, Daaa. It’s pretty freakin’ noisy & ignorant in the world, but that’s why sitting silently and opening to inner wisdom is so beautiful.

It’s always hard to start for me to start my meditation (in the age of noise of course). I have two secrets. One is I remember a quote from a Buddhist Monk when he was sitting to meditate,...” the joy of sitting”. It’s a simple expression, but it works! I take a moment to remember that sitting silently is a joy!

The other thing I have noticed is that after the first five minutes the ego gives up it’s power over the mind. Yeah that right, the ego gives up and lets you sink deeper and deeper in to silence. The ego is so much in control of the mind. It’s grip is like a vice. You just can’t let go. There are too many important decisions. The intellect is always sorting and categorizing things to do, things to not do, etc. So, I have discovered if I can just sit for five minutes, then I can sit in meditation as long as I want after.

With Meditation I gain a clear prospective. As the Zen saying goes: “It looks real, but it is not real.” During meditation the outer reality becomes fuzzy and the inner reality become more tangible. That inner realm is so much more connected with truth then the outer. With that prospective the rest of the day is perceived from a silent center and not on the surface. I am the ocean, not the waves.

2) No News is good news. I know you want to know what’s going on with the elections and who blew up in Iran today, but really,..... do these things have anything to do with your life? Someone somewhere is always doing something crazy, but that Karma is very far removed from your Dharma (life purpose).

Another thing you have to consider is where that news is coming from. Last I heard, there are about four mega-corporation that own all the media or most of it. And what do you think there going to report? They’ll report whatever suits them and support there agenda. I call it honesty challenged news.

News is also sensationalized to give it some kick with a bias toward drama. Don’t you have enough drama already? Do you really need somebody else to tell you their drama? I know it’s entertaining, but it’s not the best choice for entertainment. Open your eyes and look around. There is so much beauty to be seen.

News, just don’t do it! No TV news, no radio news, no internet news, and no newspaper. Sound insane? Well let me tell you a story: I quit all TV & news for about 10 years while living in a Meditation center. A decade later, when I finally took a peak at current events the only regret I had was missing the great days of Saturday Night Live. That was it. Everything else was unimportant in retrospect.

A lot of people don’t realize how the mind works. You can put stuff in, but you can’t take it out. What you can do is choose wisely what goes in, because once it’s in there, it is part of the mix that you have to live with for the rest of your life. In sanskrit, it is called the “Chit” or storehouse of memories. We only want good chit (pun intended). We want Sat Chit Ananda translated as BEing, Mind, Bliss!

3) Physical Well-Being. Now this is a big subject, so can just summarize here. Buddhism puts it this way: Eat well and don’t take poison (ie alcohol, tobacco, & drugs). I’m not say that you can’t party occasionally. After all you’re and evolving soul in need of all life’s experiences. It’s just as it says above the temple of the Oracle of Delphi: “Nothing in Excess”. It’s no fun anyway when you over do it.

Often negativity is a physiological response to not feeling good in the body. Simple enough. The mind and body are intimately related. Do the best you can with that physical Temple. You only have it for a little while. Keep it tuned up.

4)Emotional Well-Being. Once again there is an opportunity here to choose wisely. We’ve all had toxic relationships. A little self inquiry can identify who brings you down and who makes you feel good. One idea is to separate the givers from the takers. It’s not an even split. People are not half an half. There are a lot of great people out there giving and supporting you. Lose the takers from your life. Let the vampires suck somebody else’s life force. You have your own dance to do and Dharma to unfold.

5)Existence is Cyclical. Yes, it is a infinite dance of checks and balances. The pendulum swing both ways. I laugh when I hear stock went down because the Federal Reserve Chairman sneezed and then back up again because someone threw him as surprise birthday party. They always go up and down as does everything else. It’s called as cycle. Don’t sweat it. Take a broad prospective.

The Taoist call this a ‘lesson world’ When Buddha say in the first Noble Truth that “life is suffering” it is not to make you feel bad. It’s the beginning and at the other side there is freedom from suffering.

6) Relativity of history. I’m a big student of history. I know this sound boring, but I have a passion to know why the human race is so silly and I wonder how crazy our ancestors must have been. It gives a great prospective. As far as I have read, we live in a golden era. You think war & corruption is a new thing. Let me tell you. Now your bummed it your run out of coffee or your team losses the big game. In Roman times (which did last 900 year by the way) a bad day was when the Roman legions marched in your town to demonstrate ‘Pax Romana’ (Roman Peace). It would start with killing all the men and enslaving all of the women & children. Then they would burn and level the entire town with the finishing touch of salting the earth so nothing could ever grow there again. The place was called Carthage. That was in 146 BC, but hey it has happened again and again. Any cursory review of history makes today’s events menial and life absolutely wonderful.

Optimism is not so hard. All of existence has been designed to help you evolved. All the sages, saints, and prophets have left wisdom traditions to give you a direction. Your habits of the past (Samsara) can be changed if you want to be happy. Nature itself is singing a song of joy right now. Just listen.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Acceptance & Patience to Enlightenment

I had the rare opportunity to meet Kirin Baba in India about 10 year ago and asked him my most pertinent question: "How did you get Enlightened" His answer were not at all what I expected and change my life in simple yet profound ways.

Greetings & Salutations Friend in Cyberspace! I too was once a Human BEing and now I’m more of one. Let me tell you briefly how this happened.

Naturally, this story will be set in India and yes, you guessed it: there is a Guru. Still, the other elements don’t necessarily fall into the Enlightenment Cliche.

For one, I was a traveler in India and not looking for any one or any thing. Second, my interest was very casual toward this Guru. All the events of the day sorta happened by accident. I had no expectation and was not on a burning quest for Enlightenment.

I went to visit the Guru Kirin Baba just out of curiosity. I had been doing a month long meditation retreat at Osho Ashram in Poone, India. Osho Ashram was the center for Osho (Sri Bhagwan Rajneeh) who has passed on some years before. It is a delightful magical place and great for meditation and transformation.

Over lunch one day I heard some other Sanyasins (Osho Monks) talking about this Guru that was giving Satsang (spiritual gatherings) on Sundays across town. They raved about his simple, natural, down to earth style of discourse and talked about the importance of being near a living master. I felt intrigued and decide to go see him that afternoon.

It started with the usual hair raising rickshaw taxi across town from the Sunderban Guest House next to the Osho Ashram where I stayed. After half an hour driving, I arrived at an upper middle class house in a residential neighborhood. It was a pleasant sunny temperate Spring day. The house was unassuming and typical concrete block one story dwelling.

A plump Indian lady met us as we arrived and directed us back to an open air garage with a carpeted floor and pillow to sit on. A recording of the Shiva chant OM NAMA SHIVAYA played nearby. I guess to create a mood. It seem out of place as the Guru Kirin Baba was not a Shiva devotee, but whatever. This was India.

Some other ‘westerners’ had gathered and we all set silently on the floor cushions. Up front was an odd chair that resemble a dental chair. There were about 30 or 40 people there. All were young Spiritual seekers from around the world.

After a meditative wait of about an hour Kirin Baba arrives to sit in the chair. He is an unpretentious Indian man about 60 wear typical Indian white punjabi dress. His expression is somewhat amused and mischievous. I liked him already.

He doesn’t bother to lecture or do anything formal. Instead he opens the floor for questions. I am only in the second row and can see & feel his presence quite well. It was intoxicating.

For some reason I felt like I was Alice in Wonderland or something. The normal reality around me seem to be suddenly shifting in barely perceivable ways as if I was looking through a trick mirror. It was a very subtle experience and the ‘mind’ could quite grasp it. It was slippery like mercury.

The people gathered seemed to be abit on the slow side, perhaps in a meditative daze or just being polite. I don’t know, but for me this was unnecessary. I took the lead and ask the most important question on my mind: “How did you get Enlightened?”

My question was simple and to the point! Kirin Baba laughed at my directness. He answered: “Once I realized that all this meditation & philosophy was bullshit, it happened quite naturally.” Wow, there’s an original answer I thought!

I pursued the subject more. I asked: “Isn’t there anything you can do to bring about this Enlightenment?” Kirin Baba chuckles a little bit and continues the conversation with the word “Acceptance”. He goes on,.... “you see, it is like this: Existence happens. No matter how much you plan with your ‘mind’ in the end Existence just happens,...”

No understanding his point I asked: “Well, how do you decide to leave the house in the morning and go somewhere?” Kirin Baby playfully answers: “The house decides.” I feel like I’m kinda getting what he’s saying, but not totally so I ask more questions.

At this point he goes into some discourse. Kirin Baba talked about how our mind were actually a barrier to Enlightenment. Our small egos are always trying to control everything and not understanding that there is a flow to life. Life has a certain natural tendency to evolve. If we let go and just allow life to happen then our lives would unfold with indescribable beauty in a natural way. He went on to say that are emotions and intuition come from a much higher level of BEing. If we get the intellect out of the way an follow our feeling then we will find truth.

One exact quote I remember from Kirin Baba is this: “Emotions are like the mist near the Ocean. They give you the feeling of the Ocean before you arrive.” The ocean of course being Enlightenment.

The afternoon continued with a number of other questions that were mostly personal in nature. People were more concerned about their career and relationships then the evolution of their consciousness.

There was a German guy there who had just finished a several year training as a Therapist at Osho Ashram. He asked Kirin Baba what he thought about the training and shockingly Kirin Baba replied that it was: “wait of time”. He went on to say that all therapy was just a game of the mind to distract you from your true Being.

The German Therapist became quite exasperated and started to raise his voice. Kirin Baba’s reaction was quite unusual. He told the man: “I am not saying these things. You are here and I am here and Existence happens, so what to do?”

In effect Kirin Baba was saying that this is not my opinion. Only Existence is here coming though me, so what to do. You asked the question and Existence answered it. I take no responsibility because there is no “I”. Wow! What a prospective. There is no “I” There was no Kirin Baba in the room. There was only ‘Existence Happening’.

Many years have passed since that day. Those simple words have never left me. I went back to see Kirin Baba a year later. He was no longer holding Satsang at his home, but it happened that his wife allowed me a private meeting.
Kirin Baba seemed to remember me and welcomed me warmly. As we sat on his back porch I revisited our previous conversation. I told him that I had practiced “Acceptance” in all thing and that it was a more relaxing way to BE, but fundamentally I felt unchanged. I asked him if there was anything else I could do,...

In reply Kirin baba told me that after many year of studying with Osho (Sri Bhagwan Rajneeh) he had two other masters. The last one was a Sufi and from his teaching he gained Enlightenment. The Sufis had a word “Suburi” and this was my next teaching.

“OK fine” I said, “but what does it mean?” Kirin thought for a moment and said: “In English, it translates to mean waiting,....or patience.”

So here I am a decade later Accepting with Patience. It’s not flashy, it’s not glamorous, but it’s very practical. Existence is happening, so what to do?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Blow Up Your TV & Turn Off Your Computer

If you are reading this, then your spending too much time on-line. This may seem like an oxymoronic statement, since I am writing on-line and obviously as guilty as you of too much internet. Well, for one thing I have an internet based business. What’s your excuse?

Before you get angry, please hear me out. I grew up as a TV addict like everyone else I knew and believe me there would have a violent reaction if anybody tried to convince me otherwise,... but that was in the 60’s and we didn’t have computers.

I loved watching Star Trek or the movie of the week, but that was after I would be out in the school yard or down at the creek during the daylight hours. I got lots of of exercise hiking in the hills around our house and great socialization with ball games in the vacant lots and be-be gun wars. It was a normal part of growing up for our generation.

Awhile back I was dating a woman with a ten year old boy. He was an average kid and seemed to be good natured. There was only one problem. He didn’t like going outside. His world was videos or internet games. He stubbornly refused to do anything else as I probably would have at his age over my favorite activities.

Now, I have a new baby and I know soon or later he will be stubbornly arguing for his favorite activities. The difference is we don’t have TV and hopefully we can limit the internet exposure too.

Why you say don’t you have a TV? There are so many great shows and besides isn’t it every American’s duty to watch 6+ hours a day (two months of non-stop watching). My answer is simple. I don’t have the time. I need that two months for my evening walks, my made from scratch meals, my sitting on the porch, my home improvement, my talking to the neighbors, my time with our kid, etc.

I’m sure you get the point. I actually still do netflixs on a home theater once a week, but it’s hard to find time for that even.

As I get older, time moves faster. And I’m here to tell you that at 50+ I know life is short. I want to make the most of it and as much as I love TV shows, they just don’t cut it compared to real life. As much as I love those social network on the internet and talking to nice people in Timbuktu,.... well needless to say, I like my local friend and neighbors more. I can’t borrow a latter from the guy in Timbuktu or sit down for dinner and share real emotion about life’s ups and downs.

Now back to Samsara or Habits of Mind. It’s simple. Your more similar to your computer then you realize. You can be programed or de-programed. Advertising and television in general is programing you day and night. However, you can choose to program yourself for the conscious choices that make your life better.

How? It’s easier then you think. You could start by canceling your cable. I know it’s going to be painful until you make the transition, but I swear you’ll never go back.

If not for you, then how about for you kids? My sister has been a Special Education school teacher for 30 years. She tells me that ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) has more then doubled in the schools. Childhood obesity has been rising for two decades and autism is dramatically increasing. Some article claim that nobody knows why.

Hey, I’m not a doctor, but it’s easy to guess the cause in my opinion. Over stimulation and lack of exercise i.e. television & internet.

If we change our own Samsaras or habits to life enhancing and enriching activities, then we in effect change our children and society in general. It’s take a little discipline and some commitment, but you only live once (each time) and the clock is ticking.

There’s a saying in the ancient Sanskrit text about this. It states that Satvic activities (things that are life giving) are difficult in the beginning, but easy in the long run. Alternately, Tomasic activities (life damaging) are easy in the beginning and difficult in the long run.

I guess the question we have to ask is: Are we good long term planners? Do we really give a crap or do we want to make a difference?

From the Buddhist prospective this quote sums it up: “Pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain is the real source of Suffering” Gautuma Buddha, 500 BCE.

Think about it.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

DAY THREE: Wild Man at the Door

The next morning our gang mulled over the useless map again as a symbolic gesture of planning. Rather then go back up the same valley we had just come down the day before, we choose an obscure and rarely traveled path up the ridge above.

I ask a local village man how difficult the trail was and he answered quite frankly: “Not difficult for us, but for you I think quite difficult”. How I remembered those words as I slowly ascended that steep goat for path for the next 5 hours and 3000 feet.

My God!!!! Why did I choose this path??? I don’t want to admit to how wimpy I can sound, but my mantra the entire afternoon of vertical ascent was: “I must be crazy to do this!” and “I hate this.”

I spearheaded our vertical ascent to the ridge. The trail was so steep in places you had to wrap your arm around small trees to drag yourself up to the next level. My legs felt like alternately like lead and then later wobbly like rubber. Moving them was and exhausting labor. The straps of my backpack cut into my back as I didn’t have the waist belt to disperse the weight.

It seemed like all day, but eventually the ridge gain and we traveled a small distance through small enclaves of Himalayan farm houses. The ridge afforded a view of terraced rice fields that will perfectly accented by the after noon sun. In one small court yard by a farmhouse temple, I paused to photograph prayer flags fluttering and the valley far below. What a vista! It was at once a simple and yet incredibly moving experience.

After an hour or so we arrived to a rarely visited village called Syapargaon. Our presence was duly noted by everyone and yet they didn’t overwhelm us. While it was still light I started to wash my sweaty T-shirt in the stream that ran thru the village center. A funny scene insued as the headman of the village arrived and with an air of bravado threw his worn shirt in my laundry pile by the stream. It was very amusing to all.

In the village, we found lodging in a traditional Tibetan style tea house that was decorated with all kinds of simple rugs, woven textiles and the myriad of small items of the typical Himalayan home. It was not just for travelers, but someone lived there full time. I suppose they may have just vacated their home to rent us the space for a night.

Rob & Julie took a different tea house slightly up the hill. It seemed that no traveler ever came to Syapargaon and we were a very big boost for the local economy. This was even more evident when our little group had dinner together at our guest house. Apparently, this was a big boon as the dinners usually ran about 100 Rps ($2.) per person. The other guest house was visible perturbed. What to do?

We ate the same basic Dhal Bhat dinner as the night before sitting out doors and watching the quiet routine of the small village. As the sun edged beneath the horizon all of the villagers seem to edge beneath their blankets. By 8PM again their was no sound or light in the village.

Earlier that day as we hiked to Syapargaon I noticed some very interesting plant life. Just growing among the many other plants were alot of weeds of some repute (marijuana). My whole life this common Himalayan plant had been the much coveted, expensive, and highly illegal recreational high.

As a meditator, I no longer had much interest in getting high, but could resist picking ups some of the “weeds” that were quite literally strewn along the path we were walking on.

That night in the guest house when I emptied my pockets I found the little temptation. Neither Kirsten or I were pot smokers, but as it was early evening and we felt like it might be entertaining.

Remember my opening lines of this story? “Oh My God! I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into!” Once again as we tempted fait our realities were uniquely turned up side down.

First, the Himalayan pot was extremely strong. As I was whirling around from the effects there came a loud banging at the door and some incoherent yells.

I immediately became paranoid imagining all kind of police actions and unrealistic horrors that could await outside that door. I hid the remaining marijuana on a rafter and opened the door,.....

A wild eyed village who spoke no more then 10 words in English came in and was gesturing madly with his hands in a desperate expressions. He was imploring me to come out into the night for some unknown reason. I was so stoned that the event was amplified into a shocking drama. What could he want? Why was he here? Finally,through sign language I was able ascertain that someone was hurt and they needed a doctor.

It is an unfortunate myth, that all travelers are considered to have both medicine and doctoring that the villagers need in emergencies. Fortunately, I did have some iodine and aspirin and passed them to this stranger giving him an idea of how to use. I hoped he got it. He still wanted me to come, but I refused. I was not a doctor and I did not want to wander off somewhere in the dark Himalayan night.

These were my back up supplies, but under the circumstances I just gave them away. Wow. Bizarre. Who know what actually happened, but I was glad to help out. I was glad the whole shocking drama was over. Kirsten and I had gotten a whole lot more entertainment then we bargained for. Sleep would be a great relief after this wildman at the door.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Tibetan Sacred Ritual Objects


Friday, August 29, 2008

Ok How about a few pics here. Give a better idea of the place.

Day Two of my walk to Tibet


Morning found us alive and listening to a distant predawn chant of OM MANI PADME HUM (the Tibetan’s favorite mantra) coming from somewhere in the mountains around us. It was atmospheric and set the tone for the day. Soon we were out looking for our breakfast of chia and biscuits to get ready for the trail.

I loved that simple Dhunche Village for it’s colorful Sherpa people in their peaceful eyes. We shot some pictures of a local girl in purple and her small brother wearing a vest and lungi (wrap around cloth for pants).

Dhunche was a place that was removed from time. Rock houses with wood plank doors held and air of ancientness that my modern world could not ever offer. It felt calming to be there and elemental. Sun, wind, clouds were all immediate and right next to you. I was inspired. Despite the lack of sleep and thin air I felt euphoric.

The village was build on the side of a fairly steep hillside. At the edge of the village we found the source of the chanting. A simple Tibetan Temple was located on an outcrop of rock in a plain wood plank building. Not wanting to intrude, but deeply intrigued we sheepishly entered. Inside was a full compliment of 20 or so maroon robed, shaved head Tibetan Monks.

When we entered the Temple, the Monks were chanting a deep throaty base indiscernible mantra while clanging large symbols, banging drums, rattling Damarus (small meditation drums), and ringing bells. It was a cacophony of chaotic sound. It was also magnificent. Here I was, in a authentic shrine room witnessing a tradition that has evolved a thousand years before I was born in the bosom of Tibet. We watched silently and then gracefully retreated. What a good omen to begin the journey!

Now (grunt) we have to start climbing. It began easily enough. A nondescript grassy path at the back side of Dhunche wound it’s way upward past picturesque small stone farm houses and sculpted rice patties. A village woman stopped to admire Kirsten’s pink raw silk shawl saying: “Ramro” (beautiful). A couple of young boys were hanging out on path. One boy was a smiling maroon clad apprentice Monk and the other a frowning ragged village kid. That was enough to try Buddhism right there and then.

Before long we discovered a large disparity in the map. None of the local recognized the village names when we ask directions. It appeared that there were many different names for the villages ahead. Each tribe seemed to have a different name for each area and nobody had ever heard of the name on our map. Our first day and we were already at a loss as to which way to go. We proceed on with a feeling of confused amusement.

Next, our trail abruptly ended at a rock slide. With no trail at all we really had to take a pause for intuitive reflection. It’s funny, but at that moment I realized I wasn’t really going anywhere. I was just Being in the Himalayas. The trek was more or less to BE in the Himalayas, so no matter which way we went we would BE in the Himalayas and hopefully find food and shelter.

We headed down to the bottom of the rock slide and picked up a trail by a small stream. From the useless map we tried to figure our which way to head: right or left?

OK we choose to head left. The beautiful valley meandered along filled with Himalayan flowers and tall grasses. Occasionally, we would hear the bleat of a goat far off and some shouts of far away herdsmen. This high valley was so removed from the busy world below that it was easy to feel at peace and revel in the natural surroundings. There was only one problem. The direction we headed was sloping down and not up. We were after all supposed to be hiking up to Tibet.

We went the wrong way. Before long we realized we were lost,..... Sunset was drawing near. The cool evening winds had already begun and a thick fog was floating up the valley. What to do?

It’s a funny sensation in your brain as your reality shifts before your eyes. I’m a survivor, so I was quick to recognize that we might need to improvise a shelter.

Fortunately this region had been occupied for several millennium and had give shelter to many a traveler. I saw the remains of a fire pit under an outcropping of rocks. Hmmmm, I thought this would do nicely if we don’t find anything else.

We had enough light to continue on and after some distance we saw the smoke rising from a small picturesque rock village not too far away. As we entered the village we past a low Tibetan Temple with faded Buddhas and Deities adorning the wood facade. It had an air of ancient mystic as if it had been there for a thousand years.

As we came into the center of the village children came out to greet us. These smiling kids had such a ‘presence’ about them it was as if they were emanating an aura of well-being.

This village with no electricity or any modern trappings had evolved with relatively little change over the last 5000 years. It’s name was Shybubensi. It was actually the last village on the road. A road that had only been built 10 years before.

Shybubensi was also the next village after Dhunche where we got off the bus yesterday. We had essentially doubled back to the beginning of the Langtang trailhead that we were trying to access via the back way. Oh well, it’s all good.

Another surprise in Shybubensi were some new friends Rob & Julie who we had seen on the bus. They were a couple of newly weds from the UK. We had met them when we boarded our bus in Kathmandu and here they were hanging out in the village for a day to acclimatize to the altitude.

Rob was in the street playing ball with the kids. The kids in this village were ‘something else’. They had been raised in this small mountain village with no electricity or running water. I doubt if they had ever seen a television or heard a radio. When you looked into their calm clear eyes it was as if they had been meditating for a hundred years,.... what a difference environment can make.

Existence happens. We decided to join forces with our new friends. The more the merrier on this wandering Himalayan adventure. It seem only natural as we were the only trekkers in this entire village.

We all stayed in a rough wood guess house room with a lovely Sherpa family who charged us only 10 Rps (about 20 cents) for lodging. I couldn’t figure out why they had put old magazine pages on the wall and later realized this was a kinda decoration/wall paper. We were in a place where magazines were somewhat of a rarity.

A shy young girl about 10 years old with big brown eyes and dark hair came to ask us what time we wanted to shower in the morning. This was an important detail as it was her job to heat the water and pour it into the improvised bucket with holes that would drip it on us. Amazingly innovation for a village that did take showers. It was purely a tourist feature and the only time we saw a shower on this trek.

For dinner, the guess house family gave us Dhal Bhat (Rice & Mung Beans) with some white radish garnish. It was basic, but warm and yummy. This would be the staple for the rest of the journey. It’s the national dish of Nepal.

Sleep came easy after an exhausting day of hiking. It was much warmer in Shybubensi as the rooms did not have big holes in them for ventilation. They had alittle more sensitivity to a trekkers sense of comfort.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Walking between Kathmandu & Tibet

Kathmandu to Tibet I

Loosing your Destination to find your Path

My entire life could be summed up with this phrase: “Oh My God! I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into!” This is pretty much the definition of an adventure. An adventure requires going beyond your limits and your known experience.

I wanted to try something different when I was choosing a trek in Nepal. There are three major areas that the Kingdom of Nepal offers to wandering foreigners. The most popular is the “Annapurna Trek” in western central Nepal. It’s fantastic by all reports. The second most common is the “Everest Base Camp Trek”. Naturally hiking to Everest has a romantic appeal. The last is a little known and rarely traveled path to Tibet called “Langtang”.

Langtang, a valley winding through small Himalayan villages and leading to an ancient mysterious Monastery of Kudzon Gompa at 12000 feet on the border of Tibet. Hmmmm, sound appealing. I pride myself on ‘going native’ and try to rework the maps to end up in some mischief along the way. Sometimes I’m a little too successful at this.

My girlfriend Kirsten and I purchased a map at a long trekking store in Kathmandu and tried to come up with a plan. It turned out there were some very remote and untraveled paths even in Langtang (an approved trekking area). We would begin at a small village called Dhunche. It appeared that there were a few paths from this small Himalayan rock village that head the back way to the Langtang Khola (river) and follow it to the Tibetan border. Perfect!


We took a rickety local bus from the obscure Kathmandu station (no more then a little shack) at 6AM the next morning and began the slow winding accent toward the mountains. This part of the journey took 12 hours through numerous police check points (to look at our trekking permits) and continue through some dusty small villages.

The bus was a colorful mobile shrine. On the front was a painting the Eyes of Buddha, Mantras (sacred words), and the Hindu Elephant Deity Ganesh. He has many attributes, but protect of traveler and remover of obstacles is his primary power. What could be better for a bus? Inside the driver had photos of various Hindu saints Ramana Maharishi, Sai Baba, plus a few Deities for balance: Laxsmi & Krishna.

We were smashed in with a few too many people who also brought along their chickens, pigs, and many other items from a Kathmandu Valley shopping spree. It was one of the world’s scariest roads: one lane, dirt, with 1000 foot drops two feet from edge of the bus with no guard rail. If you could brave a peak it was enchanting with rice fields terracing every hill. Prayer flags were adorning small stupa temples places magically at the top of each small rounded peak. This was a great initiation into to trust your destiny when you have absolutely no control over it.

It was dusk when we arrived in the Himalayan Village of Dhunche. The bus driver was incredulous about our departure in this small remote stop and that made us a little nervous too. A cold shiver of anticipation rippled up my spine as I left the security of my hard bus seat and entered the rock village to find a guest house for the night.

We were the only travelers in town and the friendly locals directed us to what someday (when they finish building it) might be a guess house. Fortunately, the bare concrete block room in the construction site had a sort of hard futon bed with thin sheets and rock like pillows. We paid a dollar for it and then became painfully aware of the inadequacies of our gear.

You see, we were not planners. We’re spontaneous adventures. We had a couple of summer weight sleeping bags, sneakers and some thick Yak wool sweaters. My jacket was from an army surplus and my backpack from a thrift store. We were not the geared up olympic mountain team that we would see later on the same trail. We were just a couple of people realizing what kind of gear they would like to buy when they get back!

For some bizarre reason, the Himalayan houses do not have a chimney. Instead, to stay warm in the winter they fill the room with smoke and have strategically placed holes in the side wall for the smoke to blow out. Not terribly efficient or cozy. Honestly, I don’t get it. I daydreamed about bring the new technology of chimney here someday. What a revolutionary vision!

Our room didn’t have an hearth or fire smoke, but they had already created the holes in the walls so the frigid night breeze could refresh and invigorate us (practically to death). Needless to say, some vital innovation was needed. We put on all the clothes we had and laid both sleep bags on top of ourselves to try and stay warm. It was mid November and we were at an elevation of 6138 feet.

As night descended in earnest it got dark. This was no ordinary dark. It was darker then dark. It was a dark that needs new words to describe the absent of light. There was no one, no where, with even a candle burning. Mountain people go to bed early and by 8PM there was an omnipresent silence and darkness. That’s when we discovered our flashlight didn’t work.

It was a cheap small travel flashlight and somehow it got turned on in the backpack which drained the battery. I guess you could call this the flip side of spontaneity.

What to do? I thought we could get by without a flashlight, until an hour later when Kirsten announced she had to pee. This improvisational concrete room could not by any means offer a toilet near by. In fact, I don’t believe there was one within the building at all.

We never realize in our cozy daily life the amazing creativity of the mind and it’s mystical capabilities until times of crisis. Kirsten bravely got out of bed and somehow found what I can only guess must have been a paint mixing can and did the necessary. It truly was a small miracle.

Hence forth, we carried a new official trekking plastic water bottle known as the pee bottle. It was definite more essential then the flashlight or all manner of other useless accessory gear. Even today, I doubt if it is offered by REI camping stores, but I can assure you all experienced Himalayan women travelers have created a portable potty.