Saturday, November 12, 2005


..everyone speaks Swedish. I go from struggling to understand what people are saying , to struggling to understand what they are doing.

Along the way :
arrriving latish in Delhi. Traffic clogged on the way to Manju ka Tilla. The taxi radio endlessly blaring "control calling". Control orders, pleads, cajoles.. seemingly to no effect. A guy called Prakash as a message waiting ; in the end I also start to get miffed at him.

In Munich , the safety inspector has started to smile even before I come up to the X-ray machine. Passing thru her mahine and hands, the basic unassorted stuff of my trip :
*heavy walking boots
*khataks - offering scarfes
*guide book and map in a Tibetan silk slip case
*tsa tsa-amulets

..she can´t hold back her laughter.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Sorry, no way.

not exactly the response I was going for when turning over my passport at the border post in Zhangmu. The group splitted in Lhasa , the tour group visa original was supposed to be at the border... no .
After being shuffled around for an hour , there is response from the agency in Lhasa : "oh , the visa , we left it (hold on to your hats ) in the chai shop" .
The Chinese guards almost smile when we leave.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Vanishing act

Arrival in Shigatse.I go out for lunch ,and wind upin a small zakhang on the street leadingdown from Tashilunpo monastery. The more or less standard panoramic shot of Lhasa is pointed out to me and I go yes , Kyi Chu , Tsuglhakhang (Jokhang to the westerners) and Sera .. making a quiet inner note to my self : yes that , would be Drapchi,the infamous political prison in between. We find Ganden together .
The daughter in the family sits down and takes my hand , strokes the back ofmy hand and puts her hand next to it: loook...
After a bit of struggling, using the name for the Lhasa river ,I manage to come up with a new phrase : kyipa du ,I am happy.
We watch a VCD (on the TV covered with a khatak) from Lhabrang Monastery in Amdo , with stuning scenery and even more stunning butter statues. Leaving I get ten Yuan change back for my 15 Yuan meal on a twenty.. and small gifts.
Morning kora next day: long line of locals , Khampas and Amdowas walking ,praying, stoking the sang burners, sitting queitly in more or less organised meditation.Walking with camera in my left hand , keeping the right one free for the prayer wheels. At one point one woman turns around with a wordless question as I am taking some photographs.. and turns around to enthusiasm as she gets to see the pictures.
Inside the monastery there is a lotof pictures of the 9th Panchen Lama ( the most popular on the streets is with him sitting on a horse in frontof Tashilunpo, with a white touris bus in the background) some of the 8th... and a bare minimum of the Chinese -installed 10th, always with a conspicous absence ofofferings. Soft resistance.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Off again ...

the jeeps making an endless trail of dust in the early sunlight , meeting the blue smoke from the incense burners and the backlit prayer flags. A couple of klicks from Yamdrok Tso we hit the tarmac again : a surreal feeling of floating. Close to two hours following the circular lake : golden yellow marshes by the rim, an impossibly deep turqoise color and on the other side russet browns , violet .. topped by the white cone of Nechen Kang, around seven thousand meters.
Over Kamba La , the last 5000 + pass.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

In Gyantse

...just now , but unable to see my blog from here. Will post more when I know it actually lands somewhere...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Flowing around the mandala

Back from a couple of hours at Boudanath, my refuge from the commersialised existence in Thamel , where I ... sleep.
The Boudanath stupa is gigantic and minimalistic at the same time. No markers for the different directions , the same watchful eye in all four directions. A three-dimensional mandala. And the people flowing endlessly around it in a rapid , but unhurried way.
For some reason I come to think of the Nepali ghazal " life is a river".

Today I walked the outermost circle of the stupa , which is very easy to miss, just inside the enclosing wall. Triangalur patches with potted trees and shrubs (again, the forest theme) and boards where people do chaks : full-length prostrations. Rough boards with a sheen alog the edges where the cloth "mittens" hit the board as they strech out. Talk with a Amdowa monk , sharing the few common English and Tibetan words : Nga pö yin .. Aaah , pö..

Will try to upload some pics before it's time to board the next jeep.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Piety and bullhorns

In the morning the rains lift away , and Kushinagar beyond the the plastic tarps and mala stalls is reavealed . Giant Thai-style stupa just across the dharamsala where I've stayed, and the vaguely 50's sci-fi hall housing the sleeping Buddha and a reliqary stupa behind it.

Pilgrimage : the endless re-inventing of the mix between piety and tourism. A Thai group arrives , bringing coverings ( like giant bedspreads in silk) for the sleeping Buddha - a soft spoken moment.

The next moment ... I think Siddharta would have laughed at the scene of the procession being led around stupa by a monk with a bullhorn , leading the prayers the same time.

Siddharta , who told people not to worship or believe him , only trust what people have tested with their own reasoning. And the early followers in the first monasteries, who made a concise statement on the use of imagery : the only embellishment found was a lotus bullseye in the urinoar.

Later I walk out to the cremation stupa (with numerous stops for chai, ras malai etc) together with Ramesh. The antipode of the gilt , slender Thai stupa : unadorned brick, oxidised black , with a indented profile that reminds me , gives some of the feelings as patients with "open lid" after brain surgery. Small flecks of gold leaf in the black.

Saturday, October 22, 2005


.. I think, I am in a carwash . Even the rain can't be heard, just the endless stream of water sloshing in the gutters.
Long days travel yesterdays , rollercoasting thru emotions : few things are more depressing than a not recently dead cow , in the middle of the road in the rain, a long straight stretch thru a beatiful forest made me lift . Is there an English equivalent for that Swedish word - loevsal - a room made from the sheltering trees ?
And rain , pouring down like the monsoon just had started. People wading the streets of Gorakhpur. Arriving in Kushinagar after an interminable bus ride of 51 klicks : the driver slowed the bus down to a virtual , sometimes real standstill for every meeting vehicle.
Off the bus in the dark , sensing/seeing vaguely an archway : Buddh Marg ? Kushinagar ? Really?
Fruit and tea stalls, battened down under plastic tarps. Mud. A lot of mud. Temple cum guesthouse : "NB. Foreigners also welcome" .
To sleep , perchance to dream of a hot bucket shower ( when the power returns).

Friday, October 21, 2005

Thursday, October 20, 2005

chatting with the chai-wallah on the Varanasi night train Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Finger-played couronne game in Maju ka Tilla - favorite evening pastime Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The moon is having problems tonight..

Comforts : find at last the minibus to Delhi, twelwe people (one more than in the Leh-Manali jeep) and get a set behind a Tibetan and her daughter and between a cosmopolitan lama and a another Tibetan. Talks of favourite tsampa recipes, meditation on emptiness and Tibetan passports (yellow cards) .The guy next to me peers out of the window : "the moon is having problems tonight" he says - peering out of the window to get a chance to see the predicted eclipse. .

The bus stops quite close to Manju ka Tilla , and the lama and I set off : a goser with full trekking gear trailing behind the lama with a rolling Samsonite case, eyes halfclosed ,barely clearing the traffic rushing by. Munchhausen-like dogs with a shaved look. Garbage fires. In to the small street outside Wongdhen House I call mini-Barkhor. Dreamless sleep.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Economic theory

Finally , the sun reaches our jeep and the frosted cage rapidly thaws. We are eleven people in the Indian Tata : thee czechs, me and seven Indians who have been sitting some hours near the 5000+ Tanglang La while the people up front have been trying to repair the truck that blocks the single lane road. Finally, after a lot of scurrying up and down the line of vehicles with batteries, making up fires under the truck etc., we can all set off.

The 15-hour run from Leh to Manali has about as much contact with the real world as modern economic theory : sure , it should be posssible , being less than 500 klicks. Only this time... if it wasn't for the broken bridge, the truck that couldn't start, the army convoy... if only reality didn't come in the way.

Other realities also make themselves clear in the process : I sit in the front , sharing my sleeping bag with the guy next to me, as do the Czechs in the next row. The four Indians in the last sideways seats share .. closeness and very little else , with chattering teeth. Along the road we meet the Bihari roadworkers with thin blankets and thin clothes, living in the tents the military wouldn't have : they earn less in two weeks than what I've paid for my jeep ticket.

In the end we arrive in Manali , 23 hours after starting , including a very short break in Darcha , which I used too share the heat from a burning coal bucket and a ginger tea with the same family/dhaba as last time I was there.
frosted cage, thawing Posted by Picasa

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Sunny and blue

... almost summerish down here in Leh , easy to forget the snow falling yesterday or the jeeps that had to turn back in the Khardung La.
Taking a jeep out tonite. A bit blue as always when leaving Leh. One last cup of kawa at Tashi's...

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Cold ...

Cold morning , I take my cue from the yaks giving up grazing in a nearby dell and pack down my tent and leave for warmer places with thicker air.Breakfast on the go : the last of the dried apricots and tsampa.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Lonely at the top

.. but a lot of company along the way : eagles, yaks, really! large marmots, a family group of very elegant Ladakhi deers : light grey on the outside,white belly and inner leggings, chock black tail stump.. and the ever present yellowbeaked ravens (thanks for the binoculars, dad !) .
I manage to tag along an elderly Ladakhi gentleman in goncha and huge sunglasses up to around 4900 , where he gently lets me off : maybe you should take it slower; he signs "yams , yams" : take smaller steps. He obviously has mastered the secrets a long time ago : walks very slowly but never ever stops.
The map can't really prepare you for the reality of Digar La, the most un-la-like la (pass) I've ever seen . A long ,huge, curving valley climbing ... until it ends in a sharp curved ridge. Boulders and stones that first appears as gravel in sharp slope up to the solid ridge , with a small notch crossed by prayer flags : the pass(age) . Hairpin bend thru the notch , where the trail slopes down in an equally crazy angle. Like walkin up to the rim of a moon crater. The thin air turns me in to an atlas of respiratory distress symtom; like everyone else : William Moorecroft notes the same in his passage 1822 and adds in awe " even the yaks were affected .. and needed frequent breaks". Hard , cold wind lashing into me the last hundred meters; grateful for the staff.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Stone flowers

(I'll be up- post- pre-dating posts the next days, generally mucking about with the the concept of time as we know it portioning out the Nubra story in installlments) the Ladakhi call lichens, a bubbling brook to cool my boots in and the realisation that I've sloged away half of the days altitude, well before noon. In the crevices I feel the smell of thymelike herb with a bitter sidenote. Could make nice sang (not spoz).

Yesterday : grumpy. Couldn't decide if I needed a acclimatisation day, started out ... hit the wall.Muttering things like " that's great , only a kilometer left - vertically" I found a spot for the tent a couple of klicks from Digar.
To top of the good ambience , I froze from the ground as my hi-tech camping matress punctured as the altitude diuresis set in - meaning scrambling out of the tent to pee four times in the night.
Well , all that's forgiven as I've struck camp near Chumik Yogma(chumik :source , ma : upper, yog : ?)
Anoher source of frustration was the maps , what was on and not. Wrong mindset( but hello , mislaying a whole monastery...) . Today I've used the maps to what they can be used for , an interesting plan coming out of it : with water in he last tokpo I can make a very short jaunt tomorrow to the foot of the pass, meaning around 300-400 mters up to the pass, then all downhill to Sabu.

Dramatic grey & rosy skies on the other side of the Shyok valley as the sun wanes (snow ?). Soon time to zip up the tent and don the second sleeping bag.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

agham Posted by Picasa


Woke up early - still no juice for my camera charger - packed and had breakfast : mint tea, dahi & chapatis and went up to the prayer wheel to wait for the bus. The clang of the two pryer wheels coming tighter as more passengers gathered.
Bus arrives : up on the roof with the pack and makes it on the bus with several cubic centimeters to spare. Drop off at the Panamik roadbend since the bus doesnt go further east . Run up to a waiting army truck : Khalsar ? A sea of smiling faces pulls up my pack , camera bag and staff .. and explodes with laughter and screams as the truck drives away just as I'm about to climb up. Short run and new climb.
Long , boring but somehow fun waiting in Khalsar ( " an unpleasant hamlet , dominated by a military garrison") playing a mutual look at the other game until I finally get a lift in miltary truck riding in a convoy. In front , big panoramic windscreen as we ride a high strech , paarlell to the river.
Long days trek in quiet solitude, partly trail , partly road.
Then the uncomparable racket of the back seat of a - not sucessfully - patchwelded military truck , together with a grinning Ladakhi, looking a lot like Plupp. He keeps patting his houlder and grinning and pointing to me , till I get the point : he gets by with a simple shoulder bag. He then proceeds to pat, point and and taking inventory of my pack : tent ? stove ? sleeping bag ?
In the end I leave the truck to trek the desert , scarred by the the asphalt pit of the projected road. Eventually thes also peter out , I walk for anothe two hours until I see a green wedge appearing (reming me of that poetic swedish 18th century word * for a flowery patch beside a stream.
On arriving I do my one third-of-each (ladakhi , english & pantomine) "long walk , looking for good water and good spot for my tent" routine - and gets shown to the local yak/cow grazing field. Not exactly what I was hoping for, but the water looks good and I find a somewhat sheltered place for my tent.
Later with the tent pitched and the Trangia chuff-chuffing another Ladakhi appears. I start talking about the contents of mmy pot (ngamphe, jos, chuli, dried apples) when he says : come and sleep in the house.
Second time I reurn from my tent site I have the Trangia with me , freshly made Ladakhi herbal tea and can for once reverse the situation : "don, don !" and they accept and seem to like it.
after this - of course - butter tea, games of jumping up and down in the knee with the toddler , a sueaky transistor in the window doling out Ladakhi folk songs. Butterlamps, portraits of Dalai Lama. I manage to get across the story of the the Tibetan monks at Moderna Museet who made a huge sand mandala.. and the horror ofthe invited Swedes as Dalia Lama smilingly inspects it - and sweeps everything in to a bucket to pour it out into the local bay. Everyone laughs.
Nightr approaches and I am shown in to the .. fine room : carpets around the wall , handpainted chogtse tables, election poster with Sonia Gandhi. I fret over which place is polite to accept .. until it dawns on me that no one will join me . Brief momen of panic and shame : are they sleeping out because I arrived ? But no bedding has been moved , evidently they sleep on the roof until (real) winter arrives. The lessons of earlier , pre-chimney times : it's not healthy to spend too much time inside.
Finally , for once I can strech out.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Aspirin and kora

A week in Leh now , all too easy to settle in to a comfortable pace : breakfast with kombish, homemade apricot jam and Yongchens yummy spiced mint-tea.

On arrival I was fit to wrestle a yak , second day (after stopping the gingko ) I was down to a small dog. Today : maybe a donkey.

Went to Thikse monastery yesterday , on a crammed, shallow breathing only, minibus. Later I met four of the ladies ( in traditional Ladakhi gos plus Calvin Klein handbags) in the upper story of the lhakhang, where the top part of the Buddha statue projects. A monk was giving a long explanation of the paintings, statues and more , richly interspersed with the ooohs! and aaahs! from the ladies. One of them held the green personal health record book from the Men Tse Khang , the Tibetan traditional hospital , and made notes in it. Yes. Health - all aspects.

Same ooohs! and aahs! later on in the clay modelers studio, where the artists were busy making a statue depicting the yabyum sexual position , from the same ladies that probably never would dream of showing their legs.

Later I had a nice talk with a monk in the new dukhang ( assembly hall). Talked about changes since I was here : the new , glassfitted windows dukhang : warmer in the winter... but also the changes from the outside : the pressure from tourist groups that has resulted in a series of locked rooms and signs : please dont drink alcohol, curse or sit on the abbots throne...
" Not many real monks today" - competition has crept into the mindset of many Ladakhis today. A book* I recently finished argued - with a lot of convincing stories behind it - that the social qualities of the Ladakhis were as much a product of the trading that practically every ladakhi family had to engage in to make ends meet. This trading involved the need to be able to make verbal agreements that would span over long time , up to a year, and crosssed distances fro a coupe of days march to other countries : the salt plains of Tibet and the trading houses of Yarkand. The chang of todays tourist driven economy saps this fabric because the relations are much shorter , and with the increased number of tourist involved, more impersonal .

A nice talk as I said , and without the setting of the sadly necessary signs I would have asked if I could take a portrait of the monk. Now it feels uncomfortable taking photographs of anyone I've met the first day.

Back on a even more crammed minibus , where it was easy to see that Ladkhi life still works : every time new passengers were let on an intricate dance takes place to make sure that those that need a seat really gets it.

Will hopefully get a Inner Line Permit today, onwards to Nubra tomorrow.

*Janet Rizvi. Trans-Himalayan Caravans: Merchant Princes and Peasant Traders in Ladakh

Sunday, September 25, 2005

over the top

... and past the last police checkpoint. Lightheaded and -hearted as we reach Baralacha La , sprint up to the top lartse with the prayerflags. Beyond Baralacha La the Moray Plains, with wonderful cream colored streams of sand running down from the top, mixing with grays , ochre reds ...

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Waiting ...

for the last (?) bus in to Ladakh : Anka , Cristophe, Alberto, Pavel - the bus finally arrived two hours late with only us as passengers. Had to stop in Darcha tent camp (alt. 3400) , which probably was better , acclimatisationwise. Tightly stacked beds , with Chhemid , the daughter in the family, doing homework in the middle. Learned my first Lahauli words : gonche (goncha) gda (vulture) kau kau (raven)


…wasn’t too happy about that , not the part where the wooden pole went under the water, but the stability of the upper support beam. Went upstream, and having seen no-one for the past hours did as home : stripped down to the waist and went in to the stream to find a fording place. No go , so I return to the wooden pole – and of course , the moment I look up from my first trial run without the pack I look in to the eyes of a disapproving Kinnauri lady. (note to self : kurta is the preferred fording costume) .She then shames me a second time by lightly flitting over the stream , hands barely touching the support beam. I bend over the pack , turn again –
freezeframe as she leaps for a boulder on the far side , hands outstretched like a bird , shopping bag wrapped around her left hand , back leg tucked in… poised like a ballet dancer. After the ford some nimble footwork in the landslide area, a big boulder starting to roll sluggishly just after I’ve jumped on to it. Everything is in a fluid state, and when I finally reach the bank of the trail ( throwing up the pack before me) the bank breaks again and again – just like trying to get out of a hole in the ice.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

along the way

.. of the Hindustan-Tibet Road. This track is the original bridlepath, the trail that the lama in Kipling's Kim would have followed. Alternating between steep forest path and galleries cut in the rock. Lower down the 1930's road, even further down the present national highway.

Sitting for a applebreak where the trail curves around the edge. An -eagle?- -lammergeier ?- soars and finally lands heavily on an outcropping futher on. Three ants engage in techical climbing on the wet rock behind me, dragging a flower petal over sheer inclines, the top ant scaling negative inclines backwards while still dragging the petal upwards.

Old Kinnauri women , chirping voices and huge loads of cut hay , the vermicelli grass I've spotted on the steep slopes before I guess.

Butterflies : huge loads of what I've dubbed sergeants butterflies : dark brown wings with a single white chevron , pale blue ones, chockingly yellow ones. Crickets everywhere (probably happily munching away at the butterflies) , but not to be seen.

Nettles along the trail , also bigger than life, effortlessly stinging thru clothes.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Interesting explosion

...that might have been , I thought with the match in my hand as I noticed that the fuel line to the stove was drenched with kerosene all the way up to the burner.

Backtrack x 2 :

First I arrived in Sarahan , which was intriguing. The balcony of the temple guesthouse , filled with angrezis, made a double stage : we watching them , them watching us. Partly from the litterature around ( The Yogins Autobiography, Paradise Lost) it gave a flashback feeling of Kathmandu in the early 80's (yes kids, I was there - gather around my feet and I will tell you) . Serene athmospere in the daytime (enforced serenity, beggars being bluntly pushed out) which by night turned into .. Kaliland as the stagelights on a high pillar came on and the music blared out over the whole valley.

Had chai with the sadhu in the forest : black polished soot on the roof of his cave as he made the tea on an electric hotplate.
" Good social life - nov no-one wants social life, everyone wants action life"

Started walking from Sarahan ( yellow gate at hairpin bend, minimal teastall, Shabaleg Rain Shelter) : guard lets me thru after I told him my route and brief conference with other guard. First road thru Army camp , then gently transforming to a nicely defined trail.Deodars , smell of junipers and then a deafening surr of crickets like in a 50's B-movie.
Three girls call out to their mother , and then come running to a gate to their field : " Good morning , Sir !" " Namaste , little sister ! "
Nepali flashback again.
I'm still shy of using the camera , but it begins to wear off. This makes me realise two things : the first is just how much I've been affected by the theme of intrusive photography in Ladakh, the other is the big difference when you can show the image directly afterwards. This really makes it in to communication : Look , this is how we look, this is how you look at us . Paging back the pictures puts you in a perspective : oh you came that way , did you meet .. yes you did.

Late start , late arrival in Chaura resthouse which I promptly almost blew to bits.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Back in 'netland

The Pare Chu floodvawe ripped a lot more than houses, bridges and the road : no internet beyond Shimla. Just back in the lowlands (shimla) , will backpost my diary later.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


..arrived in Shimla with the morning narrow track railway : 100+ tunnels and bridges across the valleys. Felt the altitude, oddly enough. Met with dahannajay , the first 'miker I 've met in the flesh and had a good talk re the trek from Kafnu. Maybe the bus to Sarahan tomorrow.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

The fan rules

..fell down from the sky , rattled thru the morning landscape of Delhi (highway construction and breadbaking on the side of the road , newspaper reading under the trees)and eventually arrived in Manju.. or ? couldnt recognise - and then way in to the shadows I saw a sign with the conch, familiar names : Gomang , Sera Jey..

Naked under the fan, shower. Collected tomorrows train tickets at Potala Tours, bought Ladakh Melong and Tibetan Review in a bookstore , more panting time under the fan. Woke up to the call of pani-pani-panile ! and the din of the fan - bought my water in the guesthouse instead : banana curd, lime soda.

The fan rules totally : gripping money , drowning out conversations .. but actually it is better than the last time here : less crakling from the wires overhead, cooler.
The guests at Wongden House have been complemented by a number phyipas , outsiders : french and british travellers . Not better or worse : change.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Laid back attitude

..and a Ganesha , requirements for crossing the border to Nepal from Tibet.