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.