On to the Forbidden Kingdom
Day 4 – Shangmochen to Ghemi
While trekking through largely barren landscapes, shepherds with their herds of goats occasionally appeared in search of niblits greening toward the skies between billions of forever-strewn rocks. Some arduous hiking along the way, both up and down, but we settled in to Ghemi, the third largest town in this district in time for a late lunch. I felt much better on the trail today save for a multi-hued, multi-dimensional blister on the big toe of my left foot which made the downhill portions much more painful and thus difficult. After napping a bit, I wandered for a couple of hours, meeting a young lama and a passel of young children near the local monastery (all monks in this tradition are referred to as lama). Home for the first time in eight years from his monastery in India, he was here to visit his family and to attend an upcoming festival called Yar Tung. He told me that earlier today I missed the ritual slaughter (fortunately or unfortunately I’m not quite sure) of a yak in the large central pen in preparation for the festival.
While chatting it up with a few people in what appears to the the center of town (the goats, cows, horses and people all parade through here), a kind and friendly man named Rajul Bista invited me to his place for tea. As I value the opportunity to spend time within the lives of people wherever I go, I accepted and we spent some time together enjoying yak butter tea (my first) and conversation. The Bista’s, I read, are of the highest caste here, from which the royal family and much of the merchant class descends. Given Rajul’s encouragement, I definitely intend to hustle back after our furthest stop (Lo Manthang) for the tail end of the four-day Yar Tung festival, held somewhere high outside of town.
Day 5 – Ghemi to Tsarang
Replete with a cliffside dilapidating castle, and an active gumba (monastery) reputed to be over 700 years old, Tsarang, this once capital of the kingdom of Mustang, seems to harbor a stronger, call it more mystical energy about it. I spent a few hours inside the gumba, watching the completion of a sand mandala by about 10 lamas. They seemed to have a fun time making it and enjoyed supporting the youngest boy of their group in learning the art of mandala making. It was certainly not lost upon me that rituals such as this have been taking place for hundreds (or possibly thousands) of years in this exact place. After watching for awhile, I ducked off to the other side of the main temple for some meditation time. I often use a mala when I meditate, sliding bead after bead from left to right. Today though, along the practice of “non-doing,” I wouldn’t slide the bead unless I wasn’t actually directing it. Eventually, that became too much doing, so I wisened up, dropped the beads and sat still.
After the mandala was completed, as chilly clouds gathered, I wandered outside and came upon a group of young lamas playing a casual football game on one of the higher fields that the world must know. A wonderful opportunity for some portraits against the most amazing of backdrops and also another chance to feel so blessed to have the opportunity, good fortune, and wherewithal to experience our magnificent world in this way.
Days 6, 7 – Tsarang to Lo Manthang
The further and higher we go, the more barren this landscape seems to become. Primarily, it is this landscape that drew me here, as of course did the opportunity to experience life in a place so far removed from any form of civilization that I have ever known. Although this region is in what is commonly referred to as the “shadow of the monsoon,” some rainfall does still reach here as does snowmelt runoff from some of the yet higher elevations. As a result, towns are always situated where water can be channeled to irrigate buckwheat and other crop fields, all of which are in full verdant prosperity at this time of the year.
Although Lo Manthang is referred to as the “walled city,” it is hardly a city as one would normally envision. Surrounded by a very tall 4-5′ thick wall, the rest of the world would see this as a small town at best. Within the grounds, the royal palace has gaping cracks from the recent earthquakes, its massively thick walls simply pulling apart from each other during this year’s tectonic upheaval. The King of Mustang, (more in title than in formal authoritative power) temporarily is living with his family in Kathmandu.
I toured an old monastery built in approximately 1400 which is in the process of restoration. Very powerful space, with large Buddhas and walls covered with intricate paintings. I was invited for coffee/tea by Luigi Fieni, an Italian man full of “passion and a bit of madness,” who for the past 17 years has been managing the restoration process. His eyes and smile reflect a life lived following the truth of his own unique soul. It is always a treat and inspiring to meet people who are manifesting lives far afield (and not just geographically) from those most of us ordinarily live.
Tomorrow I will hire a horse for a tour of the surrounding area including other monasteries and some ancient caves. Not terribly excited about the horse part, but cool to explore more and hit Chhoser, the last outpost before Tibet.
Feeling proud of myself for this trip to Lo Manthang in Upper Mustang, with 6 days of trekking, averaging somewhere around 10 miles/day, it has been fairly toilsome at times. I love that I’ve made it happen, how I’ve expanded my literal and figurative horizons.
Truth be told, I am truly feeling my value. Through my explorations, both inner and outer, through my time in support of the orphanage in Kathmandu, through my photography, I feel like I am finding a clearer more personal way in the world. My sense is that this may help to open up relationship to me in a different way. The more clearly that I develop an autonomous relationship with myself and follow passions that are truly self-reflecting, the less need there will be to worry about losing myself in the other. It is difficult to describe the changes but I can feel them in my body itself, with more of a confidence and ease. While far from the only factor, the meditation is definitely helping.
Horse Trip to Chhoser
I rented a horse for a ride to Chhoser to see a 40 room cave complex and a monastery built into a cave, and I felt frigging stupid, like the only kid at the fair riding a pony while everyone else gawks and makes a fuss. I was angry about being mislead about the ride as I was told it would be me and another horseman riding another horse. Instead it turned out that the other horseman was on foot holding my horses lead, and my guide walked alongside too with me sitting there on this stupid just-north-of-pony-sized horse (sorry horse, you were possibly quite bright although your ability to stay on the trail made me doubt that at times). It was a very interesting practice to stay with my feelings on this ride. I recognize these as simply feelings and did my best to witness them as such. I have always hated having a fuss made over me, and this put me right back into that fire. Granted, it was nice to have the horse on the return though as I was tired and the pace of travel helped us to be nestled safely in our guest house before a blustery rainstorm arrived.
The caves were very interesting to explore. Not just one large room, but multi-storied with chamber leading to chamber after chamber. No one seems to be sure how old these are, but they at least pre-date the Buddha who was born in Nepal over 2500 years ago. In a museum I toured here (it’s one room, and you have to use your flashlight to view artifacts) I saw handwritten texts found in caves in this area from 3,000 years ago. The best part of the day was a having a few local young boys tag along and explore with us. Two of the boys ran along side and then held my hands as I rode into town which was entirely dear and made me forget entirely about the previous hour and a half carnival ride.
This trek is a time I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I do my best to savor times such as these because one never knows when it may be the last opportunity for such an adventure. Also, as the world engulfs itself under the cloaks of “progress” and “expansion,” there are fewer and fewer relatively untouched places such as these remaining in the world.