Sunday, December 21, 2008

resuscitation

Thanks to the enthusiasm of a few good friends, I have decided to get this blog going, as a way to colletc my stories about Gesar and me travelling in Asia. I will basically put all my rough drafts here and the colect them later into a book form.

Fel fre to comment on any areas you feel could be improved etc

cheers,
Mark

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Koya San- meeting with an old friend


The journey getting there was a long one; it required me to get up at 400 am and make it through three trains to the first shinkansen heading out towards Osaka, getting there just in time for their morning rush and being happily pushed along by the sea of humanity towards my destination. For the first time in many days, I let go of any kind of fixed schedule and so the tide carry me where it would, catching my connecting train down through the city, then onto the the last true train meandering its way out of the city and up into the leafy mountains southwards. As I stared out of the trains large window and let my thoughts be caressed by the gradually enclosing sea of green, the last vestiges of Tokyo life slipped from my shoulders and I gave myself fully to the welcoming shadows of the mountains.

Five and a half hours later, I sat inside an alpine cable car that cranked a rickety audio history from its speakers, telling of the mountain that greeted me upwards and upwards: Koya San.

Without a doubt, it was the first time that I have felt free of Tokyo since I moved there near two years ago. And in that time I have come to understand how hard it must be for any human being, japanese or foreign, to live and thrive there. It is very easy to become trapped living a day filled with obligations and expectations and little hope of commensurate recognition, since the society itself treasures those that just inherently function and don't really stand out, so hard for foreigners trained to do just the opposite. That I can count the number of spiritually inclined friends on the finger of one hand just goes to show that it is easy to cut yourself off from other like minded people quite unintentionally.

For the countless motorcyclists that whir their way through the apparently sleepy town on their weekend rebellion from the congestion of the cities, it must appear to be little more than a blip in the sea of greenery- a few souvenir shops selling the essential and ubiquitous range of over packaged sweets, incense and prayer beads for the pilgrims who wear their white shirts of penance and purity, a couple of small restaurants and he well named shukubo temples, where for the cost of your average one night stay at a five star hotel, you can experience each temple's version of temple life, food and daily regimen, without the obligatory participation of say a zen temple.

But as I walk out the cable car station, I am struck with the essential ingredient I have so lacked for countless days: space, silence, sky. The bus driver meanders his way into the town with an ease and leisurely pace that must have been a special course at the bus drivers academy ( and the average Japanese bus driver must have failed). Green, green, browns and green, framed in stone and sky, my mind sways this way and that as we wind up and down the roadway, with not another car in sight. Ah... now this is living!

For I am on my way to meet an old friend and his companions, a person I have not seen for some eight years far too long, and it took me threatening my Japanese boss with my complete rebellion from company directives if he didn't acquiesce to my demand to leave.

To be continued....

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Fear and Loathing, Part Seven- Devotion

We awoke to the freezing chill of a Tibetan early spring morning, with a soft thrumming of voices that could be heard wafting through the open window. I struggled to escape the layers of blankets that had kept me warm, fully clothed, throughout the night, and peered with curiosity down to the courtyard below. My eyes were greeted with the sight of hundreds of Tibetans, some sporting huge chunks of turquoise bound tightly in their hair, patiently waiting for Gesar to appear. It was barely sunrise, yet there they were, quietly praying or nattering excitedly to a neighbor, some prostrating on the bare earth, caking their bodies in dust and sweat, pointed in devotion towards our place of rest.

Hot buckets of water were brought up to the room for Gesar and I to bathe with, the monks besotted with interest wanting to stand and stare at everything that Gesar did. I kicked them all out, and G and I enjoyed a few brief moments of privacy in what was to be a very long day. We cleaned up as best we could, and stuffed down the bowls of rice and sweet milk that were sitting waiting for us. The pure, pure air of that early morning danced with the dust that was caught in the sharp light streaming in from the window, and I let my mind dance too as I watched the minute particles swirl in the gentle breeze.

The monks appeared again, led by the smiling young Khenpo, bearing ceremonial robes that were to be Gesar's for the day. These consisted of yellow flowing shirts and under robes, and an elaborate brocade jacket that would be the finishing touch to the multi-layered outfit. The monks handled each piece of clothing reverently, covering their escaping breath with a piece of paper held in their mouths, gently easing each garment onto Gesar's imposing frame. I dressed as best I could, the monks giving me a clean white undershirt for my black tibetan Chuba. At one point I went alone down the steep stairs that led outside of our lodgings, to be confronted with an absolute sea of faces and people, who, taking one look at me, bowed their heads in reverence, and parted in much the same way that the Red Sea must have parted for Moses to let me through.
I felt more like Darth Vader- my long hair, greasy and tied at the back of my head samurai style, a week old Fu Manchu beard and moustache, and my long black tibetan dress; I must have looked terrifying to the little children who visibly shook at the sight of me. It was stunning: I smiled and tried to be as inconspicuous as possible, but as I could see by the looks on some of the people and little children's faces that this was for many their first contact with a foreigner. How strange and exotic I must have seemed to them in their Himalayan land.

One of the monks showed me where we would walk into the temple and start the ceremony, and pointed to where Gesar would be seated and I would stand in attendance behind him. The temple, just bare earth days before, had been tricked out in their fines brocades and cloths and tankhas (religious paintings), with monks already chanting their opening prayers, some of them looking up at me and smiling broadly as their elders tried to keep them focused on the task at hand. Somehow, with my horrific tibetan, I was able to understand what the order of the day would be, and I left to go back up to the room with G. We were excited to say the least- this was the reason why we had come, to see Gesar enthroned at his own monastery, with His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rimpoche having died earlier in the year it left a huge vaccuum in the organisation of the Tibetan buddhist community. Having Gesar establish links with his own heritage and legacy would give solace and comfort to many missing the loss of their great Guru and dharmic grandfather.
The music below us in the main temple started to play, this was our signal...

The ceremony. With a surge of about eight overly willing monks, Gesar stood up from his bed and preceded to make his way towards the overly steep stairs and down outside to waiting crowds. I got in front of him, and tried to fit in between the monk musicians, armed with long tibetan trumpets, giving that all familiar call of an event about to happen. You have to imagien this tiny little stairwell with suicide-like gradient, about twelve monks, the young abbot, Gesar wearing these voluminous religious garments, all trying to get down the stairs at the same time and be of assistance to thier long lost son. It was hilarious, with Gesar and I visibly laughing at the danger and frantic scrabbling hands of monks trying not to tumble down the stairs on top of one another, yet often doing so. I did my best to keep those near me upright, suddenly I was at the bottom of the stairs and the crowd below started to surge forwards towards the doorway-so much for Moses!
It was absolute mayhem; masses of hands, many grubby with dirt, thrusting forwards with babies, silk welcoming scarves, toungues stuck out of mouths in signs of respect, chanted prayers, scrabbling feet, falling bodies, some trying to prostate, laughing, jostling for position, and monks and priests trying to keep order. Somehow the crowd pushed us away from the door and literally carried us towards the temple door, where we escaped inside, the monks keeping the many tibetans outside and at bay. Everyone was laughing, and G and I made out way to the throne that had been set up for him as the monks inside kept up the steady rhythmic chant of their opening prayers. His throne was covered in holy objects- texts, bells, books, a damaru (ritual drum) and other symbols necessary for the enthronement.
Finally the ceremony began- the numbers of people outside being too many to fit into the main shrine hall, theiy peered in through the open doorway and waited for the general blessing that would follow the ceremony. They chanted patiently, prayer wheels whirring, malas clacking between hands, young and old staring inwards trying to follow the procedures inside. There was an overwhelming energy that pervaded the temple that day, as the obviously proud young monks, older nuns and priests sat and prayed their welcome and recognition of Gesar. Who sat through it all, beaming at everybody, graciously accepting the lead from monks that showed him through the ceremony, instructing him when to make certain movements, and being the most patient I have ever seen him be.

A parade of faces -The crowd was eventually let inside, and the general blessing began- this entailed the entire crowd being led throught the shrine room to the front of Gesar's throne, where they would recieve a blessing on the head by Gesar placing his hand or hands on them, or the tibetan khatag scarf that they held reverently being placed back around their necks. Many of them bore gifts- staues, animal pelts, books, malas, bells and religious practice objects, some very old and obviously treasures. I cannot explain or attempt to describe the emotions that flowed in that half constructed temple those next few hours- crying, weeping, wailing, laughing, sheer awe as in the face of many of the children, the whispered prayers, or the breakdown of some of the older folk who had seen one of their great aspirations come true. Through it all Gesar just smiled and smiled, the love between them and him palpable and cogent. For those of us near him, that is for me and the other monks that were attending him, it grew too much, we were all weeping as well, laughing at times when we saw some overly devout person cut back into the line to try and get another blessing., only to be intercepted by one of the wily older monks who would shoo them away. We watched this comic dance time and time again, sometimes allowing it to happen, and then seeing the older monk lose his temper and try to keep the crowd constantly moving ahead.
I still marvel today at the clarity of devotion in those simple khampa folk- as we all know, the eyes do not lie, and theirs shone with a brightness that I will never forget. Like diamonds.

It took the best part of the morning to finish, by the end of it Gesar and I were exhausted in the thin air as the energy overwhelmed us. With another fanfare, we struggled out the front of the temple and back towards our refuge above, to be met with the same enourmous crowd and the same mad scramble to get near their returned teacher. This time dozens of hands stretched forwards to help Gesar walk, the smiling faces and laughing eyes giddy with joy as we were pushed back up the stairs to our lodgings and quiet. To be continued......

Thursday, November 10, 2005

little Buddha



oh i miss the hermitage ,
but isnt samsara so intoxicatingly interesting .
One of the the first things people do with a new technology if they cant kill someone with it, is learn how to have sex with it.
How long did it take the guy that invented the pin hole camera to have the thought " Hey I can use this to make an image of a naked woman?"
I still find my shiny new compaq lapdancer a most amourous thing, but am finding her to be quite a communicator also , could this be the sign of a 'committed' relationship? Anyway my great Siddhas, Here is my first cyber image to share. manifested the ancient way but scanned in just a moment. I will post others in time, hopefully in a downloadable format for anyone that would like to print them, print one, or print one hundred million. love NS.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Fear and Loathing in Tibet, Part Six- Living in Dreamland

Lamas, monks and lay people of the Shechen community. Photo by Matthieu Ricard.

I awoke later that day to the sound of hushed voices whispering prayers. As is gradually opened my eyes and adjusted to the dimly lit room, I could see monks sitting on the floor, about eight of them, just sitting there staring at me. I was covered with about three of four blankets, very comfortable despite of the cool air let into the room through the un-glassed open window. Gesar was seated now on a makeshift throne/bed, above my head and to the left. I was completely disoriented, he just smiled and told me that I had slept for about 5 hours, utterly dead to the world. I sat up, and immediately a wooden cup of warm yak's milk was thrust under my nose by a smiling but very dirty face. I sipped at it gingerly, feeling the hot vapour caress my nostrils and its nourishment gratefully welcomed by my fragile intestines.

The headache that had struck me when we had arrived was gone, and I was able to look around with more than detached interest at my surroundings. They had given Gesar and I a complete floor of the still half completed main shrine hall, about two floors up, dark except for the tiny tibetan style little windows that let in a piercing clear blue light. Gesar had slept too eventually- I presume they realised just how tired we must have been by my collapse. Monks and other guests I could hear outside milling about, in fact as I looked out the window I observed a large crowd was gradually forming outside the temple as people heard the news and the local communities came to pay their respect.
The monks had set up small tables in front of out beds, where a small plate, knife and a pile of rib bones of some animal lay in front of me, the hair and blood not removed during the butchering process and still plainly visible. I tried not to baulk as I looked at G- by a returned glanceI could tell he felt the same way, a much larger pile in front of him. We knew it was the best they had to offer us, and were grateful; but for the time being I decided that I would just forget about food and concetrate on fluid. I drank gallons of the warm sweetened yaks milk that was constantly replenished by an ever waiting monk.
I must take a moment to describe the energy of this place- it was calm, calm and clear like a lake stumbled upon accidentally when hiking in the mountains, despite the muffled noises of the tibetans outside going through their daily activities. I leaned back against the wall and Gesar and I chatted for about an hour, gradually giving all of the monks nicknames due to the fact that my brain could barely function. For the first time in many days I felt truly safe.

The dead end kids-And now to our attendants- a more loveable and rascally lot you could not meet. One monk just looked completely like Eddie Murphy when he did his Buckwheat skit, curly hair, big lips and a beatiful broad smile. This had G and I in hysterics when I saw the similarity and mentioned it in passing. I could see the mischievousnous in some of the young faces too, they jostled and bullied each other to serve Gesar and me and satisfy our every need, returning cheeky smiles at times. Yet, they were totally devoted, and actively fought to serve us, regardless of how servile and menial. Their devotion knew no bounds, and when compared to the often off and on attempts of us westerners... well, I am sure you get the picture. There was no politics here, just pure unadulterated service to another human being. Who was I? Yet I was feted like a king.

The Abbot-The young khenpo that we had met on arrival came up again and formally prostrated to Gesar, presenting a scarf and asking for a blessing, which in the tibetan custom entails the laying of hands of the teacher on the head of the supplicant. I could tell by the look in his eye that he was already totally in love with Gesar, and knelt on the ground next to G's makeshift bed, holding his hand for the next few hours, just wanting to be with his teacher. I dont remember how many times I silently cried over the next few days, I just know that it was the smallest, most subtle things that made my heart burst open; a feeble voice, a loving gaze, a silent gesture.

The sense of touch was definitely highlighted for me there in Tibet, something I noticed again later when I did my stint as a monk in northern India seven years later. People wanted to touch Gesar's hand, or be touched by him. It was so expressive-whenever he moved there was a mad scramble to be one of the people who would hold his arm or elbow, to guide him wherever.
Everything he touched became valuable, an object of worship to these uncomplicated people. A tissue used to free blocked nasal passages, when placed down as rubbish, was fervently picked up, ( sometimes briefly squabbled over) and wrapped in a silk scarf, finally touched to a forhead as some sacred object of worship. Grains of rice left in the bottom of a bowl were picked apart one by one, taken out to the waiting crowd below and distrubuted to the eager hands scrabbling for a single grain, those greeting success with a prayer and a bow to the room above.

I learned something about devotion while there those brief few days, love for us is often so conditional- it is something that I reminds myself of even to this day. What more can a human do than give completely from their heart? What a precious gift.

It was surreal, and those first few hours of the fading day passed so quietly, punctuated only by a very bold few who managed to make their way upstairs and past the horde who waited. At dusk, we managed to force down some rice and meat cooked together, and settled down in the rapidly cooling evening air. The plan tomorrow was to inspect the whole comunity, the destroyed house of the previous Shechen Kongtrul Rinpoche on the mountain above, and the still ruined library on the other side of the valley, a little way off. The day after that was to be an enthronement ceremony, thrown together rapidly due to shortnesss of time. Gradually, the noise outside thinned and then was lost in the clear clean sound of night, broken only by the ferocious bark of some Tibetan mastiff as people returned to tents and houses, patient to wait one more day to meet their long lost son ...

Friday, October 21, 2005

Fear and loathing in Tibet, Part Five. Shechen


The shame of it all- As we continued down the gently sloping road closer and closer to Shechen, Gesar and I were struck by the sheer amount of destroyed monasteries that we could see. Their remains were everywhere. Some of the ruins were massive, spanning most of a hillside, and what once must have been vibrant city/communities now reduced to mere dust, rocks and echoes. Such is impermanence, I thought, and so potent must have been the fear of the communist chinese that when they first looked upon these enormous colleges they planned their complete destruction. We were told that some 10,000 monasteries or communities had been destroyed after the chinese takeover. The stories we heard from survivors were vivid enough though, and still held real terror for many of the victims. But more of them later....for now we just gazed at the ruins and wondered at the waste. Other than that, was saw evidence of a huge army camp, its enclosing fence following the path of the road for some time before we veered off towards another range of mountains. The driver told us through our interpreter that we would be wise to keep clear of this area as the chinese army often held manoeuvers near there as a way to keep the rowdy and fiercely independent Khampas in line. Gesar and I silently nodded in agreement, and tucked ourselves down into the jeep as small as possible. We were nearly there...

Words are not enough-About lunchtime, we came to a fork in the dirt road. Our translator told us that 30km straight ahead lead to Dzogchen Monastery, another famous Nyingma buddhist center, while the turn up the hill and valley to the right would take us to Shechen. The car rolled off the main dirt road to what was then something akin to a goat track. We were not far now, and the anticipation, despite our still very weak physical condition, was causing my pulse to race. We rolled effortlessly down a verdant green valley, the road dissappearing in parts to pure lush grass, the surrounding hills crested with tall pines. I will never forget the sky; brilliant, azure, highlighted in parts by a brief cloud or two. It was beautiful, soft and welcoming to us.
We drove closer and closer, and suddenly...there it was, a group of buildings clustered on the western slope of the valley, with a small meandering stream on the valley floor. Gesar asked for the car to stop- we would walk in from here; it seemed the most approriate way to announce our arrival. We got out, and the Tibetan translator and I helped G put on his chuba, the traditional tibetan dress. I cannot imagine how Gesar must have felt at that time, and what thoughts must have been racing around his mind, we just smiled at each other and laughed, two filthy dirty westerners in this glorious blue day with air that was so clean it was like liquid as it absorbed into our eager lungs.
We stumbled slowly towards the group of buildings, our feet feeling like lead as we tried to adjust to the extremely high altitude, our breath coming in hard fought gulps and wheezes. The sudden shock of the altitude hit us. It was the first time we had done any serious exercise in days, compounded by the fact we were utterly physically exhausted, having hardly slept or eaten in four days.
That kilometer long walk took forever- we literally crawled towards the temple at a snail's pace on this spongy soft grass that carpeted the valley floor. Yaks wandered everywhere, gazing placidly at our progress, ultimately ingnoring our presence. About halfway to the complex, a khampa on his horse approached us, curious as to who the hell was walking down this valley. The tibetan translator said a few brief words which had him off his horse and asking for a blessing in a second, arms in prayer position, toungue out and head down, body bowed in supplication, eyes shining like fire. We were all just smiling and smiling and smiling- it felt like a dream. He was back on his little pony in a second, and went racing back down the valley toards the monastery at top speed shouting out his news, singing and laughing, whooping and hollering.

As we started the last climb up the hillside a group of monks approached us, as we could see that the monastery had burst into a hive of activity. People were emerging from buildings, other monks stared at us from the half rebuilt main building. Most held back as a smaller party approached us. The resident tuku and khenpo (abbot) made their way forwards solemnly, greeting us, recognizing Gesar's face and bulk, but still not sure of who they had with them. Gesar produced his letter of introduction from Dzongsar Rimpoche which they read fervently, and looked us up and down, then back to the letter. The young abbot and tulku, with sudden realiziation that the man they had been expecting for the last few weeks was right before them, suddenly smiled and wished us welcome. As they bent to receieve blessings, the near vicinity burst into pandemonium, as the entire monastic body and every farmer and khampa present rushed forwards to greet us and receieve a blessing. Some stopped themselves and ran back to collect khata, tibetan welcoming scarves, obviously caught in mid-thought and dilemma.

Release-It was absolute chaos- people were running everywhere, old, young, crippled, we hadn't even made it to sit down yet,running towards us, throwing themselves on the ground in prostration, crying, laughing, babbling, praying. It was a total free for all, and suddenly the Khenpo and tulku were like our bodyguards trying to stem the rushing horde. Gesar was just smiling and smiling, so patient, so loving, I felt my tears flowing like rivers from the final release from stress and the combined effect of so much obvious love and devotion. We had done it. We had done it. I had done it- and that moment was way too much for me.

Devotion- Guiding and loving hands came from everywhere: it was as if Gesar was a thousand year old man, fragile as if made of glass, a precious jewel, they searched to help him work his way to the main building. Some even supported me- the first time I had felt the friendly touch of another human in weeks. I was no-one, but to them I was a precious jewel. An old crying man limped towards us doing prostations, shouting that this was his teacher and his teacher had come back for him, and how he had suffered and been beated by the chinese, how he had lost his wife and was all alone, but so happy that his teacher had come back for him. He latched on to Gesar's feet and cried his eyes out, snot and tears going all over G's shoes. Many were crying uncontrollably, the thin tibetan alpine air perhaps goading on long lost emotions. Smiles and tears, prayers and scarves, we were gradually jostled towards the half complete main temple, being reconstructed after its destruction (twice?) by the chinese.

We finally made it inside to seat and safety from the over eager crowd, but I looked back briefly to see riders galloping in every direction up and down the valley, shouting their message. Of course the crowd attempted to follow us inside, but our obviously weary expressions signalled that we needed some peace for a while, that plus the stern voice of the khenpo telling them to leave us for now, posting two monks as guards on the door. We went up a steep steep flight of tibetan steps to the half completed shrine room above the main shrine hall, where monks raced about setting up a place for me and Gesar to rest.
It was about that time that I literally passed out, struck by a blinding migrain headache that rendered me incapacitated. The focus was all on Gesar now anyway- I could relax for the first time in weeks. I can't even start to describe how I felt- all I could think about was closing my eyes and sleep. I had managed to do what my teacher had asked me, my mind went blank.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Fear and Loathing in Tibet, Part four- Meetings with remarkable sheep.

From Chengdu to the Tibetan border. A ride I will never forget.

The chill morning air was cut only by the busy whir of the Beijing jeep's engine as we made our way through the still quiet and sleepy streets of the city. In the back seat with me sat our tibetan translator, chatting away to our policeman driver, while Gesar in the front stared silently into the gloomy early morning. The full extent of what we had arranged, and the sheer illegality of it were lost in a smile shared by me and Gesar through the rear view mirror. I commenced what was to be one of many journeys around my buddhist mala over the next fifteen days. I prayed for the enlightenment of all sentient beings, and that I wouldn't go complete mad from the extreme unrelenting stress of being on this journey. We were truly on our way.

Checkpoint.- The morning air, aided by the strengthening rays of the sun steadily dispersed what was left of the morning mist as we headed for one of the main exits of the city, and the first of what were to be many police check points. The ritual was the same: the cars would line up, one by one approaching the gate across the road, where policemen interviewed the drivers and took passenger lists, inspecting the contents of a car, bus or truck if they felt it was necessary. We watched others questioned like hawks, others turned around or back. Or so it was for everyone else. Our driver just beeped his horn, pulled out onto the vacant side of the road and headed for the gate in the green police jeep. I and Gesar were praying fervently, the mantras whirling from my mouth in barely whispered high speed eddies. I shrank down in the back seat and tried to make myself as inconspicuous as possible to the now approaching policemen. My heart was literally pounding now as our driver rolled down his widow and started berating the guards at the gate. They laughed back at him and asked a few quick questions, barely glancing inside except to look at the imposing form of Gesar sitting in the front seat. The gate went up- and we were waved through.

The feeling of elation that I felt at that moment lasted for about an hour and until we approached the next check point where I suddenly realised that we would have to run the gauntlet many times over the next three or four days. There was a post about ever 30 to 40 kilometers for almost the entire length of our journey, some more closely manned than others. The major ones where our driver had to get out of the car and report were few and far between, and he obviously attempted to steer clear of them as often as possible by choosing alternate routs over tracks in appalling condition. The city became the suburbs, and thence the countryside. It was happening, but at a nail biting pace.

Bounce baby- The road, as it was, steadily deteriorated as we headed west and gradually out of Chinese territory. We were often following the riverbank of the Yantze river, and scenery that springs to mind whenever I see a classical chinese painting of mountains, forest and mist. It was glorious countryside, shrouded in fog and absolutely lush. The road had been literally carved out of the mountainside, and earth moving equipment and dynamite excavation still under progress, sometimes stopping us while they blew their charges to cacophonous reply. Most of the traffic consisted of police vehicles, army jeeps and trucks, and countless logging trucks that bounced along the road, leaving huge ruts and clouds of dust in their wake. What was at one point a normal tarmac road gradually shifted as the journey went on and became mud and dirt, scoured into hard packed waves that caused the jeep to gently undulate up and down. From gentle it gradually became more persistent, till the last two days of the journey inwards were spent as much airborn as forward moving. An idea of the extent of how much we were jolted was shown by the combined bulk and size of Gesar breaking the front passenger seat completely off its welding as we were climbing the last passes into Tibet, and on our return journey the rear seat welding snapping as well. As Rimpoche would so poignantly say,' you have no idea.'

Unrelenting strain- Our three days journey passed with much the same routine- meals were snuck at a restaurant always on the edge or outside of town, chosen due to few customers, the meals eaten quickly and us back on the road driving within minutes. There was no looking around- we were to avoid any kind of awkward questioning or obvious presence in the area. It was just constant, unrelenting stress, an excitement and nervousness that just didn't let up. My stomach was just a knot of tension, meaning that often I found it hard to eat, let alone relax for a brief instant. Even getting rest at night was an ordeal. We had to check in to the rest stops after the local policemen had perused the guest books of the local hotels for the night, at a round about or a little after midnight, catch a few quick hours sleep and be back on the road at 430am before the early morning check again, usually done at 5:30am to catch the unsuspecting. Our policeman knew his stuff: he steered us patiently to this place and that, as our sense of awareness gradually disentegrated due to tiredness and nerves. Our fate was indeed entirely left up to him and the buddhas and bodhisattvas.
The countryside swept by our dusty windows, and what had obviously once been verdant green mountains gradually deteriorated to clear cut yellow lumps, the steadily eroding falling dirt turning the waters of the river into a sea of mud. The existing forests had been stripped bare. The extent of the enviromental damage was appalling, there seemed to be little logic in the method of cutting and very little in the way of replanting or any kind of ground maintenance. I remember looking at the boiling mud-filled waters below the road and watching all kinds of flotsam scrabbling along with the current. Trees, logs, boulders- there was major environemntal damage occurring right before our eyes.Food for thought to say the least. It made me ponder whether perhaps this was what the chinese governement really didn't want westerners to see and the main reason for making this area off limits...
The mountains grew flatter again and we seemed to be on some kind of plateau, the driver told us that at the beginning of the next day we would make our climb into Kham and over the main pass that discriminates the true geographical border. The countryside and the people had changed- most were tribal types, sporting longer hair and red sashes sometimes wound around their heads, clothing a mix of tibetan and chinese army mixed together like some appalling cocktail. It was getting steadily colder too, the heater of the jeep just taking the chill off the cool air. We drove an incredible amount of hours each day, sometimes as much as twenty. The driver seemed undaunted as he tackled the various obstacles of the road; dangerous trucks, huge wallows, mud ruts like quicksand that bogged us a couple of times; roads that had completely washed away.
Through it all Gesar and I sat mostly silently, watching the constant parade of nature. Praying.

Beware of thousand year old eggs... The last morning we were up at 430am and heading down the road before any other morning traffic. The landscape had changed, the houses that I saw I fancied were similiar to what we would see in Tibet, they looked more like military stronghouses of some bygone era, white with small windows. There were fewer trees now too, the land often rolling by like a Wyoming plain. It this what Tibet would be like? I wondered to myself.
We stopped at a restaurant at about 600 am, starving due to the freezing temperature of the wind outside the car. Shuffled into the back of the restaurant where we could not be seen, the driver as usual ordered food for me and G. This morning, it was a milky white porridge of rice, milk and two or three obviously aged eggs, done traditional chinese way. We had seen them eaten by the driver and our interpreter, often picked out of a barrel with some shoddy lid. Having refused them several times before, I intended to avoid the eggs and just eat the broth like liquid, but on finding that it was sweet, my hunger overcame my better judgement and I wolfed down the lot, barely glancing up to notice that Gesar was doing much the same. We were feeling more confident now, knowing that we would be on Tibetan soil somewhere around lunch time.
The rest of the journey that day consisted of following the gradually ascending road up and over the high pass into Tibet, the highest point at an altitude of somewhere around 4000 meters. The driver stopped once and recalibrated the carburetor, forcing us to shiver violently in the uninsulated vehicle.

Oh, the pain of it all.....And then it began...a small gradual pain in my stomach that built in intensity over about thirty minutes, then gradually subsided over another thirty. Repeating over and over like some relentless punishment. At each cycle the pain gradually got more and more instense, and I found myself clutching the back of the front seat in order to control my movement and the pain that was by now becoming unbearable. It wasn't like nausea- it was as if someone had their hands inside my intestines and were squeezing them and sticking knives into me. I felt totally out of control- a sudden snatched look of fear at Gesar and I realised he was in the same predicament. We both hung on for dear life to the back of the front seat as the jeep relentlessly drove upward, our bodies being constantly thrown into the air by the unending bumps and ruts that marked each forward movement. I couldn't cry or scream, just found myself with eyes closed trying to go into the pain that seemed like it would never stop. It went on like this for most of the day- for a while I lost complete track of time and space.
My medical background learned while doing nursing to pay my way through university tells me now that we both probably had Salmonella poisoning, and considering the fact that some westerners have actually died after eating these thousand year old eggs we should consider ourselves lucky. Nevertheless, the memorable crossing fo the highest peak and entering into the Tibetan basin was lost on both me and Gesar, as we endured this excruciating pain in varying degress for the rest of the day and indeed most of the next week.

Tibet!-Late in the day, the driver, obviously worried about our condition, but having little in his power to remedy the situation, pulled over on the side of the desolate road next to a little Tibetan nomad family, their tent and a flock of a creature I had never ever seen before. They looked like little goats or sheep, so tiny that you could fit perhaps over a hundred in a space no bigger than your kitchen, with a wispy silky fleece, cared for by a little tibetan shepherd who was obviously terrified at the site of Chinese police jeep. Once it had finally hit us, Gesar and I were absolutely overjoyed to be in Tibet, despite the pain we felt. G scrambled out of the car and attempted to approach the man, speaking some tibetan Khampa words to him. He continued to back away until we realised how uncongruous we must really look, a dirty smelly unshaven long-haired western man wearing a black chuba, and a huge Chinese looking sumo wrestler type wearing something akin to army fatigues bursting out of a military vehicle. 'Show him your mala', I suggested to G, which he did, pulling it out from under his jacket. Suddenly a smile appeared, and he shouted something to his family in the tent, who peered out cautiously, still afraid. We just stood there laughing and smiling and smiling.
He led us over there and shared with us our first cup of real tibetan butter tea, for me barely potable, but hot and given to us with a smile. We squatted down next to his fire, and exchanged little more that smiles and eye glances. G and I were exhausted utterly from the journey, but we were truly in Tibet at last. We were almost there.

HI from Marc

Hello to all,
I have decided to revive this blog and start compliling some of the stories into a book format. Any comments and suggestions are most welcome.

Cheers
markeu

Followers

My Blog List

Contributors