Sunday, October 09, 2005

Fear and loathing in Tibet- Part One.

left, the big G man.


Marc and Gesar's epic neurotic adventures in Kham.
Way back in 1991, when Gesar and I were in India with our Lord and master*, Rimpoche suddenly came up with the bright idea that we (ie G and I) should go to Tibet, and that Gesar should be recognized by his monastery as the incarnation of Shechen Kontrtul Rimpoche. Whaa? I hear you say. Ok, a little bit of backgrounding is in order- I apologize. There are a few concepts here that may need explaining. So, I will try to make this all as simple as possible.
Gesar is the son of Chogyam Trungpa(1939-1987), a great mahasiddha, crazy yogi and spiritual revolutionary who performed multiple miracles in North America and Europe, and was a pioneer in the spread of the buddhadharma in the west. His most famous miracle was turning a bunch of long-haired pot smoking drop-out Grateful Dead following hippies into a bunch of suit wearing, uptight starbucks coffee drinking middle-class Americans, heavily influenced by too many viewings of samurai era Akira Kurosawa movies (yes, this is said toungue in cheek). Trungpa Rimpoche set up the Shambala community that spreads now throughout the world, teaching an ecumenical form of Tibetan Buddhism (which is often referred to as the Rime school). It was the community that raised me in the Dharma, the place where I met my teacher, Dzongsar Rimpoche, and a true refuge for a failed international pop-star such as myself; for that I am eternally grateful.
To cut a long story short, Gesar was recognized when still a child as a reincarnation of a great tibetan yogi, Shechen Kongtrul Rimpoche, whose monastery lies in the high and wild hills of eastern Kham in Tibet. Having been raised almost completely in North America, and basically divorced from any kind of traditional buddhist training, he had the stigma of being one of the sons of a 'Great man', whose followers had dreams and expectations for him that way exceeded reality. When I first met Gesar, he was what could be considered as a modern rendition of Ghengis Khan. Approximately 16 years old, weighed approxmately 220 pounds, he was an American football linebacker, part time rapper and terror of the International Shambala community. He was considered by most of the Shambala community as totally uncontrollable and unpredictable.
The day of our meeting that first fateful day in 1990 witnessed several auspicious signs, the evening meal at Rocky Mountain Dharma Center was proclaimed to be delicious, and several rainbows had been seen over the Vajra campsite latrine. It was for me, love at first site, a meeting of two neurotic minds bent on the same goal: the destruction of the peaceful heartfelt world of the average touchy-feely buddhist sangha member. A big burly arm was flung over my shoulder, and I was ceremoniously led to his luxurious accomodations ( a beat up old streamliner trailer) in a quiet corner of the 400 acre retreat center, where we and a few of his close followers engaged in the traditional North American welcoming ceremony of smoking a very well packed Indian peace pipe.
Approximately two years and many adventures later, he and I learned of our command to go to the wild west of Tibet. Sounded like an adventure: I had wanted to go there since my interest in buddhism had began, having read all those Alexander David-Neel books of her journeys through there 100 years ago, and then also having heard about the place from Rimpoche. So, off we were to go.
A Gesar's attendant, military advisor, and partner in crime, my instructions from Rimpoche were simple- make sure Gesar got to the monastery in Tibet, no matter what. We had a budget, about $5000 US, and we had a plan and a back-up plan. Remember we are talking 1991, Tibet at that time was in lock-down mode due to the New Year Riots in Lhasa, and Kham was definitely off limits to foreigners. Rimpoche had devised an elaborate plan to get around that small obstacle though.
The master plan to outwit the Peoples Republic. There were at that time, two ways to get into Tibet from China: one road in the North through Xining, and one road in the South near Chengdu in Xichuan Province. Plan one was we were to prodeed from Guangzhou(previously known as Canton) to the city of Xining in north western China, close to the northeastern border of what had once been the Tibetan frontier. Having hired a car, we were to attempt an entry into Tibet by the northern road. Rimpoche admitted to us that our chances to get in were, at best, sketchy: the police kept strict surveillance of the road by checkpoints every 20/30 miles, all travellers were required to have a special travel permit to get through the checkpoints. Any foreigners caught were placed in a Chinese police jeep and escorted far away from the area to a train bound for the chinese eastern coast. So, before going to the car company, we had to try and get a travel permit from the police. Sound sketchy? Read on....
If plan one failed, we were to make out way south, about 2000 km to Chengdu, where Rimpoche knew of an old Tibetan Lama who had 'ways' to get people into Tibet. Enough said. Gesar and I both hoped that the first option would be successful, and we gleefully prepared for our epic adventure.
Day one, and it all starts to go wrong... Well, off we go to our trusty Indian travel agent in Dehli (who shall remain nameless), pick up our Chinese Airline tickets, and get ready to leave. From Dehli G and I headed off to Bangkok, where we succumbed to a 24 hour binge of the cultural, culinary and night -life delights of that wonderful city. After our brief sojourn there, we caught our flight to Guangzhou, which, as can be expected in that year, was a rather dreary place on first examination, and sampled out first taste of chinese communist hospitality. Day two saw us heading for the airport in the late afternoon to catch out domestic flight; on first examination an ex-Russian Aeroflot 'Concorde' with bald tires, with a penchant for letting the clouds enter through the barely pressurized windows during takeoff. Gesar and I smiled at each other- nothing to worry about, all was going well....
We arrived at the airport after our 2000km plus journey late at night, in pitch black darkness and in the middle of nowhere- no town to be seen. The nearest town was a 30 km taxi ride, taking us past the local nuclear reactor/power station on the way, causing my eyes to water profusely and barely able to keep them open....
Arriving in town, I was struck by the appearance of a rather large city wall that seemed to surround the city center. Strange, I thought to myself, I had no idea that Xining was such a big town, but nevertheless was intrigued at this rather obvious link to Chinese history. Having selected a hotel that was, luckily for us, still open, we checked in and settled down for the night. Everything was going to plan, all I had to do was arrange our car/permit, and we would be on our way.
And then the shit hits the fan....Full of burning buddhist devotion, and eager to get my charge to his destination, I decided to go downstairs and talk to the receptionist about arranging a car for us. Through a combination of sign language, broken english, and several international dance steps, I explained that we were in need of a car to go to 'this' place, pointing to my well drawn Kanji characters of the town we wanted to go to in Tibet. The desk clerk scratched his head, and said in his best broken english, 'It very far! You know that?'. I said yes, I was perfectly aware that it was a little way, but we were willing to pay premium money to get where we were going. He looked at me again, said something in mandarin, and went into his back room where he acquired a map. Spreading it out on top of the counter, he confirmed the details, 'you want here yes?', pointing to the city in Tibet where we were to meet Tibetans that would help us. Yes, I said, there. 'You know where you now?', he asked me, yes I said again, pointing to the city of Xining not too far from the place I wanted to go. ' No no no, you not here!' , he said to me, and proceeded to point to the smack dead center of his map of China and way the hell away from Xining. 'Where here?' I asked as I started to lose my feeling of confidence. ' Here Xian, not Xining!' he told me with a look of concern and frustration. A look at a map of China and the distance between Xian and Xining will give you an idea of how fucked up we were...way off target.
The it hit me- our trusty Indian travel agent, unable to read or find Xining on his travel itinerary, had decided that the next best thing was close enough, and had booked us a flight to a city 1500km east of our planned set off point, and dead in the middle of China.
And so the journey began...and I hadn't even told Gesar yet...........to be continued.

*-
Dzongsar Khyentse Rimpoche

1 comment:

nakedsadhu said...

having heard this tale previously described through the veil of a quantity of 'old monk rum', im pleased to find that it has found its place, and merged with the more expansive information veil intoxicating our humble planet.

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

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