Published: August 7th 2009August 7th 2009
Last night we curled up in bed and huddled around my iPod to watch the movie Passengers. My 2.5 inch screen didn't turn out to seem as small as it actually is and it was a wonderful way to spend the evening relaxing. Since then we've also seen 12 Rounds and the International which is in fact a comment on the hot night life that you can find in these Tibetan towns and also reflects the amount of electricity we were able to tap into in order to recharge our iPods which was in fact a luxury in itself.
Monday we took a (7hr) long and winding road to Gyantse. Before we left we saw the hotel staff doing its morning exercises in the parking lot after the pep talk rally that they have every morning. This is common for most small businesses. You can see teams of workers on the sidewalk working out before the day begins. In fact the Buddhist lifestyle promotes good health as devotees have to walk the kora, prostrate themselves on the ground and this continues to impress us. Gyantse is a small town which after we got the perfunctory tour
of the monastery where names and dates were hurled at us more or less randomly and eternally confusingly, we decided to set off and explore on our own. And surprise surprise, we got lost, again and again. It seemed every road ended in a dead end and smiling faces of children playing and adults laughing at us. They seemed to really be excited by our toe rings, and regular rings, and earrings, and necklaces. Jewelry in fashion is taken very seriously here. One woman (a shepherd) invited us to follow her on a high road /wall which we hoped would lead us out of this maze. When we didn't end up any closer to our destination, and after I fell apart in laughter at mom scrambling up on all fours in her high heel flip flops, we realized that she was probably just looking for some company, but she enjoyed the comic scene too. We also passed a group of woman playing a drinking game involving yak butter beer and dice and lots of laughter and encouragement. Reminding us of India, cows were parked in front of doors like cars and the walls of their homes were lined with cow/yak
shit patties. The houses are all white washed, low with colorfully ornate window frames (and every door has a swastika on it for good luck and protection). There is a beauty and elegance to them, even if they are in the middle of nowhere. It is odd to see the contrast between the mountains and the deserts.
Tuesday we went to Shygatse (the second largest city in Tibet, only slightly bigger than Gyantse...). The city itself was devoid of personality (no singing bells or cows in sight). One notable cultural identity was the statues of tourists interacting with Tibetans in the park. For example: a man with a water bottle and a journal sharing a peace sign with a little Tibetan boy with a soccer ball - also - a man on a bicycle stopping to look at a Tibetan man with a Yak. While we were walking by there was a Tibetan boy who offered to pose with the tourist statues when he saw our interest in them.
We took a tour of the monastery there and walked the 1.5 hr Kora passing Monks reading scriptures off of carved stones, turning prayer wheels
and perhaps even a sky burial place (and lots of Yak bones). Mom says this place is unrecognisable which is perhaps not so terrible as she keeps tripping over her past self/past life, which is kind of creepy. We ended our stroll at the gift market which included carcasses of Yak, Pig, and Cow.
The roof of the world. We hit 5,500 meters and we wrote prayers on prayer flag post its and inserted them in mini-rock stupas like one would do at the wailing wall in Jerusalem (which of course is contra the custom here where the prayers are supposed to float up on the wind to heaven).
The road led us to Sakya today where we heard the monks chanting. The road was pretty good as it had been newly damned and paved in 2002 (big difference!) Apparently Sakya has the largest library in the world and this is where the Lama position is inherited not reincarnated. As it was the full moon the pilgrims were out en mass. A highlight of the pilgrims seemed to be ringing the huge bell when they entered a chapel to announce their arrival. A highlight
for us however was seeing the biggest (bronze?) Buddha in the world. It's face alone was taller than I am...
The best non-event. We made it to Mt. Everest. We were prepared for Monsoon rain in India, and we've been lucky enough to be free of rain pretty much the whole trip so far, so of course when we are hiking up to Everest base camp it rained for hours. Did we mention that there was a road right up to base camp? Huh?! We walked the last 9 kilometers, past the tent camp which was more or less deserted as this is not the ideal climbing season. The romantic highlight of the trip was that a couple traveling with us became engaged at base camp - Sigh!! We stayed at a monastery where mom awoke to the call to prayer (gongs) and joined the Monks and Monketts (Nuns) for morning prayer. There was no electricity, no running water, and no door for the public bathrooms... We piled on all our layers of clothes and had worried for weeks about freezing at Everest, but in fact it turned out to be a pleasantly cozy
Mom: Again we are confronted with questioning our role in all this spirituality. The pilgrims make mini donations at each Buddha and it raises the questions; do we participate or is it a meaningless gesture as we are not true believers? That said, I took it very seriously at the Buddha for woman's medical health and Sasha donated a pen for "good marks on her tests."
Sasha: To me it seems as if the vast majority of the pilgrims/monks at the temple give their donations and go through the motions as a superstitious lifestyle. Instead of giving a donation to a specific Buddha because there is a significance and a myth behind the action, similarly to the Indian taxi drivers having stickers of all the main Hindu Gods along with religious symbols from other, in some case contradictory religions, in an effort to cover all the bases and collect as much good luck as possible. After seeing how many of these people live, i don't blame them at all for searching for something better, however i remain unconvinced in its "success as a religion" - whatever that means. I do have faith that people can become enlightened
(not in the reincarnation sense of the word) from studying Buddhist texts, but not necessarily from donating money or material possessions... Though i think even that is complicated because there is some significance in the act of sacrificing...
Mom: We've been gone about a month and i think that we are definitely "on the road" together. It's very intense traveling and being in each other's faces 24/7 and it is incredible how much we laugh and share moments of recognition and complicity. Sasha has been really "good" in part because of the nature of these trips. India didn't sell alcohol in most of the places we visited and it was a "spiritual journey" and here in Tibet there is the issue of altitude and being physically vulnerable.
Sasha: Sasha knows from teaching 7th grade advisory that no one needs alcohol to have a good time and be friendly. This trip is just one of the MANY times that has proven this statement true. Live on the natural high, 'cause i'm high on life. :)
Story of the day: One woman noticed that mom's hair was growing really fast, "it must be because of the altitude" - we
just looked at each other and laughed, i had tears from laughing by the time i was done :)
The rough and winding road. Did we mention that we got the seats on the wheel? All week! It was a roller coaster ride of an adventure - all day. The highlight were the pit stops in the flat desert where the girls had nowhere to hide. When you gotta go, you gotta go! Although we were up and on the road at 7:30am with the goal of trying to reach the border tonight, a road block kept us stationary for 3 hours. In the end we found out that there was no reason for the road block, so here we are in the middle of no where looking forward for Nepal tomorrow!
Some fun facts about Nepal:
*It's a little larger than Greece
*There are 5 doctors for every 100,000 people (606 in Italy)
*82% Nepalis live on less than 2 dollars a day
*The average age is 20
*They were never colonized and they cut off all foreign contact from 1816 until 1961
*in 1996 the Maoist waging a constitutional war against
the constitutional Hindu monarchy (which is more like Peru's Sendero Luminoso than China's Mao)
*In 2001 the crown prince gunned down almost the entire royal family and then suicided because his parents didn't like the girl he wanted to marry...
*Only 7% of the children reach 10th grade
*Like in Tibet they follow polyandry (one woman marries "the brothers") with the idea that only a son can light the funeral pyers to ensure a peaceful passage into the next life. The sons shave their heads and where white for 1 year.
Namaste - I greet the divine inside of you - or - Khegarne - What's there to do?
Sayings of the Jewish Buddha
If there is no self, whose arthritis is this?Be here now. Be someplace else later. Is that so complicated?
Drink tea and nourish life; with the first sip, joy; with the second sip, satisfaction; with the third sip, peace; with the fourth, a Danish.Wherever you go, there you are. Your luggage is another story
Accept misfortune as a blessing. Do not wish for perfect health, or a life without problems. What would you talk about?
The journey of a thousand miles begins with
a single Oy.
There is no escaping karma. In a previous life, you never called, you never wrote, you never visited. And whose fault was that?
Zen is not easy. It takes effort to attain nothingness. And then what do you have? Bupkis.
The Tao does not speak. The Tao does not blame. The Tao does not take sides. The Tao has no expectations. The Tao demands nothing of others. The Tao is not Jewish.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Forget this and attaining Enlightenment will be the least of your problems.
Let your mind be as a floating cloud. Let your stillness be as a wooded glen. And sit up straight. You'll never meet the Buddha with such rounded shoulders.
Deep inside you are ten thousand flowers. Each flower blossoms ten thousand times. Each blossom has ten thousand petals. You might want to see a specialist.
Be aware of your body. Be aware of your perceptions. Keep in mind that not every physical sensation is a symptom of a terminal illness.
The Torah says, Love your neighbor as yourself. The Buddha says, There is no self. So ... maybe we're off the hook?
DADDY!! We love you and miss you!*
There are more photos below