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Published: December 7th 2007
The wonderful thing about travel is that synchronistic events happen pretty much all of the time. It was a drab Monday morning in Kathmandu, and as I had an appointment in the afternoon, I was not too sure what to do with myself for the next few hours. After breakfast, I bumped into a German woman I had previously met at Shivapuri, and during our conversation, she told me about a well-known Nepalese shaman called Mohan Rai, who runs a shamanic research centre just outside Kathmandu. 'You could go there now', she suggested, 'it's only half an hour by taxi.' Right that moment, my incredibly handsome Nepalese friend Bishal came around the corner, and he said, 'You want to go to Naikap? Go by bus - why spend 500 rupees if you can go for 10?' As he offered to take me to the bus station, I agreed: it could be an adventure. And that it was. After a crazy, hair-raising (but exhilarating) motorbike ride to the bus station (notably without crash helmet), weaving in and out of Kathmandu traffic, we arrived and Bishal hailed down a bus. Well, bus.... is maybe the wrong worde. It was a three-wheeled vehicle, not
dissimilar to British milk vans. Encouraged by Bishal, I climbed onto a bench in the bus and he turned to leave. 'But where do I get off?' I wailed. 'In Naikap!', 'Yes, but how do I know where it is?' Bishal told the bus driver to let me know and wished me good luck as the locals filed into the bus. It's amazing just how many bodies you can get into a vehicle. People were everywhere: ten people squashed onto a bench designed for four; between seats, behind and before, hanging out of windows and doors. I was one of the lucky ones: I had a seat, although the didi next to me repeatedly leant her head dreamily against my shoulder and placed her hand next to mine on my bag, whilst my legs were stuck between those of the young man opposite me. This cosy journey continued for about one hour. On that note, I find that being in Kathmandu traffic, whether in a taxi or in a bus, is one of the best meditation practises there is. The honking of horns, pollution, kamikaze multi-'lane' driving, cows and goats on the road... to stay centered, nonchalant and calm in
the midst of all this chaos is an achievement indeed. No space on our side of the road? Let's use the other one, or, if that fails, there's always the sidewalk. Pedestrians? Ah,who cares. It's all karma anyway. Another funny thing is that, instead of advertising where the bus goes on a sign, the buses here all have a 'crier' who hangs out of the bus throughout the journey, whistling and shouting at people, enticing them to come along.
Eventually, the bus driver told me to get off in a village. I had no address, only the name of this shaman. The German woman had told me to ask for him, as apparently he's well known there. Brazenly, I walked into a shop. 'Do you know Mohan Rai? Shaman?' I asked, hopeful. 'Who?', the man replied, wobbling his head. 'Sorry, Mam. I ask my son.' The son didn't know either, and a curious bystander sent me to the local school to ask. No success there. The shop lady didn't know Mohan Rai. The beautician didn't either. I must admit that there was a moment at which my rational mind felt rather stupid at having taken a bus into the
middle of nowhere with just the name of an obscure shaman and two words of Nepalese in my possession. But, I persevered, and shortly after I saw a shop with copper pots hanging by the door that reminded me of shamanic drums (even if they were only cooking pots!). I decided that this shop owner simply had to know. And he did. 'Ah, Mohan Rai!', he laughed. 'Yes - over there! That way - go west!' Down a dirt track I walked, past fields, chickens, newborn goats. Near a house I asked another lady for directions. She didn't speak English but motioned me to follow her, and during this walk, up a hill, I was handed from Nepalese person to Nepalese person, until I was finally delivered to Mohan Rai's house and the shamanic research centre by a toothless man. Mohan Rai himself was not at home (ironically, he was in Kathmandu), but his son, who is also a shaman, welcomed me warmly, and we had a cup of tea together while he answered my many questions. In the house, I looked at many photos of Mohan Rai, who has an uncanny resemblance to Pupu, our Tibetan driver, only that
he is called 'Papa' instead (at least by his son). He has helped with the research of the excellent book 'Shamanism and tantra in the Himalays', written by German researchers some years ago, and now runs this research centre, originally started to preserve his family's shamanic culture and traditions. They also travel to Germany and Austria a lot for seminars and conferences. The work they do there sounds very interesting, and I am considering doing an introductory course there when I return to Nepal. If you are interested in learning about the centre, the website address for the Shamanistic Studies & Research Centre is www.himalayanshamans.com
I had an interesting time in Kathmandu Valley after I recovered from my food poisoning. One of the most impressive places I visited was Pashupatinath, the holiest Hindu temple here, dedicated to Shiva in his form of the Lord of the Animals - a bit similar to our Herne or Cernunnos. It's such an atmospheric place, by the holy river Bagmati, where I witnessed some cremations; met sadhus (holy men); saw meditation caves, and visited an old people's home which is in a Shiva temple, centred around five Shiva lingams. Here, 235 elderly people
reside, waiting for death by the holy river.
I also visited the Vajrayogini Temple in Sankhu and spent the night in Nagarkot, a mountain village, where I saw the sun rise over the entire Himalaya range. It was in Nagarkot where I discovered one of the most powerful sacred sites I have come across: the very small Mahakali Temple. It is perched on a hilltop, and has some very old red-coloured statues in it, and little shamanic tree altars all around it. I sat there for about an hour in the morning, feeling the energy and looking at the Himalayas as two majestic eagles circled closely above my head for ages. The temple is small, but huge in power.
Summing it up, one of the things I have been most impressed with in Nepal is the young people's reverence for the Gods. Their rooms are covered in posters of the Gods instead of pop stars, and they touch their heart and head in awe when they pass certain temples. (Part of me was wondering whether I would find this so impressive if they were making the sign of the cross (as they indeed do in Sicily) but the
point for me was that I can relate to the Hindu Gods a lot more than I can to the Christian Gods.) Many of them meditate, do yoga, and it's possible to have very deep spiritual conversations with them, even when they're quite young and could be more interested in football!
I am now at Kathmandu airport, all checked in and ready to go to Lahore via Delhi. If I am honest, I am quite glad to leave Nepal. The country has touched me in many ways, good and bad, but it's been chaotic and difficult and emotionally testing for various reasons also. It's been a bit of a love/hate relationship. I feel that my journey in Nepal isn't over and that I will return, and being here has stirred up a lot of things for me and sparked many ideas and possibilities. The main feeling I am taking away from Nepal is confusion, and extreme exhaustion, but also a strange sense of homecoming and reverence. I know this sounds ominous - maybe it's lack of sleep!
I will spend this evening in Lahore and fly on to Islamabad tomorrow afternoon, where I will stay another night until the other people I am meeting from the UK arrive. We will then go straight from Islamabad to Pakistan's North-West Frontier. New adventures await!
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