17 July 2012
April 26, Laina to Dho Tarap
We wake in the wood cutters’ camp. The sun crisps the juts of high stone ridge, but the slate turn of canyon river where we pitched our small tent last night, remains in a cold, shivering shadow. Slowly, slowly we climb up and away from our camp, the wood cutters huddling around a pot of smoky tea. We climb past the last of the trees: Himalayan birch and juniper thinning out into thick clumps of thorny shrubs. Every day the land and the people change. Cedar has been sick for three days. Our bags are heavy beasts and we are gaining elevation, despite no food she is still strong and we move steadily up canyon. This impresses our guide, Karma, and for the remainder of the trip he tells all people we meet of her heartiness, usually following some questioning on why, why on earth, are we not using porters? And what exactly is in our huge packs? Karma laughs at this and answers with the story of Cedar -the baliyo keti (strong woman). He tells how for three days she walked up the hills with no food, a very heavy pack, and having to stop constantly for – here he does a funny hand gesture, a little flutter of the fingers from the stomach area outward – ‘little bit problems with the stomach’.
Climbing the trail we try to place this landscape some where, but find that even if the ochre cliffs bearded with scrubby juniper and the crow shadow on the canyon wall are familiar in elements – the very essence of this place is unrecognizable, it cannot be placed. The nature of its remoteness has preserved a way of life that has been largely lost in other geographical similar regions. I think of the young family whose tent we ate in last night. The young wife’s face: round and angular like the Blackfeet. The whole scene was one of 19th century Montana, the west. How I envision the time of the mountain man, the European, living half-nomadic, with buckskin pants and fur hats. And the Natives in cotton blouses plaited with elk ivory, moccasins and top hats. Cooking pots, guns, and grinding stones stored in the corners of tepees, living traditionally and with change. Winter camps, summer camps, children, horses, dogs, metal, leather, drying meat, pounded grain, trade.
Across the river the woman’s husband felled a tree and with his horse drug it back to the darkening camp. The baby tied to her back, silent, as they walked to a small channel to get water to boil for tea.
As we walk on all, familiarity disappears. Up to a pass. Clumpy rocks and prayer flags jumbled in the cut juniper branches. Descending, we follow a long switch back, the beam carriers- two young but old looking guys carrying one very large wood beam- catch up to us and drop their beam at the pass. Karma taps his head saying they are sick so cannot carry it anymore. Heavy with our medicine bag we pipe up ‘Oh we have medicine!’ ‘No, no sickness from too much of the drinking’ he says.
We see this for ourselves when the next afternoon we eat lunch in a warm dark house amid their noontime drunkenness. The small bottles strewn around the stove and the one with the fuzzy black hat that looks just like his friend's hair is bending drunk and keeps calling us little sister, and wants to treat us to soda and rice and booze, all caravanned in from China, we decline, he buys us some coconut biscuits and we say, ‘ No, no it’s enough’ and ‘Thank you, Thank you’ and ‘You are a good man'.
He struggles to remember all his English. We are big in our shiny Patagonia jackets and this small- big brother in his animal fur hat the texture of his friend’s hair wanting to give give and give. ‘Being drunk makes everyone into a rich man’ says Cedar and it’s true: he is rich and we accept the biscuits and go outside to walk in the afternoon blizzard.
10 July 2012
07 July 2012
As Cedar and I cull through our journals we will be posting excerpts of our time in Dolpo...
When I circled into Kathmandu, just two days earlier, square pastel buildings ringed in lush terraces looked like a model below me. A model with a tiny taxi weaving through the streets carrying my sister to fetch me with a cold bottle of iced tea and begin the pre-trip sprint to pick up our just finished permits, and shore up the many legs of our journey just to the “trailhead” of our 35 trek into Dolpo. It takes a trip to Nepalganj on the boarder of India, and from there, a flight to the tiny village Juphal, the only airport (a strip of dirt above a deep ravine) in Dolpo. The flights are full and unreliable since they only fly with full planes, and only if the weather is perfectly still and clear, since it involves some large mountains. So we decide to try to catch a rare day bus to Nepalganj, which means showing up at the bus park and asking around to see if there is a bus going, and then try our luck at the flight to Dolpo the next morning. After sleeping a few hours we get up and stuff everything into our backpacks and flush out into the streets of Patan at the puja hour, many bells ringing, and singing from the small temples. We catch a harried cab as Karma, our guide -- and the only guide to ever come from the villages of Dolpo -- calls to tell us he found a bus going, but we must hurry to get the last seats. Our unusually safety conscious cab driver takes his time buckling up and driving us slowly through the empty streets to the bus park where we catch the last three seats in the very back of the bus, which we share with four and then five men, as we catapult over the rough road for the next 14 hours.
We cross the flat jungle land of golden Buddhas sitting out in fields and hot wind blowing through the yellow Salas forest, driving into the night - long strings of fire along the forest floor. Slowly we are rickshawed through the empty streets to a guesthouse in Nepalganj and sleep- finally- geckos on the wall and a fan blowing hot air across us through the night. We realized before falling asleep that we do not have enough cash for the flight, as they only take cash at the airport, so before light Isan motorbikes with the guesthouse owner into town to see if anything is open. Of course the square is closed, and just as they are about to give up, and insure a multi-day stay in this sweltering little border town, an ATM owner looks out his window, and shouts down to see if they need to be let in. And so they return victorious, and we load into 8-seater plane, and teeter into the white mountains, Isan- saying she took all the money out that she could, and it was just enough for one-way tickets to Dolpo.
02 July 2012
20 June 2012
Finally. The first rain has come and with it the first a i r I actually want to breathe, big gulping pre-monsoonal gulps of the stuff. I'm not really monsoon-familiar so the growing oppression of the 'dry' hot season just seemed like it would go forever and make for a really good wildfire season, but of course that is my montana-mind thinking and I am adjusting it to the fact that summer means rain, and rain makes you happy.
20 April 2012
How can I not fall for a place that streets are crowded with watermelon slice sellers. On my way to work I curse being stuck in traffic, my thin cycle wheels bumped by fellow impatient traffic jam partners revving their motorbikes and when we start to move again I see the holdup: a watermelon slice cart and it’s pusher maneuvering around a pile of bricks in the road, ok ok I can wait for that. Share the road! Watermelon carts! City busses! Bricks! The road is not discriminating.
Last night in search for some vermillion powder I headed to the shops surrounding the temple square near my apartment. These shops, all six of them in a row, sell worship material. Basically they sell Prayer Equipment. The shelves lined with cashew jars, brown paper, and greasy bottles, the corners draped with silk scarves, ox hair tassels and malas
As I sat with the shop keeper and watched him load up customer bags with coconuts, incense, red string, colored powder, oil, metal dishes, wool wicks, ghee, sugar, and in the he tosses a handful of loose mustard seeds in, when asked why he answered ‘for bad luck’. Of course! This is an entire business of believing so of course they have their own rituals…this reminds me of an instance a few months back. It was a freezing cold and windy winter night, my friend had such a bad migraine that she was sort of collapsed on the restaurant tabletop. I went to find a pharmacy to get her some pain stuff. After picking out what I needed I waited to pay, but the pharmacist was in the middle of blessing his shop with incense so I stood there and waited while he opened every drawer, waving incense over the contents, every shelf, then the storage area behind, then the doors, windows, calculator, and lastly me and my bottle were incanted-ed and incensed. He finished, turned around, smiled and said “70 rupees”.
It’s getting hot here but right now there are cumulous building to the east. The city sounds. It is another New Year here, Nepali year 2068; this will be my fourth New Year since arriving in Nepal. Silver flags, strips of pure bright flitting flickering above, a canopy of silver in the dark greasy tunnel of street. To celebrate this new year I am going to post photos from India where I was for the New Year of 2012 a few months back. I will post some words about that place but am waiting for my poetess sister to show up here, today, that’s right…my sister returns! Tomorrow with sister I am setting off to the region of Dolpo in NW Nepal. If you read Peter Matthiessens Snow Leopard, well that’s the place! So I am going to study with this exceptional artist from a tiny village up on the Tibetan border. Tenzin Norbu, the artist, and his assistants are painting the wall murals in a new Buddhist monastery and I might be able to put a few lines in as well. !!!!!!. You can see some of his work here- http://www.drokpa.org/dolpo_artist/paintings1.htm. We will be walking and camping out for over 30 days. I can hardly contain myself.