Saturday, May 10, 2008


I spent my first night in a Nainital hotel watching X2 (I miss comic books). I spent my second night under the stars and storm. But I spent my best night at the gompa (Buddhist temple) that sat above the town. I’m glad I got to see this beautiful small temple with 10 monks before the 300 strong march crashed down on them.

That morning, I woke on a simple bed with a thin foam mattress. One of my monkish roommates still sleeps under his blanket. The night before, we discussed the coming end of his two decade course of studies and the five years of examination he will soon face to graduate as a geishe. He has two years left on his study of Vinaya, the Buddhist regulations concerning the behavior of a monk. When talking about his early life in Ladakh, Kashmir, he described riding horses with his friends like today’s generation rides motorcycles; just wandering around the hills, exploring, laughing and talking. The two of us stayed up so late talking that I got more sleep the night during the thunder storm.

I brushed my teeth in water from the faucet set in the wall outside the kitchen with two monks who flashed big smiles at me when I said “Good morning” in Tibetan. Don’t worry my habit of being shitty/lazy at languages remains unbroken. I know little Tibetan. An extremely hygienic people, I’ve never anyone spend more time on lathering and teeth brushing. I’m trying to follow this habit so I had ample time to admire the sun just lighting up the evergreens at the top of the facing mountain, the beautiful green lake set in the bottom of the valley surrounded by a picturesque town and a brown mutt fucking a white bitch just down the hill, made more tantalizing by the pine tree partially obscuring the view. Fakt time: after copulation, dogs often can’t remove the penis for several minutes because the head has swollen too large. They must spend this time together whether they like it or not. Some friends (human) have expressed wishes for a similar device that would keep their boyfriends around post coitally.

The temple had thousands of the multicolored Buddhist prayer flags strung over it between the tops of the trees. The colors of the gompa’s simple exterior soothe while the sumptous interior amazes. Organized around a picture of the Dalai Lama draped with strings of fake brightly colored flowers, the gompa houses a special treasure: one thousand small brass statues of the Buddah complete with a finely made outfit. The back wall has a large statue of the Buddah complete with the large ears of wisdom. Curiously enough (to me at least), a fierce Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, stands to one side complete with a pencil thin mustache and his symbolic trident with the requisite three heads impaled on the shaft.

Two very old women, heavily wrinkled but still beautiful in their chupas, walk around the gompa spinning the prayer wheels while murmuring Om Mani Pema Hu. The monks cook or use the ubiquitous brushes of straw held together by string to sweep the leaves and little trash into a pile for burning. I cut tomatoes while making small sounds of appreciation for the blade master to my left, the Bane of Tomatoes. I have to force myself to not replicate his speed but concentrate on doing the job right, the lesson I never quite learn. We breakfast in the kitchen on a long rectangular table. The seven monks smile and laugh often during our meal of tsampa and rice soup (almost as good at Grandma Pelgers and no higher praise do I know). I find myself laughing with them even though I never know what is said.

The Tibetans in general are the most optimistic and joyful people I have met. The Dalai Lama said in his autobiography, “My Land and My People”, "we are not a joking people but we are a joyful people" (can’t find exact quote). It’s true. Simple innocent jokes go over big. Someone tripping always brings huge laughs but never in a spirit of malice. It’s one of their unique qualities that I fear will be lost if the Tibetans remain exiled from their homeland. The longer I’m here, the more special traits that I think the would needs to learn from. I hope we can help save them.

I spent the night before wandering the dark mountain, lost trying to find the gompa while practicing with my new switchblade to pass the time. I vowed to ignore the pain in my shoulder from my bag pushed just over my comfort level by the two blankets I use for sleeping. The books don’t help either. My Tibetan library keeps expanding:

“The Story of Tibet – Conversations with the Dalai Lama” by Thomas Laird: possibly the best nonfiction I have ever read. Laird knows the history of Tibet but he had 18 personal interviews with the Dalai Lama who gave his unique perspective through the lens of the karma of the nation and it’s guiding soul, Chenrizi, who manifests in key times as well as in the person of every Dalai Lama

“My Land and My People” by His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet – a well written perspective of his early life and the invasion of Tibet

“Kluxing: Torture in Tibet” by Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy – a report by an NGO about the widespread torture practices by the People’s Republic of China against the Tibetan people

“Seven Years in Tibet” by Heinrich Harrer – an inspiring story of escape from detention in India for the crime of being German and flight into Tibet. This mountain climber and his companion managed to eventually get into the Forbidden City of Lhasa where they welcomed them with open arms. One of only seven foreigners in the city, he got a unique view on life in Tibet before the invasion and eventually became a friend and tutor to the young Dalai Lama

“Shadow Tibet” by Jamyang Norbu – One of the first voices to question the Dalai Lama, this former freedom fighter has been one of the most controversial and important voice. It’s on loan from my friend, Sean Mahoney, who showed me the email from Tsundue that got this whole ball rolling

“Indian Leaders on Tibet” by India Tibet Coordination Office – Speeches and letters by Indian leaders on the Tibet issue, found Nehru particularly disappointing

So that’s what weighed down my bag that dark night but I liked the pain and the weight. It’s training time. These past two days in Nainital have given me the shiver of excitement, the feeling that big things are on their way. I asked my dad what “shiver” moment stood out in his mind, forbidding him from saying it was seeing me for the first time partially because I guessed I might not be the answer anyway. He answered immediately, “waiting on the truck for my first Yes tour at 17.” I knew the rest of the story and I knew that he had a prescient shiver. He convinced Doc Bonfield, grand old man of the Warwick education scene and one of my former driveway sealing customers, to let him skip the last two weeks of his senior year to go the road with Clair Brothers Audio. He went onto great adventures roaming around the country with the likes of Yes, Frampton and our family demigod: the Boss, the most down to earth of all the many bands and personalities he met over the years.

My shiver comes in this town because I get a taste of things to come: free as a panther in the woods. Being here, alone and away from the pressures of the march, I’m making random friends, writing down observations and having many private and public laughs. My writing improves along with my mood when I have time to read, wander and take my time. I sleep anywhere. I travel light, hard and fast. This is my future and I'm excited. Let’s see where it leads.

PS: sorry for the screwed up text. I've spent awhile trying to fix it and have given up. Maybe it's cursed like everything else yesterday but more on that later.

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