Thursday, March 14, 2013

I am Bruised and Battered, Blistered and Beleaguered


I am bruised and battered, blistered and beleaguered, exhausted and.......totally exhilarated after my 2 week tramp into the high Himalayas with my guide and friend Karsang Sherpa to vet and explore a possible adventure for another year.  I had actually been turned off for years from venturing into this area of Langtang, Gosainkund and Helambu as it has been “marketed” as the most accessible trekking terrain from Kathmandu.  But I was nevertheless curious as those white behemoths beckoned me, enticing me into the lair!

 “Accessible” from Kathmandu meant an 8 hour bus ride over single lane, winding dirt roads with potholes that could swallow an entire vehicle as it clung precariously to the treacherous terrain.  The bus was so stuffed with human “cargo” that an equal number of people piled onto the roof with their cages of squawking chickens and bleating goats.  As we passed through hill tribe villages along the way, young children would run and jump onto the bus' dashboard for a momentary thrill before we lumbered on. A small inconvenience of a rock landslide across the road was simply not a deterrent as we disgorged from the bus, hauled our freight and belongings along a carefully fashioned path that crossed the landslide and waited for another bus that had been summoned to meet us from the other side.  And that's what I love about travel......strangers get a chance to amaze me!  Their temperaments of tolerance, acceptance and kindness in the midst of such difficult realities from our Western perspectives always are an invitation for self exploration.  Traveling invites inner disturbances and reshuffles what we most assuredly cling to.  It's the open classroom.  It involves breathing OUT, not just IN.  It demands a wider, bigger vision.....”seeing the strand farthest away as part of the carpet you are sitting on.”

 The high altitude landscapes (this year it was 18,000 feet) are incomparable and unforgiving.  It really is the “roof of the world”.  Descending becomes as rigorous and demanding as ascending, sometimes dropping down 3000 feet to then start up another 2000 foot climb before we amble along a knife edge path that drops off precipitously on either side.  I am engulfed in a world of glacial moraines and rock and the blinding clairity of an azure blue dome above.  The sense of space and it's vastness is incomprehensible as I struggle to place myself within it.  My movements become meditative as I simply say “thank you” - for the quiet of the present moment, for the rhythm of the days and nights, for the nourishment of body and soul.....I let it just seep into me!

 Karsang regales me constantly with his perspectives on the universe through folksongs, folktales, family histories and of course his omnipresent humming of the universal prayer “om mani padme hum”.  His philosophy of life and system of morality are all bound up in the Buddhist dharma with a healthy mix of  the ancient animistic traditions of the Bon-po people of Tibet.  Of course he rumbles with delight and laughter as we come upon children on the trail who greet me unabashedly with a “Namaste, Gagamama” (grandmother??!!xx#!) which is totally deflating but of course meant with utmost respect.

 As I sign off now I am on my way back to Chaurikharka and the mountains to participate in a puja (funeral ceremony) for a dear friend who died  very suddenly last week.....another Gagamama.  When I visited with her 3 weeks ago she was full of life and love for her family and friends and in the thick of village activities.  Now I will witness and try to understand the hardship, the suffering and the stoic courage that her family will have to muster to carry on as they deal with the daily precariousness of life.  Pat Conroy writes so eloquently about this in his book South of Broad when he says “that is what it means to be human, born to nakedness and tenderness and nightmare in the eggshell fragility of mortality and flesh...”

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