Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Re-thinking Tibet and Saga Dawa

A little sand here and there
Yikes. I didn't realize how horrid I look until I pealed off layers of clothes and dirt for the first time in almost a week to have a shower. I've slept in all my clothes every night, changing only once as I shivered in the cold. Hurrah! My hair is still white and not dust colored!!! And well, the rest of me is hard to take. Kids, it's sort of like extreme old age Wilderness Ventures where you learn you don't have to do everything every day.

Scenes of life
It was snowing yesterday morning, misting everyones all weather gear as we packed up to leave Darchen. I've been having some tough long nights with breathing, but that's one of the joys of high altitude. Yet there had been a full moon so bright all night just as it has supposed to be.

Yesterday was probably the most important celebration in the Buddhist calendar - the Saga Dawa -which honors the day Buddha reached Enlightenment. It is in the Tibetan Calendar the fourth month's full moon. In the small area of Mt. Kailash, this was major. About 10,000 mostly Tibetan pilgrims - and a few foreigners (you could tell by their trekking gear) - arrived at the place by foot, by motorcycle, by land cruiser which was where we actually set off for the Kora. There a giant pole of prayer flags was lowered to remove the old ones (which become relics people can pick up to protect them from evil) and then, in front of the most important Lamas from the local monastery wearing extraordinary huge round red hats, a brief worship service and drumming and omming and the pole is dressed again in new prayer flags and raised til it is perfectly straight. That's it. Of course, everyone brings along prayer flags to toss onto the new hope and the ceremony was over in about two hours. The wind was freezing and clouds bonneted Mt. Kailash and I sat wrapped in my fur Tibetan skirt in the car. I guess presence counts.
Pilgrims of all sorts at Saga Dawa

The Lamas at work at Saga Dawa
Fixing the pole - Saga Dawa

The pole rises at Saga Dawa

Women Pilgrims at Saga Dawa


That was quite a send off for the beginning of the homeward trek, which means a return to Kathmandu to see friends, and then a bite out of luxury for a few days in Thailand. We ate a Chinese lunch of vegetables - how can someone be so skilled with a wok?? The best eggplant, cauliflower, Chinese Cabbage and fried potatoes one can experience, home cooked on the spot in a small Chinese dive across from the rest house where we had lodged twice. The smiles are bountiful there.

Ordering lunch
Pink ladies
I was ready to get on the road. What's happened to Lebron and on America's Got Talent???? How are the kids in Foster Care? Is anyone showing up for their boards? I miss Macrae's cookies and my grandson's passion for Angry Birds. I settled down with a needlepoint bear as we traveled til 8:30 at night over the most barren land cinched in by mountains that looked sculpted from clay. The road is a two laner, straight for the most part, a 15,000 foot pass now and then, yet my driver dared to drive 40 mph if nothing was in sight for miles. Frustrating. But I was anxious to get to the shower and a real toilet. Sorry. First things First.

It dawned on me that none of the Tibetan people are fat. For one thing: they don't have dessert or sweet snacks. Those Snickers bars are out there for the tourist like me. There doesn't seem to be seafood of any sort in this landlocked nation. They don't eat bread as a given. Maybe a thick pancake like bread called just that, Tibetan bread at breakfast. Mostly it's white rice and noodles in broth. When you sit down at any table anywhere, someone hands you a paper cup with jasmine tea leaves in it and then comes with a big fat thermos painted with flowers and pours boiling water in your paper cup. Tea is the thing here.

I believe their weight secret is that Tibetans are always walking, they are always doing a Kora somewhere - it could be around Stupas or Chortans or monasteries or temples - or even "old towns" as in Lasha. There are no tennis courts, golf courses, gymnasiums, football fields, that I saw. Tibetans do it simple. They walk and walk humming prayers, chanting, carrying whirly prayer wheels, fingering long prayer beads, and focusing always on their faith. They always walk clockwise even when they pass some instantaneous monument on the road side. Go left. Always go left of a sacred icon. They walk briskly and with determination and are always covered up. There is nothing brash or over-exposed about women. In fact they load on the clothes, probably because it's cold at high altitudes. But they wear long wrapped jumpers (wool) with silk blouses, and layers of sweaters and Down jackets and coats, comfortable walking shoes (you rarely see anyone in high heels - if so, it's a youngster) - some are red hand sewn wool boots, and always an assortment of hats (everyone's is pretty much the same style) and scarves (a group of yak women caretakers puts on a shocking pink head scarf) and always that face mask that keeps out the smoke, sand and whatever. It's hard to see expression. But somehow you feel a sort of delight as they go about their prayers and life. They move briskly even if bent with bad bones.

The dogs at night
I miss the sounds of birds but all night long the is a dog barking somewhere, and if he isn't another one picks it up. I spent many a sleepless night wondering why they are so incessant. I was told as long as the dog is barking, he is doing his job. When he stops, something is going on. Yaks don't moo, it seems. They listen to bells all day so are probably ready to rest at night after toting everyone's stuff up and down mountains. Yaks are just gorgeous beasts with great rear views. Big wide hairy tails.

I miss plants. There are no flowers anywhere, really, but some sort of roadside purple thistle-like that grows in the Lasha area. Nothing of color grows in the areas in which I traveled. No trees. Not one tree. In some areas along rivers, the government has a massive tree planting project but they are all saplings and no forest has arisen yet. Probably the most invasive sense in this part of Tibet is that constant odor that kind of clicks on a "yuck" when I walk out the door. It's the odor of Yak dung burning for warmth, mixed with incense and bowel movements from those outhouses, and smoke from cigarettes (there's no "no smoking" in these parts) and probably the odor of animals and men hard at work. Perfume could do wonders but the point is, live and let live. This is life at its purest.

Lonely rose
I believe we walk through many valleys shadowed by death and fear is not so much of evil as it is about our reluctance to take God's rod and skip our way out of fear and insecurity and lack of faith in self to a valley in a green lowland, fresh, often herded with beasts and a river running through it - and that's being assured God has you in his arms as you strip away the gilt of life and become who you are. It may mean dodging the yak horns, or slipping on rocks iced at dawn, rappel down some precipice into a void, and if you are convinced you must climb to a mountain top by any means to whisper, hum, breath, cry, shout, sing a prayer for all that has surrounded you for all your years and struggles on earth, then do it. That's when you see your real spirit in the mirror and learn who you really can be. I know "thou art with me" and that I sit at his table with the good and the bad preparing for God's eternal feast, which is offered for every single one of us, no matter where we live. Bless you.

3 comments:

BEARANGEL said...

I woke to the geese staking their territory flapping their wings rapidly on the pond.It was at first light as the song of ten birds notified me it was time for me to put out seed.The green of the trees shown brightly in the early morning light. The sweet smell of the earth prevailed as ten garden was bursting with new blooms about to show themselves.The peace came over me as I again felt the gratitude to be here.It is the reminder that the deep thanks for the blessings of being in ten p.ace of my heart far ,far over shadow any adversities and boost one through what ever we have to face each and every day.Come join us here when you can.Peace and hugs .

BEARANGEL said...

Just so you know the word ten in previous comment is supposed to be the.

Mary Cerniway said...

Beautiful Audrey, I truly enjoyed your June 5th blog.... better you than me, however!
Love you, Mary