Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the tag “Tibetan Buddhism”

Trekking in Nepal – Day 9 – Jharkot to Mulktinath

This was a very easy day, hiking only 45 minues up the hill from Jharkot to Mulktinath, where we stayed in a more primitive guest house (Asian-style toilets, 3 beds shoehorned into a room meant for two, one sink for all to use outside, pay-per-use propane-fueled shower) but with a fantastic 270-degree view of the peaks around.  Mulktinath is a holy pilgrimage site for both Buddhists and Hindus, and has the requisite Vishnu temple, Buddhist gompa, and Buddhist nunnery.

Since Mulktinath is almost the first point of civilization for people descending from the highest point of the full Annapurna circuit, it has also blossomed in the last few years (since the most recent Lonely Planet, even) with fancy new guest houses and scores of Tibetan refugees selling hand-woven belts, hand-knit hats, and scarves which may or may not be handwoven pashmina or yak fur.

We ran the gauntlet of scarf-sellers and made it to the temple, where Bina, our guide, observed devotions and showed us how it is done.  She and Bandana, one of the assistants, had brought empty plastic liter bottles and carefully filled them with water from each of the 108 spouting bull’s heads fountaining around the Vishnu temple.  She also tied a lucky mallahi string around each of our necks and gave us each a tika  – the red dot in the center of the forehead. 

We also were admitted to the most sacred site, which is an eternal flame burning from a natural gas vent next to an underground river – this combines the sacred elements of earth, air, fire, and water in a way which is thrilling to Hindus and Buddhists alike.
The hills behind the site are a spider web of prayer flags;  the path up to the site is lined with stones piled one atop another – these are believed to be homes provided for souls which have not yet found their way to judgment, so building a nice one for yourself in afterlife is a good investment of time – especially if you need to pause for breath while climbing the stairs at 3800 M.

Following our descent and our mollifying the sellers by purchasing several scarves, necklaces, and whatnot, we made it back to the hotel for lunch.  After lunch DM and I visited a Buddhist monastery (brand new and painted lavender, for some reason).  Murals outside the shrine depict the “King of the North (China), yellow-skinned and standing on a panda. The King of the West is pale-skinned and stands on a Lion – influenced by early British contact, maybe?  The King of the East (Tibet)  stands on a tiger, while the King of the South – the Kathmandu region relative to Mulktinath – stands on an eland. Inside the shrine has the usual portraits of current and former Lamas, but the monastery is down to only five monks.

In town DM and I  did our best to send some email.   The young man who runs the internet café spends the winter months in Kathmandu playing in a band;  in the trekking season he spotted an opportunity and set up the internet café in Mulktinath – but the connection is iffy before 6PM because of the limited power allowance in the mountains.

In the evening the three of us and two of the guides drug out a battered deck of cards and played gin rummy and a new game called “five-or-less” to great laughter.  There is something universal about a deck of cards; I wish we’d discovered this sooner.

Trekking in Nepal – Day 7 – Marfa to Kagbeni

This day is full of new sights, new surprises.  Today I felt the foreignness of Nepal as I have not before.  We have left the Hindu lowlands behind, and are now in the area settled a decade ago or more by Tibetan refugees.  There is no lush greenery, no fertile croplands or orchards, only the austere high desert surrounded by snowy mountains whose remoteness only adds to the austerity.

This morning as we leave town Bima, our head guide, spots a Multinath/Pokhara/Nepal twin of my  wind-snatched Monterey Kayak hat hanging in a window – now I am equipped again!

We walk along the river bed in the morning cool, watching the airplanes fly in low toward Jomsom, our lunch destination. It is heartening to see that air traffic is moving again, since our plan is to fly back to Pokhara in a couple of days and have a day to unwind before getting back to Kathmandu, also by plane, if all goes as planned (but it won’t.)

When we get to Jomsom  DB again wants to take a jeep for the next leg up the hill .  Hearing of the gray, rocky, dry, dusty, flat hike ahead to Kagbeni, DM and I wimped out and agreed to join her on the jeep.  In fact, a certain amount of bravery is required to get into one of these 4-wheeled engines of doom;  we careen along at probably a top speed of 30 mph but it feels like 70, dodging weary trekkers, donkey caravans, motor scooters, and one very large bus, which brings muffled shrieks from DB in the front seat.  We only ford a few streams, only come perilously close to the edge of the eroded road once or twice, and it is only 45 minutes. The hikers we pass look every bit as unhappy as we feared we would have been, scarved against our dust, bent under their burdens, squinting as we pass.

Kagbeni offers a lovely guest house in a very old Tibetan style village;  We enjoy lunch on the sunporch and then spend the afternoon exploring the village.  We visit the gaily painted Buddhist monastery which dates back to 749 AD, and has marvelous murals, mandalas, carved and painted pillars, and all sorts of ritual objects, including ancient scrolls kept under lock and key, intricate marzipan figurines made as sacrificial offerings, conch shells from who knows what distant ocean used on ceremonial occasions, and countless statues and portraits of Buddhas and Bhodisattvas.

The Wheel of Life at the top of this post  shows humans progressing toward heaven or hell (was Breughel influenced by Tibetan Buddists?  Hell looks truly horrible!), but the entire Wheel is threatened by the God of Death ready to destroy the entire cosmos.

We also admire the graphically  male and female effigies of the village gods who protected the village before Buddhism arrived.   who is also endowed with genuine yak fur mustache and eyebrows, real teeth, a painted cloak and belt, and a real metal knife. The female effigy is about half the size of the male, and gets no paint or fur embellishment.

In the evening we all sit around a big table with a bunch of Germans and one Dutch girl enjoying the charcoal brazier warming our feet under the table, with our down jackets keeping us warm above the table, reluctant to leave in fear of the cold distance between charcoal brazier and sleeping bag.  Despite the differences in languages and nationality around the table, we feel closer to these Europeans in outlook than to the folks who created and maintain both the village guardians and the Wheel of Life.

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