Monday, July 15, 2013


“What is a rainbow, Lord? A hoop for the lowly” JK

Dedicated to All Sentient Beings and Mother Earth...  

Tsenkharla is paradise especially when deserted. I hung around Sonam’s shop and talked with pema Tshomo my former student who transferred to Kheni. She asked if she could be my adopted sister and i acquiesced. In Bhutan this title is endearing and doesn’t carry any real responsibility. But of course if needs arise with students I am glad to lend a hand. Last night the power went out and all was still and quiet, except for the giggling of the girls seeping through the wall and the night critters bouncing along the muddy river. Little Sangay Dema came over to borrow a torch and wait for Sonam Choden with her friends. I fell asleep to their carefree laughter but wouldn’t you know it I woke up in the wee hours with Bhutan belly probably from the grapes I accepted while hitchhiking the last leg of my journey home from Zongposo. And what a long strange trip it was as I was on the road for much of two weeks. But coming back was a doozie even by Bhutan standards. I snared a shared taxi going to Yangtse from Thimphu and we left the capital at 6 AM and arrived in Mongar town at 9 PM.

Along the way I absorbed the unbelievable scenery from the thick coverage along the fringe of the Black Mountains (on the way west Becky was throwing food to the monkeys in those trees) to the lush greenery of the Bumthang valleys ranging from the supple willow lined straightaway (The only one on the lateral road) to the primal mossy fir realm of Ura and beyond. The misty Thrumshing La at nearly 13,000 feet strewn with dreamy prayer flags and then the impossible cliff road splashed with waterfalls pounding the windshield along with the rattle of the rain and mud precipice no longer a road spins and swirls and topples in a nauseating rollercoaster. And one can’t help but consider mortality’s razors edge. But we made it to the steamy jungle of Limithang in the foamy darkness to rest. The driver snuck off for a smoke and I chatted with the fourth grader Sonam Choden who knew more English than the two adults in the car. One more hotel in Mongar town a friendly affordable place (BCF sympathetic) clean sheets and fuzzy Big Bang Theory over chicken curry on a faux leather couch. The rooster outside the veranda crows and we’re off again over the ferny Kori La always in mists ululating to the birds. Blow through Yadi past the monkey on a dish through scant pines and rocky crops and finally the Dagme Chu and chasm and on to Gom Kora. I am struck how treeless my region is after the towering forests of the west. No trees just a lurid green carpet of shrubs and the confluence of the two swift Himalayan Rivers. There’s a story in those rivers but I can’t stop now dropped off at the Y at Zangposo.  One short hitch away from my doorstep.  

Tang Valley, Bumthang
 It was a maelstrom of a vacation a flash of moments to cherish. Seeking tertons and treasures in the swirling waters of Membartsho (The Burning Lake) a magical river pool where Pema Lingpa performed magic.  Arwen looking happy on the boulders, Choden smiling talking with a group of teachers and I can’t help feel fortunate to be alive even if all that we share and see is only an illusion of the senses, merely a funny or terrifying dream lasting countless lifetimes. But this part of the dream is groovy and fine and the dark green black water is entrancing. Singye (Roaring Lion) a Mormon born monk is reading prayer down by the water.  I find my own spot hidden away for a brief pagan rite. Silly mountain worship where I might say “Hey thanks river and safe journey to the source” Mare always said “Ho May you always run free” and taught me to pause and thank the rivers at every crossing. Whether it straddling a Greyhound over the Sacramento or crossing the bridge to Bumdeling over the Kulongchu, always give a shout out!  Every time I pass through Bumthang I become more enchanted but summertime brings a whole fresh look to the heart of alpine Bhutan. Horses trot along banks of sunflowers and sweeping willows laugh in the breeze. Always with a touch of darkness in Bhutan as clouds swallow our ball of fire. 

West Bhutan was especially lovely in July with arrangements of green splashed over the entire Paro valley with mist clinging to the Himalayan peaks like it has done for a million years as not much changes in Bhutan. Traditional farmhouses are painted with penises and tigers and other auspicious symbols and from every corner the smashing of symbols and bleating of puja horns.  In Bhutan salvation comes from communal living. Ah Paro with Taktshang Monastery a power spot where one can feel the vibration from the thunder staff of the Guru. Ah Guru Rinpoche the adept freewheeling Buddha with assortment of manifestations and smoking hot consorts from Tibet and India he is the international man of mystery, while Sangay Dempa is just content to sit around under a tree all day. Just jocular blasphemy fellows no mind. Tigers Nest is the Gurus place a tantric treasure chest of goodies adorning pure power that seeps out from the dark cave, raw gritty energy in thin air permeated with incense and fragrant wood. You can see the charges and currents and feel the Dragon’s steamy breath.  At the end of Paro valley the crumbling but imposing Drukyel Dzong with its defeated Tibetan ghosts lingering in the thick cypress grove below. The green paddies are gobbled up by the knotty pines and boulders that lead on to the Tibetan wilderness. The sacred cone of Jhomolahari protrudes into fathomless fog on the border of Tibet and underneath nomadic yak herders do their ancient occupation in gumboots and heavy wool sweaters. The wild Northlands of Laya, Lunana, and the high peaks of the Himalayas so close you can feel them sucking your blood. Somewhere out there above Bumthang is the third tallest mountain in the world, a virgin peak never climbed more unsullied than the moon itself.  Kychu Lhakang is the Paro valley midpoint and one of the oldest temples in Bhutan built to subdue a gallant demoness ravaging the area. The entropy of deities rushes around the unseen supernatural matrix of Paro and since we know energy cannot be destroyed we also know that demoness still wages war and only the phantom Tibetan legion witness it all. Paro was my portal into Bhutan and there is unimaginable power in that valley, all held together by the Dzong towering over that sweet little grey river. I can see Becky on the fairytale footbridge revelling in the bucolic setting and for a moment the sun breaks free.

Becky on magic bridge to Paro Dzong

And then there is urban Thimphu which is more similar to San Francisco than to Tsenkharla. Thimphu is growing by the minute with malls and proper restaurants (with improper service) Monstrous tourist hotels bigger than Punakha Dzong charging a grand a night and young punks wandering the streets trying to look tough in western clothes and Korean style hairdos. There’s delicious homemade ice cream if you can find it and a rag tag gathering of scruffy old timers and Nuevo Bhutanese circumabulating the National Memorial Chorten in the dusk. There’s not much to do but people watch, eat, and marvel at a bustling Himalayan city, although it’s not Kathmandu and beyond the box of downtown are lovely suburbs in the comely valley. The highlands above town where Mr. Mark and Nancy live are reminiscent of the hills of Corte Madera.

 The highlight of the whole shebang was the far west with Cheli La and the blue poppy nestled in the swirling misty firs. I tried to explain it all in haiku to no avail. But like the rhino or the river angel the blue poppy will stay in the recesses of my soul through this lifetime and into the next thousand or so.  Well the blue poppy only blooms once and dies yet its seeds are spread and reborn which might be like proof for this zany reincarnation.  Our souls in the bardo might just be like seeds blowing round in the cold wind waiting to take root for another go round. But never a heartier delicate specimen could be found in any world I can attest to that as could an exuberant Japanese woman.  And like certain people who have influenced me greatly I will probably never see another blue poppy again.  Until we all sizzle, syncopate, synchronize, into the emptiness of formlessness only to reform a different way, to walk a mile in each other’s moccasins.  

Today I reacquainted myself with the local trails and visited Zangtopelri. I left the temple door ajar and when I returned from the attic I realized a dozen sparrows had gotten inside the Lhakang beating around the main chamber rapidly. A few even flittered to the second floor as I chased them around with a Cinderella homemade broom to no avail. After fifteen minutes I sheepishly found Rinchen Wangmo and mimed what had happened. She laughed and seemed unconcerned saying “bird always coming” By golly I think Rinchen Wangmo is improving in English from our conversations! Anyhow I apologized and left in the gathering nightfall. You don’t have to be Alan Watts to realize the Buddhist analogies of that incident. The parable of the bird in the Lhakang probably has great significance and I was left to flesh it out on the walk home and worry about the startled birds crashing into the statue of Guru Rinpoche and the gold tapestries hanging from the ceiling. My carelessness had possibly caused suffering for those poor birds and then I began to pontificate the effect a teacher has on so many young lives. Gulp. Bye and bye I identified with them birds trapped in that temple and it reminded me of samsara itself. We are all banging around in a panic looking for the window to enlightenment or a way out.  At home I enjoyed the last perfectly quiet night on the range. Only the crickets and the river to accompany my Emadatsi for supper until Karlos returned home to break the spell. But oh how pretty Tsenkharla is when no one is around. The grass and flowers have overgrown and I feel like I am walking around in wonderland or the front lawn scene from “Honey I shrunk the Kids” Giant blossoms looming over my head with giant bees buzzing around in the soft afternoon light. I only left my hut for short walks staying mainly on my front porch watching the mountains and the light play in Tawang even spotting an arc of rainbow at 6:22 P.M as the birds chirped bed time stories and the crickets broke into their waking serenade. 

Now I am greeted with shy “Hello Sir’s” as the students trickle back to school from all over the Yangtse countryside. I’m happy to see Karma’s shinning face asking for water. Tomorrow we will sort through results and then back in the classroom yippee! I soak up the final moments of peace like organic green gravy. I’m just gazing at the treeless riverbed the rugged mountains sprawling everywhere. A walled ridge stretches from Tawang to Trashigang and beyond T-Gang that sucking vortex of a purple bowl, checkered with terraces and wispy pine forests and matted oak.  In my lap the void of emptiness engulfs the tantric mountains and pouring river. Buddha says nothing is real so what’s the point? The dark hollow of uncertainty is marked by obstacles- hope and decay. And dreaded separation one by one from all you love.  The graceful touch of death ever misunderstood as cruelty.  But we can play in the void if we want to and let the juices run down our neck or we can serve SEVA (compassion in action) we can recall that everyone we meet is an un-awakened Buddha or Christ. Heck I am the Buddha of infinite DESIRE! But I digress as a Dharma Bum way off track. THE TRICK IS TO CONTROL THE MIND...BY LETTING THOUGHTS GO... IMPOSSIBLE! A crack team of gremlins huddle around a campfire inside my brain crossing wires and jamming signals having a high old time drinking my sanity all up. Even the diamond light of the Guru’s thunderbolt cannot roust them. But I am aware of them sitting there making unreal thoughts building an ugly ego tower always defending against the blowing trill of reason. So I will bring them along on walks, into the classroom, and recognize the absurdity of perceived identity. So what if it rocks every notion I ever clung to. We can widdle it down to the moment and see what happens, we can let it go and dance round like pilgrims in the bardo. Hey now, we can work for the greater good and forget all about Hot Dogs, UFO’s, and God. Push out that sadness that gnaws at your chest at night that unnamed solemn inky sadness for the suffering of all sentient beings. But there’s gladness too, watching cows graze or children playing on a muddy road or serving a quality meal to a familiar customer. There is love everywhere even for the lonely and lowly, as Bobby always says go for the low hanging fruit and move from there.

7 P.M and the ravens are calling in the darkness as lights turn on in Tawang villages and boys sing and shout greetings at one another or stare at me through my curtains. “Hiya Karma, what’s up buddy?” I took advantage of rare running water before they cut the tap and washed my clothes and dishes, packed my book bag, and planned a week’s worth of lessons. Off we go... 

(A word on this sections title, the first night in Thimphu I bunked with Bunks in joining beds that practically touched. Well that night I sneezed on my pal right in her face in the middle of some nightmare I was having. She turned over disgruntled and the next day I was out on the street. In actuality I was planning on getting my own room anyway but on the way out of the building across the street I noticed a joint called Club Desire. It struck me funny as a club name in Thimphu a Buddhist Kingdom. So it seems samsara itself is Club Desire. We all are mixed up trying to make each other in this great unwashed wash of existence. We grasp at form like a babe to a finger, we just can’t help ourselves! So hence we dance to the preset wamp wamp music in Club Desire, Biyou! As for Rebecca Story she crossed two raging rivers adjacent from meme on her own Himalayan Passage and is back with the bugs and rain in Phongmey, she reminded me on the mobile phone that we are two of the lucky ones)     

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