“And even if he forever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain even though they soar” Moby Dick
The Leviathan Mountain
Today I’m exhausted not exactly sick but worn down to a nubby point but Bhutan waits for no one and life at a boarding school is tedious and wonderful. For example every day I receive visitors mostly Nima and Pema who have the Monopoly on me. Actually I need to invite others so I can influence them too. It’s hard to pinpoint the Bhutanese psyche and lying is embedded into the ethos of the population, just look at the histories where exaggeration is commonplace unless the Guru actually went to every holy spot between Pakistan and Tawang. An example right at home is this, last weekend Karma Tenzin a newcomer from class six came over to fetch some hot water and told me a sad tale about his parents dying in a car wreck on the way to Gom Kora Tsechu five years ago. I was deeply affected by the story and gave the lad some cash and told him I’d help him in whatever needs arise in the future. The next day Pema Chedup told me that Karma’s folks were divorced but still alive. So one of the parties was lying and I can only speculate. Was it the boy trying to curry favor from me or was it Pema Chedup perhaps not wanting to relinquish his prime position in my household. That is why as much as I like my two man Fridays I also feel that they dominate my time and that I should reach out to others. I’m not naïve I realize that beyond liking me Nima & Pema like the getaway of Mr. Tim’s house with all the perks included. Furthermore although I implore them to bring studies for help most often they beg to just hang out, eat food, or play Monopoly. Actually I prefer helping kids with homework to hanging out. I like to hike with the guys but just slurping tea and rummaging through my things hasn’t much appeal and I do it to be nice, whereas I gain real enjoyment from helping students one on one with homework and stories. Today is Thursday although no circus is in town as my soul feels like a vacant lot. The rain continues to douse the land which is good news for the farmers and last night I had to hightail it in a downpour from Karlos and Sonam’s place where I greedily ate second share of dried chillie and rice. I’m quite hungry and live a hungry and lean life here where simple pleasures are exaggerated. Who would imagine that I get all a twitter over packets of mango pickle sauce or the satisfaction of a cold coke which is my link to the outer world as my primary pleasure. Now is lunchtime and today I’m Tim on Duty so I took food at the mess still sane enough to enjoy the buzzing Sharchops moving about in shiny national dress. If the reader will excuse me I shall depart for afternoon classes where I’m conducting group work. Yes I’m the maestro of a weird and wooly symphony staring 115 learners and we make some peculiar music indeed.
Its afterschool now and presentations were successful since we must measure such things in baby steps. How did I assess the success? Well the information presented was in their own words showing some level of synthesis on the student’s part. Yes not every member of the group participated equally but the ones who slacked on the written part were made to speak. Would you believe me if I told you that only 1/50 class 10 pupils can speak in complete sentences and that many of the teachers also have difficulty in that regard. Oh what a row to hoe and we must remember that almost all come from illiterate Sharchop homes where there is no such thing as a written language. Imagine, the ancients were writing in many parts of the world but here written communication remained obsolete until now. The Sharchops are not stupid enjoying a proud oral tradition that is too devalued in “modern” society. I only illustrate this point to any perspective teachers who might someday find themselves in a Sharchop village and classroom. While the performance of speakers in the west is far better all the same challenges are here. Dzonkha is a far different language then Sharchop and not as musical to the ear. When I hear Dzonkha my blood curdles bristling at perceived formalities yet when I hear Sharchop I think of cows lowing in pastures and fireside Ara sessions. I like the Ningma lineages from Kham the eastern wilds of the Great Himalayan Range by no means the mightiest sector but definitely the most forgotten. Go look at a political map of India jammed packed with places except for one blank spot in the Northeast corner representing Arrunachal Pradesh, even more sparsely represented with labels than the Leh region of Kashmir. That black hole is where I live over on the Bhutanese side of the border physically depicted by the Leviathan monstrous Shampula, the spine tickling formations of Tsang Tsang Ma and that pyramid mountain perched in the valley that has no inhabitants only a forested apex where I dream of retiring into meditation or heated contemplation someday. One irony in Bhutan is although it is a bastion of peace when strolling in a virgin forest villages and schools are noisy places and I dare say all BCF teachers are up against things that go bump in the night. Those things might be vermin knocking over pots or 4 AM dream weavers thumping (woofing) out designs of silken threads on strapped looms. Here at Tsenkharla now officially a Central School it’s the boys with the noise living in close proximity in fact I can smell their shit oozing from the septic tank as I type these words with a half bowl of ramen next to me. They sing and shout and carry on with ample loads of testosterone coursing in their pubescent veins. I’m exhausted and in about an hour I’ll be back on campus supervising night study. I recall little Dema a cute shaved headed boy undersized for class seven lying on the table coloring his poster with bare feet dangling over the side and that’s my impetus. He loves to ask me silly questions with big glowing eyes like flying saucers. Outside buckets of rain pour off the eaves with peels of thunder emanating from an unseen dragon. Last night lightning ripped me in two the mighty fork descending from the stratosphere down to the river illuminating than effacing my consciousness momentarily peeling my essence from ego so I could clearly relate to all matter, the message lingered in sulfur traces of purple, white, orange, and gold-everything is one.
Its Saturday high noon in station with clouds layering every peak and pinnacle like foam undertow swirling around toothy Leviathan monoliths, the mountains look like an archipelago protruding from an angry sea, the secret portal to Tawang opens and closes rapidly with intermittent cells depositing rain on our own little mountain. Last night I had Karma Wangchuk brother of Pema Chedup over for a talk since the boy was caught bunking from my class with best friend Chongola. I will have to take him under my wing since he has potential but is perpetually lazy. This year I feel a tad overextended but the more The Dragon feeds on me the better off it’ll be in the end.
Circumambulating Beney Lhakhang
Today I feel rundown with a scratchy throat but I just finished my workday a pot of emadatsi is boiling on the stove with local cheese that I bought wrapped in a banana leaf. I seem to have a slight fever so I thought it might be a good time to update my loyal readers (if any remain) Many have said my posts are too long and I guess in the modern world y’all are busy, but in truth it feels that as my world exponentially expands and my duties widen that I barely touch upon what happens in my daily life. So here’s a brief taste of what’s up with me. On a rainy Saturday I walked down the sinuous road about a mile past the junction at Zongposar finally getting a lift into Yangtse town. I immediately headed to Chorten Kora to pray for the devastated people of Nepal where the great earthquake struck. Anyone who’s been to Kathmandu winces at what it must be like now as the city was already in disrepair and lack of infrastructure is a Nepali hallmark. Now they will have to rebuild the devastated and beautiful city and mourn the thousands of dead in the heart of the Buddhist world. The Nepali’s are incredibly resilient by nature so I’m sure with time they will endure this heavy load but it’s so sad nonetheless. These thoughts and more rattled around my overactive brain as I circled around the whitewashed Stupa in a drizzling rain occasionally spinning a greasy prayer wheel squeaking while churning my meek halfhearted prayers. Not that I’m not sincere but it seems impossible for me to hold a pure thought before another one taints the first and rapidly on down the line like a misery train off the tracks of reason. The Kora shines with rainbow Buddha eyes the roaring whitewater and steep green cliffs bleeding with dashes of red Rhododendron climaxing with a thousand blossoms crowding one tree. At the Karmaling I arrived to meet the Dasho (Head of Yangtse Dzongkhag) for Klaus’s farewell speech and dinner. Klaus is from Germany and was here to raise awareness on waste management. Piet was also in attendance along with twenty other dignitaries and I stuck out in my bleached pants that even the students razz me about. Luckily Piet and Klaus also were attired informally compared to the gho clad Bhutanese men. It should be noted that no women were there denoting the lack of equality in positions of power. After his presentation Dechen Wangmo and company put on a fine spread which I ate greedily.
Early the next morning the clouds parted and I met Piet and banker Sonam at the bazaar for another epic hike. Again Piet and Sonam were painting arrows leading prospective tourists along the route. Piet is currently devising ways to promote tourism in Yangtse and as it stands only a fraction make it over to Chorten Kora for a daytrip mostly returning to T-Gang by nightfall. And by the time we climbed three thousand vertical feet and arrived at Beney Lhakhang the lama told us we were the first foreigners to have set foot there. Surprising since the Lhakang is only three hours off the roadway (a knock at the door, Karma Wangchuk needs something-I stir my Emadatsi and return to my desk) the beginning of the hike follows power lines and a dismal transformer where they have clear cut the forest to both Piet and Sonam’s consternation. But looking around one sees many mountains and impregnable forests including northern facing slopes of old growth peppered with extraordinary crimson rhododendron flowers. These forests beyond the arc of civilization are home to Himalayan Black Bears, deer, and leopards among other animals (including Bromla where I prowl) On the way to Yangtse while hitchhiking I saw a brown monkey who looked like curious George hanging out on the road. Beney Lhakhang is a well kept temple with a fascinating story. Whereas many remote temples are faded and dilapidated this one was immaculate with cherry wood floors and amazing relics. We lit butter lamps and Sonam translated the Lamas stories to our eager ears in English. This lama was middle aged with a prayer like timbre resounding off the interior walls. It was cold so as we could see our breath as he told us the temple was built around a relic an old Tibetan woman brought from the other side of Me La. Therefore the temple is renowned for a long life blessing. Later on a lama built the temple proper and spent his days until death meditating on the hillock with fine views north towards Dong La, Bumdeling, and the high peaks along the borders on this Sunday crowned with clouds. When that lama died his disciples cremated him and a beggars bowl (like Buddha’s) was discovered in the ashes. They sealed that Buddha bowl in a Chorten but rain destroyed the stupa so the dakini’s came and reclaimed the relic bringing it back to their invisible realm. But the olds woman’s relic remains and the central statue above the torma’s is an effigy of the Buddha of compassion with several heads and a thousand arms which try to lift every man and beast out of Samsara, funny how the goal is to clear the field of players. The most remarkable part of the temple besides the stunningly bright frescos depicting lama lineages were the painted slates exquisitely made from natural mineral dyes and satisfyingly tactile when you trace your fingers into the grooves. Even the door panels housing holy books were inlayed with these painted slates depicting the many forms of Sangay. There is so much detail in any temple (80 in Yangtse alone) that I feel sheepish trying to write about them and am too lazy as a writer to take the time and I can guess that perhaps my dwindling audience might be equally impatient and probably only reads this to be nice and not for quality of prose (riddled with grammatical mistakes) Where’s Herman Melville when you need him to give the same attention to Buddhist iconology as he does to the finer points of whaling. Anyway what finer pleasure than being served hot tea and salty crackers sitting with companions on plastic chairs overlooking the Himalayas. A fine young lady (TMSS) grad offering the refreshments saying, “Tea, La” Before we depart the temple I would be remiss not to say something about the fresco at the doorway depicting the Wheel of Life. One could write a thousand pages on this one fresco but I’ll give just a few points. The wheel itself is enveloped in the jaws of a tiger like wrathful being and inside the twelve stages of life in Samsara along with the four main realms of Samsara. You see we are stuck in the wheel of suffering as either Demi Gods, humans (that’s you) enjoying a high birth, hungry ghosts, animals, or in hell. According to our actions and karma we fluctuate between the realms until we attain enlightenment and are released (I just bribed 5 kids shouting outside my window with munch bars to go play somewhere else) Humans are closer to attaining enlightenment but hungry ghosts are stingy ones who are hungry and thirsty all the time with fat bellies but tiny throats so they can’t satisfy their cravings. Since I cling so frightfully and am so stingy and selfish I feel bound for this realm especially since I have ADD and likely will be easily misled by the colored lights of the Bardo. Worse yet the beastly realm where we are doomed to prey upon each other as a tiger devour the deer. Or hell where one must endure every conceivable pain and misery. Buddha taught us that life has three bummers, Birth, death, and suffering. We are born (punishment) we get sick, and we die. What’s terrible is these are unavoidable. To attain enlightenment we must detach from all pleasure and desire freeing ourselves once and for all. In the center of this wheel are three animals, the cock, the snake, and the pig representing obstacles in our path. The cock symbolizes worldly desires, the snake aggression, and the bore ignorance. If we can’t obliterate all of these three traps we are forever caught up in the hamster wheel. So now that we know it should be easy, right?
Leaving the temple we climbed over a latter fence and dropped into deep forests of thick bamboo, oaks, and Bhutan pines native to the East. The eastern forests have a splendid mix of vegetation and woven through all these distinct biospheres are bleeding rubies of rhododendron often entwined levitating in the treetops. STEEP AND DEEP! Cuckoo birds and crows (mostly not ravens) also inhabit the canopy and we also stepped over bear scat which Piet photographed with high powered lens and dissected while a Himalayan griffin soared overhead. Piet is a butterfly expert so he pointed out many species with exotic names like chocolate tiger, painted lady, or pea blue. Some even mimic other species but are not adept enough to fool Mr. Piet. The trail wound through layers of mutable forest crossing wooden planks over gushing streams before emerging into green pastures. The weather also changed with intermittent showers interspersed with liquid sunshine. Many of these pastures were once forest cut back centuries ago by villagers but we lunched in an abandoned village where they used to make the famous Yangtse wooden bowls highly valued and expensive too. I ate red rice and curry from one of these bowls with fresh asparagus that scented my urine a musky flavor. Horses grazed and we could see the town of Trashiyangtse and the old Dzong reposing below. About two hours later we walked into town and I found a ride home. The ride was a wild one sitting in the back of a pickup bed atop supplies so I almost bounced out over the precipice which drops hundreds of feet straight down to the riverbed. I’m not much for roller coasters and this seemed even more dangerous and then the rain fell. The driver stopped to give the old woman and me a yellow tarp to put over our heads as we barreled down the road in the gathering dusk. Oh Lhomon! So dark and beautiful like no other land on this earth as the reddest rhododendron thickened like clotted blood folding into the charcoal gloaming, a Grimes dusk with Dragons and lost damsels roaming with picnic baskets in scary forests evermore. I was safely deposited at the Kiney junction and collected by a Shali bound taxi and eventually arrived home with Nima G waiting on my stoop needing help on his homework. I also managed to mark 115 notebooks and deliver my lessons the next day.
Currently a gorgeous evening with Dakini lotus clouds billowing and the iridescent mountains shinning gilded with purple and blue hues. HMMM I’ll celebrate with a cold one -How are things in your world? I step outside coke in hand and a student asks, “Dreaming sir?” I guess I look like a somnambulist on a tightrope walking backwards. The old tiger drifting and dreaming and when I look in my dusty mirror my reflection indeed looks phased, frazzled, frizzled, and rundown from this sporting life. CRISPY N CRUNCHY…I hope I rally for a hike with the kiddos manana.
A Shit Show
I awoke feeling peeked and itchy from bites and a sore throat with Nima & Pema at my door. Today is a holiday for Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel who is the man responsible for the Bhutanese culture including definitive songs, gho and kira. He helped unify west and east and created a distinct Bhutanese identity separate from Tibetan. In honor of him Prabu & Surgit and I accompanied the boys to Shakshing. We met a group of day scholar girls (all of whom I’ve taught before) in shiny kiras with bright smiles looking like Christmas packages. The boarders were imprisoned not permitted to leave campus and I had to seek permission from the Warden to take the lads. Up at Shakshing I got shit on my hand that I’d stepped in when removing my boot. The feces smelled human and I rushed to wash it off in the spigot. This place can be disgusting and I already feel under the weather so that encounter didn’t enliven my mood. Nonetheless my karma is to share germs with Bhutanese and since I prayed for long life at Beney I should be okay. On the way down we visited the meditation house where a puja was in progress. The longhaired lamas are in retreat for three years three months and three days almost exactly how long I’ve resided in eastern Bhutan. But unlike me they are confined to the property with no vacations to Goa during their stint. We took tea and I ate with my stool covered hands which was just lovely. It was quite a scene up there with many old timer villagers I recognized including the curmudgeon old woman who carries wood on her hunchbacked barefoot. Old toothless crones and breastfeeding mothers rounded out the eclectic mix. It’s a beautiful spot for retreat on the spine of the ridge with views of both rivers in opposing valleys. We wrapped up the afternoon by stringing two strands of prayer flags under Prince Tsangma’s castle ruin.
It’s been raining cats and dogs or Wangmo’s and Zangmo’s, and while I’m sitting here feeling sorry for myself spewing a vomit comet in a trail of useless complaints REAL suffering is abound in Nepal where children are smashed to death in piles of rubble but empathy is hard when enrobed in ego because if it doesn’t happen to us or our peeps directly how can we relate? I spent all day feeling lonesome and unwanted when I am in a position to make positive change and give a whole lot more. But what of such primal sufferings it makes me wonder if there is a god at all and I tend to say NO because how can we say that those good hearted Nepali deserved such a death? What was their karma? Oh Langtang my beloved mountain near the epicenter as if the destruction emanated from that crystalline peak leaving a wake of misery and destruction when in reality it was simply the shifting of plates of the earth like an old man rolling over in bed trying to get more comfortable or relieve the pressure. I was mildly sick today and muddled through classes in a haze literally my head in the clouds a thick Scooby doo mist like pea soup for the soul enveloped our dark green mountain the drumming of the rain incessantly falling I felt very much the hungry ghost plagued by unknown desires that cannot be satiated and trapped in the hamster wheel of my own obsessive thoughts that have nothing to do with anything and at times seem out to get me. Eckhart would remind me that my thoughts are not connected to my essence and therefore I should merely detach from them like a train switching at a siding. But my ego is a buff masturbating monkey ONLY concerned with its own survival and these valuable lessons in life are hard to come by or as Bobby sings, “you ain’t gonna learn what you don’t want to know”
The Vomit of a Mad Tiger
Prabu was on fire on the hike the other day accosting villager woman and hugging and kissing everyone in his wake circa the tiger 2012 before I became impotent. He also was meditating at all the pertinent places including the retreat hut which was certainly charged from all the midnight ramblings I’ve heard out there with rain sticks and incantations. He also swore that Tsenkharla was claimed by the red Chinese but I refuted. It is true however that Beijing claims Tawang and most of Arrunachal Pradesh and that trenches for defense remain overgrown on the summit of Shampula. In 1962 a beleaguered Indian sentry single handedly repelled a legion of Chinese Rambo or Alamo style before being gunned down yet in the end the Indians rebuffed the Reds reclaiming their renowned Monastery and province. From Tawang Arrunachal Pradesh stretches north along the Tibetan borderline then China proper melding into the Burmese hills. All these tribal’s are governed by either India or China. But it was Southern Arrunachal and Tawang that held interest for the Chinese in their rush to annihilate Buddhism. Tawang was traditionally part of Kham the southeastern region of vast Tibet but the lines were redrawn separating the Sharchop, Kham, and Monpa forevermore. These musings and more lit up my brain peering across the border at night through an ocean of mist with the silhouetted hump of Shampula breaching like Moby Dick from Java waters. Can’t say I remember the moon at all Alas but I do recall the cow. When I was careening down the road in the bed of that bouncy pickup through the eye of a tempest Cricket called saying she felt I was in trouble. Ah little Cricket a Pentecostal worshiping Psalms trying to proselytize her teenage peers and subdue the pagan Buddhist by the sword of Christ. If she only knew that that would be the end for the peaceable Bhutanese, fortunately she won’t get more than a few stragglers to join her in the underground churches of the capital. Yes like the Muslim reposing by the fountain at Zangtopelri in Phuntsholing or the Hindu worshipping his homemade Shiva shrine in the South these folks are minorities in the Buddhist Dragon kingdom. Hindus are like old school Buddhist so no threat there but what of those Muslims and they’re loudspeakers blaring prayers into SJ. Only the Christians are bold enough to establish stealth churches in Thimphu and allowed to worship quietly there. But if Cricket and her Christ can’t save my soul from perdition who can? The Guru and Yeshi were helpless bystanders in the tide of suffering unleashed in Nepal. It’s all too clear we’re on our own hurdling helplessly through space, circles or wheels spinning ceaselessly and for what purpose? Or are we merely playthings created by an indifferent creator? Or if he’s all loving he certainly won’t interfere with the inertia of the very chaos he instigated. Reminds me of the Chicken or the egg and the mystery of that folly…What of the drunk driver killing the pious family on their way home from church? Agnostic or not I admire the devotion and creativity of Himalayan Buddhists and enjoy pilgrimages whenever possible. The Lama at Beney informed us that when a road is built to a temple the merit decreases for the pilgrim and he also reminded us that pilgrimages are good for exercise. Ho! Sometimes I grow weary of this sporting life even though I’m fulfilling a dream but mostly I wish I could weather this storm forever and leave the rest of the world. My life is made up of moments and when I choose to be present they can be sweet as Coca Cola. Even on a lugubriously misty day the students carry me on their wings of natural cheer, even if they happily point out every pimple. I don’t have worthwhile adult relationships despite loving Karlos and Sonam so its nature and the students that keep me from loony tunes. Let’s have Pema Chodron our beloved Phelincpa nun close this chapter shall we, “Pain is a result of what’s called ego clinging, of wanting things to work out on our own terms, of wanting me victories” That’s courtesy of my Pocket Pema given by Miss Rebecca my long lost pal in Chume. When I feel particularly constipated mentally I open up my Pocket Pema for wisdom to grease those dharma wheels and get them creaking forward. There’s another Pema’s I’d like to shrink and keep in my pocket if you get my drift…Mom and Bunks will know who I mean!
Location Location Location
All three members besides me in my nuclear family work in real estate. I’m a teacher by trade although I can’t believe it. In their profession there’s a famous adage that states the only things that matter concerning a property are location, location, and location. Therefore my hut is the most valuable property on the Sharchop Monopoly board, Boardwalk if you will. If I scoured the entire series of valleys and myriad of ridges I loosely refer to as the Tawang Valley I would choose to settle right where I perch on this lip of earth gazing due east into the maw where the capacious valley widens to its vastest breadth. Right here right now!
Authors note, I’d be remiss if I didn’t make a few corrections that to the reader will seem insignificant but in actuality are extremely important. Tsang Tsang Ma the crown jewel in the formation I affectionately call the dragon’s tail is actually spelt Tshongtshongma. Secondly my favorite river on earth is the Gongri Chu sweeping into the Dangme Chu at the confluence with the Kulong Chu in Doksom. The Gongri plus Kulong equals Dangme which ultimately joins the Manas. This info is from Piet’s booklet on tourism that includes a picture of me climbing the stairs of Rigsum Goempa on a misty Sunday last June and it’s said that if you can’t make it to Tibet a trip to Rigsum will accrue the same merit, so I got that going for me, which is nice! His book touches on many places I’m yet to visit or will never be able to visit including a series of glacial lakes up near the Tibetan border and restricted Singye Dzong where Yeshi and her Guru meditated bringing the Dharma to the heathen Lhomon. It also outlines the Far Out Eastern Trek including Shakshing, Omba, Gongsa, and Shampula. Although I’ve reached these places separately I will be glad to string the trek together…a five day adventure marking the tiger’s entire territory, GRRRRR!
Its midnight and I just found a decomposing rat in my suitcase. Lying in my sleeping bag I smelled something rotten and when I investigated the open luggage that my gho was in I found the corpse of a dead rat maybe the rat that has plagued me for two years. Was he a casualty of rat poison? When I flipped the case and swept him out the front door clumps of hair and rat bits broke apart and now I’m airing out my hut…As I said before this place is disgusting, guess it’s time for spring cleaning eh. Not much in the mood for sleep now opened all windows smells like a hospital during the bubonic plague in here. Washed my hands with heated water feeling like nuking the hut altogether. Not salubrious with no hot water and creepy crawlies everywhere. Right now it’s living up to the moniker “Land of Terror” isn’t it. East Bhutan is so frigging intense where as Bumthang is halfway to Thimphu in advancement and Thimphu is halfway to San Francisco with cheeseburgers and a Baskin Robins the first franchise to penetrate the kingdom. Meanwhile out in remote eastern villages ones halfway to nowhere and you can’t find fruit, bread, or poultry but plenty of Crazy Cheese-balls. I feel like teleporting to one of those five star hotels in Thimphu that cost about a thousand bucks a night, everything embalmed with lemongrass. Sweet dreams my babies broadcasting live on a Thursday morning from the LOT. Keep cool my babies keep cool….Over and out….
Today the sun reemerged illuminating a spangled mountain mandala everything sparkling in the wake of the flood. I heard that the rain complicated the rescue efforts in Nepal and that a man was saved alive from the rubble surviving 5 days. Looking out at the valley ringed by multicolored mountains it’s hard to imagine a world full of suffering. The mountains have turned a dark green with undertones of brown and purple with flowing bluish hues. Streaming clouds curl around the snow encrusted easterly peaks and all over the steep slopes the deciduous forests turn emerald and strange shadows fall upon them…