ink spots

I push myself up from my writing recliner and drag my finger across a row of travel journals. Tap a finger on my lower lip. Walk over to my work desk and drag the same finger across another row.

Chewed up purple Nepali homemade binding; I angle it out and ponder the hand painted elephant and cow atop each other on the cover. I can’t remember my exact reasoning at the time for choosing the blank pages of this particular yet-unwritten book, but feel now that purple is too chemical a color for my Dolpa memories — which are all strictly scripted in high-altitude grays and blues. And while the experience was as heavy and sacred as the beasts on the cover, at 15,000 feet these animals would be as mythical to those looking down, as we at lower-elevations consider the gods when looking up. No. The choice of journal was all wrong; saying something also of my miscalculated expectations of the journey. The latter, I’m sure, the very reason that I now remember one particular day on that trip as the most reality-quaking of my travels.

It’s for this day that the same finger that dragged across my bookshelf now searches in the tattered purple journal.

I come across a page splattered with large bleeding holes of black ink and the quip, “did you know that pens explode at 14,000 feet?!”

I laugh just as much at the comment itself as at the fact that I had correctly guessed that my future self would find this self-delivered jest, one day, funny.

I scan my thin and weak scribbles and suddenly sympathize with the exhaust evidenced by the simple bullet points that I hadn’t the energy to even expand upon.

I return to the top of the page and see in the corner that I’ve documented only:

June 7th
Santa
11 hours trekking
14,000 feet

I return to the bullet points – some so faint and foreign that I can’t remember the associations of things I clearly thought would burn in my permanent memory so deeply that I’d only need a single term or phrase of prompting. And for those lost associations, I feel a bit of sadness: does a memory cease to exist if it’s not remembered?

Then I read a note that sends my head back in a fit of laughter.

In the bullet-pointed memory, KT, also known as Sangheeta in this story, is looking at me blankly. Her cheeks are scalded red by the high altitude sun and wind. Her face is still covered in dirt from when, at the top of a 15,000 foot pass, a supposed dinn-powered whirlwind attacked her before being chased off with protection mantras and a few well-aimed stones by our Tibetan guide.

It’s with these eyes, black like the bleeding ink of my exploded pen, that KT turns to me after taking slow account of our surroundings:

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A little frightened, I touch her arm and tell her, “KT, I just want you to know that this is the most culturally shocking place I have ever witnessed in my 7-years of travel.”

To this, she turns around and shows almost no reaction. Then she scans our surroundings again and comments, “No. I think I’ve seen this before.” She concludes her sentence in straight-faced shock, “on National Geographic.”

It’s the altitude and the exhaust and the absolute absurdity of where we’ve found ourselves that suddenly sends us, with this serious comment, into high-altitude hysterics. Her tears of laughter clear tiny pink streaks down her face and, in a place where there are no mirrors except for the face in front of yours, I am left forever wondering if mine have done the same.

marbled black lab

We check each other out.

Her cream and mint salwar-kameez is conservatively muted with fine emblem work that I have never seen in the popular clothing stores that I frequent in India. I’m wearing a linen kurta and thin dupatta in the fashion of a foreigner, not a local; but my attempts are noted with a half nod of approval. She unrolls her silver hair from a bun and it disappears far down her back. I take off my shoes and tuck them tightly together under the seat in front of me; for this good-mannered task of organization, I get another half nod. Then I pull out my Hindi flash cards.

She reaches over, touches them, and continues the conversation we have already started without words, “but what is this?”

I answer, “Hindi flashcards. So that my teacher does not punish me for not studying while I was away.”

An amused chuckle escapes and having finally hurdled an unseen bar, she rewards me by pulling out her boarding pass; “in which seat are you sitting in the next leg of this flight?”

I am pleased at having earned, so quickly, such an association of warmth. And together we begin to banter. She allows me to practice a few easy phrases and humors me with slow responses in Hindi. I don’t recognize the place, outside of Delhi, where she lives, and so ask her where she was born.

She grins and pauses; a sign I have inadvertently hit a story spot. She slowly replies, “Pakistan.” And scans my eyes for understanding of that implication. I cast my eyes down, knowing exactly the implication, but not knowing what permissions I have to explore the sensitive history. She catches this, and when I reply, “I’ve only read books and seen movies…” she cuts me off and points to her long silver hair, “An old woman of 70 now. I was only 10 at the time of partition.”

As I am clearly hanging onto her every word, she accepts my eager permission to proceed: “I saw the massacres; for many years I didn’t sleep after what I witnessed that day. Bodies. Women whose children were left running after the train. Children handed into the arms of strangers, their mothers left crying at the platform. We were not allowed to bring anything. Nothing but the clothes on our backs. That and chapatti and water. We knew that we could live without almost anything; but chapatti and water, that’s all we really needed to survive. Our houses, we left in full order and standing as if we still lived in them. Never to be seen again. On the train, it was only bodies, stacked and lined up, side by side, up and down the aisles; limbs hanging out everywhere. We were only happy to have found a space on the train. The night before, all the women and girls were rounded up and we slept in one building; one building surrounded by male attendants whose only directive was to set our building on fire should the rioting come to the doors of our house; better that the wives, daughters burn, than have their honor and dignity stolen.”

I try to imagine, for a minute, sleeping in that building, curled up between my mother and sister, listening for the shouting that would engulf and smolder my small world. But of course, I can’t.

She continues, “but the rioters did not come that night. And we got on that train. When we arrived in Delhi, we had nothing. The government provided everything; clothing, blankets, food, shelter and even jobs. And slowly, slowly, things came together again for my family. We made a new life. Have I ever been back? Oh no. Never.”

After a sober silence, our chatter has no choice but to grow lighter. I learn of her sons; an engineer in Maryland and another working for Microsoft in Seattle, and of her daughter in Switzerland and the multiple languages she now speaks with fluency. Her grandchildren speak mostly English, and a little Hindi in the home. She’s currently looking for a suitable girl for her youngest son, and I am deeply embarrassed when I ask, “an Indian girl?” and the question is received as clearly ridiculous. She doesn’t need to answer as I look down and apologize, “Sorry. Of course an Indian girl.” To cover up the tracks of my mistake, I move quickly to a good question, “but don’t you miss them all?” To which she answers, “of course. But I am happy they are all well-settled.”

As the plane takes flight and the seatbelt light turns off, I help her recline her seat and pull out the inflight magazine to tell her what movie will be playing. As I flip through the pages with her, I’m horrified at the pages of women in tiny bikinis advertising romantic adventures to remote islands, and flip even faster through an advertisement (for Argentina?) prominently displaying a 4-inch thick slap of raw steak; as the cow is held sacred for most Indians, an image of a marbled thigh of Jesus Christ or flank of family pet black lab flashes through my mind as I try to conjure up an image that would be equally offensive to a American culture. To my great luck, the movie is animated and G-rated, which is the only rating appropriate to Indian audiences for whom a single kiss, on screen, was only permitted, for the first time, in early 2000.

When we’re not sleeping, she corrects my Hindi pronunciation, tries to grasp my profession (which fits into none of the standard Indian classifications or credentials), and asks me simple questions about my life. I try to navigate a way around admitting the fact that I live with my boyfriend, as I know she’ll disapprove, but she traps me into the confession. “In India, we never leave the girls alone. We always surround them, protect them; it is our culture.” She hopes, sincerely, that I will consider marriage soon.

When the plane lands, I help her gather herself and things together. And suddenly, seeing the world through the eyes of a 70-year old, I realize how cruel our youth-oriented world is set up against those of limited mobility. The overhead bins are too high and require upper arm strength far above that of even a young senior citizen. The step from the plane to the ramp is deep, and requires at least an arm or two for balancing. The metal stairs leading to the ground are too shallow and too inclined. The directions indicating paths to other terminals are scarce, hidden and misleading. The escalators move too quickly. The elevators are hidden. The departure boards are hard to read. And even within our terminal in Frankfurt, it still takes us 25 minutes just to walk to our gate. I carry her bag which, though small, is still certainly too heavy for the distance. When we finally find our gate, she is ready for the rest, and so I offer her coffee and watch her bags while pointing to the restroom. I will never look at airports the same. And I suddenly value, deeply, the inherited respect, sense of duty, and care, of Indian youth for their elderly relations.

After storing her bags and getting her comfortably seated into her assigned chair, I take my leave to my own aisle and immediately miss her presence as my new seat neighbor insists on making me watch him do his prana yoga breathing exercises. I conservatively wrap my shawl around my head and, hidden from the world and new intruding neighbor, sleep through the rest of the flight.

It’s only in baggage claim when I hear my name and turn around to her eager hands, shaking my own, wishing blessings upon my life and journey, and touching my heart in a simple show of sincere gratitude. But the honor has been all mine, and while I know not all Indian-daughter to mother-in-law relationships are so kind, I’m deeply thankful for my tiny taste of one.

an orange american dot in a sky of tibetan clouds

How can almost a year have flown while my words still stumble?

It’s a messy thing. Catching the processing of experiences down to something real, that happened, while at the same catching experience up to something, well, describable.

I hold the photo in my hand and wonder, without it, what evidence would I have?

Oh yes! A journal. Let me see here. Let’s see if this brings anything back…

In black pen I’ve squared a box that says, “18th,” supposing, at the time and wrongly, that at the very least, of this trip, I’d remember the month. Ha!

Anyway. There are bullet points:

* We stop at a goat and sheep herder’s tent, fold our legs and huddle in. We break and share Chinese military cookies, cook noodles and accept or reject, endless cups of salty butter tea.

* When we walk again, we collide like a creek into a stream heading downriver, and become part of a train of young and colorful pilgrims. Mothers with babies in baskets. Men with red ribbons on ponies. Young boys, as always, self-entertaining with sticks and stones, as they stumble along behind.

*One boy watches me carefully. I’ve fallen behind my group and I can see he’s concerned with how I’ll cross the river on my own. In a sagging, leather-belted and weathered jacket lined with animal fur, with a dangling earring of turquoise and coral, he approaches me. With childlike disregard for our obvious difference, he speaks fast and fluently in Tibetan, never doubting that I might not return the same. When I only smile in response, his world, for the first time, widens to contain more than one language. Finally, he points to my pony crew and motions for me to follow him over a carefully chosen course of river stones.


* We pop up our tiny tent. An orange American dot in a sky of Tibetan clouds.

* Children play. Adolescents flirt. Some are fighting. Some are fleeing. All in what I gather to be a rare event of permission to tumble, unsupervised, with each other. There’s a lot a grooming going on.

* We make soup on a propane burner underneath an audiences’ hushed and cross-cultural murmur of, “magic.”

* We make tea, and in answer to the pointing fingers, we dip a spoon in honey and drip a slow drool across a dozen fingers. Eyes and smiles light up to the universal language of sugar.

* I make the mistake of sharing my sweet biscuit with a small one, and as a rumor spreads of handouts, we slip underneath the zip of our tent. But it’s too late. The thumping of muddy boots ends at our door. A dozen tiny fingers and eyes start pulling at the corner of our tent. And even an arm or two manages to sneak in. Sangeetha freaks out. She yells for, “Gombu!” who is unusually talented at schooling unruly children. But he doesn’t hear or come. Instead a chorus from outside our tent picks up in the exact same tone of desperation, and in faux American accents, begins chanting…”Gombu! Gombu! Gombu!”


I try to lay down a game of Gin to secure parameters for our thoughts smaller that the walls of our tent. Thirty minutes later, we can still hear the new foreign word, in foreign intonations, being echoed off of Himalayan walls and returned with laughter….”Gombu! Gombu! Gombu!”

*The Gin score is: Kavita 546, Sangeetha 410

a time hangover

This has been the longest year of my life.

 

I realize this entirely now upon touching down in India.  For while I feel this country to be at least be a few emotional Christmas’ distant, I count on my fingers to the realization that I was last here, less than three months ago. Not a single holiday in between.

 

Really?!

 

I’m trying to shake the fog of my time hangover, but it’s difficult when Delhi is covered in what the little weather box on the front of the India Times, which is normally the happy home of clip art yellow suns and frowning clouds, calls “smoke.” On that same front page, there is also an article on the worrisome blanket of “smog” that has tucked the city deep into a seasonless sleep. The author worries about the “Beijing effect” on a set of games planned in Delhi for 2010. I worry more about the 30% increase in complaints of congestion and burning eyes and ponder a new communist environmental disease that will level Delhi by discriminating against neither caste or class. And having never seen a blue sky in Delhi, I begin to wonder if human beings foster their short term memories, safely, for the purpose of forge-ahead acceptance? But those are just the insomniac thoughts of girl shrugging off a 12 hour time difference by sleeping 16 erratic hours in a room with a broken window but no light.

 

At some point in those rough 16 hours, the hotel receptionist knocks on my door to remind me, kindly, to eat. And for this alone, I forgive India all her environmental faults and, with a hand over my heart, pledge to cherish her people and culture till death do us part. India’s respect for the all-healing quality of food and concern for its guests (who by all Indian religions, are regarded as none less than tiny incarnations of God) rank the highest in the world. Respecting the kind prompt, I crawl the four flights of stairs to the rooftop restaurant. No other worldly cuisine pleases my tastes more, and as I say a tiny prayer of total gratitude over my single dish of maatar paneer and zeera rice, I look down and for the first time realize that Indian food is never meant to be eaten alone. Multiple dishes are meant to be served and communally dispersed and enjoyed. Cuisine that promotes sharing, family, service and community? Obama would be pressed for a better motto. And so while I proceed with eating my meal entirely wrong, I still do so with heightened respect and intention.

 

Ready to retreat right back into bed, I venture out into the street briefly to find a replacement for the tube of toothpaste that I left on my sink in the States. At the nearest pharmacy/everything shop (the most common of India street stands) I request a few toiletries and turn the rusty crank on my old Hindi. After our tiny chat, the shop owner sizes up own newfound 30-second friendship, puts a wait-one-minute finger into the air, and disappears into the back of the shop. When he returns, he removes the tube of toothpaste that I have chosen and paid for, and replaces it with another. It’s the same mark and size, but the replacement tube comes with a free toothbrush attached to the box, and the shopkeeper steps back a little and offers a smile with his gift to me. I almost don’t catch it. I almost push the toothbrush back at him with the insistence that I have no need for an extra toothbrush. But I catch myself just in time. It’s a gift. Not only has he decided not to rip me off (for something for which I’ve already paid), but he’s offering me a free commodity in a country where commodities are generally needed and never rejected. So instead, I appropriately and generously thank him. To which he says, “Yes! Same price! But with a toothbrush! Very good, yes?!”

 

Very good indeed. Okay. Story time over. A little light seems to be seeping through my broken window and it’s time for me to get out of this room and explore the day. I also need to re-explain myself to the receptionist who reminded me to eat. When he communicated his worry that I had been sleeping all day, I tried to explain to him the half-day time difference between the US and India and, in my exhaust, wrongly communicated that, “in the US, we sleep all day.” To which, of course, he just nodded kindly. Oh, what would we do without the curiosity and compassion that cultural miscommunications breed? The world would be a boring place indeed.

 

 

Pilgrimage of Poem & Music: Day 3, in the ring of the wind

A shortage of ponies keeps us, with bags packed and stacked at the doorway, hesitantly stationed in the tiny trail-head town of Jomsom.

Today, Sangeetha and I follow our whim through the the alleys and to the corners of this little sand and stone town.

We also weave our way in and out of the veins that sustain this community; the food, trekking equipment and hiker miscellaneous stores touting the treats one more often wants than needs.

In a Tibetan antique shop that my curiosity, running out of corners to investigate, leads me into, I greet the two men in the entrance in Nepali.

“Oh?! You speak Nepali?” one asks with surprise.

“No. Some Hindi. Only a few words in Nepali,” I shyly correct.

He switches to English and inquires as to what I’m doing in the area. I explain that we’re trekking into the Dolpa, but are stuck for lack of ponies. When he asks for what purpose are the ponies, I explain that we decided that if we’re going into such an off-the-map area, we might as well bring needed goods; in this case, some 200 pairs of shoes and socks. I then turn the question back to him, “and what do you do here?”

To this he states, “Well I don’t live here. I’m just travelling through as well. I build schools and plant trees in Mustang.”

Mustang is an equally remote corner of Nepal and I reply, “Oh? You’re doing good work!”

He squints an eye and says, “but you don’t actually know that, do you….”

And I wink back, “No I don’t. But doesn’t my trusted enthusiasm make you feel more inclined to do good work, even if you’re not already?”

He laughs and claps his hand on the table, “You’re right! That’s the right kind of optimism!”

He then spies the pendant around my neck that I had silversmithed in India. As he quickly scans the Devanagari script, he poses to me, “Parvat, huh? And where is Shiva?”

While most people immediately read and interpret the scripted word to mean that which sits across from it in the dictionary, “mountain,” I have not missed his reference to the Goddess Parvati and her relationship to her consort, Lord Shiva.

I answer, “Shiva’s at home.”

To this we both laugh out loud together.  I then leave the store, as one should all good jokes, in the linger of laughing.


The Hindu Lord Ganesha, remover of obstacles and god of all good beginnings.


There is an appropriately dusty and crooked sign at the entrance of Jomsom that identifies itself, proudly, as being the capital of a windy valley. And as evidence of this claim pushes me around on the street, I muse to myself just how fitting this trailhead town trait is….

How many times have I heard a noise, turned around, and found a whiplash of footsteps haunting my own. This quick of the eye, evidenced only by the tail of a shadow ducking behind door or bush, makes my heart stutter with the question, what exactly is on my heels? Is it a guardian spirit? Or just the over-excited realizations of my immediate future rushing ahead to catch up to me? Is it deja vu running up to the door of my reality, knocking and fleeing, leaving only its ominous giggle? Questions unanswered, I conclude only that the wind is powerful. It seems to sweep our skin of any secreting soul, assuring the only state in which we are allowed to pursue this quest: naked. If uncomfortable, it still seems only right that we go through this purification ritual before our pilgrimage; it’s a gentle reminder that for all the stores touted “necessities,” and supplies with which we might stuff our sacks, nothing we can carry will protect us more against the forces of nature so much us our naked faith and trust. Yet this wind, as much as it is kind and cleansing, it is equally brave and daring. And at the same time as it purifies and prepares us, it bullies us around. Shoving our shoulders back and shouting, “Are you really tough enough? Are you?” Luckily, in our, perhaps naive, joy, all we can do is nervously laugh. And this good humor dismantles the push in the Wind’s shove as it does the power of all bullies. So we take our beating in the ring of the Wind, accepting that this practice, of cleansing, of submitting, of toughening, of trust and of good humor, will all, in the Dolpa, serve us well.


pilgrimage of poem & music; day 1 in the Dolpa: dilation

We wake and jostle our belongings together in haste; today, as we have long planned, we will begin our journey into the Dolpa.

Sacks stuffed, teeth brushed, packs on back, we descend the steep incline of wooden stairs and emerge on the lower deck of our guesthouse. Gombu, our “English speaking guide” is on the phone. He hangs up and sighs, starring at the phone like it might change its mind.

Finally, he lifts his head, but not his eyes, and carefully states,

“No porters. No ponies. Not cheap.”

Gombu speaks only in negatives; a style which tends to bump up roughly with our overly optimistic American angle on language. This is only one of the many communication challenges that we will encounter with our local guides; the first, and most glaring, being that Gombu does not understand English.

“But Gombu, we were told that there would certainly be ponies available. And that they would be cheap with your contacts. Well, we’re flexible. So how long do we have to wait? What are our options?”

To this, Gombu nods his head up and down and says, “Yes.”

When we furrow our brows in confusion, he furrows his.

Then he swings his head from left to right and says, “No.”

And the distinction between speaking and understanding English becomes clear.

Over the course of this adventure, we will come to adore Gombu with tender, constant and unconditional love. But his “yes” and “no” answers to our open ended questions will never stop testing our patience and compassion.

It’s our turn to sigh.

Sangeetha turns to me and says, “I’m convinced that everything that happens is good for us, even this.”

And I respond, “And that is why I chose to travel with you.”

We laugh and surrender ourselves to a situation in which we have no influence aside from attitude. We retreat to the roof deck where Sangeetha picks up her drawing pad and I my journal.

“Divots carved in the sandstone walls string together like the chunky coral strands that the Tibetan women tie around their necks. Lower teeth jut from caves, which, with squinted eyes, I am surprised to recognize as stupas: the Buddhist crosses of the Christian world; shaped monuments marking sacred sites. My eyes, adjusted and attuned to stupa spotting, suddenly spy dozens. But then, when my eyes relax, I realize that I’ve misidentified a natural pile of rocks for the sacred stupa shape. Confused, I realize my eyes are lost; confronted with that wall and question I’ve encountered in the midst of lucid dreaming: But which part of this is real? And which a symbol? And is this state, of un-focus, the intention? To blur the line between the sacred and profane; that one may become the other, not physically by shape shifting, but rather in the dilation of the witnessing eye? Is this exercise in the bardo, between the physical and metaphysical, an unnamed medium of every religion? A task in which we may further practice, aside from our nightly REM cross training, in preparation for the navigation our final traverse of life between lives? Is that the goal of all our sacred symbols? Well if the intention is confusion, then I am there. Pinching my understanding along with my leg.”

We put our pens down and wander into the streets on a mission. We have one map of our destination, but figure an additional pictorial perspective could do no harm. We weave our way through the street stores, but are consistently spit out of shops, short of our objective: “No map of Dolpa.” “Sorry. No map.” “We don’t have any.” “Of the Dolpa? No. Not that.”



Funny that the trail head for the Dolpa hasn’t a single print of its own mugshot. We’d note it as fair warning, if we weren’t so wrapped up in the cozy blanket of our own naivety. But at least we got out of that bed. The preceding day, as our bare-boned bus teetered over beckoning mountain cliff ledges, Sangeetha and I decided to define the word, “precarious.”

“likely to fall”

“dependent on chance”

“insecure positioning”

“teetering on trouble”

“bound for natural disaster”

“on the edge”

We take dibs on the things that we will grab should we plummet. She calls the seat in front of her. I call her. She’s envious of my window. I remind her of the things that could jut through it as we roll. She says that if we die, our disappearance might make a great movie. She claims Carrie Russel. I, Wynona Ryder.

And so, acutely aware of the precarious state of our lives on this pilgrimage, we are perhaps more accurately labeled stupid than naive.

And there is fear. Great fear, of which we speak little. Sometimes we poke a little fun and nervously laugh, but we’ve chosen each other for a serious reason; that in our moments of self-doubt and true fear, we may ride freely on the other person’s (presumed) faith and (assumed) sense of security. Afterall, isn’t that the most common function of couple-dom?

Ironically, or not, that night I have a lucid dream: In the commotion of typical non-sense, I turn and face a wind and hear myself say in my head, “I’m dreaming.” My perceptive centers itself. And I wake up. But into another dream. Where I can hear my voice but am not speaking. The voice I hear is story telling. It’s speaking of this very adventure in the Dolpa, but in the past tense. Talking in the future of a tale all but done. Then the voice becomes my own and I AM the story teller, speaking with confidence of events long experienced and gone. I wake up. This time, not into another dream, but into my twisted sheets. And when I awake, the taste of certainty is still so strong in my mouth, that I have to shuffle through a timeline of events to convince myself that I haven’t yet finished this trip.

And only then do I realize the severity of my unspoken fear.

That my subconscious felt it necessary to provide me this favorable omen means, indeed, a fear was brewing into a less-laughable and quite formidable threat. It’s as if a third person has joined us, in whose past tense story of our present tale and in the voice of timeless and all-knowing perspective, presents a faith upon which we feel confident placing our bets.

Sangeetha awakes. I tell her my dream. We confess the most formidable of fears. We laugh a little. And sigh more.

We will return. We’ll live to tell our story in the past tense. And to this faith, we suddenly cling.


sponsor shout out: Jetboil

We had a number of amazing sponsors who spiked our gear with the best equipment in the field. Here’s my testimonial for Jetboil, who equipped us with our entire kitchen for our month in the Dolpa. I’ll be back with another Dolpa post asap. The problem is I’m broke and have had to refocus my energies and prioritize those projects that, you know, pay. 😉

I’m actually shocked that in eight years of off-the-beaten-path international travels, it is only now that I have packed my first set of Jetboil gear. As it is in the nature of most explorers to shun instruction pamphlets, I considered it an auspicious sign that it took us only minutes to assemble our entire, “kitchen,” on the tiny porch of our guesthouse in Kathmandu. And it really was only a few minutes later that we were clinking metal cups full of wine and celebrating, not only the success of our Jetboil trial run, but the pad thai we had just whipped up wherein.

Of course, what defines success on a guesthouse deck is entirely different from the test of what will survive in the tiny and ancient villages perched at 15,000 feet, on the edge of the Tibetan plateau, in the Dolpa of rural Nepal. And perhaps more importantly, what would ultimately survive the three 17,000 foot passes and weeks of walking that we would have to travel to get there. As we were also carrying 200 pairs of shoes to deliver to the remote communities (often isolated by the Himalayas from aid) we had employed four ponies to help us with our load; a load that was significantly lightened by the missing full stove, kitchen and fuel of which I’ve seen expeditions accustomed to carrying. Not only our bags, but our moods, were notably higher for the simple stats of the modest, compact and ultralight set of jetboil gear that packed down into the corner of a single bag. With multiple 10-hour days, the ease of our Jetboil tools not only made coffee fast, soup hot, and dinner easy, but these adjectives earned us some of the most precious minutes of our day: an earlier start, a hot lunch on a cold day, a longer break for a priceless view, a second evening hot drink, less time between getting out of our boots and into our sleeping bags. The tools served not only practical, but entertainment, purposes, as word would quickly spread and a modest crowd of local villagers would accumulate to witness the, “magic fire,” upon which we produced their same staple of life, “dhal bhat,” or, “lentils and rice,” without a single patty of yak manure or log of high altitude desert brush.

Few people venture into the Dolpa; we never, in all of upper Dolpa, saw another foreigner. As two young females with limited high-altitude trekking experience, we were probably in a little over our heads. But thanks to exceptional gear, we know little of the great problems that COULD have befallen us. Thank you, Jetboil, for sponsoring our outrageous expedition and helping us to safely and easily navigate a host of potential problems to assure a totally seamless, light, safe and tasty adventure. The next time we head again to where few have gone, along with our curiosity and courage, we will not forget to pack our Jetboil gear.

With enormous appreciation,

sol & kt


In the Picture: We come to the end of the road, quite literally: it ended in a cliff of rock. On the other side, we waited patiently for our next unknown form of transportation, but not before climbing on top of the bus and searching through bags until we found the coffee press and a bag of organic Nepali roasted beans. I swear we’re not high maintenance. We didn’t bathe for a month after this day. We all choose our treats. Mine happens to be french pressed. 🙂


pilgrimage of poem & music
(an intimidating book to open)


Opening the book on our adventures in the Dolpa (rural Nepal) is as intimidating as the 17,000 foot passes we crossed to get there. Just look at a single page of my notes!

So instead of hesitating any longer, I’m just going to open and type.

Scared, exhausted, breathless, hungry, sore, cold and wet, on the first week of our pilgrimage in the Dolpa, I woke up early and as Sangeetha took to her morning ritual of flicking at the beads of water that accumulated into breaking dams on the low roof of our tiny tent, I scribbled into my journal the following:

THESE are the adventures of Kavita and Sangeetha in the Dolpa of rural Nepal.

Names, dates, times, heights, distances and places cannot be confirmed as such numerals and characters have little value when that to which they are respective does not exist. Let it suffice that such measures, here, change with the wind, waning moon and a timeless culture’s mood.

My name is Kavita. Kavita means, “poem” in Hindi. The name was given to me by a man born a shepherd of the Ladakhi North Indian plateau, at the summit of a pass in the Himalayas as a gift to crown the acceptance of the path of adventures that would ultimately lead to this one. On that same cliff of life crossroads, I, curiously, kicked not one, but two, copper horseshoes.

Upon finding my first phone, weeks later, I called my best friend and told her of my decision to follow my open-ended whim in South Asia. She replied, “then I’m coming too” and so I sent to her, by way of messenger, the second copper horseshoe.

Fall, winter and spring pass before we find ourselves reunited in the smooth clay underground room of an attending Tibetan family in a tiny and ancient village in rural Nepal. My friend is sitting cross-legged and wide-eyed at the underground world of which she has so suddenly entered. She keeps trying to bow lower than the dark, wrinkled man holding a prayer mala (rosary) and chanting mantras (Buddhist prayers) beneath his smile, for whom she has an unnamed source of reverent respect.

I enter the smoke-filled room and Sonam Tashi, our Tibetan ponyman, looks up with his perennial smile, just as he snaps a set of new batteries into an aged radio (and only medium of this otherwise communication-less world).

“SANGEET!” he shouts, as his arms, inflated by enthusiasm, rise into the air.

As I cross the room to my seat on the richly carpeted clay bench, I do a little line dance in my best impersonation of traditional Tibetan dance as I have seen it. Our small audience laughs in surprise, claps to the beat, and, finally, applauds my short act. Finding my seat next to my friend, she asks of me, “What did Sonam Tashi shout?”

“Sangeet. It’s Hindi and Nepali for, “music.” That’s it! That’s your name! Sangeetha!”

For it was only a day ago that my friend charmed an entire bus of local passengers waiting on a cliff ledge (for a secret amount of time) with the guitar she had struggled to bring half way around the globe to this moment. As she sang and strummed on the muddy step of the bus, a beautiful Punjabi boy in a pink turban snapped his fingers, gyrated his hips and thrust his arms about in animated poses of what he claimed to be his culture’s traditional dance.


The name is perfect, and thus are born the adventures of Kavita and Sangeetha.


alchemy


IMG_8843, originally uploaded by seekingsol.

(The problem is that my blog is a mass of congested intestines in need of its own colonic! Again, I have daily notes on the entirely of my 7-day “master clense”; a story I will type out and post just as soon as I have the chance to sit in a proper chair with a cup of coffee and do it. But for now, out of guilt for lack of live action on this site, I post another clip from an email to another beloved friend of mine. Don’t worry. I’ll try to stop this nasty habit soon.)

*****

…and I’ll end with a story and token. A real token. Maybe a trinket. But a trinket that I will transform, by the very act of alchemy (!), into a magic amulet! (That sentence is meant to be read in the ridiculous voice of a circus ring master). So I had your name on my mind like a mantra. And I happened to walk into a Tibetan shop where I met a beautiful woman covered in turquoise with a fall-colored striped smock who proceeded to pull out the contents of everything on the velvet underneath her glass case. And so my eye is pulled in the direction of one particularly unnotable and cheap looking trinket which she holds up and says…”Tibetan medicine! Made of many metals. To ward off evil spirits and inspire good healing and health. You can hold on your wrist or put under your pillow.” And so I buy it. At the exaggerated price that I allow all Tibetans to charge me. And then we sit and talk and as I proceed to tell her the story of my pilgrimage in Dolpa, she says, “I can’t believe you’ve been to Dolpa! I was there! When I was 8 years old. My father and many family were killed by Chinese and so we ran away from Tibet and crossed the mountains and reached to Dolpa. Oh. Such beautiful wild flowers like I’ve never seen! Only in Dolpa. Did you see the yellow ones? Near the rivers? You did! So beautiful! And have you seen the women there, how big their gold and turquoise earrings are? Oh, how beautiful I thought they were! I used to run down to the river, and pick those big yellow flowers by the stream, and stick them behind both my ears, and wave my head back and forth and look into the stream and pretend like those yellow flowers were big golden rings…”

As she tells me this story, she puts her hands to her head and tucks the imaginary gold flowers behind her ears, and then she closes her eyes and swings her head back and forth, laughing like an 8-year old.

And I suddenly am SO happy for the Amchi and Alchemist that has given me this amulet; for the 8-year old girl that found flowers and gold in the midst of death, danger and exile and for the same power that, in her touch of this amulet, she transpires to you. I imagine all the people that I will ask to hold and put their good energy and prayers into this for you, but I know it is her hand, and her story, that transformed this trinket, by her alchemy, into an amulet.