844 days, 20,256 hours, 1,215,360 minutes, or 72,921,600 seconds. That is the approximate duration of my world tour. I never wanted it to end and now, in a manner of speaking, I suppose it never has to. If you wish to go by country do so by clicking on one above. They are numbered in the order I visited them, more or less. If you enjoy reading about it even a tenth as much as I enjoyed living it then you will not have wasted your time. Grab a refreshing beverage, settle in a comfortable chair, and make a journey across the world, experiencing it as I did. Then get off your ass and check it out for yourself. You're not getting any younger.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Kingdom of Lo (Mustang, Nepal) Part I

Nov 16th, 2009 -  Wow. I hardly know where to begin. The past two weeks have been supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!! Yeah, that about sums it up. Mustang, the former Kingdom of Lo, was worth every penny I spent even if I overpaid (which I'm pretty sure I did). As usual I began in a state of confusion as to exactly what the hell was happening. I thought I would take the bus to Pokhara and then hop a flight the same day. I’m ignorant. The bus ride was six hours by itself which meant I would be spending a night in Pokhara and then catching an early flight the next morning. Sometimes, I stupid.

My guide picked me up at my hotel and we walked to the bus station in Kathmandu. His name is Ram and he is old enough to be my father (53 years of age to be exact). And he smokes. I realize he is Nepalese and has been doing this for 33 years but I was still a teensy concerned. And his English? Not so stellar. Yippee.

On the bus to Pokhara was the German couple (herein referred to as Hansel and Gretel or Hans and Grets for short) that was apparently not so thrilled to find out that I was supposed to be accompanying them on their trek. I was told they scoffed at the idea and so, consequently, was provided my very own guide. However, we would all be on the same bus to Pokhara, the same plane to Jomsom, and sleep in all the same tea houses along the way. Separate but equal. Who likes awkward? Thankfully, it was not so bad and in the end they even warmed up to me. Imagine that.





I wanted a book for the trip because I sensed there would be a significant amount of down time. I settled on the “Kama Sutra” translated by Sir Richard Burton. If you have never read this book you really must do so. Interesting? Yes. Perverted? Perhaps. Entertaining? Definitely.

It is not just about doing naughty things in the bedroom involving contortionism and acrobatics. No, it also prescribes the proper interactions between men and woman and many of the do’s and don’ts involving members of the opposite sex. It is hysterical.

For example, in the chapter “On the Arts and Sciences to Be Studied” there is a list, applicable to women, of arts to be studied in addition to the Kama Sutra. There are 64 but here are a few of my favorites:

-Fixing stained glass in a floor

-The art of making beds, and spreading out carpets and cushions for reclining

-Playing on musical glasses filled with water

-Magic or sorcery

-Solution of riddles, enigmas, covert speeches, verbal puzzles, and enigmatical questions

-Study of sentences difficult to pronounce

-Practice with sword, single stick, quarterstaff, and bow and arrow

-Arts of cockfighting, quail fighting, and ram fighting

-Art of teaching parrots and starlings to speak

-Art of framing mystical diagrams, of addressing spells and charms, and binding amulets

-Various ways of gambling

I cannot make this shit up.

The morning of my departure from Pokhara to Jomsom I happened to notice that my sleeping bag was missing. It never made it out of the storage compartment of the bus. I had it attached via a strap to the outside of my bag. It either came loose or was purloined. Had I noticed the night before I could have made inquires with the bus company or, if I was unable to locate the bag, purchase a new one at the many shops in Pokhara. As it stood it was 6 am and my flight was due to leave around 6:30. 'Oops' and 'screwed' are suitable words for a scenario such as that. 'Shit out of luck' would be an apt phrase. And just to punctuate the kick to the groin I just had my bag repaired and filled with additional down. Fiddlesticks. Oh yeah, and I was constipated. Not such an auspicious beginning.

What could I do? My guide assured me that the tea houses along the way through Mustang would have sufficient blankets to keep warm. In addition he would make an attempt to procure a sleeping bag in Jomsom. I crossed my fingers, toes, eyes, balls, and ass cheeks. It felt like the thing to do.

The short flight from Pokhara was spectacular. The sky was clear and the mountains appeared almost close enough to touch. Good weather is always a bonus as the situation on toy planes can get a bit hairy. I spoke with a Russian man who told me his flight spiraled through the valley to Jomsom in poor visibility on the approach. The pilots found it amusing. He did not. There have been a number of mishaps especially with flights to Lukla in the east, the starting point for the Everest Base Camp Trek. In 2008 a Yeti Airlines plane hit rocks below the airstrip on the approach to Lukla killing 18 passengers and crew. My flight was smooth and silky, like a baby's ass. Richie happy.


View from Pokhara


Pokhara Airport






So we landed in Jomsom in the early morning to a significantly lower temperature prompting me to don a jacket and hat. Our first stop was a small tea house for breakfast. Whilst I dined my trusty guide (Ram) made an attempt to find a sleeping bag. He did manage to locate one but I declined to purchase it for four reasons: First of all it was as big as a house and probably weighed as much as my guide. Second, the shop owner wanted 350 rps a day which is roughly $5 a day. Spread that over 10 or 11 days and it becomes a bit uneconomical. Third, I was again reassured that there would be sufficient blankage available. Fourth I had serious doubts about the bags state of sanitation and did not want to spend my trip smothered in a sleeping bag that smelled like smashed assholes. And we were off.


Jomsom Airport


Jomsom


Freeze your ass off cricket, anyone?

The first day entailed a short trek from Jomsom to Kagbeni, the last village before an additional permit is required to head north into Upper Mustang. Just outside of Jomsom, as we entered the Kali Gandaki River Valley I was presented with a strange and, at first , disquieting site: men with guns, various 4WD vehicles, and a helicopter. Not all of the men with weapons were wearing uniforms which struck me as queer (as in odd or strange). Anyone who knows anything about Nepal’s recent history is aware that the civil war and Maoist insurgency is fresh in the minds of everyone. All one need do is read the newspaper or turn on the news. So when I first came upon this scene my first thought was, ‘Looks like we may have to pay a ‘tax’ to continue on’ (During the height of the conflict the rebels were infamous for extorting a small fee from trekkers and handing out receipts in case they were stopped again).

My initial fears were baseless. As it turned out the folks in the riverbed were filming a Nepali movie titled “Batch 16” if I understood one of the actors in the Land Rover correctly. As we walked along the chopper was making passes through the canyon and stirring up an obnoxious amount of dust. Who knows, I may be a tiny spec in one of the scenes in a Nepali action movie. No autographs please.



If you pay close attention to the clip above you will see this helicopter






Mustang (pronounced Moo-stahng) was a former Himalayan kingdom long closed off from the herds of tourists. In fact permits were not granted for general trekking purposes until 1992. Much of Mustang’s culture, especially the upper region, is purely Tibetan. Although never technically part of Tibet it was heavily influenced by its neighbor to the north. The actual kingdom (known as ‘Lo’) is believed to have been establish in the 14th century by Ame Pal. In fact the present King, Jigme Palbar Bista, can trace his ancestry back 25 generations to Mr. Pal.

Although Mustang did become a part of Nepal in the 18th century, due to a desire of the Jumla rulers to exercise dominion over the lucrative trade route into Tibet, it did manage to retain its status as an autonomous principality until 1951. After that Nepal's King Tribhuvan re-established rule over the area and exerted a higher degree of control.

The raja (i.e. king) was given the status of honorary colonel by the Nepalese government. As one might expect Mustang is dominated by Tibetan Buddhism. The influx of wealth from lucrative trade led to the construction of some relatively elaborate gompas (Buddhist monasteries) in the region. Buddhism in general, and Tibetan Buddhism in particular, has many sects, off-shoots, interpretations, and the like. What I am trying to say is: shit can get extremely confusing. Most of the Mustang area practices a style of Tibetan Buddhism that forms part of the Sakya lineage but there are also Gelug and Nyingma-based gompas as well. Want to know the differences? Read a friggin book.

My first gompa visit was in Kagbeni, to the Red Gompa. It is painted red, as is every other gompa I saw during the trip. I was presented with a plethora of Buddhist iconography to include statutes, prayer drums, masks, paintings, and a host of other symbols that defy my understanding. I mentioned above my guide’s limited English ability so all I got here was, ‘carved stone is very old’.
This makes sense as most of the monasteries in the region go back centuries.

Tourists are granted access to the roof of El Gompa Rojo where some mighty breathtaking views of nearby Himalayan mountains can be enjoyed. The interior and roof of most gompas can lead to an inescapable feeling of calm and serenity that borders on the mystical. Although my ignorance is boundless it is impossible not to be affected by the spiritual nature of places like this. To think that monks have been practicing Buddhism within those walls for hundreds of years leaves one with a feeling of awe that is difficult to articulate.

I lingered for an extended time both within the monastery walls and upon the roof attempting to soak it all in. Being alone (notwithstanding my guide who remained mute most of the time) helps foster self-reflection and circumspection. The mystical nature of these and other Buddhist structures is intensified in no small part by the topography of the region. It is like nowhere else in Nepal. The landscape is barren, arid, treeless for the most part, and falls victim to some pretty severe winds in the afternoon and evening. In a word: forlorn, and the idea of a landscape abandoned by whatever force that saw fit to create it is only underscored as one travels farther north. But make no mistake, the lonely nature of the landscape is surpassed only by its magnificence.


The Red Gompa










So my first night found me with enough blankets to ward of the Mustang chill and remarkably good food to warm my belly. Homemade pasta, apple juice (best I’ve ever tasted) and apple crumble were all on tap. The area is known for its superb apples, hence the delicious variations that involve this tasty fruit (the fiber content also assisted a bit with my intestinal log jam).

The woman running the Shangra-La guesthouse possesses a rather cheery personage and the place had a most homey feel to it. I was fortunate enough to be allowed to play with a yak head. And the town boasts a ‘Yac’Donalds and 7 Eleven of dubious franchise origin. What more do you need? Not a fuckin' thing.




Maoist supporters









2 comments:

  1. very entertaining read, loved it. going myself next month.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Have fun and thanks for the kind words.

      -Rich

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