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.

Blue of the Deepest Hue (Upper Mustang, Nepal) Part II

Nov 17th, 2009 - One thing you will notice in Nepal is that men, woman, and children will hack, spit, and expel congestants from their bodies with reckless abandon and the utmost alacrity. It sometimes sounds as if an individual has a personal vendetta against their respiratory track. And when you take into account the arid, dusty conditions of the Mustang area the phenomenon only intensifies. In a word: lovely.

In addition to Hans and Grets there is also a group of mature French tourists following the same track and they were every bit as friendly as my two German counterparts. The second tea house stop saw me eating at a table surrounded by folks while being completely ignored. I suppose struggling in English was probably more trouble than it was worth. Not really such a big deal as bedtime came shortly after the setting sun. Turning in at 8 pm would have been a late night for me.

Notwithstanding an almost complete lack of companionship (Ram was friendly enough but did not have a whole lot to say and I was normally 20-30 minutes ahead of him along the trail) the trekking was incredible. I was often ahead of both groups and generally alone except for the few locals that I passed along the trail. I am fairly certain I have never witnessed skies as blue as the ones I saw day after day during this journey. It was remarkable and left me questioning the very definition of the phrase ‘deep blue’. It does not get deeper than that. When the sky is basically the same shade of blue with or without a pair of polarized sunglasses you know you are in the Himalayas.

And the landscape? Well, imagine a northern Arizona Grand Canyon-ish scenario, throw the Himalayas in the background and you get a fairly good idea about what I saw day after day. Mix in the cool crisp weather of late autumn (right before the onset of winter) in Upstate New York and the distant sound of donkey bells to complete the impression.

And don’t forget the endless accoutrements of Buddhism that dot the countryside and the trail itself. Cairns, prayer flags, chortens (stupas), mani stones, and mani walls are in constant supply. Breathtaking, desolate, beautiful, magical. If you find yourself on the trail by yourself take a minute to stand in silence and feel the subtle hum that haunts the landscape. It will move you.

Notice the folks on the trail?

Grinding millet the old fashioned way

Ram was bit concerned with my pace in light of the altitude, hovering between 3000 to 4000 meters (9900 to 13200 ft) for much of the way. It is nothing to shake a stick at but we were not exactly in the heart of the Himalayas. I explained that I had been at altitude before and felt pretty good. So I trudged on ahead. That is not to say I did not feel the height. On the contrary, towards the beginning my heart was behaving in a way I prefer it not to, causing me to slow down, but for the most part I felt great. I think the background and scenery acted a bit like a stimulant in some sense.

Each day I worry whether there will be enough blankets to keep me warm at the next tea house. Luckily, I have the Kama Sutra to light my fire just in case. In Chapter IV, “Life of the Citizen”, the householder (i.e. stud muffin):

“…having got up in the morning and performed his duties [i.e. the call of nature], should wash his teeth, apply a limited quantity of ointments on his person and collyrium on his eyelids and below his eyes, color his lips with alacktaka, and look at himself in the glass. Having then eaten betel leaves, with other things that give fragrance to the mouth, he should perform his usual business. He should bathe daily, anoint his body with oil every other day, apply a lathering substance to his body every three days, get his head (including face) shaved every four days and the other parts of his body every five to ten days. All these things should be done without fail, and the sweat of armpits should also be removed…..After breakfast, parrots and other birds should be taught to speak, and fighting of cocks, quails, and rams should follow.”

I am really close on this although I prefer beryllium to collyrium on my eyelids. Also, I am an ardent proponent of anointing my body with oil every day. My parrots don’t just speak they sing, dance, juggle, and cook one hell of a Denver omelet. And as I am a pacifist I encourage my cocks, quails, and rams to settle their disagreements peacefully through mediation and copious amounts of cannabis.

At one point (on day four I believe) I ripped my ridiculous hat and my heart became heavy with sorrow. But I remembered the duct tape I brought along and my heart became light as a feather and full of glee. Duct tape: Don’t leave home without it.

In general most of the dwellings encountered in villages are built of packed earth and dried mud bricks on a stone foundation. They are normally two or three stories built around a central courtyard. On the roof, along with rooms normally, is a balcony overlooking a courtyard. This a great place to gaze at a night sky almost completely unimpeded by ambient light. I wish I'd spent more time doing so but the call of a warm bed was overpowering. Exhaustion played a part as well.

Almost without fail my trusty German companions and I would find ourselves huddled in a fairly capacious kitchen warming ourselves and watching the woman of the house prepare our meals. There was something hypnotic about watching these women go about their business. All were friendly and courteous and appeared to enjoy the work, as if we were somehow doing them a favor by entreating them to keep themselves warm by dancing around the kitchen in their cooking stupor. It was good I had something to watch as Hans and Grets were still a bit cold (as in not so friendly) at this point and my guide, for the most part, was as lost in thought as I was. I wonder what occupied his mind?

Wildlife is not so abundant although I did see a scampering lizard here and there as well as the strange call of the few species of bird that dot the skies. If not for the yaks, horses, goats, sheep, and cows herded by the locals I would have seen almost no animals at all. Horses are used as pack animals and are encountered regularly as are the sheep being herded across the dry landscape. I see these gentlemen with their flock and wonder how lonely it must be with nothing but the howl of the wind and the sound of ‘baaaaa’ to keep you company.

Have I mentioned the caves? The countryside is speckled with caves that some believe are thousands of years old although no one seems to really know. Many are completely inaccessible due to erosion or the withering away of paths or ladders long ago. It has been suggested that many were used when Tibetans started to flee Tibet after the Chinese takeover. On the way I did climb up to a few that could be reached with a little effort but there was nothing much to see.

I’ve read that there used to be large forests in the Kingdom of Lo but it was all carried away long ago for firewood. The trees that do exist are mostly poplars planted within the confines of stone walls by the citizens. I am told poplar grows quickly and is an adequate source of firewood.

You find the entrances to many buildings adorned with sheep horns and many twigs in the shape of a cross with threads woven in a diamond-shaped pattern. These are known as 'zor' and are used to capture evil spirits. I also saw a couple of rabbit heads hanging from a string as I entered a few buildings but was unable to determine the significance. One day I asked Ram who then questioned the gentleman preparing our lunch noodles and was given the equivalent of 'just for shits and giggles' response. As I saw it more than once I assume there is more to it than that but who the the hell knows. Repel demons, perhaps?

On day five we had a lunch at a tea house that accepts Visa and Mastercard (So much for avoiding the intrusion of modernity). They were most enthusiastic about us visiting their souvenir shop/prayer room which may account for the acceptance of plastic. Their shop was filled with alluring Tibetan treasures whose significance completely eludes me. I would love to stock up but who the hell wants to carry souvenirs?

This was the scene in the dining area of one of the tea houses where we had lunch

That night my blanket arsenal consisted of just two so I donned a few extra articles of clothing. I was afraid that perhaps that I was diverting blankets away from family members so was a bit sheepish about asking for extra. The next morning I saw the storage room. There were enough blankets to keep Godzilla cozy. Darn it.

The next morning Hans and Grets were wearing the same flannel shirt, same pants (different color), and the same hiking shoes. I know adorable when I see it.

Entering the town of Charang (or was it Chusang?) was a little like stepping into a surreal American western movie with just a hint of horror flick about it. At first we saw no one and then I noticed a shape approaching, a man who appeared to be dancing a bit in an up and down perseverating motion. I remember wanting to hear the music but as I approached I realized this man was not dancing at all, but in all likelihood suffering from some type of nerve disorder.

As there was no one else on the path I found it strange that we failed to illicit even a passing glance. Cue the theme from Halloween. Entering this town one feels a bit like a rat let loose in a maze. Where's the cheese? A few wrong turns by Ram only helped fuel the comparison. But after an inquiry we found our abode for the evening.

That night I occupied the room directly adjacent to Hans and Grets. Only a thin sheet of particle board separated us and any sound on either side was heard by all. We were still only passing mild pleasantries between us and the temptation for obnoxious behavior was more than I could bear. In light of my recent intestinal tribulations I decided that a exuberant display of flatulence would be in order upon retiring for sleep. Childish, petty, and damn funny. However, my bowels failed me and Team Germany was spared my wrath.

And a word on food. When I exert myself after a period of relative inactivity my appetite begins to take on Herculean proportions and this trip was no exception. It was mildly disturbing how much I put away on a daily basis. Often I was still a bit peckish even after devouring two or three helpings of dal bhat. From the beginning Ram voiced his concern about my tendency to go over budget in the meal category. I assured him I would cover whatever costs my stomach saw fit to incur. And I continued to eat..and eat..and eat….and eat....

After watching Hans and Grets’ porter lug around three quarters of his body weight day after day I coined a new term: humulan or ‘human mule’. This phenomenon is by no means extraordinary and porters often carry up to 60 kgs (132 lbs) during a trek. For the most part they are quite jovial considering the load and my new friend was no different. In fact he was constantly wearing a shit-eating grin, as if he was waiting for me to figure out the joke he'd already played upon me.

It was on this stop where I had the pleasure of sampling Tibetan Yak Butter Tea. I found the prospect intriguing. Want to try? First take my Yak Butter Tea Compatibility Test:

1) Do you like the taste of butter? Y or N.

2) Do you like ingesting butter on its own? Y or N.

3) Do you like melting butter, adding hot water and drinking it in a glass? Y or N.

If you answered 'no' to any of the above questions I think it may not be for you. I was assured there is Tibetan tea mixed in but all I could taste was the butter. It okay at first but by the bottom of the glass it was all I could do to put it to my lips. Maybe it was a bad batch.

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