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.

Lo Manthang (Upper Mustang, Nepal) Part III

Nov 19th, 2009 – Do I get lonely on the road? Does a tiger shit in the jungle? Who among us does not suffer from the affliction from time to time? It is an inescapable characteristic of the human condition and, I believe, a necessary one. People sometimes need to be alone even if doing so allows loneliness a foot in the door. You need to let it in, to savor it. It makes us human, forces us to contemplate the essence of our humanity. Without it what would we have? An existential gang bang is what. But how much should we embrace?

Too little and experiences become trite, hackneyed, jaded even. Too much we become isolated, cut off from a certain type of happiness and fulfillment that only a social existence can foster. Both extremes inevitably have a numbing effect, an insidious brand of torment that is exceedingly difficult to overcome.

I must admit that a companion here and there would offset the constant pressure (for lack of a better word) that arises from always having to organize everything alone. But beyond that practical consideration some experiences are just too amazing not to be shared. Many times during my passage through Upper Mustang I was grateful for the time spent in quiet contemplation along the trail. It was extremely rewarding. However, having someone else to share the experience with, to validate the surrounding beauty and magnificence, to somehow consecrate all my internal musings and jubilations about the nature of the incomprehensible, would have been remarkable. Better or worse? I don't know.

Travelers are indeed everywhere, more so than at any other point in history I reckon (especially in Kathmandu), but for some reason people seem to be a bit more closed off than I remember from earlier travels. This has been the case from the beginning of this excursion starting in Indonesia.

Perhaps, it has always been this way and I have just failed to notice it in the past. It is quite possible that the problem falls entirely my lap, for admittedly, I do not go out of my way to engage. However, I am a bit of a doppelganger when it comes to the outward emotional manifestations of others. If someone is friendly and outgoing I tend to reflect that and, likewise, if they are cold and introverted I tend to respond in kind.

For one reason or another there seems to be a predominance of the latter. This ‘problem’ could all be internal to me and correctable with more effort on my part. There has been more than one instance when a seemingly taciturn individual or couple came to life with just the slightest of social prodding. But my sense is of a growing trend, especially in areas frequented by tourists, for folks to stay within their group whether it be a significant other or band of compadres. The lone wolf just seems to be a bit more ‘lone’ in recent memory.

I spent the vast majority of the trek ahead of my guide, Ram. I tried to slow my pace and move along with my new friend but when it comes to hiking everyone has their speed and my switch was simply set to a higher setting. Too fast and you run the risk of premature exhaustion but too slow also has its drawbacks as it leads to intolerable ennui and mental lethargy, a condition that can also be dangerous. I had my cruising speed and Ram had his. That is not to say that I did not push myself. There were times when it would have been advisable to decrease velocity and simmer down a bit but that, frankly, is like asking a bird to give up flying.

On more than occasion, especially after acclimatizing, I felt absolutely incredible, like a drug addict caught right on the razor’s edge of ecstasy and overdose. I felt like running, yelling, screaming ‘F*** Yeah!!!!’ from one of the many desolate mini-peaks that decorate the area. The force and presence that permeates the universe and all of being was pulsating through my veins fostering emotions that I could barely manage to understand let alone restrain. For a few brief moments I was a part of everything and everything was a part of me. No more ‘I’. No more ‘me’. Just ‘it’………and then it was gone. How ridiculous does that sound?

But I digress. On the sixth day we made our way to the walled capital of Lo known as Lo Manthang. Despite the appearance of poverty and squalor the capital is relatively prosperous, or so I have read. Don't believe everything you read. During the height of trade with Tibet all the salt and wool being transported down the Kali Gandaki River made its way through the capital. Nowadays, a person’s economic status is determined by land and livestock ownership as opposed to commodities exchange. As elsewhere the houses in Lo Manthang are the usual two story dwellings equipped with a balcony overlooking a dusty courtyard. The ground floor is utilized for livestock and storage. You will normally find a ladder or notched log leading to the roof, an area ideal for stacking firewood and juniper, drying clothes and animal skins, and for some good ole fashioned sun-bathing. I have read that the firewood adorning the rooftops is seldom utilized and is more of an ostentatious display of wealth.

Firewood in this region is in short supply (folks might typically walk for days to find some) so the fuel of choice is shit, or ‘dung’ to the more civilized. Any pooh will do and one often encounters the fecal matter of cows, sheep, horses, and yaks drying in the sun. Even excrement of the homo sapiens variety is not wasted as it is often mixed with ashes from the stove and utilized as a fertilizer.

Upon arriving I was disappointed to learn that the Raja (king) had, like many of the locals, headed south for warmer weather as many are apt to do during the winter months. This was a pity as tourists are often invited into the palace for some pleasant conversation and yak butter tea. I was told I would have to settle for meeting the Prince, a state of affairs entirely beneath my impeccable pedigree and noble ancestry. However, as there was little to be done I accepted the snub with grace and regal composure.

Now when one thinks of kings and palaces no doubt images of the French empire, Louis XII, Versailles, and the Louvre spring to mind. Not exactly the case in Lo as the royal trimmings here are altogether modest. And although the king and queen are well respected by the people (he is often consulted on matters of village life) his role has been relegated to a primarily ceremonial one. Nevertheless, any chance to sip tea with royalty and wander the sacred halls of an ancient palace should be taken advantage of in my estimation. However, more disappointment was awaiting me as I was to learn that the Prince was off in the hills tending to his horses or doing something with yaks (more translation snafus). I found this to be insuperable and a rather direct slap to my distinguished and well bred visage.

As it stood the palace was currently vacant, occupied only by the enormous Tibetan mastiffs placed there as sentries. These monsters have a special place in Tibetan society serving as a first line defense against wolves, thieves, yetis, the Chinese, etc. The rambunctious pups are normally chained during the day and set loose to wander their areas of dominance at night. They can be vicious and their maniacal barking is more than a little intimidating. The early part of the night spent in the village of Charang (or is it Chusang?) was animated by the cacophony of countless brutes barking incessantly at God only knows. The one outside my second story window was a bit more subdued but energetic none the less as he was prone to sustained bouts of ‘Yup, Yup, YUP, YUP……yup, YUP, YUP, yup….YUP, YUP, yup, yup…….’ You get the idea.

My first meal in Lo Manthang turned into a bit of a production as the regular cook on duty had left for warmer climes in light of what the locals thought would be a distinct absence of tourists. In the end the family members occupying the premises did a fine job but my initial request for mushroom spaghetti turned into a high level summit meeting. As I sat in the dining area I could hear unsteady voices (those of the staff and a couple of guides) in tense discussions punctuated with the word ‘mushroom’ every so often. You’d think they were in the kitchen trying to enrich uranium. In truth, I could care less what I ate and I made this sentiment known but I was assured it was no problem. The consequence of the first ever ‘Convention On Mushroom Spaghetti Preparation’ was an overwhelming success as it was delicious.

That afternoon I visited two of the four ancient monasteries within the city walls, Champa Lhakhang and Thubchen Gompas, both dating from the 15th century AD. These are fascinating places filled with Buddhist iconography from the Sakya tradition. Statues, frescoes, carved pillars, and a myriad of Buddhist religious paraphernalia garnish the interiors of these most sacred places. Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed inside (a precaution against collectors of stolen art) and any explanations I received were rudimentary at best. This is truly a pity as I am certain the significance of what was before me would have been most fascinating. I did notice that many of the statues felt almost Hindu in nature but was to discover that I was merely looking at different incarnations of the Buddha and that many Buddhist beliefs are intertwined with more ancient animistic ones.

Just throw your sheep horn anywhere...

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed your Nepal chronicles, esp the Mustang edition. Amazing scenery, great pics. Youve got me psyched for EBC trek. Hellooo yak butter!


'Love me or hate me, but spare me your indifference.' -- Libbie Fudim