Monday, August 6, 2007

July 31

Tomorrow I leave for the Shangri-la Hotel, where my dear friend Brian got his Auntie Celedra a discounted room.

The rain is pouring down again here in the middle of monsoon season and I realize that I’m getting a bit tired of the combination of rain and dirt alleys that turn into big, slick mud puddles that are filled with rotting vegetables and all kinds of things I don’t want to think about. Every night I’ve watched one of the many DVD’s I purchased about the Cultural Revolution and the Tibetan refugees – little children that get frostbite on their little feet from walking for days through the icy mountain trails on their way to safety here in Nepal.

So, I stop my complaining, get my computer bag securely strapped around me and take off to the stupa and to my Internet café. Oh, it is so slowww! And, for some reason, I’m not getting all my e-mails. But, I see one – it is from the Shangri-la, dated yesterday and says that will see me tomorrow. That would be today! Suddenly, I realize that today is the 31st and the day I check into the Shangri-la. I cannot believe the joy and excitement I feel and virtually skip over the puddles as I hurry my way back to the monastery to pack my bags.

The one thing I still haven’t had in a month is a HOT shower! I’ve had a ‘not very cold’ shower, but never warm and certainly not hot. I can hardly contain myself and surprise myself with this level of absolute giddiness. I say good-by to my little place that felt so luxurious just a week ago, bow to the dear Lama who is there by my taxi and so eagerly await my ‘real’ hotel!

Yes! They greet me with a delicious mango cocktail with a splash of rum and walk me to my lovely 4th floor room overlooking one of the most beautiful gardens in Kathmandu. There is a plate of cookies from their bakery and a basket of fruit. And a big bathtub! I am delirious!

And, not only has it stopped raining, there is actually some blue sky above. Oh, it is Shangri-la!

The girl at the front desk tries to get the wifi going and I take off for Thamel district, just a 30-minute walk away. Today, I will find Akka Lama, whose name I received from Jeff’s brother Ron. Finally, I find his Thanka shop, but he is busy, so I tell his brother I will walk around a bit and come back.

Now, are you r ready for this!!!

As I’m strolling down the busy Thamel streets, I see a Tibetan bookstore, and remember that I am looking for a book – Blazing Slender. So many wonderful books here, it’s hard to leave. I make my purchase and slowly head back to the Thanka store.

Suddenly, a monk comes up next to me and looks right at me and says “Tashi Delek”. For a moment I wonder how he knows that I know this greeting. He stops me and, (oh my gosh! A monkey just crossed my window!) with this huge smile on his face starts talking about Nangchen. I am trying to understand him and finally realize that he saw me in the monastery I visited in Nangchen and he is so excited. He says I don’t remember him because he had on more robes and that he is a Khenpo. He says he remembers my hair and points to his own shaved head. He bows with me over and over and we make our way down the bustling street to a little restaurant for tea. He knows all of the Rinpoche’s that I’ve been with in Tibet and tells me he will be in Crestone, Co September 25th and we must meet there. He says he has just been praying for help to get the bus to Lhasa to see his mother, who he hasn’t seen in years, and then he saw me there on the street and that I am his guardian, his Green Tara. He needs 30,000 Rs. I give him the 12,000 that I have with me and wish I had more. Maybe I’m not his Green Tara after all. But he is so grateful – says he will pray for my children and grandchildren and call me in the United States. We go on and on about the auspiciousness of this meeting with many “Om Mani Padma Hungs” and many, many touching of heads. He takes the red string off of his neck and puts in on me, telling me it is from the Dalai Lama, and gives me a picture of the Dalai Lama. He is a fountain of prayers and blessings and smiles and great joy! I am just a bit overwhelmed with this serendipitous meeting and we both cry a bit. Finally, we leave each other with a big hug and many more touching of foreheads! Oh, I feel so blessed!

I meet Akka Lama, drink tea and wonder why I’m here. Then I find out. His wife has a small factory that employs Tibetan women in the making of Dharma articles. She will make whatever I want. He tells me that they make real prayer flags - prayer flags that have legible prayers on them, not the ones mass-produced by the Chinese. He talks about her intention of preserving the true Tibetan dharma as well as her intention to help Tibetan women who are in need. Oh, this is the perfect last piece of my trip.

We make plans for tomorrow. We will go to her factory and I will take pictures. I tell him about my intention to bring in more of the awakened feminine aspect to our culture and he understands.

The last stop before home is to my favorite Third Eye Restaurant where I ate last week. As I’m asking someone outside directions, two well-groomed young men dressed in maroon shirts tell me that they work there and they will walk with me. It is dark and the lights of Thamel make it look festive. My old waiter remembers me and even remembers that I had a glass of white wine and finds me a seat in the back room. The tables here are low and you sit crossed legged. There is an altar against the wall with candles and the music is gently wafting through the air. I bring out my new book to read by candlelight, but we get into a wonderful discussion about casts and Mongolians and Christians. Dinner is again delicious, interrupted only by the Korean and Chinese couple who ask me to take a picture of them. Good-by CC my new friend calls as I jump into a rickshaw and head for my new home.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

July 30th

At 11:30 sharp, exactly one hour late, dear Ram knocks on my door, dripping wet slicker on and fogged up helmet in hand. He suggests that I take a taxi since I don’t have a slicker, but I refuse to let the monsoons keep me from the first motorcycle ride I’ve been offered since I was a junior in high school when both of my parents were so nervous that they waited there for me on the street in front of my house until I safely returned on the back of some cute boy’s motorcycle.

With no helmet, pouring rain and this crazy traffic, I’m sure they would have adamantly refused my current escapade. I pulled the hood of my trusty green jacket over my head, nestled my AAA travel bag between myself and Ram and held on as we weaved in and out of scooters, cars, people and puddles. I just had to stop looking as he skillfully weaved the bike between two moving objects over and over again that I was sure we couldn’t fit through.

About 30 minutes into our ride to Patan, he turns around and asks if I’d like to stop at his home to have lunch with his family. Even though I wasn’t hungry, I give an enthusiastic “yes”! How fun!

His wife serves a huge lunch of chicken, rice, soup, some kind of beans and potatoes. It is delicious. The best part of this trip has been the many times I’ve been received into people’s homes. There is something so intimate about entering a home and being taken in to, not only this person’s inner life, but the life of their culture and, in this case, their caste.

Ram rents out part of his home downstairs to this beautiful woman!

With my tummy and my heart very full, we took off for Patan, where Ram introduces me to his friend at the statue store. Patan is the town where most of the statues are made. It is filled with the sound of metal workers and storefronts exhibiting their shiny rows of deities.

Ram takes off for his shop in Thamel and I spend the next 5 or 6 hours learning about the making and quality differences of statues. So many wonderful people I meet, many who take me up dark little stairways to their shops, or to back rooms filled with extraordinary one of a kind masterpieces. I am served the sweet, creamy Nepali tea over and over again, always welcomed on the rainy, grey day. Finally, it is getting too challenging trying to constantly traverse the slick, muddy alley roads and I head toward the taxis with my packages in tow and all my new friend’s e-mail addresses safely written down in my little black book.

I love the Newari people. This is Hem who introduced me to Ratna Tara, who I’d never heard of. This is her on the left.

These beautiful women helped me buy things for the children.

The big Buddha eyes of Boudhanath stupa greet me as I enter the main gate, circumambulating a few time before I head for my 10 minute walk through the water drenched alleys to the monastery.

I stop to give the heavy prayer wheel a few turns and walk past the garden tables that are shining with the flickering of candlelight and remember that tonight in Monday and the electricity is off.

Monday, July 30, 2007

July 23rd

Lordy, more cars, rickshaws, scooters, people and vendors are converged on each street corner together than one could imagine. It seems that even a slip of paper couldn’t fit between some of these vehicles and/or people. And everyone honks! I hire a rickshaw after a couple of hours, just to see if I can find that little store, but to no avail. Finally, it is all too much and I hail a taxi. OK, not really hail. Actually, there are about 15 just waiting for someone to jump in. The driver has three long red fingernails, which reminds me of an interesting PBS special I’d seen a number of years ago about Indian men. He says I should go to Bhaktapur tomorrow where it is quiet and there is no pollution. “How much”? I ask, having already been taken once. “1000 Rs”. When I get back to my sweet place, I ask Tashi (yes, a different Tashi) about the price. He looks surprised and asks where did I find such an honest taxi driver?

Another delicious dinner for 150 Rs – about $2.00 or so and back to my room where the electricity goes off again at 6 pm for about 2 hours. I light a couple of candles and get out my trusty headlamp. Turns out that the electricity is off every Sunday and Monday night from 6 – 8 pm. Rather nice actually!

July 23rd

After a long time, I walk down the 300 steps, filled with the sounds and smells and energy of Kathmandu. It is good preparation for what lays ahead.

Themal – they describe it as a great bargain shopping place. The real reason I wanted to go there was that, on the way to Swayambunath in the taxi, I thought I’d seen a yarn store. So, I had a taxi take me to the area. He drops me off at Hanuman Square and it is filled with color! And temples!

July 23rd

Again, I seem to be the only American. Children and women grab me asking for money. Finally, I figure out a way to deal these innumerable pleadings – I speak in a different language. They walk away and now I can give money to whomever I choose. One of the problems is that I am here off-season, so there are fewer tourists to choose from. The place is crowded with Indian people praying and chanting and I feel that I have entered their sacred world.

This is also called the monkey temple:

July 23rd

Oh, it is lovely here. I slept like a baby and woke up with this amazing feeling of spaciousness – nothing to do!

Took my time to drink my protein powder, herbs, Emergen-C, powdered wheat grass, liquid vitamins and, of course, my new bio-identical hormones. I am so grateful that I have felt so good and healthy on this trip except, of course, for all the bloating from the massive amounts of salt! At one point, in Xining my face actually started changing into a distorted roundish configuration that I barely recognized. Jeffrey and I would compare our swollen feet when we had a moment to spare.

Had a late breakfast of grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, toast and butter in the garden. So yummy!

Off to Swayambunath, Nepal’s most important Buddhist shrine and the place of the familiar all-seeing Buddha eyes that are so familiar and representative of Nepal. I catch a taxi outside of the stupa gate and now know enough to find out ahead of time a reasonable price. We haggle over 20 Rs and off we go. We arrive at the stupa after a long and vicious ride down crowded alleys and I happily give him the 20 Rupees we haggled over. I climb the 300 or so steps to the top and am overwhelmed with this amazing place.

Yes, I still have a ways to go!

July 22nd

I roam the alleys for a bit, orienting myself to this new place and head back to my sweet place for an early dinner.  In my room, soon after dinner, the electricity goes off and candlelight is everywhere as I look out my window.  I light my own candle, find my trusty headlamp and curl up with my book about the history of the nuns of Tibet. 
Life is good.