A gift to the mountains

View of Dhauligiri from Poon HillBurying a gift to the mountainsPoon Hill at dawn. A torchlit procession up there. I buried a friend’s gift to the mountains in sight of the impressive Dhauligiri. There were many flowers – a beautiful night meadow (or Night Garden) :)

The Poet Dreams of the Mountain

Sometimes I grow weary of the days with all their fits and starts.
I want to climb some old grey mountain, slowly, taking
the rest of my life to do it, resting often, sleeping
under the pines or, above them, on the unclothed rocks.
I want to see how many stars are still in the sky
that we have smothered for years now, forgiving it all,
and peaceful, knowing the last thing there is to know.
All that urgency! Not what the earth is about!
How silent the trees, their poetry being of themselves only.
I want to take slow steps, and think appropriate thoughts.
In ten thousand years, maybe, a piece of the mountain will fall.

~ Mary Oliver ~

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Day of the Living Goddess

Kumari at IndrajatraIndrajatra Durbar Square, KathmanduSeto BhairabThree Nepali women in redA day in Kathmandu. We stumbled upon Indrajatra, a festival to celebrate Indra, the Hindu god of Heaven and Rainfall. At this time a fearsome face of Shiva, the deity Bhairab, is displayed. It is also an occasion when the Kumari or “Living Goddess” comes out from her house and leads a procession around Durbar Square. Kumaris are pre-pubescent girls chosen and worshipped as “Living Goddesses”. The chosen girls need to have ‘thirty-two perfections’ of a goddess including a neck like a conch shell and a body like a banyan tree.

Caught up in the throng of people, we surged back and forth with our cameras trying to see the young girl as she was lifted into a palanquin. Crowds swamped the temples, reds, pinks, blues. Vegetable stalls still traded with neat rows of vegetables, people appeared at windows, waiting expectantly, watching the frenzied dancing of a man with a ceremonial pole in front of the ungainly palanquin. I craned my neck to survey the erotic carvings beneath the temple roofs and took photos: three women in red with a young boy and a Seto Bhairab mask. The predominant colour was red, everywhere, red against red brick temples.

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Hail the Jewel in the Lotus

Om mani padme hum.

I’m back from a dynamic trip to Nepal. A year or so back I wrote that I wanted mountains, I pictured myself half way up a hillside in sunshine, crystal clear air and sky, simple villages, … yaks perhaps? Well, I went in search of the picture and the state of mind. I didn’t quite find either, in fact it was rather different from how I expected it but very interesting all the same. Instead of finding peace and quiet, often the opposite was true and I found people everywhere. I came away very aware of my own unresolveable problems that won’t go away. I guess one always learns something unexpected. Anyway, here I shall share a few of my experiences.

Boudhanath stupaOur journey started with a stay in Boudhanath, one of the holiest Buddhist sites in Nepal. Here a giant stupa on top of a large white mandala dominates. It’s surrounded by a circle of buildings – mainly shops. Under the ever watchful, “Buddha eyes”, hordes of devoted Tibetans and many others circle the stupa in a clockwise direction spinning the prayer wheels as they go.

Often I’d find myself heading back to the guest house walking counter clockwise against the tide – slow progress. On top of the stupa, its quiet, with good views of the surrounding buildings and crowds, – monks talking, monks poised with their bowls awaiting food gifts, little Tibetan women with aprons and beads, pigeons, dogs, tourists with cameras, women with umbrellas against the sun. Busy, yes, but Boudhanath is inside a bubble, outside the gates it’s shocking with clamour and noise. It’s a sacred bubble despite the commercial side – the shops piping out new age chants, the shops selling gems, prayer flags, incense – the mandala seems to whisper and hum like some big inverted singing bowl.

And at dusk, out come the candles. The prayer wheels keep turning and the circling throng has grown; it’s religious rush hour at the stupa. The prayer flags keep flapping gently in the evening breeze. There’s something hypnotic about watching weathered prayer flags lapping softly at the air.

The Boudhanath stupa is interesting but not exactly beautiful to me. I find it somewhat comical like a square toy on top of a puff ball mushroom. I like circles though, I love the constant circular flow around it.

Boudhanath sceneOur guest house was next to one of many monasteries. Each morning we were woken very early by monks doing trumpet practice – on their “Rains Retreat”. Not far from Kathmandu airport, the explosion of planes overhead shook me in my semi-conscious state so I thought the world was coming to an end.

Namaste,
Welcome to Nepal,
Om Mani Padme Hum.

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