Upcoming Shows

We've been named as a official selection in the Southern Circuit of Filmmakers Tour, March 17-24.

Shows are in Hapeville, GA 3/17, Madison, GA 3/20, Orangeburg, SC 3/22, Gainsville, GA 3/23, and Manteo, NC 3/24.
Learn more by going to the SouthArts blog.

View the theatrical trailer for A Gift for the Village

Monday, July 30, 2007

The count down begins....

This is Jenna on the troubled space bar computer.
I can not believe wefly out in 4 days!

i just met a little Nepali boy on the street who spoke perfect English and told me all about the US-- why our flag has 13 stripes and 50 stars, about the capital of the US and the # of states,and so on. Next I was stopped by a woman holding a limp sleeping child and an empty bottle, she asked me to buy milk for her little girl, next I saw the same nine year old boy who begged for food this morning smoking a cigarette in the middle of a crowd of boys. In between the rickshaws, mopeds, cars, pedistrians, and street vendors a large cow moseyed by. There is a man who sitson a square plank with skateboard wheels and uses his handsto make his way thru traffic,he has not askedfor money or food, but he looks at us with wonder and sadness in his eyes. We have friends here now, Mia,a woman who sells little silk bags chases me down to ask how I am doing,people on the street call us by name and tell us that we will be going back to America in 4 days and that they will miss us, Mr Bhatt, the Tibetan stone seller, was concerned about our trek and the floods and wanted to know all about the festival when we returned, Rahju,the gem seller offers us tea when we walk back into his shop and we just sit and chat.Iwillmissall these people.

Right now it is 1O:30 pm and the streets are still rocking, carhorns, five different songs from 4 different shops and one live band, and French, Sweedish, Nepali, Tibetan, English,German, Russian and a million other languages being spoken, also there is a man just beside me trying to make a call he has yelled "Hello?? Hello?? Hello?" about a million times.

With in view of the kathmandu Guest house we can by sweets from a German bakery,booksfrom Pilgrimsbook store, knivesfrom a Gurkha knife stall, Tibetan Stones, carved masks, Kashmiri carptes, Thang-Ka's, Raw Silk, Roasted peanuts, Tailored clothes,Buddha statues....

Our currency is the Rupee it looks like monopoly money only the 5 rupee note is smaller than the rest and the 1000 is larger. One US dollar equals about 62 rupees, so dinner is usually 200 rs per person, a tailored outfit is about 600 rs, a snickers bar is very expensive - 60 rs, and a one rupee coin can not buy anything. ONe problem is that no one EVER has change,so if you buy something for 85rupees,and you pay with a 100, you have to have exact rupees or forefit the 15 rupees. So, sometimes we bargan and bargan to get the price down and we end up paying more because no one has change.

gotta go,it is 11pm and I amtired.
July 30, Kathmandu. Kirby, Carol Watson, Gretchen Distler, and all of or other many, many friends who keep us company along this journey, thank you for knowing and caring about this project. We can not say enough how moving it is to have your blog responses and your conern and excitement behind us.

Tonight the incredibly accomplished and elegant young man in charge of Gurkha Encounters, our trekking agency, took us to dinner as a congratulatory flourish to our twelve successful days hiking the precipices and vast distanaces of Upper Mustang. Raj took us to an old favorite haunt of every Everest climber, a restaurant called Rum Doodle, whee giant yeti footprints all over the walls and celings carry the messages of all the climbers who have summited Everest or other peaks like the Thorung-la or other daunting and remote hauls like the trek to the Holy Grail of far-away neverlands, the walled city-kingdom of Lo. I have been sent home to The Kathmandu Guest House with pens and a footprint to design ours, where our Gift for The Village team will all be signed in properly for our efforts and our project. So our web site will hang near the signature of Ed Hillary and other seekers and explorers who have all brought their own gifts here but left the richer, as we will.

We thank Gurkha Encounters for being the Cadillac of all trekking agencies in Nepal. And we were especially honored to be joined at dinner by Narayan, our main guide to Lo, without whom we would never have made it to the top of two dozen peaks at the ends of eight- or nine- or ten-hour days climbing on the strength of a thali plate of dal bhat and a few cups of masala chai. Narayan reminds me of a Nepali Gardner Rordam, Blacksburg's mayor's elder son--and speaking of Mayor Rordam, sir, did you ever score one cool gift from Kathmandu today. After your incredible service to our town, Ron, around the events of April 16th--which have not left my mind for a single day--the Gift for The Village team is proud to remember your service to all of us in Blacksburg, as well as your excitement about our project.

Today we also heard from Nepal's Acting Director of the American Center, The Honorable Ms. Sharon Dean-Hudson, on behalf of the United States Ambassador to Nepal, the Honorable Mr. Moriarty. She very generously wanted to wish us a great time here, despite the monsoon weather, which is not so bad after all, and to thank us for being such "wonderful promoters of U.S.-Nepal relations." We are honored.

Today we spent much time walking the streets of Kathmandu, around and sometimes in mud puddles in the bumpy crazy streets. Sarah, your girl Sherrie hunts constantly with so much love (and so much success!) for the very best treasures for you! And Larry and Shelly, your Jenna and Jason found such a fun and perfect Nepali present for you today! Suzi Gablik, my luggage is becoming a shrine to your tastes. If I have gone overboard, do not tell me so, and keep that judgment completely out of your expression, or I will see it and be heartbroken. As I told you in an e-mail, where gifts are concerned, I prefer complete acquiescence to my complete excesses. If the village of Jomsom can accept a thang-ka, you can put up with the small pile Jenna and I have acquired for you. Anyway, as we all experienced today, gifts are one of the only ways we can begin to express to people the beauty and intricacy of this culture. Carl, did you think I forgot you today? Never. It was actually Jenna who found a perfect Carl thing. Gifts are a reflex here. What a pleasure to be able to extend in words and sometimes also in objects--and how exciting to think of extending yet more, once I am home with my cats, in the form of the many new paintings I have imagined. The truth is, I have twenty paintings ready in my mind, which is even more than usual. Let us hope the two boxes of fresh Ceylon tea I bought for myself tonight will pack punches every night of this fall and winter as I get back to my two jobs and the lawn to mow and litter boxes to tend and meals to cook and bills to battle. I want to PAINT as my main gift. Or as one of them.

May we all be torn in precisely this way, worried most about how to give our gifts and which they will be. May we all be always-busy with the beauty we see.

Walking down from Jomsom, we traveled for a few hours with a French photographer and her half-Tibetan three-year-old girl, Clara-Dolma. Anne told us about traveling in the most remote parts of Mongolia, where people "really have free minds," she smiled. Tell me how you saw the free minds? I aksed her. "Well, for example, no Mongolian nomad ever asks your name or your age. Instead, you will be asked first--because it is most important--right after hello, 'How many friends do you have? Who are your friends?'" Not WHO ARE YOU?, as we are accustomed to wondering in the West, but WHO ARE YOUR TRIBE?

May we all know, forgive, love, always laugh with, and take care of the dear ones in our tribe. And may our tribes all be strong and loyal and rich with gifts. Love, Jane

Sunday, July 29, 2007

From Kathmandu... Tsampa meets Mr. Bhatt

Dear Friends, Again from Kathmandu, this time on a keyboard which loves to create spaces (yesterday's did not) but which refuses to do capitals, and which can recognize Arabic and Chinese and Korean much more easily than English--just to remind you that when we write from Kathmandu, nothing comes easily but surprise. The recalcitrance of the various keyboards goes some way to proving reincarnation, I think, since I can't otherwise explain why the station where I am sitting tonight really wants me to know languages other than the one I know.

Today, we met Tsampa in Kathmandu, who had made that long and seriously arduous journey with us down from Jomsom. Even he said that he had a terrible blister and a cramped leg and sheer exhaustion: this, from the super-human who probably holds the world's record for human time in getting down the trail in previous excursions. His beautiful daughter Lakpa Dolma said today that her mother (Karma) was "too much scared" for us as we went down the trail, since all the newspapers here are full of death tolls rising in the more southern parts of Nepal. We heard today that there has been a solid week of standing water nearly four feet deep in much of southern Nepal, much like what you saw in parts of Vietname, Joe and Carol, where the rice paddies are highly organized, like a Piet Mondrian work, but all in tints of chartreuse: this agricultural quilt is gone, under mud and debris, and even the rice shoots have drowned. I think of baby goats, water buffalo infants, all hapless, all drowned. And the sheer expanse of water, broken only by poor thatched roofs, all the laborers and farmers hapless and without a hope of recovery. Not unlike New Orleans a very brief time ago, where tonight I hope both of my amazing children, who know more than their years about recovery and hope, know that their far-away mom is thinking of them.

Tsampa today met and really spoke at length to another dear, dear long-time friend of ours, Mr. Rehman Bhatt, and to his wonderful brother-in-law Yusef, who own the Lhasa Gift House, where every Tibetan who comes with a priceless heirloom gau (prayer box) or dzi stone comes to get an unquestionably fair and compassionate price--and where Richard Gere shops for his coral also. Ask Reba and Diane (and Tom too--less a shopper, but a great observer, always) what THEY thought of Mr. Bhatt, if Jenna and I seem too much like completely prejudiced advocates of this fine man.

Anyway, it was a great meeting of amazing people--Mr. Bhatt, to my mind, the world's most honest and brilliant Tibetan stone merchant, and Tsampa Ngawang, who happens to be Nepal's most accomplished amchi and renaissance man. This happy confuence and mutual appreciation is not always the case. Georgia O'Keeffe, for instance, and Frida Kahlo, met briefly--and turned their noses up at one another, when for me--these years later--they are the Southern and the Northern Hemisphere's two toughest and smartest artist-girls from the Americas, who could have traded pistols and ridden into the sunset together much better than those ultimately self-destructive and panicky girls, Thelma and Louise.

It was beautiful to see Mr. Bhatt, who is a Tibetan Muslim, and Tsampa, who is the lineage holder of many rare and sacred old Buddhist traditions, look at each other with nothing but joy and a kind of immediate love and trust. It was beautiful to see Mr. Bhatt congratulating Tsampa for the amazing and huge festival that the village of Jomsom held to honor our project, our friendship, and our gift for the village. How lovely it is to see people who care about what will last a long time, rather than only about, as our Tibetan friend in New Delhi, India, taught Jenna and me to say seven years ago, "short fun."

More soon. Much love to Khadija, Suzi, Reba, Garland, Suzan, Barbara, and Jessica, and all of our friends who keep making us all feel like there is a home on the other side of the world for us, even if we are as far away as we can be, just at the moment. Love, Jane

Saturday, July 28, 2007

from Jenna about Lo Montang

We spent 12 days in the most remote region of Nepal. In fact this region is still called the Forbidden Region because, until recently, no tourists were allowed in. To get in we had to register months in advance, complete the necessary permist, and hire a trained and certified guide (and porters) who would spend the 12 days with us. Here are a few "snapshots or this place.

LO is a place where.......

-every dinner is a candle light or cook fire dinner
-Dal Bhat is served for lunch and dinner -- a LARGE heap of rice, a small cup of lintles in garlic and ginger broth, Aloo (curried potatoes) and sauteed mustard greens. This meal is served on a LARGE round metal plate which is refilled as fast as you can empty a compartment.
- there are only 15 villages in the region and some have as few as 60 people or as many as 600 (there are about 6000 people total in Lo)
- people wash laundry, dishes, children, and themselves at the community waterpump (a large croud gathered when we did our laundry-- later we found out that they all realy enjoyed watching us wash our clothes (underwear and all)in DISH washing soap
- villages seem to be only two mile apart, but to get to the next village, we had to walk 7 hours, climb 5 steep narrow trails, descend 5 rocky switchback trails, cross 3 wooden bridges patched with ROCKS, and wade threw onw swollen river with water up to our knees
-the bathroom, if we were licky, was in a ROOM with walls and a ceiling and porcelin rimed hole in the floor, when we were unlucky, there was a hole in a sagging mud floor surrounded by a stacked rock wall with no ceiling and a door that would not shut, or we used the "natural toilet"
- Tashi Deleg means hello and Tu tu che means thank you
- Naryan, our wonderful guilde, painted his face (just like ours) using red, orange, white, dark gray, and mustard colored natural rock pigments we found near a Chortan (mud and rock shrines that can be seen all over Nepal)
- Binod, Ganish, Hari, and Gopal, our porters, sang and laughed with us, cooked for us, waited for us at the top of big climbs, danced with us, and spent 12 days exploring monistaries, rivers, caves, villages, asnd the mountains of this Northern region in Nepal
- Saligrams (spiral chambered nautulus fossils, over 20 million years old) can be found in the river beds
- snow can be seen on the tall peaks
- showers, IF THERE IS SUCH A THING, are COLD!!!!
-homes are made from stacked rocks packed with mud and the roof is made from mud covered branches
- the floors in homes and monistaries are sprinkled with water a few times a day to settle the dust and to level out the scuff marks on the dirt floors
-meals are cooked over fires
-there is NO ice for drinks
-besides small junipers, the only vegitation has been planted by hand and wateres by irrigation ditches also dug by hand
-prayer flags fly and rocks are stacked at the top of tall mountains and steep climbs as a welcome, and to honor a tough journey, celebrate an accomplishment. When we added our rocks to these piles we joined our guide in saying, "So So So So La" it means victory to the gods
-children who may not speak any English, still know, "Chocolate? Rupee? School Pen?"
- some people may have never seen a white face before
- there is NO TV, raido, or telephone, grocery store, laundrymat, or fast food restaurant
- children may not go to school becuase there is not one in their village, it is too far to walk to the nearest school, or they are responsible for caring for younger siblings or working in the fields
- AND people drink YAK BUTTER Tea---- aarrggghhh!!!!

SO much more to say, but it is getting late, and as you will read on Jane's blog, we have just arrived in Kathmandu after a long hard journey.

Reba-- we miss our roomie!!! Debra, Eric, Joey, Tom, Diane, we miss you guys too.
Thank you to everyone who is responding to our blog, we love to hear from you!

more soon Jenna

July 28, return from Mustang, from Jane

July 28 in Kathmandu. Dear Friends, Jenna and Jason and Sherrie and I are all safely back in Kathmandu, arriving this morning on a flight from Pokhara. What I can not easily tell you is HOW we got to Pokhara. Reba and Tom and Diane flew out of Jomsom, and got to Kathmandu in less than an hour. After our marathons in Upper Mustang, about which time Jenna will write, we spent a full day in Jomsom, which was itself amazing.

In that one day, Tsampa got out one of his hundreds of dark thick planks of wood into which, when he was doing one of his three-year retreats (this one, when he was seventeen), he spent months carving designs and prayers in Tibetan--mind you, carved in all backwards, so that he could then ink these blocks and make prayer flags printed with these designs and prayers. How do you EVER understand all the shapes backwards? I asked him. "Ohh, very easy for me," Tsampa explained. "Always for me it has been very easy to see backwards. I show you." And he proceeded to write sentences from right to left, fluidly, Tibetan in reverse, with meanings so sweet that I didn't know whether I was smiling so much because of WHAT Tsampa had chosen to write (Cy was translating, thank goodness), or because he was so effortlessly writing it completely from the last Tibetan letter backwards to the first--and in impeccable handwriting, as Cy noted. One of the messages was, "Beloved Jane, How happy I am that you and Jenna and your team have come here." Another was, "This gift will last for a thousand years."

So Tsampa got out one of these block prints which he made when he was seventeen, and brought out the Tibetan five-color flags which he had had made for me, Jenna, Jason, and Sherrie, sewn by a tailor across the cobbled street from The Dancing Yak. These flags are vertically stacked, probably twenty feet tall (so I am going to have to find a TALL pole on which to erect my vertical flags!). On each color, Tsampa printed his own carving of powerful blessings, healing to anyone who sees them or even drvies by on Glade Road. It was amazing to think that we had the time and sweet attention of our friend, the Amchi, sitting cross-legged on the floor, with the thang-ka hanging behind him--and from time to time, a villager who had heard about the painting just entering The Dancing Yak, staring up at the painting, and then touching his or her head to the bottom of it, to take its blessing--explaining to us the intensity of power in the prayes he was printing for us.

While he was doing this careful work, all on Jenna's camera, he got a phone call: a villager had just died, and needed Tsampa to come perform phowa immediately. If you have read Sogyal Rinpoche's wonderful book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying--which I highly recommend as a way to begin to understand Tibetan spirituality and culture--you will remember that phowa is a deeply profound ritual in which a highly trained lama actually directs the consciousness of the releasing energy when a body dies. The lama encourages the energy not to be frightened of its sudden formlessness and fluttering, as it leaves the body and feels untethered and boneless, like an invisible kleenex in a gale. In fact there are types of fears that such a suddenly freed energy can typically fall prey to, and the lama's role is to name the illusions and fears and help remind the energy to take a productive and useful new form, or, as westerners like to call it, a good reincarnation. So Tsmap could not keep printing our flags.

Instead, he taught US how to print, and left us, with a very merry twinkle in his eyes, to work from his old wood block. So we got to print our own Tibetan prayer flags. When he returned, Tsampa felt great, having been able to help a spirit take a smart rebirth, so he sat down cross-legged again, even though by now it was dark and I had to shine my Petzl headlamp on the cloth so that he could see what he was doing. We shared glasses of powerful homemade rakshi (apple brandy) as he turned the block over and offered to print the other carvings for us. They include a gorgeous print of a Snow Leopard Dakini mandala; and an old flower-shaped prayer which one of Tsampa's father's friends had taught to Tsmap'a father in Tibet--a little known design which that old Tibetan lama claimed was the most pwerful design he had ever drawn; and a Tiebtan multi-syllable prayer, which Tsampa said has the power to wipe away a thousand years of sin upon sight, IF you belive in its efficacy. Suzi, I got you some good printings, and Iris, you have a beautiful snow leopard dakini mandala. And Suzi, Tsampa also made a special medicine packet for you, to bring you great power. SuziGablik is all one word, and he speaks of you often, and I am directed to bring many great wonders to you.

So that was part of our last day in Jomsom. So we thought.

In fact, our flight did not go out. Rain, and low clouds. And so the next day, which happened to be my 49th birthday (on the 26th of July), we opted to walk out. Planes had not been flying for days and Tsampa chekced an astrological camedar and said planes and heliocopters would not fly for several more days, which has turned out to be true. Leaving the Dancing Yak made me weep. For one thing, as Reba will understand well, we had to say goodbye to petite little Laxmi, the tiny young girl who is a tureless helper around the house, a bit like Cinderella, but also like a little matchstick girl who did NOT die. One of Tsampa's daughters, Lakpa Dolma, saw this little waif on the streets of Pokhara about half a year ago, and and Tsampa learned that she was the daughter of alcoholic street beggars. Laxmi, who is seven, had no clothes, no food, and slept on a filthy burlap bag. Tsampa wrote a contract and the parents gave Laxmi to him and his wife Karma, to take care of. Now she is going to half-day private school, learning fast as lightning, and serving in every way she can. lighting candles, doing dishes, sweeping, bringing us tea. She wears a shell around her neck from Ella Hoffman, and I think she will never take it off. Laxmi saw us weep and allowed us to hug her goodbye, and she made he gesture of wiping a tear from under her eye, but she was smiling, as if she already knew far more dangerous and fearful things for her than our returning to America.

Saying goodbye to Tsampa's wife Karma and son Tsewang was also incredibly hard. They waved to us from the edge of the village. Leaving Jomsom was quite amazing this time, because now it is the place that our festival was held on Jenna's birthday, and the place where, one day, especially if we can find donors to help Tsampa build this room, the thang-ka will hang in a special wooden museum-room for thousands of trekkers and tourists to visit every year, to learn about Tibetan medicine and this remarkable man who is the pride of Mustang.

But as for our trek. Down, down,down, a million times down, from moonscape to banana trees and iguanas and frangipanis in bloom, and fuchsia bougainevillea, and lime trees and tree tomatoes, and waterfalls defining gods' throats chanting down every hundred feet, from enormous mountains verdant with peridot and lemongreen tangled foliages, and landslides, mudslides, and hunks of mountains falling the way dew falls off of our quiet simple blades of grass at home, leaving gaping new shapes into which I noticed fudge-colored butterflies like to fly, perhaps enjoying the raw and fresh, soil-nectar smells newly exposed earth.

We had a treacherous two days through this sodden and landsliding mess, in one of the worst flooding years on record. We did catch two hair-raising car rides for parts of the way, but they were more deadly than even being on foot on these rain-soaked precipices. We went on slopes and in mud on the edges of cliffs that would kill anyone who loves any of us if you could see the full scenario of what we had to cross...but to ease your nerves, as my friend Lucinda Roy taught me to say many years ago, "Not to worry!" Here we are, safely in Kathmandu. And Lucinda, the Nepalis havea saying which YOU might enjoy, somewhat comparable to your "not to worry": it is "Ke garne?" It means, What to do? Almost dead on a landsliding precipice? Ke garne? Is that a blister on your heel, Jane, raw and beet red and the size of a dollar bill? Ke garne?

We capped our days of walking in wild and swollen mountains with a Jed Clampett-truck-ride, our driver being a kind-faced Nepali emanation of Lucifer himself, who, I think, must have met some ill-behaved Nascar driver somewhere in another world...
So you are hurtling down a Himlayan road at nintely miles an hour on wheels that look like a Mattel toy wouldn't have them? Ke garne? So you don't like driving at night without headlights? Ke garne?

But here we are--not to worry--and Iris, I am THRILLED that New Mexico was GREAT, and Emerson, I can not WAIT to see you at the airport, and to both of my children, your e-mails are spectacular, and oh my GOD so are the presents I have for you! Barbara and Jessica, I love you both dearly. THANK YOU for taking care of my four-legged children. To all of our friends, thanks for being with us. Tom, Beth, Diane, we will join you soon. Love you all. To my sister Mary and brother Charles, tomorrow is twenty years exactly since we lost our Mom. I miss her fiercely. And send my love to my sister and brother. Andrea and all of you who wished me Happy Birthday, your loyalty rocks. Love, Jane and the gang

Monday, July 23, 2007

Back from Upper Mustang in Kag Beni from Jane

July 23rd. My back is soaking wet because we are all JUST back from our Upper Mustang trek. We are all well and stayed well the whole time. We hear that planes have not flown for two days, so don't worry if we don't get back to Kathmandu on the 25th when we are supposed to fly--but we will get to this blog again as soon as we are there. We are having lunch in a few minutes at The Red House in Kagbeni and then we walk to Jomsom.

Our trek was,well, beyond belief. Let's talk about its difficulty first. In twelve days, we walked 140 miles, the equivalent of five marathons. Picture a maze, with the rifts and crenolations being Grand Canyons, but bigger. Every day we went up and down several of these mountains and valleys, and the terrain was tough. We hiked seven to nine hours a day, at high altitude, with little food and extremely rustic lodges, one of which we will tell you about in detail later: think, Nepal meets Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

We met the King of Lo and had a private audience with him about our project, which he loves. What a kind-faced man! Tammy and Andrew, you will cry when you see the footage of your son, Cy, translating for Tsampa in front of The King of Lo Monthang, Jigme Palwar. Our time with the King was incredible.

And we also got to trek to The Cave of the Snow Leopard, to see the very "newly discovered" cave paintings reported on the front page of BBC On-line five months ago. This was our most treacherous climb, where we all could have died, but WHAT a cave on WHAT a cliff. We had to have two local guides to get us there, and we were only the third group to see this amazing cave with its long wall of strangely Sri Lankan art, but with Tibetan implements in the hands of the Sri Lankan/Sigiriya figures.

We also met Luigi Fieni, the Italian restorer who is the one who discovered this cave and whose photograph was printed on BBC. Luigi is the Michelangelo of our time, and he and his two companions had dinner and beers with us the night after we had seen the cave. We got an incredible interview with him, about his own restoration work on all the monasteries and chortens (nine years so far in Lo), and we left as great friends. We had access to footage that no one else has gotten.

Iris, this one is just for you. Luigi, who looks like a young Italian Sean Connery, was talking about getting to that cave five months before, having to rapel down (we just used footholds on sheer cliff with thousand foot drops threatening us every second). When he lowered in, he said that the floor was abolutely pristine, no human signs, no footprints. Only the many footprints of a snow leopard who obviously loved the view. And so he named it The Cave of The Snow Leopard. Our interview with Luigi is amazing, partly because we got him talking about our idea of A Gift for The Village.

Jenna just tried to list-serve for half an hour, but the wind is bad and so is this connection. She wants you all to know she did try. Glad to know you are all back safely, Tom, Diane, and Reba. We miss you. Beth, I loved your e-mail about interviewing Nikki Giovanni. Tom, I fear what it means that if I didn't love Carl already, I will now. Carl, if my water heater in that awful basemetn of mine has meant hell for you, tell me what I can bring you!!! And I DID already love you!

Emerson, I got your I-love-you message, but Iris, are you okay???? More from Kathmandu. Our footage is out of this world. Love, Jane

Friday, July 13, 2007

(almost) Half the team is home

Tom here:
Just a quick note to let everyone know that Tom, Reba and Diane landed safely in Roanoke yesterday (July 12) and our luggage made it about 7 hours later. It was a long journey, about 34 hours from the time we left the Kathmandu Guest House, where we were sent off by our friend Sunil, who bestowed the silky katas, or prayer scarves, around our necks to help ensure a safe journey. Our wait in the Delhi airport was much shorter this time, and we were able to assume the role of travel veterans for a Nepali heart surgeon who works for the Mayo Clinic named Pete (he's changed his name since moving to the US) and an NGO worker from Boston named Katie. Both of them were surprised that the airport workers in Delhi took our passports away to get us boarding passes, but we were helped by the same nice young Indian man who had done the same for us on the way to Kathmandu. I'm not sure what kind of Dr. Suessian luggage system they have in the Delhi airport, but it worked to perfection and we were relieved to see our luggage arrive at Customs in Chicago. When it didn't make it to Roanoke we were reassured to know that it was only lost somewhere between Roanoke and Chicago, and we were confident we'd see it again.

This morning I woke up in my own bed next to my beautiful wife (who, by the way, had my old Volvo PAINTED TO LOOK LIKE NEW while I was gone!) and had good coffee from my own mug and ate a pimiento cheese-slathered english muffin for breakfast. I'm going to work soon, but something tells me my jet-lag addled brain won't be of much use to me today.

Jane and Jenna and Sherrie and Jason, have a blast in Upper Mustang, and shoot lots of great video and stills. We who have come home are a little jealous but glad to be back in the loving arms of our families. I think I speak for all three of us when I say we are forever changed by the journey.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

July 11th, from Jane. Sherrie and Jason and Jenna have gone climbing up a shaley vertical hill across from Kagbeni, affectionately knwn as the "zig zag," visible from a two days' walk up toward the Thorung-la. Supposedly this walk takes two hours, and I took my trekking poles to climb as well, but was called by the song of the river. I abandoned the morning walk immediately and went to the river's edge, to hunt for rocks. I couldn't help thinking of my father all morning, since he is who taught me how to walk, stoop, look, pick up, turn over, and think about small objects. I also couldn't help thinking of Joe Fox, who loves rocks, and of Sammy Robbins, who would go positively insane here, having to leave behind HUNDREDS of perfect rocks. I do have a pocket full, several "circle rocks" that have a perfect circle of quartz running arounf them, but also a few dozen tiny black and whie "tiger rocks," with little circles and tiger stripes making them look like eyes and string wrapped around a dark round core. I also found a rock I had never seen anywhere on earth except for the Rajasthani Indian Thar Desert, outside of Jaislamer. This rock is curry and brown, a curly, detailed mixture of fossil impressions that looks like Arabic script. And on the mountain I studied the slate-blue, brick-red, and camel-yellow shards of crumbly shale in their dozens of miniature rockslide piles--as Jenna and Sherrie and Jason ascended like goats--and looked at the "sugar" (miniature crystals) that sparkled on each of these colors.

No one was near me, not even an animal, on my side of the Kali-Gandaki. It is treacherous to reach the shore, because one has to walk on angular landslide bits and pieces, but I did go down to the water, to see that the silt is a sensuous dark indigo color, richer than gray, and molded by the winds into fantastic damp repeating curls of shadow: this is Kali's skin, I thought; the Hindu Fierce and Dark Mother's body. At some point, I heard what sounded like an eagle calling--black ones fly here--and I turned to see one Indian sadhu with his hair matted into a Dairy Queen spiral and his bright orange thin robe waving like feathers in the breeze. He was on the trail above me, and just wanted to call out a greeting. I yelled up, "Namaskar, Sadhu!" and he beamed at the respectful greeting, waved heartily, and disappeared around the bend.

For two hours I hunted along the riverbank and filled my pockets with these exquisite rocks, and then sat and watched the other side of the river, where our medieval village is perched on the very edge of the pebbly cliff. I saw Tibetan women whose profiles showed their Navajo cheekbones even from a distance. I saw Hindu wanderers washing themselves at a tap. I saw old grandmothers squatting to use the toilet outside, and laboring to stand upright again. Had any of these people looked over to where I was, they would have seen me only as another rock, or as a shadow. This landscape is made for thoughts as long as rivers, for prayers that can withstand the tattering brutality of this gorge-wind, and for people who do not expect to be any more important than a few beautiful seasons and a few productive fields.

Beth Macy, Tom Landon's wife and our friend, has forwarded to me a great article about our trip that I hope she or Tom can post and link to this blog-spot of ours, a feature article in Roanoke City Magazine on-line. Thank you, Beth. We know you and Carl and Ken and your families are all very excited to get your people back home. We loved having them here and look forward to more of their posts and to your comments. In a few hours, Cy and Tsampa and his sn Tsewang will be here with us in Kagbeni, and so will our certified and insured guide Narayan, whose presence is required for us to have permission to go into Upper Mustang, Nepal's most remote and most restricted area. We begin this trek tomorrow, as I have said, and we will be gone for twelve days. All of you please take good care of yourselves, as we will, and Iris and Emerson, know that I am sending you my love.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Still in Kagbeni... READ THIS ONE SAYS TOM!

July 10th. Still in Kagbeni, and still spending the rupees like chaff in the wind, to post from here! Jane again, speaking for Jenna and Sherrie and Jason on a fine and as-usual gale-force sunny afternoon at the crux of the Kali-Gandaki and Jhong Rivers out here in Mustang. We have just had one of our most intense filming days. At 8 a.m. we were all out, Jason in a Tibetan man's chest-crossed long blue tunic, and Sherrie, Jenna, and I all dressed again in Tibetan women's clothing, courtesy of our friend here, Pema Dhoka, whose mother-in-law owns the Red House lodge. The local people all nodded approval rather than scoffed at our trying this clothing, so it felt good to seem to be respectful for the lama's arrival, which happened only about two hours later than we had expected. In these two hours, we observed this village's many preparations--tables set out along the crooked road with copper pots brimming with black hollyhocks and magenta dahlias, bowls of barley grains holding up incense sticks, Buddhist flags--and climbed to the heliocopter landing spot, a rare flat space on a mountain above town, and waited, with local children, some policemen, and many Buddhist lamas. By now, we know a few people in every crowd, who recognize us as the people from the Jomsom festival, or as Tsampa's friends, and we get many friendly nods and wags of the head. A good friend here gave Sherrie a ride up to the landing pad on his motorcycle, which gives you some idea of how at home we are feeling.

The lama's heliocopter had to come from Kathmandu, and then had to pass us and go beyond us, up-valley, to Lo, where the lama was waiting. Half and hour later, the heliocopter returned. I think none of us had ever had a heliocopter land just yards from us, and we all squatted and faced aways from the wave of grit that hot our backs. But then we were standing, and welcomed, as westerners, to photograph and to shoot video footage right up front, with absolutely no distance or reserve. The lama who emerged is one of the Sakya Buddhist sect's three head lamas (there are four main Buddhist sects, so think of this man as one of the higest twelve lamas in the Tibetan Buddhist world). His name is Ngor Ludhing Khen Rinpoche. The entire town was out to greet him, and no National Geographic or other documentary I have ever seen compared to what we saw first-hand today. Jenna is solar-charging one of her batteries now--I can not begin to tell you where she stood and what as a videographer she had access to, this morning; and Sherrie is looking through her prize photographs, some of which are among the best photographs I have ever seen.

For our team, this day will stand as a magnificent example of how hungry people are for ethics, morality, and wise teachings about compassion in exile, to use the filmmaker Mickey Lemle's words. This is 2007, but every aspect of Tibetan Buddhist culture was alive and vibrant today in Kagbeni. When the lama ducked out of the heliocopter, he was extremely cheered to see us--westerners--I think because he knows that our work will in some ways, tomorrow, reach a vaster audience than his beautiful chanting will, today. The burning juniper branches, the lamas with walking beside him with a huge golden parasol to cover his way, the ornamental flag-bearers, the cymbal-players, the seashell-horn-blowers, the children presenting flowers, the women singing to greet him, and the village walking behind him to the 500-year-old adobe monastery--all so beautiful and out-of-time.

Not by coincidence do the types of books left behind by other travelers in these parts include such titles as what I picked up today and have begin re-reading (this is an old classic that I once read aloud to Iris, in her childhood): Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World, about a surly, passionate, and irascible professor who claims to have seen pterydactyls upriver from the Amazon, and who claims to know about a plateau beyond contemporary imagination. Sherrie and Jason and Jenna and I are in a village that is in some ways a lost world, but in more ways, if our work succeeds, will be a world better re-discovered. I am so proud to be working with my team, and so happy that our path keeps getting crossed by amazing sights and adventures and people. Tashi Deleg, and we hope all of you are well.

Monday, July 9, 2007

From Jenna About June 28th
Happy belated b-day Ana Schmidt and Burke

The festival in Jomsom was an amazing event. The food prepartions started several days before-- over 20 women huddled on the floor washing and cutting veggies, frying bread, and steaming rice. Tsampa hand printed prayer flags, and decorated offering bowls with clay, other men helped set up the community hall and folded katas(blessing scarves) They day of the festival, the comotion started early (5 ish) for breakfast we were served curried veggies, popcorn, puffed rice and chai tea, then Tsampa and his wife Karma presented the 6 women in our group with Chubas (the traditional dress for Tibetan women. YES Iris, your mom wore a purple DRESS!!!! They also had a special red silk outfit for Joey 1 and 1/2-- the youngest member of out team. 9:30 Am the procession from the dancing yak to the community hall- Jane and I carried the rolled up thanka (amchi painting) and followed a drummer down the street with a large crowd following and looking on. Once in the community hall there was much discussion and arguing about how and where to hang the painting. 11 am the ceremony started--- FYI in Nepal before you talk in a microphone or everytime you pause for even a minute it is customary to blow in the microphone to be sure it is working---- so there were speeches, by Tsampa, and a few polotical figures and the great man who runs the little shop across the street where we buy TP and snickers. Then Jane and I spoke-- unfortunately we both forgot to blow in the microphone-- I hope people did not think we were too disrespectful of that custom. Tsampa's son Tsewang translated for us. Then there was a lot of dancing-- traditional Tibetan dancers, and Napali dancers and Indian dancers all in traditional costumes (they danced their hearts out to crackly tape cassette music) Tsampa presented Jane with a gift of a Lama table he had carved and painted. He presented the rest of our team w3ith blessing scarves. Then FOOD was served to all the people in attendance (hundreds maybe??) Rice, curried veggies, Tibetan bread, and chai tea. Guests in attendance all presented katas to Tsampa, his wife, Jane and the rest of the team. Jane and Tsampa had on so many blessing scarves that their faces were getting covered up. The painting was taken down and carried like a banner, Tsampa, Jane and about 30 other riders on horseback led a parade doen the street. Joey was even swooped up by a Tibetan man on a horse and he rode in the parade. Women sang and danced as we headed down the street, horns, drums and other instruments palyed and people sang, danced, and cheered. I am thrilled to say that I had my camera focused on Jane' face as she rode past me and the wind blew, picking up the katas from around her neck wrapping them completely around her face--- funny!!! once the thanka was taken into the dancing Yak (its temp home) the horse racing began. Men in colorful Traditional Tibetan outfits races up and down the cobble stone streets on horses hanging off one side of the saddle trying to pick up katas from the ground. I looked up one time to see Eric Pories (Joey's dad) galloping down the street to give it a try. He recieved the loudest cheers as he galloped his petit pony, smiling and waving his arm towards the katas. We ate, danced, and laughed till 11 pm. Though the Tibetan women did 90 % of the singing and dancing, we americans also entertained them... Eric brought out a twister game and we taught them how to play. Just before midnight our team met out on the front stoop to share a glass of wine and toast the success of the day (thanks for the bottle of West Va winewine Kim, Jim, Debra, Eric). Right after they sang happy birthday to me a guy from NY who was staying across the street came over and said it was his birthday too. He played a roubnd of twister then disapeared into the night. The festival (and my birthday) were magical. I hope the video and pictures can do it justice.

gotta go I have spent a fortune (I am a slow typist and a pit speller so this is a slow process for me). Jenna
Part II about Jomsom, being posted from Kagbeni by Jane.
Shops in Jomsom town are closet-sized, displaying a few imported tubes of toothpaste, post cards, bottled water, practical hardware for kerosene lamps and gas cookers, and kitchenware, a few covered pans and a few drinking glasses. Then there is the tailor, the barber, the launderer, the aorline ticket office for conforming tickets on the tiny planes that come in when the winds are not too harch, and the little stone rooms constituting the schools, where we have been fortunate to visit and film and meet wonderful teachers. A few motorcycles now beep down the cobbled street each day--Tsampa's is the newest and most handsome, flown in a few months ago, a gorgeous candy-apple red concoction. Jenna noted that the last6 time we were here, at duck, just outside the windows of The Dancing Yak, Tsampa would be curry-combing his horse, but today, he is mostly wiping won his red cycle. These motorcyles sometimes carry two stoic men, and sometimes a stoic man driving a stoic but peacock-appareled woman. Once a day, aan Indian-built Mahindra jeep may blare through town, a completely new and incongruous piece of smelly progress, made to seat six, but overstuffed each time with fifteen passngers and their sacks and boxes. But the cows, the bony mules, aand the off-duty horses still wander down the street, ears and bottom lips loose and limp, gait based on the model of very slow Wordsworthian clouds.

Seven years ago, Jomsom's airstip was not paved; neither was its road cobbled. Electricity was rare, and every night was measured by a single pale candle. Heliocopters would not fly routinely overhead with passengers to going to holu Mukhtinath. Only the stars, the planets, rainblows, and a few highly adept Tibetan lamas could hold the skies for so long.

The natural structures which rise precipitously behind the buildings of Jomsom are larger than hills buyt not quite correctly mountains, on several counts. For one thing, they look like petrified blonde lava, tracheal floes of rock punctuated by small dark caves out of which it would be thinkable for pterydactyls to emerge. If this were New Mexico, the green spots would be pinon, but her, the few scrub plants are a ground juniper, an almost nauseatingly pungent variety of sage, and a few other small-blooming ground herbs, along with the valuable but prickly seabuckthorn bushes with their treaured vitamin-rich hips. These geologic mountain-like things rising just yards from us seem like a giant herd of fossilized rhinoceruses, with their great heads and horns bent down and lost under ground, hard, impenetrable, fixed in this bowed posture for all time. But as the rain stops, the rocks seem to soften and turn to animal hide, half-returning the stone to life. Water has this power in Jomsom and along the route to the Tibetan steppe=lands: to reverse death, to disguise age, to clear the dry air of hot dangers, and to find the river, which in turn finds the dark fieds, which find the July markets here in Jomsom, in the phantasmagoric shapes of green beans, cauliflowers, beets, carrots, cabbages, greens, onions, and potatoes.

And, just above town, above everything I have described, even above tne soon-to-be-built Nepal Telecommunications mobile tower and the enrmous scars which will be necessary to bolt this tower onto one of these mountains, sits the perfect=postured Nilgiri, the eight=tallest peak in the world, and, just to the other side of town, there is the tip of Dhaulagiri, the fifth-tallest. Pure white snow, the grandmothers of rivers. In this town, the painting now hangs, and we are honored to be here to live in the presence of our village friends for a few days, enjoying the thousand meals that Tsampa's indomitable wife Karma always prepares for us. Tashi Deleg to all of our friends. Finally, dear Emerson, thank you for taking care of so many things at the house for me--please keep writing, since you are my favorite gothic storyteller in the world; and Barbara and Jessica, huge thanks to you for managing the hearts, litterboxes, and stomachs of all my many beloved cats--your own hearts are dear to me; and Iris, oceans of love and good luck and tashi deleg for your MCATs on July 13th. I am so proud of you and Emerson and all our friends. Love, Jane
Today is July 9th, but I am writing about yesterday, before we walked back up to the village of Kagbeni. Jane here, while Jenna and Sherrie and Jason are out hunting footage of the village's preparations for a special lama coming to town tomorrow morning at 8 a.m.; we are not only invited, but the woman who runs the Red House hotel, our friend Pema, has promised to dress us all appropriately. Her small daughter is one of a few children who gets to greet the lama with a flower. One message to our teammates who fly home tomorrow: we MISS you. Tom, keep posting those photographs--some of them came up and others didn't (but then again, this is a Kagbeni computer we are talking about). Reba, the whole country already misses you, but no one more than your roommates. Diane, I hope you got the khatags you wanted, and I know that seeing Sunil again for dinner at his and Sarita's home was amazing. Belinda, Mary (my sister), Kirby, Anna Sankei in Norway who is NOT a Norwegian, Beth, Bev, all of you who respoded to our last e-mail, thank you, and please do keep posting responses to this blog. You sweeten our days and our work with your writing. And let me say one other thing: lucky people who are getting Reba and Tom and Ken back, and lucky us to have had them for these brief weeks. Jason and Sherrie and Jenna and I hope the trip was everything our earlier-departing friends could have dreamed.

Now, about the village of Jomsom, where our thang=ka now hangs, amazingly! In the afternoons, especially if it rains, our group sometimes sits in a glassed-in rooftop room here, overlooking part of the village of Jomsom. We order roasted peanuts and masala chai, and write and read and watch this one-street town. From this vantage point, I can see nine trees, some of them junipers and the others, short willows. I see a bare-footed, bow-legged, short sadhu, a wandering Hindu pilgrim, walking alone down the street, with his right hand holding his gleeming brass cooking pot out from the plastic, possibly to gather rain for his evening drink. I see twon Nepali women in plastic sandals, dressed in salwar khameezes, pants with calf-length shirts, drenched in their cotton head-scarves, clutching themselves against the rain. One wears mango and teal; the other , sky-blue and tobacco-broown. On the cobblestone street, half-yaks and mules and an occasional dog or horse wander by, seeming to go nowhere, but going somewhere, unsupervised. Puddles collect on the crooked grey pieces of inset slate. Here come twenty monks, in saffron and red, or burgundy and red, one of them in royal purple socks. This delegation is leading one plastic-swaddled monk on a white horse. At forst we think he is the elderly and kind-faced Japanese gentleman who has started a fisheries plantation here (but who eats fish?); then we think he is a woman, a nun; but no, this is a monk, in Tibetan robes, with a round face and a motherly expression. We wonder, Who?

The buildings here all have flat roofs, most of them covered with smooth earth, and lined, rectangularly, with knee-high stacks of of short, wiry firewood. On some of the roof-tops are black plastic water-collecting ttanks, misspent planks, and open spaces good for looms or for large circular hand-woven trays on which to dry chilies of hlaved apricots, when the sun is out. Some trays hold apricot pits, cracked open for their single, oily nut.

Since it is summer, no tourists are here. The guidebooks direct the tourists to visit in the fall, when the skies are flawless, and thirty thousand trekkers will obey. But now the lodges, including Tsampa's Dancing Yak, are quiet, mostly empty. That is why our festival felt thoroughly local, a thousand Nepalis and Tibetans, , counting the groups who trooped in from far-flung villages like Manang and Lubra and Jharkot in the days immediately following the main festival, when word of the huge thang-ka of Amchi Tsampa spread up and down river. This local population, compared to maybe twenty-five foreigners: our crew and friends; a young Dutch couple who happened into town at the right moment to get good seats in the community center during the festival; a wonderful Ameriucan family from Dartmouth and a sweet American woman from Seattle and her two Nepali-adopted kids; and--fantastically--a woman from Norway in her late fifties, perhaps, named Line (say it, Lena) Tvete, who had (are you ready?) ridden her BICYCLE alone from Norway, through Europe, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, and Indai. We felt honored to have her writing grace Tsampa's comment book which now accompanies the painting, and thrilled to have her ask such perceptive and patient questions about the thang-ka which vistors must look up to for several minutes, it seems, before they say a word. Good luck to you, Line, and thanks for your inspiration! I will send this much, and continue with Part II of Jomsom.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Hi everyone. As Tom reported, we are back in Kathmandu and are enjoying the cushy life of real mattresses with sheets, hot showers and TOILET PAPER! Woohoo! My last night at the Dancing Yak in Jomsom, Jane and Jenna demanded that I only use 3 (single-ply) sheets of our shared toilet paper (You have to supply your own). Don't tell, but I used 5! (haha)
I am closer to getting back home where I want to be, but I desperately miss the rest of our crew and feel just a little twinge of jealousy that they are going into upper Mustang. Only a few permits per year are given to those who want to go into that region where it is even more untouched by change than the places we have visited.
I came here fully expecting to land into this totally foreign world, where nobody looks like me, talks like me, dresses or thinks like me, and everthing around me looks nothing like I have ever seen before. Part of that has proved to be true. I have never seen the likes of chaos like here in Kathmandu. I have never seen this much poverty. I have never seen landscapes like this, from the terraced crop fields to the gigantic mountains that are so huge, grey and snow-covered, that they cannot be real even though you are right there staring at them.
And it is true that the people here don't look or talk like me. But somehow I have found many familiar things here. I've watched Karma (Tsampa's wife) churn butter just like my Granny Surratt used to do. I watched twelve Tibetan women sit in a circle on the floor and string a basket of green beans, which reminded me of sitting under the tree between my parents house and Aunt Mavis' house, doing the same thing. I've watched men ride and work their horses. (Grandpa Webb) These people work hard every day with almost nothing to show for it materialistically. And they all seem happy. It reminds me of what life must have been like for my parents and grandparents growing up.
The women here offer you tea several times a day. They ask if you are hungry. As we walked these very long, dusty and rocky trails between villages, every person we would meet, whether they were in a group or carrying some obscenely large basket full of who-knows-what strapped to their heads, EVERY single person would meet your eye and say, "Namaste". Greeted warmly by every stranger you meet, that's Nepal.
Tonight we are again invited to our friend Sunil's house for dinner. I hope his wife Sarita doesn't cook as much as she did the last time....
Mary and Ella, I will see you soon. Save hugs and kisses for me.
Love to everyone,

Resting in Kathmandu

Tom here. It's been a slow day for Reba, Diane and I in Kathmnandu today. I went to Bouddanath with our friends Debra and Eric and their 14 month-old Joey this morning, guided by our intrepid friend and driver Sunil, who is having us all over for a Nepali dinner tonight.

One last story from Kag Beni, where we were kept up the first time through by barking dogs directly outside our window, where a brown and white pup hung out on the neighbor's roof and barked all night long, seemingly right in our ears.

I have a confession... after only sleeping for about 3 hours in 2 nights and after hiking the Thorung La, I needed some sleep, and my addled brain hatched a plan. Before going to bed I took a little bit of leftover apple fritter (Mustang is famous for it's orchards) and broke off a little corner of an Ambien sleeping pill and stuffed it inside and put it on the windowsill.

I fell straight asleep and slept through a quiet night. When I woke up, refreshed, I stood up and looked out the window, where sure enough, my little friend was sleeping soundly. Have no fear, he woke up fine, but only long enough to growl a little and go find a shady corner to sleep some more. Does that make me a bad person?
Love to all,

Friday, July 6, 2007

Muktinath: Failure to Summit II

Tom here... Jane's last post, so beautifully written, documents her experience on the Thorung La pass, which both of us failed to reach. Here's my version:

I was the first to turn back, maybe at about 16,500 feet, still about 2,000 feet higher than I'd ever been before. I was feeling good, taking about 30 steps and then resting, slowly making my way up the mountain, when my stomach decided that I'd gone far enough. I won't go into details, but let's just say my status went from FWC (farting with confidence, sorry mom) to NFWC, and I knew that going any higher only meant a harder trip back down. I was disappointed, but it turned out to be a good thing that i turned back down the mountain just as it started to rain.

The walk back down was much faster than the way up, but I was tiring so I stopped at an old ruin of a building on a ridge. I decided that it would be a good place to hang the prayer flags I'd been carrying in hopes of leaving them at the top of the pass, and decided to sit on a stone bench and say a little prayer for the safety of my family. I bowed my head for a few minutes and then heard a bell signaling the approach of someone or something behind me. I looked up to see a kind yak herder and his two pack horses. He said, "No English" and I said, "No Nepali or Tibetan" and we looked at each other for a moment. I could tell that he was a little concerned about a westerner being alone on this ridge as the fog closed in on the trail. I stayed for a few minutes more before opening my pack and tying the flags between the ruin and a pile of rocks nearby.

When I started down the hill again I noticed that the herder waited behind me and made sure that I was between him and two guys who were with him, guiding the yaks down the mountain. I felt extra safe on the slippery switchbacks knowing that they were there. When I cleared the trickiest part, they aimed themselves and the herd straight down the ridge, bypassing the switchbacks, and left me by myself on the mountain in a gentle rain, picking my way down the trail. I was being watched by an orange billed crow, and could hear marmots and other critters skittering and chattering on the trail.

About 3:30 I made it back to the Mona Lisa Hotel and took a shower and ordered a hot tea. Around 4:00 a shivering Jane arrived, hypothermic. I was glad i was there to take care of her, and turned on the shower for her and got her some of Sherrie's clothes, as Reba had Jane's room key. When Jane came down to the dining room she was still shivering and not quite as coherent as usual, but after two hot bowls of garlic tomato noodle soup and a small pot of masala chai she crawled into Sherrie's sleeping bag to warm up. By the time Jason arrived from the summit at 4:40 Jane was making sense again.

Jenna was next in the door, then Diane, who had reached the top just behind Jason, and finally Reba and Sherrie. The climb took a lot out of everyone... almost 5,000 vertical feet in one day. Last night at the guest house I read in a book about Mt. Everest that most alpine expeditions only ascend about 1,000 vertical feet a day in order to acclimatize, so even almost making it to the top is quite an accomplishment. Next time I want to come from the other side of the mountain, from Manang, where the climb is less steep.
Love to all,

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Mukhtinath and a Failure to Summit

These are Jane’s notes about July 2 being typed on July 5 in Kathmandu by Reba, since Jane is still out west.

After our amazing festival in Jomsom, where the painting now hangs, our team of seven (plus our great West Virginia friends Debra and Eric, and their gorgeous baby Joey) had the tremendous fortune to walk for days to the northern-most, twelve-o’clock point along the Annapurna circuit of ancient trails out west here in Nepal. This ultimate village is called Ranipauwa, where we stayed with Tsampa’s brother-in-law and his wife, in their rustic Hotel Mona Lisa. From this spot, we took day walks down into a valley, visiting Tsampa’s exquisite nunnery, Tarba Chuling, and his “born village,” the remote and untouristed and most definitely ungentrified Chhenghor.
But Ranipauwa itself is far less famous than the holy pilgrimage site a twenty minute uphill walk beyond it. This destination is Mukhtinath, and it is revered not only in Nepal but the length of the Indian subcontinent. Pilgrims from even the southern-most tip of India, for thousands of years, have walked (and hobbled) for months to reach the holy site of Mukhtinath. Like all pilgrimages, part of the sacred experience derives from the sheer difficulties overcome in reaching the place, which raises interesting questions about the very recent addition of a crude new heliocopter landing pad, where a Russian-piloted chopper now makes noisy runs to deliver a dozen rich and sedentary Indians at a time within a few yards of the fabled gates of holy Mukhtinath.
Mukhtinath is two sites simultaneously. It is a holy site for Hindus, mostly for worshippers of the Himalayan god Shiva. Our culture at home seems to me quick to dichotomize: rich/poor, young/old, white/black, marriage/divorce, female/male. And although the Christian god does manifest as a Trinity, Christians I think closely guard the fact that the Holy Trinity is still One God. Hindus, too, speak of Moksha, a Heaven-like Over-Soul, like a big circle lassoed around the festive pantheon of Hindu gods; a kind of “Everything” idea. But Hindus are in love with a crowd, and so their God prefers to stay divided into a dizzying number of personalities, much more divers than just the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Anyway, there is certainly the dichotomy in Christianity between Heaven and Hell, which is also the opposition of God and that ultimately arrogant, failed angel, Lucifer, the Devil. Maybe because our western religious imagination has the habit of this good-bad dichotomy, the Hindu god Shiva has a particularly bad reputation in the west.
He is known as Shiva the Destroyer, but this way of calling his name is misleading. Shiva is simply the aspect of nature that worms, vultures, and maggots represent. Shiva oversees decomposition. He is The Composter. Without the energy he represents, life would be no journey, just stasis. He is part of a triumvirate in the crowded Hindu pantheon, one of the Big Three boy-gods, as my friend Suzi Gablik would say. Shiva the Destroyer cooperates with Brahma the Creator and Vishnu the Preserver. Think of Shiva as late autumn in your garden. Vishnu is winter, preserving sap and life-force in clever seeds. Brahma gets to star as spring and summer, but he would lose favor on Broadway without his co-stars. There would be no re-incarnation (Vishnu) without death (Shiva) and life (Brahma); these three gods know their gardening and their theatre, and not one of them is a devil, inexplicably mean or evil.
So I like Shiva. I like many of his stories. I really like Brahma and Vishnu, too, but not as much as I like the girls-gods in Hinduism. The Indigo Girls are their choir.
Mukhtinath is, simultaneously, a Buddhist pilgrimage site. Over to the far right, beyond the many shrines and temples to Shiva, is one low, unpretentious, rock building. Buddhists bend to enter the undersized door, and one’s first impression is of grime and smut and near-total-darkness. In this smoky, blackened, juniper-acrid room, over on the floor, rises a little adobe hump with a screen grill over the front. When your eyes finally adjust, you see through the gummy grill a small blue flame, smelling of a gas pilot light. And then your eyes adjust again, and by only the light of this pale fire reflecting, you now see a boisterous little umbilical spring of water gurgling up out of the earth four inches from where the earth cracks open to allow the blue fire. Then you realize what you are beholding: earth, fire, water, air, and the fifth Tibetan element, mind; all five elements in the same space. For this confluence, for being in the presence of this balance, Buddhist pilgrims come from all over the world. This grimy, primal cave of all ingredients is my draw to Mukhtinath. I re-emerge from this natural shrine equipped with new, secret colors on my palette and a more subtle education about the anatomy of love.
Meanwhile, just outside, powerful torrents of freezing Himalayan glacier-melt muscle into dozen of unruly streams, diverging crazily through the property, channeled somehow into dozens of audaciously engineered irrigation ditches. The place is loud with water.
And thanks to this wild water, larches and willows green Mukhtinath into a rare oasis, in an otherwise harsh Himalayan moonscape. (Each tree, incidentally, is thought to be a walking stick, plunged into the earth by some ancient pilgrim) And, from the tangled branches, all the strings of five-colored prayer flags add the campy festivity of a state fair. But ten yards behind these trees, the world shifts.
Immediately behind the shrines of Mukhtinath sit the race of giants whose great stone toes few people ever approach, the enormous and unfathomably vertical Himalayas. These giants have no peers-nothing comparable. They are bigger than planets, and they stare down outer-space. There is one single way into their realm, a god-awful vertical path, invisible except to the most determined and intrepid, an ascent through boulders and broken, rising pastures and over granite-grey river sources and straight up alongside dizzying precipices that make King Kong’s Skull Island look like Disneyland. This path traces the infamous backside of one of the huge Himlayas, and it is called the Thorung-La (say it, TORE-ung la), 18,000 feet tall.
“La” means “pass” in Tibetan, so think of this path not as the trail leading up the profile of North Carolina’s old Grandfather Mountain, but more like Jack’s beanstalk spiraling above the clouds, making the only way in this part of Nepal to cross this particular range of the otherwise impassable Himalayas.
Jenna and I crossed this pass in January, 2001, from the other (easier) side, in a blizzard. This time, our team of seven attempted. Five of us have incredible stories of victory to tell, but I wanted to address what all the serious Himalayan climbers call “failure to summit,” since I am one of two who did not reach the very top.
Climbing this mountain requires fitness, patience, and will. These I had, even after six hours. But suddenly, at 17,000 feet, 40 minutes from the top, we were hit with rain, sleet, and a driving wind from the top of the mountain. In three minutes I was drenched and shivering convulsively-the one of us without a raincoat. Andrea, if I wore the one you gave me, I too would’ve summited, but I thought my fleece was enough. I failed from this simple technical point.
As a result, I had a four-hour descent alone, with sleet in my hair, my hands numb (though I was badly sunburned from two days before). I saw one enormous wild yak, a few bird, and not another soul. I saw clouds shaped like gigantic sea-horses and tortoises outpace and swallow me. I saw glaciers practicing yoga. I noticed edelweiss and creeping juniper and dwarf azaleas and miniature primulas blooming. I was devoured again by clouds. I became lost briefly. I slipped in mud and nearly sailed off raw edges. And, finally, I became mindless, like a rock, like a cloud, like drizzle, and sleet, and breathing, without any certainty of a safe destination.
Failure to summit. I did miss standing at the very top, but in my wild walk down the enormous mountain, alone, I was reduced to pure quiet vision, and this is what I saw: my children. Jenna. My family. My friends. Animals. Plants. Painting. Teaching. Walking. Moving. Mountains. Rivers. Villages. A Buddhist nunnery in the far distance, nestled in yellow wheat and green pea fields. Prayer flags. Nothing else necessary.

Jane's email about the festival

Hey all... Tom here...
Reba and Diane and I are safely back in Kathmandu, the land of hot showers and toilet paper and towels and clean sheets, but we're already missing the other members of the team we left behind in Jomsom today. Jane sent this email the other day to some of you, but I thought you'd all like to read it.

Hello Our Friends, This is the one and only place that has e-mail service in a
far and wide expanse of wild territory, but it seems to be working. I hope so.
We are all well, all of us, and all of us send you our love. We got the
painting to Jomsom despite the warnings from the first wave of airport people
on Pokhara that the plane simply could not under any circumstances hold the
tube that held the brocaded thang-ka. But when the officials saw the letter
from the Office of the Dalai Lama, the plane grew and the huge tube rode on
board with us in the aisle. And let me just say that yesterday, Jenna's
birthday, was a HUGE festival for A Gift for The Village. We have footage that
is better than anything I have EVER seen in ANY documentary about Tibet, no
exceptions, and I have seen them all. We now have our documentary. We had
hundreds of people in full dress with huge leather strips from their foreheads
to their backs studded with fist-sized chunks of turquoise and then the men
with hats bigger than Santa Claus himself. We had singers, dancers, a member
of parliament, the captain of the Mountain Warfare Royal Nepal Army, the
District and Village chiefs, the hig old lamas who were Tsampa's father's
friends, and horses racing down main street to with riders at a gallop hanging
off to one side trying to pick up prayer scarves from the cobblestone. We had
an amazing gathering in the town community center and then a procession
afterwards to carry the open thang=ka back to the Dancing Yak with Tsampa, the
old high lama from Marpha (nearby) anconet village and me on dressed up horses,
and JOEY riding on another horse beside me regally in the lap of another lama,
and I think I had on eighty prayer scarves that people piles on my neck, and
there were horns and bells and drummers and the whole town. It was amazing,
and we all (yes, even Jane) were wearing chubas--Tsampa bought us all these
Tibetan dresses and aprons--and little Joey was wearing a red silk lama's robe
that Tsampa had made! We all sang and danced into the night with a house
absolutely full of Tibetan women whose chunks of coral and turquoise should
have made them crumple, and we were all SO tired last night that we didn't even
have the energy to say much, except OH MY GOD--IT HAPPENED!!! We had the
festival of festivals, and the painting is home now, and it looks GREAT, and
word is spreading all over Nepal (Tsampa is getting callsfrom Kathmandu,
congratulating him) and the Ministry of Tourism wants to commend him for his
part in this great cultural event. Tom and Jenna and Sherrie worked their
hearts out yesterday to film and photograph. And the rest of us worked hard
too to help be in the right places for the team. We are all doing so well.
Emerson, I got your GREAT e-mail about the cats, and I loved it! Iris, I miss
you and Emeson terribly and hope you are okay. Kagbeni is beautiful with all
the willow trees so green, but the wind in the afternoons is fierce. Tomorrow
we walk UP to Mukhtinath and then stay two nights there. We are thinking of
attempting the Thorung-la from this side--the more difficult side--that's the
high pass (18,000 feet) day after tomorrow. We will all be careful. Reba is
doing GREAT, Carl, and so is Diane, Ken. And Beth, Tom is doing great.
Michele and Larry, your children are doing wonderfully and they and the rest of
us miss all of you! Sarah, Sherrie is not only well, she is going to bring you
the best photographs in the world. Iris and Emerson, I will write as soon as I
can again, but all of you should rest easy since it may be some days or weeks
before we can write again. Our festival was an A+ success! And everything is
fine! I love my kids and I know ou team sends love to everyone from this wild
corner of our world. Jane

Back to civilization - Tom Reba and Diane

OK, we all know that it's been a while since anyone heard from us – first things first: we're all fine. Reba, Diane and I just returned to Kathmandu after some amazing times in Mustang, in and around Jomsom. I haven't been able to read any of your comments yet, because the connection here is pretty slow, but those of us with a connection will try to fill you in over the next few days.
Beth: I love and miss you! I'll try to call in a few hours after you wake up.

I'm going to start with the day before the festival day in Jomsom, which was amazing. The women began cooking a day in advance, starting with the buying of fresh cauliflower and greens at 5:30 in the morning on the front steps of the Dancing Yak, Tsampa and Karma (his wife)'s hotel in Jomsom. There were probably 20 women cooking and cutting, including all of the women in our group. By the time I got up at 7:30 the courtyard was filling up with bodies, and there were wood fires and propane stoves lit everywhere. There were frequent breaks for tea – yak butter tea for the locals and milk tea for the rest of us.

Meanwhile Tsampa and his brothers were cutting katas, or prayer shawls, for hundreds of guests. Then Tsampa and another lama went into the shrine room and made special dough decorations to help bless the ceremony. I'll let Jane explain that one, but let me tell you it was very cool. Tsampa also printed 5 big prayer flags using ink and a wood block he carved himself when he was 16, and they were hung outside the hotel.

Then it was down to the community center, a big brick building by the airport, where the men swept the floor, set up folding chairs and argued and discussed where to hang the tangka. The whole town was mobilized. Tsampa thinks there were a thousand people there, but I'd estimate closer to 500.

It started to rain, but that didn't stop a group of guys from going behind the community center for some archery. I think there was money on the line, but I couldn't quite figure out the betting.

The next day we got up at 5 for more craziness. I shot video of Karma milking a cow for the day's butter (Jenna had done the same, and better, the day before). More vegetables were bought from the women who carry them through town in huge wicker baskets they carry on their backs. A group of women began singing/chanting old songs that they knew by heart, a sound that would continue through the festival and into the next morning. We both shot nonstop all day – the preparations, the procession to the community hall led by drummers, Jenna and Jane in nepali clothes (yes, Jane wore a dress, and we have pictures!!) carrying the tangka to the community hall, the unveiling before the community, the speeches and dances and songs, the beautiful altar constructed in front of the painting, more speeches, another processional back to the Dancing Yak, this time with Jane and Tsampa and lots of other guys on horses, a contest of picking up scarves off the street from horseback at breakneck speed, more eating and singing… I'll leave it to others in the group to fill in the blanks, but you should all be aware that it was a huge deal, and amazing to all of us who were there.

I'm going to check my email now, but we'll send more later, and hopefully add a few pictures. Love to all!