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2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,500 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Tea, Sex and Temples

Just as when one spends time with another and their character is slowly revealed, locations, places and landscapes slowly unravel  themselves.  As mists come and go, the hills unfold before me, each day another revelation, another loose thread that I try knotting to a string of stories. Not that the revelations necessarily imply clarity. This land is filled with ancient mysticisms and stirring stories. Where do fiction and truth meet?

On the horizon.

I look out beyond the hills once more. Light was pushing its way through. I waited for another glimpse of the white caps behind the mist but it was not to be.

Secrets are shared slowly here.

As I stare at the moving light, her cracked voice and cackling laughter pierces my mind again. I know she enjoyed herself and the looks she managed to provoke on my face….her eyes slanting towards me, she had asked if I wanted to know.

I lowered my eyes as I tasted the bitter tea which I was growing accustomed to. Thoughtfully I looked at her, this tiny wizened woman, slanted eyes teasing me, provoking me. Yes. I wanted to know. When did I ever pass a dare? Besides,  I knew she was eager to share.

We made ourselves comfortable, taking care not to upset the few possessions she had displayed in the room. As in most homes, this room had multi-puposes. We sat cross-legged and stretched out, savouring tea and buffalo milk. Her smile widened before she fell silent and reflected back into time.

Her voice wove incidents and journeys of the past.

“All of us had to go. It was expected to leave the fields and celebrate at the temple. We would wear our best and brightest clothes, and thread jewlery in our headscarves. The young girls were especially excited to see young men from other villages….

ah….yes……that feeling is still here today….”

And she laughed, continuing, “look around you, look at these girls today, wearing colours on their faces before they have turned into women!”, nodding her head, she took another gulp of tea, making sure her audience was listening and carried on.

“We walked then. We walked from one hill to another; we knew the days because of the hills we had to cross. We knew the villages by the hills.  There was always a parade of people when going to that temple over the hills, some praying already, others planning. I was young enough to dance and sing my way with the other children. But..”, she stopped as her eyebrows frowned, “that year I had a feeling that my sisters were keeping something away from me.”

I poured her fresh, hot tea and placed another soft biscuit by her cup.

There had been whispers about a visting sadu and virgin girls. Whispers in the fields, whispers at the doors. There was to be no wedding until after the sadu had left the temple and had gone back to where ever he had come from. Whispers of stories, whispers by the stairway leading to the temple.

“By the time we arrived at the temple, excitement was high in the air and everywhere villagers were pouring in. They brought gifts, live stock, sqawking chickens and roosters, coloured rice and ribbons. Smiles and laughter announced the youth arriving, while the serious elderly prayed even more fervently. It was the next day when I woke up and went looking for my sister that I heard. My sister sat with her friends outside the house and they all were talking. About the new sadu.”

Silence. She drank her tea and shifted her tired, swollen legs. I scrutinized her face, her beautiful deep wrinkles from years of working in the fields,  her delicate skin and high ragged cheekbones. Where had her memory taken her? Would she return from that alley of memories?

In a hoarse whisper, she emerged back,  “She had gone. The prettiest girl of our village. Just disappeared.

Her body was never found….Some say it was the handsome sadu, others say she was bewitched and still lives in the jungle  in a shape unknown to us, imprisoned by her unearthly beauty and  impluses.”

Again she pauses, long corridors of memories, words and hearsay, bubbling to the surface. After all these years she still seemed to struggle with the word.

Sex. Sexual desire. Sexual impulses. Sexual behavior.

Was it the audacity of a young, hot blood woman,  from her village, her world, imitating the behaviour of the carved dancers, inhibited, showing off their sexuality and lust, that intimidated her, now still, in her old age?

Was it the possibility of how, after leaving the tribe in the middle of the festivities, the fairest of all girls in the village, may have become the  sadu’s lover?

Or….as some elders at the time repeated, the temple’s sacrifice?

There are truths which are never disclosed. The temple remained as fortrified as the fort itself,  the sadu soon left the temple and the girl’s body was never found. Had she been cremated? Had her bones been pounded into dust then mixed with holy colours? Spread out to the hills and winds?

The elderly woman seemed drawn back into this time and with a deep sigh continued explaining, ” Buddhism brought the people a lot of good here but was becoming too restrictive, pushing out Hinduism and leaving it almost as a non-religion. The Hindus were not happy about this. People wanted sex to be celebrated and not hidden. They had had enough of puritanical living. ” A pause, as she stood up and walked towards the door, her eyes on the hills and beyond.

“Then came the British, then the Muslims;  both trying to deafen people’s ears to the sculptures. ” Silence.  A knowing smile.

She turned to us, still stretched on the floor, in the dimming light now, listening to every word, every wave of softer and louder tones in her voice. Almost a sea of tranquility. Almost a sea of assurance, comfort and reassurance. Almost.

“Sex? Those dancers are dancing for their lives, not for sex. That is what women do. They dance to live, they dance to balance demands of others, they dance to keep sane. They dance, confounding dangers and moving away from what may harm them.  And they dance…for their pleasure”. Her voice mellowed, memories of dances and swirls taking her back in time.

By then we had to light tea-candles inside. Was it the flickering light, my own recent memories of the temple and it’s dark, powerful atmosphere of physical sacrifices and disturbing sexual images? I needed fresh air, to  walk back before the sun set; I needed cool mists and splashes of rain on my skin. To wash away the old woman’s tales of sex hungry  sadus and lustful virgins?

I don’t know. Her stories and flashbacks of the temple left my memories rambling through other fictions, other lives and passions. Disturbing passions,  for these were alien traditions to many who came to visit. There was pain and violence, Death laughing as he jiggled his chains of darkness.

There was the phallus cult, the all powerful phallus, covered in red dust, red blood, red rice. Traces of fervent belief, fervent need. Religious? Carnal? Carved sex out of nature to show how natural sex is? I pinch myself for such naive hypotheses.

Perhaps it was the bloody remains, the darkening sky, the silence which echoed in the misty hills. There was the  reminder of sexual interaction as part of death, sex as cannabilism –  I recall Bataille, yet am disconcerned as my intellectual traditions have no place here.

I am a stranger here.

I want running water on my face and body to wash away the dark thoughts that surrounded me in the temple square. Cannabilism is not something I want to belong to me. It is not part of me.

I walk quickly, breathing in deep the green of fresh paddies, the dwindling light and red, vibrant earth.

Turning once more to the hills, to snow capped mountains beyond the mist,  I ask you, where shall we meet?

Where we have always met.

On the edge of light and lightness.

On the horizon.

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The Fort before the Temple

There it was. Finally. Looming against the skies of soft grey mists and sudden sunshine. With eyes wide shut, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Awesomeness? Living history?

After having seen so many intricate temples and ancient carvings throughout Asia, awesomeness came in small doses. Living history seemed to be all around me in Nepal, a contemporary history, well alive. Nevertheless, what awaited  me was unusual and far from my expectations.

Among the carved wooden windows there were bashful, cooing pigeons, pieces of dirty straw protruding out between the wooden peacocks, sterile serpents and mighty demons frozen in their stoney power.  A headless peacock peering down on visitors, colourful melted wax,  spilt grains and rice. Remains of a ceremony.

Up the Hill to the Temple on PhotoPeach

And silent mists.

This was not quite the temple, but the old fort built by the Newaris, confusing me with its sacrificial left overs. A basin of blood, a bloody stone stained with fresh blood. The temple itself was attached and made part of this fort. In my eyes, bloody sacrifices mingled with rot and decay, a festering of abandon throughout the years.

And the silence.

Everywhere there was a sense of forgetfulness, memories best left to the mist and hills. It was then that I spotted the soldier who  paced the fort in the slowest of motions and with his baton, indicated that I was not allowed in the smaller, presumably, holier quarters. The wooden door which appeared slightly ajar, was in fact locked; the bloody basin and stone, reminders of the freshly slaughtered lunch the soldiers had prepared. They were pleasant, their simple hospitality of smiles more welcoming than this fort rumbling with past pride. Their English was rudimentary, and their professionalism impeccable – no photos allowed. These young farmers had learnt their lesson well; young boys, plucked from the scattered villages, perched on the hill, waiting to become men as they wear their uniforms.

The sun suddenly broke the eery silence, bathing us in momentarily sparkling hues.  Looking outwards to the hilly terrain, one could only imagine how it must have felt to reign  a kingdom here. Fragile and feudal,  the Newaris had ruled.

Time. History blended into myths and mythologies for whenever one required that extra strength to carry on. For how else would one survive without myths?

It was time to head down the hill before the mists shrouded us once more.

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Sadus, Gurus and Tantrums

Summer is a time when sadus from across the southern border trek north, searching  for herbs and flowers which grow in the Nepalese hills.

Our journey through the western hills was at the beginning and our guide, K., who mistook himself to be a guru, was still in high spirits. Not only was he going to show off his knowledge of how to transit from Hinduism to Buddhism, but he would also explain all minutiae in rambling detail to us. This display, however, was not to last.

Shortly after Gorkha, we had our first encounter with a talkative guru,  yearning for a bit of company. K. fulfilled his mission by translating our questions and the sadu’s explanations, mostly on the nature and spirituality of herbs in the Nepalese hills. His stock was destined for India where he would stretch out healings and mystical promises to believers.

Summer days were busy in the hills for in the winter he could neither find these herbs nor could afford the time to travel north. Winter was spent in his homeland across the southern border.

Unlike other sadus who we met along our travels, he did not stretch out his hand expecting money. On the contrary, he was chirpy, welcoming us to his world of hoarded herbs and insisted that we chew some his precious collection.

With courteous smiles we slowly chewed the bitter leaves, crossing fingers that no unpleasant side effect would occur until we had arrived at a clean guesthouse. Crossing fingers while chewing a sadu’s hoard filled our karma with protective vibrations and to top it off, before leaving I smuggled some money into his hand. Gifted with a sadu’s grateful grin, we proceeded on our roads to the West.

With the warm sun, my mind lulled back to the temple.

Was it the altitude? Perhaps the ending of the day? The incoming mists?

Whatever the reason, my presence in that temple  left me feeling uncomfortable, dizzy, transporting my mind to past times. I pushed back these thoughts as K. once again began his deep monologue on the differences between Hinduism and Buddhism.

I glanced back at Susan, stifling giggles as she closed her eyes and lay back her head. K. was not telling us anything we did not know, with the added pace of speaking to us as if we were difficult children. At this point in time, still blessed by the sadu’s holy weeds, we kept quiet, politely accepting K.’s explanations.

The time would come when he would throw tantrums, much to the delight of the driver, and sneakily snatch Susan’s Lonely Planet before she decided where we were staying that evening.

Just as K. did not heed words of wisdom of  the far west, neither did he know Susan…

Tempting tantrums, contemporary gurus and sad sadus were still to come full circle.

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The Girl in Red who Wondered

I’ve heard the elders of the tribe talk by the fire at night.

When they whisper as they drink their strong tea, that is when I most want to listen to their words and nods of agreement. I know now. I know how other tribes look down on us and call us names. But…how would they know?

How would they know which berries to pick? How would they know which herbs are best for coughs and fevers and leeches’ bites?

Besides, no one passes by here much except those big noisy trucks, their black smoke making my stomach sick,  as my eyes burn. I wonder where they come from and where they are going.

I wonder about the places they see and the tribes they meet. Are they as stupid as we are supposed to be?

There are a lot of things I wonder about.

Sister tells me not to daydream so much and to pick the best berries. I look at her sideways and wonder more.

I know she thinks of marriage. I can tell by the way she helps mother and aunties while they cook. I can tell by the songs she sings when braiding her hair.  I just don’t know – yet – which boy in the village she is going to marry.

And I wonder…will she continue coming with me to the school? I will miss her laughter and stories if she doesn’t. It’s such a long, boring walk without her!

Just as I was trying to ask her who she thought of, and yes! it was just after that bright truck passed by, the most unusual happened. I still question who they were and what business they had in our hills. Those kind of people never come this way.

We were just about to reach the road and I was still nibbling my picked berries, when we gasped.  There it was. A white truck,  smaller than the others. We pretended not to notice it  and carried on our own business. Mother told us to stay close to her and not wander off.

We watched it carefully from the other side of the road, as a woman came out of the truck, then walked towards us. We still pretended to not see her. There were others in the car too. Auntie said it was time to go.

I looked back as I slowly shuffled my feet, my basket light,  as Mother had shared  my load. The same woman then came closer. This time she had objects  in her out-stretched hands which I so loved. And I wondered….

I was the first to accept them. Quickly sliding off my basket of ripe berries, I sat and looked longingly at the smooth white paper. This paper was smoother than silk! No murky lines, a sky of white to do what I like. And my colours! Brighter than the bits I had at the school. There was no one who was going to stop me now, not even the strange woman who crouched by us, with a stupid smile on her face. Did she think we did not know even how to hold a pencil? Did she also think we were backwards as the other tribes called us? Well, I would show her!

Sister was slower than me. But then again, she usually was. She stood there, too shy, too unsure of herself to accept this wonderful, sky-white paper. I told her to accept and give it to me – that did the trick! Mother and Auntie said it was alright to accept as my sister took her paper and colouring pencils. As she bent down, she fondled the pencils gently. I smiled and looked at her from my drawing. I had to concentrate. I wanted straight lines. When I glanced at her again, she had loosened her basket and was lost in her sketching.

My picture was almost complete. And it was perfect!

I counted the windows and doors. There would be flowers, of course. And a sparkling paddy.

In fact, my perfect picture would as perfect as the hills I lived in, as perfect as the people I belonged to.

Mother called out to us. She wanted to go now, no more excuses, no more fooling around with sky-whites and perfection.

And again I wondered…..would we get back in time so that I could complete my perfect house in the hills?

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What the Mists Reveal

For days we travelled through misty hills, winding rivers below us. Whenever skies cleared, surprising features were revealed. A village on the other side of the river,  their roofs in purple, nesting between a hanging bridge and steps engraved into the landscape. Not a sign of a motor vehicle, let alone any industry other than farming.

Emerald rice paddies gleamed even when cloudy, their intensity reminding me of the sparkling greens of Laos and Vietnam.

Not all was idyllic – the children who stood with their mother while she attended her stall, their faces dirty, scratched, quiet eyes filled with a lost sadness – a feature I would often encounter in the western hills. The men inside, in the only inner living space available. No signs of toys – a ball, bicycle-  let alone books;  these children had nowhere else to be, nowhere else to play other than the fields and road-side. I wondered whether they went to school and how long it took them to walk there. There was no sign of a school anywhere nearby though.

School children are often seen along the roads of the hills; in their required uniforms, with light satchels or bags. From quiet bends where the elderly wearily stare out, to over-crowded buses whose passengers will include goats and sheep, there was always some surprise on those misty roads – children swinging on hanging bridges, boys playing by the flowing waters, while adults manually cleared rivers, the men digging for wet earth and the women carrying their heaving baskets to the bank. Life is shared on the road, by the road. Life is linked through these connections of tar.  Temples and stupas, signs of faith, signs of hope, signs of acceptance.

http://photopeach.com/album/65ivlb

Beyond the mists there lie hills to unwrap, lives to learn about, people to meet.

Mists reveal in silence.

Mists reveal the resilience of those who live in the hills.

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Candy-Coded in Nepal

There is something about windows and doors that fascinates me. I wonder about the inhabitants, what they see when they open their shutters, what they do as they step out into the open.

Do they and I see the same?

Does anyone really see the same reality?

Realities everywhere blend. There are mosaics, crops, wide-lense views.  Yet in the end, it is the reality the individual wishes to see.

There is a rich variety of homes in Nepal – some more traditional than others. One also can trace degrees of wealth trickling in, as people move out of cow-dung huts (for example, in the Terai) and into their brightly painted,  brick homes. Others still prefer a mix of traditions, having an open veranda on the first floor,  which is used as a living room.

As windows and doors part, there are realities which lay open to interpretation.

Houses and huts line roads. Through the bends and mist, their appearance change.  Dull, simple greys turn into candy-coded homes among vivid green paddies.

Regions and tribes will have their own traditional homes; those who are wealthier, express their increased status with a brick house. Inside is often still divided into the traditional spaces.

Tradition brings comfort in face of a changing world.

 

 

Nepal Houses

In my eyes I see beauty. Disregard the unswept outdoors. Observe how life and living is expressed, enjoyed and inhabited.

Throughout villages and towns, stupas and temples keep inhabitants company; their daily heartaches turn into prayers which  may be heard, sacrifices offered. A sanctuary of tradition and identity.

Life is simple. Life may be harsh.

Life is what one makes of it.

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