A Travellerspoint blog

Vamos a Namo Buddha

A peaceful walk through a peaceful land... full of animals eating each other.

sunny 30 °C

On June 19th, I departed Kathmandu via overcrowded bus for the hill town of Dulikhel, which sits just between the world’s largest statue of the Hindu god, Shiva, standing on one hilltop, and an impressively large golden statue of Buddha, seated in meditative repose midway up another hillside. Upon arriving in the town, I bought a bottle of tourist water (the clean kind,) and set off up the thousand steps heading to the big Buddha. Maybe a thousand steps seems like a long way to go, but after trekking in the Everest region, it seemed pretty easy – even in the hot sun.

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The big, hurkin’ Buddha statue was kind of fun to look at, but what was really amazing to me was the view of the valley below and the fingers of the Himalayan foothills that made its walls. Most of the hillsides in this entire region have been terraced into gigantic steps for farming crops like rice, potatoes, corn, and more. As far as the eye can see, these steps climb up and down the folded earth of the continental collision that formed and still is forming the Himalayas. Building or walking a thousand steps may seem like an impressive feat to pull off in the name of Buddha, but it has nothing on the grand scale of the sculptured earth the farmers have made in the name of eating food. Were the giant statues of Shiva and Buddha to wake up one day and decide to walk off, they would have an easy time trekking across the hills for hundreds of miles in any direction due to these steps.

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The giant Buddha and the 1000 steps marked the beginning of the path across the hills to a remote Buddhist Monastery called Namo Buddha. I was heading there for five days of peace and meditative calm. It figured to be a nice reprieve after spending a couple of weeks in noisy, dirty, busy Kathmandu. Already, I felt at ease now that I was once again walking through forests and farmsteads and out under the wide open sky. There was no thumping loud club music here, and no cacophony of car horns. Just the bleating of goats, the clucking of chickens, and a host of chirping crickets playing a symphony to the wind.

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It takes little garnish in a place like this to make me happy. Adrian and I stopped for pre-packaged coconut cookies at a tiny teahouse across from a creek-fed spigot we filled our water-bottles at. The owner had just baked up a batch of subtly salty-sweet Nepali doughnuts which he sold to us for 8 rupees a piece (9 cents). They were still warm from the oven and we got to pick the ones we wanted from the baking sheet he had made them on. Delicious!

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I felt a fly tickling my leg and paid it no heed. After seven months of travel, I am getting somewhat familiar with the flies that like to land on me. I glanced down and saw a large spider at my feet instead, and jumped. But a moment later, a flying insect I’ve never seen before, about the size of a wasp, buzzed up to the spider and started dragging it away. The spider was already quite dead, and this weird bug was carrying it off as industriously as an ant might carry a dead beetle. It even started climbing backwards up the wall, lugging the spider, which was easily 4 times as big, with it. Eventually it dropped the spider back down to the ground, and elected to hide it instead. Strange behavior for an insect!

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Adrian anticipated 5 hours of trekking to make it to the monastery, but after just 3 hours of winding our way through the small townships and continuous hillside farms, we made it to Namo Buddha. From a distance, I could see its red brick walls and golden roofs standing out brightly on a lush green hilltop. For some reason, I had pictured an ancient monastery – the sort that might be filled with aged and dusty tomes of knowledge falling apart from the withering passage of the centuries, with the accompanying musty smells of decay filling the air along with the smoke of incense. Instead, what was waiting was a bright, shiny, and brand new complex of buildings surrounding a resplendent and clearly well-funded temple. Initially, I was kind of turned off by what I considered to be an ostentatious display of money.

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We arrived just before four o’clock P.M. only to find out that all the rooms had been rented out for the night. So, instead, we decided to head down to the town below the monastery on the suggestion of the monk who turned us away, and the flip of a coin. Before heading down, we found a string of seven Stupas and sat down to collect ourselves and get a taste of the marvelous views of the valleys below. As I was relaxing in the satisfaction of a trek well done, a slender cat – a Bengal – meowed his way over to me to say hello and didn’t take much time at all to make himself a nest on my lap and purr his way to sleep. I would have been happy to sit there all evening, and I think he would not have complained to me about it.

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Since we had to check into the hotel though, I had to drop the cat off my lap eventually and trek down the hill to the town. The cat followed me at first, meowing and running in front of my legs in an effort to trip me, probably so that he could lay on my back after I fell over him. We passed a couple of small houses with chickens running around freely on the other side of the path. They started up a panicked clucking as I passed, and I thought this a bit unruly for a hen until I noticed my friend running off with a chick struggling in his mouth. Clearly, this cat was not himself a Buddhist!

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Down a long, winding dirt path, was a ten building town with an old Buddhist stupa covered in new prayer flags in the middle of a stone courtyard. It looked as though something festive had maybe happened recently, though we knew not what. We checked into a 300 rupee a night room with plywood covered by something pretending to be a mattress, and blankets way too thick for summertime. Fortunately, after trekking, I can sleep on just about anything, and for one night I would have no complaints. We went up to the have dinner in the motel’s two-table restaurant and sat sipping tea in the sublime shades of dwindling daylight that filtered through the trees along with the sounds of some strange horde of insects that droned away like a collective of diesel generators singing to each other.

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While I was making it through a plate of Nepali Thali, a handful of maroon-robed monks made their way to the stupa and proceeded to circumambulate it, spinning the prayer wheels and chanting as they went. Typically, the monks will go around either 3, 9, or 108 times depending upon the importance of the puja (prayer), and the occasion. I expected them to peel off after 3 times around, but as more monks came to join the circuit, none of the first ones left. Eventually there were 30 or 40 monks going around at once, for the full 108. Some were chatting with each other as they went, but most were chanting, and as a group, the collective drone rivaled the intensity of the winged diesel generators in the forest.

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I love it when this sort of magic happens. It turned out that the monks were circumambulating in honor of Buddha’s month of birth on the new moon, and thus they only did this once a year. The plywood beds and the attendant mosquitoes were worth suffering through. I wrote a little bit in my journal under the day’s last light, and my eye caught a strange green movement among the metalwork of the bench I was sitting on. A praying mantis shared it with me and was hunting the amazingly naïve flies dancing across the arched back. It moved from below, expertly and consummately moving towards the fly, slowly, millimeter by millimeter, waving back-and-forth like a leaf in the breeze, until it could strike as quick as lightning and grab the fly in its powerful spiky forearms. The flies made no note of the fact that leaves don’t grow from iron benches, and such ignorance costs a fly its life, one chunk of struggling flesh or wing at a time in the hungry mandibles of a praying mantis! To me, this moment was as magical as watching the monks, even though the praying monks wouldn’t hurt a fly!

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Posted by TravelerTyler 21:32 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

The Everest Chronicles, part the second

Carrying the whole trek on my back...

sunny

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The town of Lukla sits at 2840 meters (9315 feet) above Sea Level, partway up a mountainside. To get there, one can either fly, or one can take a bus from Kathmandu to a town called Jiri, and trek hard, up hillsides and down into valleys for 6 days. There are no roads. Thus, much of the food and supplies for Lukla and on up carry extra costs due to transportation. These costs only increase as the trek goes on, because everything has to be carried by yak, donkey, or most commonly, Sherpa.

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I discovered upon arrival, that my water bottle had come out of my bag somewhere in my most recent travels, so I purchased a fake Nalgene from a Sherpa lady, at twice the price I would have paid in Kathmandu, and bought my first and last bottle of pop on the trek. All the empty bottles have to come down too, or more than likely, they get burned in a pit in one of the towns. I decided to save both my money and the environment from here on out, and just drink tea in the guest houses and water I could filter and sterilize myself.

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As we meandered through town, past the fake Hard Rock Café and the fake – though convincing – Starbucks, we were passed by the occasional Sherpa, already loaded up with goods and headed to one of the towns up the path. My backpack is one of the most technically advanced, ergonomically-designed, custom-balanced pieces of hardware on the market. It has 8 separate compartments, a detachable daypack, a pouch inside for a Camel-pack to drink from through a straw as I walk, contoured back support that breathes well so that there is minimal friction and sweat on my back, and it even has an emergency whistle built into the front chest strap. A Sherpa has a basket, with a strap that they put across the top of their head, on a towel. Occasionally, they also have arm straps. They walk leaning forward, with a short stick that doubles as a support to rest their basket back upon when they want to stop without taking off their load. They carry up to 50 or 60 kilos (110 to 132 pounds), or maybe more in their basket, and they may travel as far as Everest Base Camp, (~45 Kilometers away?). The ever-increasing prices leading up to Everest are therefore, entirely justified.

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Lonely Planet suggests that it will take nine days to reach Everest Base Camp from Lukla, and another four or five days to return. We booked our outbound plane ticket 18 days out to give ourselves enough time to enjoy a side trip or two. Still, having started the trek to Everest, I couldn’t help but feel the pull to get there as the overpowering factor driving each step forward. At this point, I knew little else about the Himalayan Mountains around Everest, nor the towns or customs of the people in this region. I didn’t know just what to expect, other than a few notes I had read in my guidebook, and the artistry of my imagination. I had heard of Everest, the tallest mountain on Earth, and not too much else up here. My mind was geared to attain the goal of getting to the base camp. I was dialed into the apex of the trek, to the end of the upward climb. The big payoff was getting to see Mt. Everest. That was why I had come. But I soon started to realize that though getting to Everest is what pulled me up here to begin with, the world that was unfolding into the emptiness in the gaps in my imagination between the top of the world and here was breathtakingly beautiful and every bit as worthwhile to trek to on its own. To make it to see Everest would be a bonus; a reward for persevering through the rigors of a long mountain trek. But it was no longer necessary. What was in front of me was enough alone.

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Still, as the trek began, and I was getting used to the prospect of walking up and down mountainsides with 30 pounds of gear on my back for the next two and a half weeks, I couldn’t help but feel eager to get it done, so that I could take the pack off and rest. “Everest will test you both physically and spiritually,” a fellow traveler told us as we were getting breakfast in Lukla. “It will push on your limits in ways you don’t expect.” My first challenge would be to learn how to take my time and enjoy each step of the way; to enjoy the journey and only use the destination as a reference point to guide my path. I figured that this would not be so difficult with the scenery around me.

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Posted by TravelerTyler 20:56 Archived in Nepal Tagged trek everest Comments (0)

The Everest Chronicles

Part 1: A string of gambles

sunny

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One of the first and also most enduring statements that I made to myself while trekking through the Everest-region Himalayas was that I have no words that can possibly capture this. So I am going to begin my story with the caveat that though I may successfully be able to transport you to craggy new peaks of imagination and wonder through words and pictures, there is nothing that I can possibly say that would truly replicate the experience of these mountains and their beauty. It simply must be lived to be known, and even then, one is left in breathless awe.

An ancient Hindu sage wrote, in the Puranas, "In the space of a hundred ages of the gods, I could not describe to you the glories of the Himalaya."

My trip to Everest began with echoing another sage. I was having my breakfast at Laughing Buddha in Pokhara, and had just finished writing out a short meditation on the meaningless meaning of life, which is to say that we create our own meaning in life. A couple of travelers, a western guy and a girl came in and sat down in the table next to me and he starts talking to her about Nietzsche’s view that life is meaningless and this is wonderful because we get to imbue it with our own meaning.

Huh.

I leaned over and told them, “how strange, but I have just written about that very topic myself.”

I took a liking to the guy immediately. His name is Adrian, and he had a relaxed and peaceful calm about him. We struck up a conversation and within five minutes, he mentioned that he was going to trek to Everest Base Camp. In my head, I thought, “I want to go!” Out loud, he asked me, “Want to go?” I said yes, but I wanted one day to feel into it to make sure that it was what I truly needed to do. Really though, I knew I was going to go right away. I just had to get past my mental barriers to heading out on an eighteen day trek in the wilderness with a guy I just met five minutes ago!

The next day, after spending some quality time with my inner logistician, going over the technical requirements for the trek and making a couple of to-do lists, I met up with Adrian and confirmed that I was in. Adrian is from New York. He works as a nurse. He is a “non-religious” Jew who has recently been exploring Christianity and Buddhism, and is actively reading the works of the great philosophers. He recently completed a ten-day silent Vipassana meditation in Kathmandu. It was the 2nd time he has done it. He is shorter standing up than he looks sitting down. I was surprised the first time we walked together. He loves to talk about the deep stuff in life. Also, he has a dirty, dirty mind. So, naturally, we got along together really well.

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We bought the cheapest airplane flight we could find; an Agni Air flight from Kathmandu to Lukla, said our goodbyes to Pokhara, and caught the tourist bus to Kathmandu. The Lukla flight lands at what is considered to be the most dangerous airport in the world. It is just 460 meters long (1508.8 feet). One end is a cliff dropping into a deep valley hundreds of feet below. The other end is a brick wall. High winds whipping through the mountains jostle the 16-seater twin-prop planes that land here, and clouds drift in and block visibility of the runway regularly. Every so often, a plane crashes into the mountainside and kills everyone on board. Still, it is a safe affair compared to riding on one of the tourist busses. Nepali drivers are insane! On the back of at least half of the big trucks and busses is a hand-painted warning, like “One miss, game finish!” to remind those who intend to pass to do so with care. Everyone passes who can, and they do it at top speed into oncoming traffic, which slows down only if they absolutely have to, and only at the last second. I had the view seat in the front of the bus, next to the driver, and I got to see just how close we came to collision before he whipped the bus back into the proper lane.

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Still, I survived the harrowing bus trip, the gross, cockroach-infested hotel we stayed at in Kathmandu for the night, AND the flight into Lukla the next morning none-the-worse-for-the-wear. By 7 AM, I was standing with my backpack in the Himalayan town, Lukla, surrounded by forested hills and high, snow-capped peaks, watching the plane I was just on fly off the side of the mountain. And I was thrilled to be there.

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Posted by TravelerTyler 08:12 Archived in Nepal Tagged trek everest Comments (0)

A Day in my Life in Pokhara, Nepal

An experiment in daily blogging.

storm 20 °C

A One Day Blog:

My friend Erin, a lover of blogs, and traveling adventurer herself, has requested that I put forth daily or near-daily blog posts. She would like it if I keep everyone up to date with short entries about what I have been getting into on my travels, rather than the occasional large story.

Okay, Erin, I can’t say that I am going to post something each and every day, but I will indulge you today and experiment with what it takes to do a good one-day blog post.

Before I get started with today though, I want to establish a sense of what is worthy of posting and what is not – for my own edification as well as yours. In order for me to post something on this blog, I have to feel that it is worth my time to take the trouble to write it up, and worth my readers’ time to read through it. So below, I have concocted a short scale of relevant to irrelevant blog update examples.

1. Totally worthy: A story about living through an event like Holi or chasing rhinos through the trees in Bardia National Park ;) These are rich and unusual experiences worthy of reading about. I can pretty much assume that people are going to enjoy reading about this sort of day.

2. Local and fascinating: A note about waking up to see two hundred guys roaring through town on motorcycles, all waving workers party flags and honking repeatedly, with a herd of water buffalo caught up in their midst, charging down the street at full bore, while the guys around them whoop and holler to push them on. I bet that probably, people would find this worth reading a short bit on, or maybe something longer if I can shed more light on it in an exciting fashion.

3. Interesting: Mentioning that I was head-butted by a bull while filming two water buffalo submerged up to their necks in Lake Phewa. Noteworthy, but not a big story.
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4. Technical minutia: speaking about how I look forward to every Friday because that is the day that I get to use my weekly rationed Q-tip. Probably at this point, many people are going to lose interest. Unless they are curious about how one can manage resources while on a long trip. Or they are weird.

5. Irrelevant: Updating my audience on the latest round of toe nail clippings.

6. Unless: I happened to slip and plunge my toenail scissors into my big toe, requiring emergency transport to a dingy state-run hospital on the back of an ox-cart filled with chickpeas. This would jump back up into the totally worthy category… so it just goes to show that any event COULD be worthy of a blog post depending upon: 1. The content 2. The reader’s interest and 3. The way the content is talked about.

That being said, here is my day in a nutshell:

I woke up today after a very long sleep. I love this part about traveling! ;) Eight hours of sleep a night is going to be a difficult habit to break when I get back home and get back to work. Maybe I will just keep it!

While in Pokhara, I have been doing Yoga and exercising every morning before I get out into the world. I was lazy and inconsistent in my first 5 months of travel, but not anymore! This morning’s session was great! I felt so invigorated!

Okay, I know that isn’t super-exciting, but here is a bit of human-interest. After Yoga, I went to breakfast at my favorite restaurant, “Once Upon a Time,” and had a bowl of delicious fruit curd muesli. This dish is offered to western tourists all over the region, along with banana pancakes, for those who can’t stomach the local cuisine (or have grown bored with it!) While eating, I decided to write a letter to my 93-year old grandma about my travels so far, as I renewed my vow this morning, to do what matters most to me. (You never know, I could very well never get a chance to tell her myself in person again, so I sent it to my dad to read to her next time he visits.)

So far, I know that none of this has been shocking, but I think that it is fair to put one blog post in here about some of the more normal things that I do and see while on these travels. I think I would go nutso if every day was like Holi was! ;) There has to be some balance in life between the mundane and the extraordinary to enjoy both to their fullest, I think.

While at breakfast, I was approached for money by a one-legged beggar carrying a sign asking for cash, in English. He speaks only Nepali. I regularly see him working the tourists over along Pokhara’s main road. I turned him down. Again. I make a policy of not giving beggars money so as not to encourage further parasitic behavior. The same as the rangers tell you to not feed the bears in Yellowstone because they grow dependent upon humans for food and often die in the winter when the tourists don’t come any more.

He stared at me. I stared back at him. He waved his sign at me. I waved my hand “No. Goodbye,” at him. He stared at me some more and waved his sign some more. I got back to writing to my grandma. He eventually ambled away, muttering something in Nepali for a second before hitting up the next tourist in the queue. I always wonder if I am truly making a good choice by doing this, at least for a moment.

After breakfast, I went for my daily walk along the shores of beautiful Lake Phewa, from which one can see the tips of the Himalayas on a clear day. Today however, was not one of those clear days, so I watched some cows tangled in a head-butting contest along the shore. As I walked, I turned down one of the Tibetan jewelry sellers (again) when she pestered me about seeing her wares, then turned down one of the Nepali hash dealers (again!) when he pestered my to buy some marijuana from him. They try me every time. In order to walk along Lake Phewa, one has to have the willingness to sidestep the hawkers.
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I am much more graceful about it than some people. I smile at the Tibetan women and tell them that what they are selling is beautiful, but I am not looking for any jewelry, and I hope that they have a nice day. There is no need to be rude. They are just trying to make a living. With the hash dealers, I just tell them no thanks with a dismissive wave. One time, I told one that I am already smoking, then stuck my finger in my mouth, touched my right butt cheek, and made a “pssssss” sound like sticking a hot poker into water. He laughed. Why not have fun with it all, I say?

Some people do not share my opinions. I watched a tall European guy cuss out a Nepali taxi driver who yelled across the street to ask him if he was looking for a taxi. “Do I look like I am looking for a fucking Taxi?!” he said. “Shut the fuck up! Just shut the fuck up! I will tell you if I want a stupid fucking taxi!” Then he walked into the street and gave the taxi driver the middle finger, and stormed off. The taxi driver just laughed and shook his head. I don’t know what got into that guy’s system. Probably he should go take a walk along Lake Phewa and talk to one of the hash dealers instead.

I will admit that there is part of me that completely agrees with telling a pushy taxi driver off in that fashion. All the hawkers and touts and beggars are fucking annoying at times! But seriously, is it really necessary? Does it do any good? Can it not be seen in a greater context? Can it not be taken light-heartedly and as part of the journey?
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So, Erin suggests that I occasionally mention what the weather is like. Today, it was sunny this morning, and right now, it is overcast and lightning is arcing across the thunderclouds in the sky, threatening to rain any minute. The wind is whipping through town and kicking up dust along the dirty streets.

She also suggests that I talk about lessons learned. This is a rich topic. Today, three things stand out for me:

Lesson number 1: I learned how to cook myself lunch for just 30 cents, using an electric heating element, and a steel cup. I made green tea with ginger, and instant noodles! Nothing fancy, but it is a start. Plus, it is good to eat something somewhat plain to remind me how nice it is to eat at restaurants all the time. ;)
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Lesson number 2: I learned how to give myself electro-shock therapy, using an electric heating element, and a steel cup, while standing barefoot on a doormat that was wet from yesterday’s downpour which soaked the floor under my balcony door. (What did I say? These blog posts are all about context!)
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Lesson number 3: I learned about the psycho-dynamics of anxiety-based emotional control systems that operate both within, and between humans.

(What on earth are you talking about, Tyler?!)

Okay – next one-day blog lesson: using abstract, unclear language is a good way to distract and confuse readers unless they also speak psycho-babble.

What I am talking about is that is this:

At nearly six months into my travels, I have come to a crossroads in my life. For the last six months, I have had the luxury to do things at whatever pace I feel comfortable with. If I don’t feel like rushing around trying to do every touristy thing possible, I don’t. I just take my time, and take it as it comes.

At first, I had problems with this style, because my mind was geared towards the sort of travel I am used to doing on short vacations from work. What I was used to was running my ass off from one tourist highlight to the next, before I had to get back on that plane and go home. I wanted to get as much in as I could, knowing that time was short. On this trip, I don’t have the same urgency forcing me to hurry things along, and so I have the great luxury of going where the wind blows me. If it blows me nowhere but to the rooftop restaurant of my hotel for the day, then so be it!

This method of travel has actually worked out phenomenally well for me so far, and though I haven’t been to as many cities and sites as I had mapped out before departing the States, I have had a much deeper experience everywhere I have been. I have met more people. I have made more friends. I have seen what daily life is like in many places I have gone. And my journey into personal awakening has been particularly robust. I have found myself precisely where I need to be when I need to be there, though it hasn’t been by my foresight so much as a serendipitous unfolding of moments.

Now, it is the middle of my projected one-year abroad, and I am having a great time in Pokhara, but some anxieties have been brewing under the surface, disrupting the peaceful flow I have been growing accustomed to.

I am aware that at my current rate of spending, if nothing changes, I will have to go back home in six months and get a job again. If I want to continue traveling abroad, I will probably need to pick up a job teaching English in 4 months time. Personally, what I am really wanting to do is create some sort of a career for myself where I both teach some of the mind/body/spirit concepts I have been studying over the last eighteen years, and also actually do something with them as well. I don’t quite know how I am going to do this, or what I am really looking to do. It hasn’t come clear yet.

One of the reasons that I cut my ties back at home and left on this trip was to help discover what truly calls to me in this life. What can I do that is truly worthwhile to the world and worthy of my full talents? I don’t need to know the whole picture of my life at this point, but I would like to know what is next? Having a deadline to work with to figure this out raises up some of my anxieties. They want to know immediately what the answers are!

Also, as I have mentioned, I met a girl that I REALLY like, while on this trip (Sen.) I told her this. I also told her that I recognize that we both need to continue along deeper into the solitude of our personal journeys to discover what we really want to do with our lives BEFORE we will know if our life paths might be congruent. Only then could we pursue something deeper, when we are sure that it isn’t a compromise to our personal integrity and happiness. It is important to me to honor this, regardless of whether I ever see her again or not.

However, it isn’t everyday that a guy meets an incredible, amazing woman whom he knows he would make a stellar match with, and then says, “Goodbye and let’s just see what happens.” So, naturally, I have been having some anxieties coming up, urging me to keep in touch with her more often just so they can feel better. Like the bears in Yellowstone, I feel that it is better not to indulge them.

Finally, I want to go trekking, I want to get to Kathmandu, and I want to go to the Last Resort for some adventure sports like bungee jumping and canyoning before I leave Nepal. The monsoon season isn’t too far off. I have to get the show on the road if I want to make all this happen before my visa expires. Oh yeah, and I still don’t know where I am going after Nepal for sure. Though I have been “planning” to go trekking for coming on two weeks now, something keeps coming up each day which invariably turns out to be some lesson I needed to learn, and though this is great… it is pushing into my deadlines and has stirred up the urgent pestering of more anxieties.

So, what do I mean by “Anxiety-based control systems?”

When we as humans get into situations that are unfamiliar, perhaps threatening, or just not in our comfort zones, one way which our mind works on us, in order to ensure survival, is by raising anxieties that force us to focus on our insecurities. If we are personally strong enough and clear enough in our vision, then we can disregard these anxieties in the moment, embrace uncertainty or threat, and focus on a healthy solution that takes the bigger picture into consideration. If not, if we give into them, then we react in a stimulus-response fashion as an attempt to control ourselves or our environment until we feel secure again. This is not always pretty, and often causes more problems than it resolves, in our rush to “fix” things that seem, in the moment, to be too much to handle.

The resolution lies in embracing the true consciousness that transcends the survival mechanisms of the body-mind.

Five and a half years ago, I took a trip to Yellowstone National Park with my mom. It was the first trip that just the two of us had taken since I moved into adulthood. We flew into Billings, Montana, rented a car, and drove for the closest entrance to the park, through a remote mountain pass in the northeast corner. I was behind the wheel. We were heading in a riskier direction than the main entrance, but I felt confident that we would make it just fine. I called the national weather service just to make sure that the pass was clear. They reported that it was open.

To get to the pass, meant driving up a winding switchback road, littered with rocks fallen from the cliffs above, which sometimes forced me to drive into the oncoming lane of traffic, or close to the edge. My Mom has a fear of heights, which was amplified because she wasn’t the one driving. She cringed when we drove near the edge of the road, and asked me to let her drive. I told her that I wasn’t interested in driving off the side of the mountain, so she didn’t need to worry. She laughed and backed off, but was still on edge all the way up, gripping her seat and giving little gasps of fright meant to warn me when I was driving too close to the edge again.

We made it up to a viewpoint overlooking the wild valley below. The air was crisp outside. Only two other cars were here. The starkness and the solitude of this place called to me to get out and take a look. Opportunities and places like this only come around every so often when you live in the city, and I wanted a few moments to savor it. Mom didn’t want me to get out of the car. She was feeling worried that we weren’t going to make it to the cabins before dark and didn’t want to waste any time. I was sure that we had plenty of time, and that it would not be a problem for me to walk around outside here for a few minutes. I didn’t want to squander this opportunity.

I got out and walked up to the viewpoint, assuring mom that I would not take too long. The view was breathtaking. The empty valley stretched away to the horizon, full of boulders fallen from the mountains above, a blanket of green grass and wildflowers, and the sort of wind-whipped spaciousness that strips the mechanics of city life away from a person and leaves him raw and exposed to the majesty of the universe. I could have stayed for hours.

A car’s horn cut across the valley from the viewpoint. I chuckled under my breath in dark mirth. I knew it was my mom. Honk! Honk! Honk! HONNNKKKKK!!! I hadn’t even made it to the end of the viewpoint yet, a full two minutes walk from the car. I steeled myself against the onslaught of anxious honking I knew would not abate, determined to breathe in the cool mountain air, and just stand there for a moment in reverie with nature’s silence.

HOOOOONNNNNKKKKK!!!!

HONK!

Honk. Honk. Honk. Honk.

HOOOOONNNNNNKKKKK!!!!

I started to feel bad for the other people up here who also wanted nothing more than to enjoy a moment of beauty and silence, so I headed back to the car. Slowly. –HONK!- Still trying to savor –HONK!- the beauty –HOONNKK!- as I went.

I knew that I was in for a tirade when I got back to the car, so I prepared myself mentally. I felt calm and at peace myself, but I knew that we were in new and unfamiliar territory, heading to an unknown destination that we didn’t know quite what to expect along the way, traveling high up in a cold mountain pass, trying to get to the cabin before it got dark in the very large park. Mom was out of her element here and I had to keep this in mind when listening to her, even while at the same time trusting in my own confident knowingness that all would work out.

Six minutes after getting out, I stepped back into the car. Mom was livid. She lit into me, telling me that if she could, she would get back on the plane right now and go home! She wished she had never decided to travel with me! She told me I was just as selfish as my father, for not listening to her and just doing whatever I wanted to do! That we needed to get to the cabins and we never should have come this way, but I had to be a stubborn man and prove something by going over the mountain, and standing out at the viewpoint!

I listened as calmly as I could. I pointed out rationally that we had only been here for a few minutes and that we would still make it in time. She wouldn’t listen. She couldn’t listen. She was in the full throws of an adult tantrum and couldn’t see things objectively. I pointed this out to her, hoping that the fact that my Mom was the one throwing the tantrum at her child, would be enough to jar her to her senses. She got out of the car, and stormed away, crying. She slammed the door as she went, and stomped off up the road around the corner and out of sight.

I could have gone out and chased her down, tried to calm her down, apologized, told her I was wrong, etc. in order to placate her and ease the tension in the air. But, this would just be feeding her demons some justification for her over-reaction. I just sat in the car, waiting and taking some deep and calming breaths. I let her stew in her emotions while I tried to gain some new perspective that might help me ease the situation. Eventually though, I just pulled the car out and went to gather her since we actually did need to keep moving along.

I found her around the corner, on the edge of the road, looking out into the valley, still sobbing and heaving in the cold. I had to wait and coax her back into the car. When she got back in, I told her that I didn’t mean to upset her, and we needed to keep going. She got back in and slouched into the passenger seat. I drove the car up higher into the pass, and snow was on the ground. It wouldn’t be good to get stuck in the snow in the cheap rental sedan we were driving. Mom shivered in her seat and whispered, “Cold,” as she looked out the window, still trying to convince me that we were in mortal peril.

We made it to the pass, and it was closed due to snow. A barricade sat across the road. The weather service had been wrong! We would have to turn around after all, and head towards the main entrance. So much for shortcuts! This one cost us two hours of extra time.

As we wound back down the mountain, Mom’s mood improved the lower we got, and by the time we reached the bottom, we had ironed out our differences well enough for the moment. We still made it to the cabin just after dark, and having had this conflict early on, everything else was easy afterwards, and we got along fine for the rest of the trip, with this out of the way. All and all, it was worth the hassle.

(Mom, sorry for calling you out in my blog, but it was just so relevant. Plus, everyone should know that she put up with a hundred times worse from me while I was growing up!)

I was reminded of this story when reflecting on the recent batch of anxieties coming up within me right now. Here I am in Pokhara, on the trip of my dreams. I have come to a place of deep peacefulness recently that is akin to finding that empty mountain vista within. But, I am moving into unfamiliar territory in my travels around Asia, and in my love life, and on my life’s path. I don’t know quite what I am going to do with any of it. I just know that things will work themselves out for the best, so long as I persevere, make good decisions, and do the work that I need to do. I love this level of adventure, and I know I can handle it.

My anxieties are coming up as a system of controls meant to keep me safe based on what I am already comfortable with and understand. They demand a precise timeline and specific answers right away, to make sure that I am not leading myself into disaster. They need to know exactly what is going to happen down the road, so they know what to prepare for. They need to see immediate, concrete action to calm themselves down with something tangible. All this “up in the air” stuff isn’t real enough for them. It just sounds like fantasy and time-wasting! They need me to check in on Sen and “make sure” she doesn’t think I am a waste of her time. They need me to get the show on the road, damnit!

The truth is that I am really not concerned by most of what my mind, in its need to ensure my survival, is throwing up at me right now. I know that I can handle this next part of my journey into the void. I myself don’t know precisely what will happen. I just know that it will unfold as it needs to, my feet will find the path they need to find, and in the meantime, I will enjoy every last moment of it along the way.

So Erin, there you go. This is what happens when I try to do a one day blog post. It isn’t short and sweet. It still ends up being seven pages long! It took me three hours to write up. I will draw what lessons I can from this, as I develop my blog craft. But I think that perhaps now you can see one reason why I feel reluctant to blog every day. Most of my days are as rich with insight, and it takes time for me to digest it all myself, let alone condense it into a blog post. Still, I will do my best to find a happier balance between the occasional story and the daily digest. I just hope that in the meantime, you can enjoy the spaces between the notes as well.

-Tyler
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Posted by TravelerTyler 02:17 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Making a Holi Mess of things

A condensed version of events

sunny

I recently wrote and entered a short story in a yearly travel writing competition hosted by World Nomads.
The challenge was to write about a "Cultural encounter that changed your life."
It had to be done in 2000 characters or less, including spaces. That's just under 400 words.
My latest unedited piece totals up to 91,000+ characters
I had to recalibrate my brain in order to write this.
It took me a week.
And it was totally worth the time and effort spent.

Like trying to show the Grand Canyon in a photo, this story scarcely does the true events justice... but it might just show enough of a sliver of what a day during Holi is like.

Enjoy.

Udaipur
Rajasthan
India

March 8th, 2012

-

Today, all of India is celebrating the Hindu festival Holi by attacking each other with colored powders. Nothing is sacred. Not even the cows.

I’m in Udaipur, at my buddy Nirmal’s house with his family and friends, woman traveler Sen, and a cluster of eager neighborhood kids I just chased around like a gorilla.

In 4 days I will leave for Agra and head to Nepal. Holi feels like a well-timed going away party. I want to let go and let loose, but I have a problem: I am smitten by Sen and my mind is a mad scientist at work, formulating how best to attract her without making a fool of myself, before it’s too late.

The party opens with cordial introductions, but we quickly set to work vandalizing each other with powders. In a frenzy of sneak attacks and paybacks, we are soon smeared with kaleidoscopic graffiti. One guy uses cow manure!

Indian club music is blasting. A dance party mixes in with the frenzy. Arms, legs, and colors fly everywhere. I attempt to move like a drunken master, showing off for Sen. She’s having fun dancing with Nirmal; a bright smile shining through the paste on her face.

I pick Nirmal up over my head, hoping to look strong. Someone dumps a bucket of water on us, causing Sen to laugh and starting a Holi water war. Bucket after bucket is thrown on the crowd, until everyone is drenched and the ground becomes a sloggy grey mess.

The guys rip each others’ shirts off. The fabric on mine is tough. Five guys pull on it at once, leaving scars on my shoulders, but it won’t rip. Nirmal slashes it with a dull knife, which does the trick. I tear it off with a beastly roar and wrap it on my head like a turban. Did Sen notice how manly I looked?

Like everyone else at this party and in India, she seems to be just having some good, stupid fun. No one else is trying to look cool or do big impressive dance moves. They are just dancing.

Holi, you are the answer to my prayers. If I can dance like a fool, then I can look like a fool when I tell Sen how much I like her.

-

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Posted by TravelerTyler 01:46 Archived in India Tagged culture Comments (0)

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