After a month of traveling through exotic mystical land, what did I get back from my trip? Was it a neon-colored T-shirt emblazoned with the word LIGHT, or perhaps an unpleasant microorganism? Or like Bill Murray's character in the movie Caddyshack, I made friends with a holy man and received the gift of whole consciousness in gratitude. Like Carl, Bill's hero, would say, "So, I achieved this for me …"
Nepal is the poorest and most exotic country I have ever visited. The ancient blends with the modern here as easily and uncomfortably as it rejects poverty with the sublime.
The streets of Kathmandu present the stage and test ground for what I called the Zen Buddhist theory of chaos and its unlikely natural course. The movement of humanity through the narrow dusty city streets of Kathmandu is a pattern of beautiful chaos. Every inch of precious space of major thoroughfares through the city is welcomed by one form or another by colored men, women, beasts or moving machinery, yet they all manage to run without incident by miracle, avoiding a certain collision. Here in Nepal, the religious cultures and practices of Hinduism and Buddhism also manage to merge and blend without colliding with each other, although there is evidence that Indian Hinduism, with its propensity for materialism and class conflict, causes social friction and fracture .
Can another question be raised that as I explored the mystical world of Nepal, I had acquired some new wisdom or discovered a unique sense of harmony among Nepalis that did not exist elsewhere? Unfortunately, I would not find the presence of a holy man, guru, teacher or Tibetan monk teaching, there is no golden opportunity to delve deep into the beliefs and blessings of Hindu / Buddhist spiritual mysticism. However, I was able to speak to the Mountains, the Himalayas; a spiritual connection that offers true enlightened discourse. I was fortunate enough to listen to part of Nepalese history, engaging in conversations told through the personal experiences of several different Nepalese gentlemen and a proud sherpa mother; some fairy tales illustrating the human saga that exists throughout humanity, wherever you may be in the global community.
The first Mr. Ashes was 57 years old. old world traveler, friend and promoter for a local Nepalese blues band. He was not satisfied with the recent changes in Kathmandu. Ashesh admitted that in recent years, the standard of living has improved for the average Nepali in Kathmandu. Instead of walking barefoot, they now had their shoes on their feet. Many even chose mopeds to drive instead of walking. Yet, through his observations, he felt that the air of friendliness and community among people was diminishing. The pursuit of wealth and materialism has replaced better habits.
Its scope of observation is far from limited. His travels had taken him to America and Western Europe. He was well informed about American culture and politics. Ashash was also an honest man who liked to paint a fair picture. He said, "you think your government is corrupt," a reference to America. "Nepal has the most corrupt government."
Apparently Nepalis have lived in a depraved Kingdom for many years, a Kingdom quite isolated from the outside world for only a few generations. As in the modern world, the kingdom of Nepal clearly still suffers from the same inequalities inherent in the imbalances of the classical divisions of human power; Havey (in this case the king and his family) and Disadvantages (the rest). The recent unrest among the people, mainly caused by Maoist insurgents, has been pressured by the reluctant renunciation of the king's throne, which has allowed the slow introduction of a more parliamentary, democratic form of government in Nepal.
The Maoists became representatives in this emerging new government, but after years of counter-productive rhetoric, inaction and violence by Maoists against journalists and dissenting peasants, who are now critical of Maoist intentions, it becomes clear to the people that Maoists just want a share of the spoils and the power once held by the king; not to really help people. There will be no solution for nirvana here.
Political corruption aside, a matter of greater importance to my gentleman friend was the constant promotion of this wonderful blues band that we listened to and the influx of blues music into the Nepali mainstream (yes … they have an artistic mainstream, though mostly influenced by their great neighbor India). The band played great classic rock songs, including the generous helping of Jimmy Hendrix!
I told him about the wonderful experience in the village of Sauraha, which lay on the other side of the river from the Royal Chitwan National Park. Located along the river bank with a dirty river, restaurants create tables and chairs for visitors to enjoy the diminishing rays of the sun. Our Stage: A gorgeous jungle green tapestry, visible through the damp, dusty air of the Himalayas' misty backdrop. The audience, a horn of colorful nationalities, watched with awe as the sweet sunsets of subtle pastel shades bathed the surrounding jungles and mountains; extremely natural performance.
It wasn't long before darkness enveloped the jungle. While we were all still sitting in our chairs, reflecting on what we had just witnessed, I thought that he would not enter the theatrical screen with the ghostly portrayals of the film Barack projected on him, the perfect continuum to compliment this stunning sunset, using the evolving jungle night sounds of musical accompaniment.
Ashley's eyes lit up and he exclaimed, "Man, this will be COOL!"
Another nice gentleman I talked to, Kumar, was the manager of the hotel at his family hotel in Pohara. Kumar was smart, energetic and had a vision for himself, his family and his country. He stressed the importance of Nepalis to support each other by buying from Nepalese companies instead of India or other countries. He believes that this economic policy will enhance the sense of pride and hope among Nepalis, thus persuading them to seek opportunities in their own country rather than immediately applying for visas to seek opportunities abroad.
Kumar pointed to the local stone, which his family, at his insistence, used to build an addition to the hotel. Kumar talks about the devastating effect of the 10-year conflict between the Maoist rebels and the Nepalese government on the tourism economy that the Nepalis have relied on so much to make a living.
The view from the top of his hotel offered dramatic views of the Anapurna Himalayas; nevertheless, the view also provides a telling story of Nepali reality. The fronts of Pohara's buildings offered a dichotomy to economies; a tale of two worlds, the western and the developing world. The competition at the hotel was remarkable in the lake area.
Hotel-owning families were hoping that an attractive, expensive hotel would attract foreign tourists' businesses; many families are investing their life savings in these entrepreneurial ventures, taking the risk and betting that a steady stream of tourism trade will come in their way. Often, behind the attractive facades lie the very modest enclaves of local hotel staff and homeowners, barely equipped with basic plumbing and running water. Economic gambling is often seen today in new developing countries, betting strongly that some form of political stability will provide a convenient green light for foreigners to visit their beautiful land.
In the Kumar Hindu family, there was a conflicting aura between his brothers and sisters, mostly monetary-led by his patriarchal father, which disappointed Kumar. The social place and the strict observance of religious disciplines and traditions seem to separate rather than connect their families.
A very important Hindu festival, the Diepawali, with its colorful festival of lights, was fast approaching. For Kumar, the festival meant another stressful monetary obligation, as it was customary for a brother to present cash gifts to his sisters. Deepawali is a Christmas party on the outside, with stressful Christmas gifts for cash gifts on the inside. Poor Kumar …
Local bus travel can often be a source of stimulating conversation. As we sat squeezed together like sardines on a local bus returning from the ancient urban areas of Bhaktapur, I spoke with a Nepalese man who had lived in Dublin, Ireland for the past six years, making very good money as a manager at Hi Tech Co. He had just returned to Nepal to attend his cousin's wedding. Kumar might regard this man as a traitor to the cause of greater collective Nepalese good, but he could still honestly accuse him of pursuing a better path to himself. The man also speaks with good credibility and humor about the ever-changing global shift in job opportunities, moving from country to country, continent to continent, depending on the cost / profit reductions of ridiculous whims of global multinational companies. Ireland and China have already begun to overdo it, even with cheaper immigrants. Cambodia or Kenya to be the next economic boom?
The following two conversations presented the hopes and aspirations of today's carriers and guides. the first, Gopal, a young guide to Anapurna who loved his mountains. Gopal spoke well, was very worldly and very good-natured. He worked at a travel agency in Kathmandu when not on a tour guide. He goes to school to study languages. He was very good at languages and knew that many language skills were becoming a larger sphere of foreigner guidance. He sent money back home to help his parents and sister.
I met the next person as I walked the Everest trek, each of us moving steadily with our loads of loads, taking in the magnificent views while carefully avoiding the abundance of Jacob's fertilizer along the path. He recounted his recent years of experience, carrying goods for others, learning the trade, acquiring knowledge of the mountainous terrain so that he could eventually become a leader. He also talks about his difficulties in dating his girlfriend, who is from another Hindu caste family; a recurring theme of Romeo and Juliet even here high in the Himalayas.
Then there was the proud, frugal middle-aged woman who owned a winning apartment along the Everest Trail. Her parents were refugees who fled Tibet during the Chinese invasion in the 1950s. They began a new life in the Nepalese Himalayas, gradually earning a good living, which enabled them to send her to college in India. Paralyzing her new educational skills with a life-long flair for business, she and her husband built a good livelihood for themselves through the burgeoning foreign trekking trade, while raising three children, who now attend various universities around the world. The futures of their children also promised much.
And as always in my travels, there were numerous simple acts of kindness and generous smiles and gestures from locals you meet on the streets and dirt paths through rural fields and villages. And what about those same people who offer goodwill to Hindu siddhus, Tibetan monks, or a passing stranger. Aren't True Practitioners Spiritual Enlightenment?
Are Kumar's trials and tribulations really different from those of a family man working in New York? They are two individuals living in two very diverse cultures, but they still share many common features of man. Nepalis, like the rest of us, want a better life for themselves and their families. Some take the problems around money and social status too seriously.
Life is what you create from it: sharing a smile and talking with strangers. In an effort to extend my benevolence to other people, such as the American I met to bring Himalayan solar water heaters to the peasants or Sir Edmund Hillary's charitable heritage to the Sherpa peasants.
There are no easy answers to find in emblematic spiritual dwellings in the world or in supposedly enlightened cultures. Does Machu Picchu's visit or hike to a Buddhist or Hindu temple provide immediate answers to an enlightened life path? Or are the answers more subtle, discovered during the daily journey of life? Are life's answers revealed during a high desert worship on Mount Kailash, a low desert worship in Mecca, or perhaps through a solitary walk in the forest; all kinds of forests.
I often find in my travels not so much in the sacred destinations as in the journey itself, but the good people you meet along the way, where the answers to the mysteries of life lie.
My last day in Nepal, I am standing in the middle of a busy street in Kathmandu. The usual beautiful, crowded chaos swept me from both sides, screaming, bouncing and still being heard, but now I hear only the constant rhythm of Buddhist chanting music streaming down the street. Sometimes the annoying tweets rape me, albeit pleasantly, as usual, but usually now I kindly shake my head and smile.
I look around and observe the chaotic and liberated way in which growth was built throughout Kathmandu; fierce disregard for electrical, utility or construction standards. Somehow everything worked; well, at least until the next eclipse, which happened almost daily.
I slowly shifted my eyes, leveling my gaze to the city street ahead. Soon, the particular physical forms began to blur, blending together, turning into blends of color and movement, until finally all that stood before my eyes was the silent white glow of the Himalayas.
Like Ashesh, my Blues fan friend would say "COOL!"