Let us become nobler

Sanskrit word 'Arya' or 'Aryam' stands for nobility. Let us implore everyone to become noble, the Arya or Aryam. Christians, Muslims, Hindus or Jews, communists or capitalists, rich or poor, clever or dumb, weak, meek or bully. Uncomfortable perhaps are they with other, threatening peace. Ray of hope for the world is ‘include-all’ ideas of ancient Indian wisdom popularly known as Hinduism. Only they knew how to celebrate individuality of each person. Aryas respect ideas of others, respect way of worship of others, help others and become a noble citizen of this wide and varied world. Idea behind this blog is to bring out those ideas and help each of us become better than what we are. 'N' in the 'Aryan', by the way, was a mistake made by colonial 'experts' who wanted to underplay and undermine the culture and religion of those who they clandestinely enslaved.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

9- Kailash, Kathmandu and Kashi – A Story of Shiva and Me.

(A decade ago after a trip to Tibet, Nepal and India, I wrote down my impressions. It was not meant to be a book, however after it was read by some, it was suggested that if it gets published, interested persons can use it. However I thought (and still think) that the narration was more of a personal quest into Bhagavan Shiva and that it may not interest a wider audience. Therefore instead of commercially publishing it, I thought of placing it on a website of Publishing house Harper Collins’s website known as Authonomy.com. It remained on their website as "Kailash, Kathmandu and Kashi – A Story of Shiva and Me", for people to review my narration for many years. However, last year, when Harper Collins shutdown Authonomy.com and I realized that some people still wanted to read my account, I decided to place all 26 chapters of that travelogue on this blog. Reader views and comments are welcome).

Chapter 9.  Nepal-Tibet Border, Towns of Kodari and Zangmu connected by the 'Friendship Bridge'

Gradually we moved far away from populated towns to small villages and then to smaller rural communities living on mountains. Slopes of the mountains were either full of trees or at places with terrace fields with maize crop. Homes had maize cones stocked up, presumably for drying, in balconies, terraces and even hung on walls using strings. While we were driving up soaking in the rich green nature around, a scream rattled everyone in the bus, especially me as it emanated from my neighbor.  It was my wife Poonam. Due presumably to rains, a suitcase-sized rock was sliding down the slope and was speeding towards our bus. She spotted it just as it was a few seconds from hitting our bus. Everyone was startled. Fortunately we narrowly escaped by fraction of a second. Rock fell on the road just after our bus passed the point of impact. That was our first dramatic moment in the chain that was unfolding. As we were approaching the frontier, the only traffic that was there was heading for or coming from Tibet. The road was not that good and at places it was missing altogether, presumably victim of major landslides or sinking land. At one stage, the road was slippery with loose mud and water where our second bus, on which I was not onboard, did get stuck. It took quite a while to struggle out.


As if to compensate for those ‘minor’ inconveniences, we were rewarded with some fantastic scenery, waterfalls, thick vegetation and gushing untamed rivers on those foggy heights. At about lunchtime we reached the last Nepalese town Kodari on the border with Tibet where we had a nice hot lunch in a restaurant. We had to bid goodbye now to our buses, take our belongings and cross into Tibet on foot. Porters carried our duffel bags and we carried our own haversacks. It was raining and also it was chilling cold. We were rather comically dressed with backpack, jacket and an awkwardly hanging raincoat covering the bulge on the back that back-pack was.


We made a slow progress walking in a file to the Nepalese exit and emerged on the south-end of famous ‘Friendship Bridge’ that joins Tibet to Nepal built over Bhote-Kosi River. Neither Nepalese immigration nor customs posed any problem. We did not even notice that we had already crossed them and that we were no more on Nepalese territory. Our tour-organizer helped stamp our passports with Kodari-exit stamp. Now we were facing Chinese soldiers, immigration officers and other staff in smart western uniform.


Not that we were expecting same friendly attitude from Chinese officials at the Tibet border as shown by Nepalese, but their conduct was surely something that did not rhyme with name of the bridge that we crossed; there was hardly any resemblance to ‘friendship’ on their faces, which were as frosty as ice on the peak, smiling was one of those unknown skills. If they did have any, I could not fathom. We were made to wait without informing us as to why. As absolutely none showed that they could speak English or Nepalese or Indian language, or even sign language, we had to just do our own guesswork to understand what was happening. We saw that the porters had brought in our duffel bags and had piled them in an open area in front of entrance to Chinese immigration office.  A uniformed Chinese worker came with a (presumably) pesticide spraying machine and sprayed liquid (presumably) disinfectant on our bags, as if we had arrived from a plague-stricken country, bags were so much drenched that the liquid seeped into bags, spoiling clothing and foodstuff kept inside. The next thing we were required to do was to form a queue, in the same order as in the list of the Chinese embassy paper. That meant, we couldn’t move an inch until the entire contingent of 45 arrived and stood in a file. Once that was done, Gautam handed over passports to us. Then we go one by one, first for temperature scan (H1N1 phobia), then to immigration officer and finally to custom officers who would not only X-ray scan your belongings but would also open each and every bag for more thorough check.


As if it was not enough, further trouble was awaiting us in the garb of smartly dressed and rather attractive female paramedic.  As we had winter woolen garments on or as we were very furious but many of us showed higher temperature and consequently many including me were shunted to the paramedic’s office for elaborate temperature measurements. Paramedic lady despite her beautiful features was perhaps not endowed with vocal chords. She simply did not speak a word to anyone. Her forte seemed sign language and form-filling in Chinese language. Fortunately none among us had fever.


Having cleared temp-scan hazard, we returned to that same officer, who had diverted us to paramedic’s office. He, after having satisfied with the finding of paramedic directed us to the immigration officer. He would check our passport and compare with data on his computer terminal, but would not stamp it. For some reason, Chinese government does not print visa on pilgrims passports, nor do they print entry and exit stamps and nor give any individual visas to pilgrims. Once documents are found to be in order, we have to go for custom check and after that enter the Tibetan territory. Documents of all of us were found in order and everyone could go through, albeit after a lot of time and many tense moments. We found Custom officers, to be the strangest among all the Chinese officials. No one from us could understand what they were looking for. We helplessly kept just watching them opening up every single bag and taking every normal objects such as flask, prayer books, garments, etc and examining them minutely, almost the way Hollywood films show aliens from other planets groping earthly items. I thought, perhaps they were new apprentices, under training or perhaps working under an overzealous boss who is suspecting contraband in every bag (Little later I realized that they were making sure that none should be carrying any Pro-Dalai Lama literature, material or photographs). In my mind, I reflected upon custom check done at Indian airports and frontiers; I compared, how they are handling thousands of passengers every day, how honed are their skills at knowing who to let through and who to check. I mentally saluted overworked Indian officers for the efficiency with which they work at Indian borders, and their intrinsic trusting nature borne out of years of a free thinking culture. But here it is different, the intrinsic peril of authoritarianism, you trust no one and no one know how to take decisions; everything comes down from ‘up’ and you better follow or else… Comrades, it took, us, the troupe of 45 people, good 3 hours to be able to finally set our feet on the soil of Tibetan frontier town, Zangmu and settling down in waiting Toyota Landcruisers for more arduous next lap of Himalayan journey on Tibetan landscape.


Chinese Embassy in New Delhi approves group visa for pilgrimage when applied by a tour company that is listed and authorized by them. Embassy issues a letter to the tour company, which lists names of the pilgrims who would be allowed to enter Tibet for ‘pilgrimage’. Simultaneously they post the copy in their computer for immigration desk at the border post. This name-list-letter is considered as good as ‘visa’ but there would not be any proof with the pilgrims. Only ‘proof’ being copy of letter held by the tour company in which the name of the pilgrim appears.


With crossing of border came the change in driving-rules, language and the local time. China drives vehicles on the right side of the road (Nepal and India drive vehicles on the left hand side of the road like in UK). All signboards were now in two languages, Chinese (always in bold big fonts) and Tibetan (always in small barely readable fonts), and Chinese time that is 2 hour 30 minutes ahead of India (2 hours 15 minutes ahead of Nepal). Tibetan language is derived from Sanskrit. Once explained by Dalai Lama, that Tibetan language is made from two elements: ‘Sharada’ language (Sanskrit of ancient Himalayan Kashmir) and ‘Nagari’ language (Sanskrit of towns and cities in the plains of ancient India)


Each Landcruiser was to accommodate four pilgrims and a Sherpa. We made our own team of fours and started seating in the car. We were told to maintain same team from this moment till we return. Our team[1] had, besides two of us, a young man from Mumbai who is expert physical-fitness trainer at a gym and an old man from Markham (Near Toronto, Canada), who is a tantric and a practitioner of Devi-worship. He was one among a few who have accomplished proficiency in that intricate and demanding art. We thought ours was rather the best team because of good age mix and the fact that till end, we enjoyed each other’s company and remained friends. Even after the pilgrimage we are in touch with each other, have met each other and exchange emails.


We began our foray into Tibet, climbing higher and still higher. Sights were heavenly. It resembled certain scenes of Harry Potter movie - idly hanging clouds, mountains, valleys, thick woods, waterfalls and streams, not to miss almost continuously accompanying rain, patches of fog and at places misty spray from water falls. It was out of this world experience. The serpentine road was being repaired and or being made at many places. It held us up at many places. The road was lined with hundreds of Nepalese trucks that transport cheap Chinese things from China to Nepal across Tibet. China has a huge trade surplus with Nepal. Chinese product being cheaper than Nepalese, it is virtually impossible for Nepal to increase their exports. In fact their exports are currently falling while Chinese exports are increasing rapidly. Until recently, Nepal used to export substantial quantity of hydrogenated oil (vegetable ghee) to Tibet for use as fuel for lighting oil lamps. However China countered that with non-edible oil that served the same purpose, effectively reducing exports from Nepal.


Although it was well past sunset time with which until now we were used to, it was still daylight here thanks to higher altitude. However after 8 pm it started to darken. The road that was treacherous even in the day became diabolically sinister in the dark of the late evening. Literally at hundreds of places were fallen rocks and boulders on the road. Our drive was nothing short of a deadly hurdle-race in which driver has to avoid hitting the rocks that are fallen on the narrow road, a deep gorge on left and sheer mountain wall on right, not to mention traffic from opposite side. If you consider additional handicap of randomly falling rocks from up, you have got hurdle race spiked with Russian roulette.


Drivers of Landcruisers are hired from Tibetan Capital Lhasa. They are either Chinese or Tibetan and they do not speak any other language. We were told to steer clear of Drivers, as they are a delicate special blend and cannot be allowed to become upset. Their group observed their own rules, own break timing and own food habits. The flock of drivers has one leader who would be in the first car and one deputy leader who would be in the last car. Fortunately for us our driver was a friendly innocent giant-baby. Although could not understand language, he was extremely helpful. That he was also the deputy leader of the flock was somewhat ‘unfortunate’ for us. It is not that we did not like being in the last car, but that meant that the clouds of fine dust thrown up by all the vehicles ahead of us have to be stomached (literally lunged!) by us. Another duty of the deputy leader is to ensure that no car is left behind and if there is any mishap, he has to provide the help. This duty was well performed by our driver but we had to join in the suffering of other vehicles when they break down on the way. Though our vehicle was never in trouble, we had to always wait for everyone else and had to patently witness about a dozen breakdowns. But those fifteen days brought respect in our minds for our driver. I have hardly seen any grown-up man who was so childlike innocent and who was by his innate nature so helpful a person. He had a wife and four children back home. He prayed to God Hayagriva and kept his picture in the car, hung to rear-view mirror and would touch it in reverence whenever passing a difficult terrain. In Hinduism, Hayagriva is an incarnation of Vishnu who retrieves and saves Vedas from Demons Madhu and Kaitabh. His head and his voice is like that of a horse and body of a human. Among Buddhists, he is considered as a fierce God with three eyes, long protruding tongue, big belly, and an incarnation of Avalokiteshwara who makes sound of a horse and who helps people fight demons and bad spirits.


[1] When we started, initially in our team we were only three and the group leader
Gautam, thus four in our car, but as days passed, the old Sri Lankan-Canadian tantrik
gentleman replaced him.

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