Monday, January 21, 2008

Lungs of the Earth

After six months in India, in 1967, I traveled north to Nepal to get a taste of life in the Himalayas. Seven months later I came down.
It was my first experience in a Buddhist culture and I wandered around in a daze the moment I stepped into Katmandu. The dimension flipped, pagodas everywhere, just like when I arrived in Istanbul, Turkey, to get my first impression of the Islamic world. The feeling of awakening and heightened sensation. Same thing from Pakistan to India, where people were almost magically changed.
Oddly, one of the most vivid memories I carried with me from Katmandu was the central square where vegetables were sold daily, the largest I've ever seen. The cauliflower was brilliant, bleached in the noon day sun. The heads were stacked around the religious monuments in perfect arrangements, and since one half of the days in that town are official religious holidays, music from the temples was constant. Hindu bells and chants, Bhuddist prayers, and drums. Always drums. The cauliflower heads were 15-20 inches in diameter. They were healthy and reassuring. Always enjoyable. I cooked them up frequently with potatoes.
Every night I played my guitar and sang folk songs with a young drummer who said little, but did refer to cauliflower once as "the lungs of the earth". Then he drummed some more.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'd like to know more about this trip. I've always wanted to go to Katmandu, and now I am dating a man who has informed me that he has always wanted to go (without knowing about my desire to go)--What drew you to the place? What did you do during your time in the mountains?

21/1/08 7:17 PM  
Blogger jm said...

Anon, it was the highlight of my life. I got on a student flight from the U of Wisconsin to Europe and made a connection with a friend of a friend who was driving to India. I joined him and ended up staying for a year and a half.

There was an international group of people who traveled loosely together and lived communally, meeting up in all the major places. So Katmandu was part of the circuit.

I really didn't expect to be so blown away by the country but I was and many things happened. It's hard to describe the sensation but it connected with my sensory make-up. And spiritual, of course.

Katmandu was just the start. We hung out at a restaurant called the Blue Tibetan and another one called the Cabin. The travelers were as fascinating as the natives, Eight-fingered Eddie being one of the best. Oh it was wonderful. Lots of spiritual seekers and brave adventurers. The Nepalis enjoyed us tremendously.

Back then the streets were mud and pigs roamed, which was fine during the dry season, but during the monsoons it was a trip getting through town.

They are meat eaters and I took a fascinating trip to the place where they ritually slaughter their water buffalo in a spiritual place deep in the woods. Very eerie, very quieting. I didn't see any actual slaughter, though. I wouldn't. But the vibe was fascinating.

One day we took a bus into the mountains to a place called Dhulikhel and I got my first taste of the incredible grandeur of the Himalayas. You looked out and saw nothing but endless ridges of snow capped mountains and I felt infinity I think for the first time in an almost tangible way. It was beautiful.

Katmandu itself is hard to describe, but the constant music and pagodas against the sky are always gorgeous and stimulating. Rice paddies surround the town and the foothills of the Himalayas are spectacular. A Peace Corps volunteer took a trek and left me his house for awhile right next to the foothills in a village outside of Katmandu. We hung out in the tea shop next to the temple, and sort of stayed in an alternate dimension all the time. 7 months in that dimension to be exact.

More in a mo....

21/1/08 8:17 PM  
Blogger jm said...

One of the most memorable times was a trek a group of us took climbing all day until we reached a village on the top of a mountain. It was night and the villagers fed us and gave us shelter. When we awoke the next morning and saw where we were, it was one of the most astounding moments of my life. On top of the world looking at the endless Himalayas. That combination with the gentle humility of the villagers stays with me forever. Plus the persnickety Italian guy who was our appointed leader. We quarreled!

I love the Buddhist Himalayan cultures and I want to go to Sikkim, which has just been opened to travelers, I think. Bhutan is another one, really far out.

One night about midnight in Katmandu, I decided I wanted to open my third eye (young hippie an' all), so I went to a tattoo artist and told him to put one on my forehead between my eyes. He did. I carry the reminder of that time of my life to this day.

I felt like I was being guided to an inevitable spiritual destiny the whole time in India and Nepal. I can't imagine my life without the experience.

22/1/08 3:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, Jm...I could listen to you talk about this forever. What a gift from the cosmos to have had the opportunity to take that trip. Gift..?
Is what we are destined to experience still a gift?

22/1/08 8:18 AM  
Blogger jm said...

Chris, I can't believe you said this. I've had that on my mind for days. "A gift". I'm beginning to see how people sometimes find it hard to accept such a thing from the cosmos, part of the Sagittarius connection to generosity of spirit. Give and take. Supposed to be.

22/1/08 1:02 PM  

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