“Before me spread a yellow and ochre desert, the most horrifying I could have imagined, a succession of barren, wind-eroded crags overlooking deep gorges and canyons which cut across an inferno of parched soil, like deep scars in a vast sand pile. It was like the Grand Canyon but without cactus or water. As far as I could see, there was not a single blade of grass, a tree or a bush. Just one gullied expanse of desolation combining the horrors of desert and high, arid mountains, of bareness and cold. A terrible wind whistled in my ears, spitting sand as it whipped across this patched landscape, howling in the canyons and buffeting the hills, carving them into sinister towers bleached into dry bones. I found myself exclaiming: ‘This is Mustang! I must be mad!’ ” Michel Pessel, Mustang, A Lost Tibetan Kingdom, 1968
Thursday, July 26, 2012
Today the traveler to Mustang can fly to Jomsom and trek from there. Supposedly the road starts from Birethant. In fact, 80% of this road is impassable to vehicles. Between Ghorepani and Tikhedhunga the track consists of a three or four kilometer long staircases, each stair being made of rough-hewn stones. Ascending it is a lung-straining, heart-popping ordeal, trekking down it is murder on the knees. Along the way the track passes through neat villages, paddy fields, orchards and surprisingly good tourist lodges. Climbing higher the track enters dark, damp forests of giant rhododendron, holly and deodars, each bedecked with moss and orchards. They would have done well to film parts of The Lord of the Rings here. Beautiful butterflies flit before the eyes, unfamiliar bird songs charm the ears and, if you are not watchful, veracious leeches attack the limbs. At times the forest is so utterly still and silent I had to restrain myself from shouting, so as to fill it with at least some sound. The track crosses numerous small streams and eventually runs besides a substantial river.
By the time one gets to Taodapani, so-named for the hot spring on the edge of the village, the landscape has become more alpine, with open grassy meadows and pine forests and the mountains become steeper. Eventually one gets to Jomsom. Here we met up with the three young men who were to be out porters. Most of the buildings in Jomson are in the flat-roofed Tibetan style, the locals speak a dialect of Tibetan, and there are several Tibetan monasteries in the town. After a few preparations and delays we crossed the quaint canter leaver bridge at the end of town and began our trek along the pebbly bed of the Kali Gandaki River towards Mustang.
Sunday, July 22, 2012
The plan was to spend June in Tibet, visiting Mt. Kailash again. Trouble in Lhasa prompted the Chinese to close the border the day before we were due to cross over and after they had taken our $180 fee for doing so. So with the help of our tour company we made quick alternative arrangements to go to Lo Mantang in Mustang, an alternative than proved to be nearly as good as our original plans. While these adjustments were being made Cittalaya, Jason, Tony and Hwy had a look around Kathmandu and I went to meet several people and places. Firstly I met up with Venerable Assaji and Venerable Saranakara both from Anandakiti who have both just translated my book Good Question Good Answer into Newari. Next on my list was the well-known publisher and book shop proprietor Mr. Rananand. The talk was mainly about publishing but Ramanand’s long, white wispy beard made me keep thinking I was conversing with a Himalayan sage. Within a few days all the arrangements were made and we bussed to Pokhara to begin the long trek to Mustang. Although it is touted as the ‘Forbidden Kingdom’ or ‘The Lost Tibetan Kingdom’ Mustang is neither. Indeed if it was forbidden we wouldn’t have been able to go there and if it were lost we wouldn’t have known how to get there. However, it is a remote, rarely visited place which retains at least some sense of what Tibet was like before the Chinese invasion and what life was like in much of the world until the 19th century. Over the next several weeks I will post some of the photos I took during this trip.
And one last thing. Some tour companies in Kathmandu have a bad reputation for not delivering the goods their customers have paid for. We went with Mission Eco Trek and I can highly recommend them. you can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Sunday, July 8, 2012
Holy monks living in complete harmony with wild animals. What could be more touching and endearing? Well, almost anything! Wat Pha Lung Ta Bua has been on the main tourist trail in Thailand for more than a decade now. For a hefty charge of US$20 you can visit the temple and have your picture taken with a real live apparently tame tiger, or photograph the monks cuddling them. Who wouldn’t want that? Well, the tigers for one. For quite a while now the rumor has been circulating that the tigers in this temple are docile because they are drugged. Combine mass tourism and money with religion and the results are rarely inspiring, and this is particually so in Buddhist Asia. That the Wat is little more than a money-making racket is hardly a surprise – such things are common enough in Thailand. But now concerned animal welfare advocates have obtained hard evidence that something much more unpleasant than common garden variety greed is going on at the Wat. The tigers are, it seems, being bred to be sold on to the illegal wildlife market – i.e. being killed for their various body parts. Concerned people have started a petition to have something done about this sad (for the tigers) and shameful (for the monks) situation. Although well intentioned, I fear that petition will fall foul of the Thai approach to so many problems; “Mai pen rai”, “Don’t worry about it”. But you never know. Miracles do happen. So read the facts and sign the partition anyway.