Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Golden Temple

This blog was actually written on November 14, 2010.  That really wasn't that long ago, but it feels light years back.

In our travels, we’ve seen a lot of golden buildings and even a couple of the Golden Temples.  But this one takes the cake.  As are most buildings covered in gold, it’s very beautiful.

The real beauty of this temple doesn’t lie in the gold plated edifice floating serenely on a sacred pond (The Pool of Nectar), but in the people who care for and visit it.  It’s a Sikh (say “seek”) temple, but all are welcome here.  When the pilgrims arrive, they are treated as guests and shown the utmost hospitality.  We were given a place to sleep, as many meals and as much tea as we required, and a truly welcoming atmosphere.  Although a donation of your choosing is requested, all of this is given freely.
A class on their way to the temple.
Sikhism began as a reaction to the caste system, and one of their central tenants is that all humans are equal.  This belief is expressed in various ways, one of which is langar, in which a diversity of people sit side by side to share a meal provided by volunteers in a community kitchen.  Between 80,000 and 200,000 people stay and eat each day, but the entire process is efficiently run by volunteers.  Anyone can join in to help with the food prep or the dish washing.

Everyone awaiting their food
This was way more delicious than it appears
Huge pot of pulao.  The cook gave us each a handful to try then shooed us into the eating area
Pots of Chai (tea)
All over the world, I’ve heard a lot about the ideals of peace and equality, but it’s rare that they manifest themselves so easily.  That’s what’s truly remarkable about Amrit Sarovar: while you’re here, you can feel a real openness and peace among the members of humanity. 

You might have noticed everyone is wearing a scarf or turban.  That's because everyone (men and women both) is asked to cover their hair as a gesture of respect.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

McLeod Ganj

We got a bit behind on the posts again:  this time due to slow internet connections, strange Picasa behavior, and general laziness.  No autocratic government to blame this time I'm afraid.  This post was actually written on Sunday, November 14.  I can hardly believe that because it feels like it's been ages, even though it was less than a month ago.

We spent almost 3 weeks in McLeod Ganj (sounds like Mc-Cloud Gonj), and most of that time was spent ailing and recovering from amoebic dysentery, but we still had a chance to do a few cool things.

McLeod Ganj
We saw a performance of what began as traditional Tibetan song and dance and what eventually devolved into an interactive 90s dance pop fiasco.  But it was a good time.

It was definitely more interpretive than traditional by this point.  But note traditional Tibetan coat nonetheless.
We took a short walk to the local waterfall and spent the night sitting around a campfire at a remote café.

That's not me with the guitar, that's a girl who has a great singing voice
We witnessed a limited version of Diwali celebrations as the Indian kids in town lit off extremely loud and precariously aimed fireworks.

We saw Kalachakra Temple and walked a kora around the Dalai Lama’s residence.

One of the Dalai Lama's many seats
Ancient Tibetan texts saved from the Chinese and brought to India
A Tibetan women circumnambulating the Dalai Lama's residence
A prayer flag
We watched monks debate in Namgyal Gompa.  They weren’t as animated and entertaining as the ones at Sera Monastery, but they were debating with foreigners and non-monks.

They were speaking Tibetan
We followed the crowd to the 50th anniversary celebration of the Tibetan Children’s Village School,
where we got to see the man himself, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, speak.  He was really far away and he was speaking Tibetan, but we were there and he was there, so I think that counts for something.

That's him
We also met some new friends, took a couple of yoga classes, played some open-mics, and had a lot of long discussions about the nature of reality and spirituality.  McLeod Ganj is like that.  It’s in the air.

It ain's all beautiful sunsets and poor kids, but there sure are a lot of both

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Homesick List

Recently I've been homesick, and dreaming of things from back home.  So to the future me (who might be sick of being at home), and anyone else who may be wishing that they were traveling around the world, here's a list of things about home that I'm thankful for:

Clean water.  This has especially been brought into focus by our bought of amoebic dystentery.  Everywhere we've been with the exception of Japan has had undrinkable water.  We used to take it for granted that we can drink from the tap.  In many many places, water is either untreated or unavailable, and forecasts predict it will become less available as time goes on.

Having the basic necessities covered.  While we have enough money (though many others don't), to always be able to find a guesthouse or a (hopefully but not always) clean source of food, it's a real pain to spend an hour going around looking for one while carrying around a huge pack.  Plus, once we find one, it's usually kinda dirty.  There's a lot to be said for clean and comfortable surroundings that include reliable hot showers.

Being able to make my own food.  OK, I'm especially picky about what I eat.  But that said, I like being able to control how clean my food is, how much oil goes into it, whether or not the grains are brown, etc.  I like being able to make my own tea when I'm sick.  I like being able to eat raw vegetables and unpeeled fruit.  I like having cuisine made by someone who's actually eaten it before and not just copied it off the internet.  It makes a difference.

Having a washing machine.  It's really annoying having to give all your clothes to a stranger and hoping they give them back un-ruined the next day.  Plus, half the time they come back with little marks on them, like some yarn tied to the hem or a black mark on the tag.  Cutting all those off annoys me, and what if I need to read that tag in the future?

Being able to walk into a store and ask for help.  Back home, I already know where the hardware store is.  I know where I can find some yarn and knitting needles.  I don't have to wander all around town consulting maps and locals about where to go and how much it should cost to get there.  I don't have to avoid mud, trash fires, rogue trucks, and touts along the way.  And once I get there, if I need help, I can ask someone in plain English.  I can read the labels and ingredients.  I can read the instructions on things after I buy them.

Flannel pajamas and slippers.  They're very comfortable, and I don't have them with me.

Soft sheets and most definitely clean blankets.

Almost any kind of quality food from anywhere.  OK, American stores are like mega-churches to consumerism.  They're really really huge.  I don't think there's anything in town here as big as a typical Big Bear, let alone a Home Depot.   You can find anything you want in them.  Bizarre-o health supplements?  Check.  Thai spices?  Check.  Hundreds of kinds of cereal?  Check.  25 varieties of soy milk?  Check.  Non-toxic body lotion?  OK, you have to look around a bit, but it's there.  This is truly unheard in most parts of the world.  When I was in middle school, one of my teachers told me a story about some women they brought over from Russia after the Soviet Union fell.  When they first saw an American grocery store, they fell to their knees and cried.  I understand this story now.  It must have seemed like a dream compared to what they knew.

People who know how to do stuff, and can tell me about it in English.  It was really hard learning to knit from a book in Japan.  In the US, they have these knowledgeable ladies at the yarn store who can help you.  They have those in Japan too, but they don't speak English and can't read my pattern.

Central heating.

Family and Friends (including Bela).

Internet at my command.

My own plants.
Walking down clean streets and through nice parks.

Knowing what to do with my recycling.  Sometimes it's harder than it should be to figure out.  Sometimes it just doesn't exist.  And we have to keep buying plastic bottles of water.

Knowing exactly how to navigate the culture.  I know how to tip in the U.S.  I know what's considered rude.  I know when someone's being appropriate or not so and how to respond.

Being able to throw toliet paper in the toliet and not the trash.  Also, I like having soap and sink to wash my hands in.

Not having to bargain for everything.  It's seriously annoying sometimes.  I don't really know how much things should cost.  Plus, it's this whole drama.  I have to pretend I'm not interested, or else they'll jack the price up.  I'm not a good actor. 

Not being openly stared at.

Clean air, relatively free from pollution and honking.

Sidewalks.  Really, they're really nice.  And pedestrians have the right of way, cows not included.

No stray dogs.  Often they're friendly, but sometimes they're dangerous.  And also very dirty.

Having a variety of clothing to choose from.  Although sometimes this is stressful, since I get racked with indecision. 

Celebrating U.S. holidays.  I wanted to dress up for Halloween, but it would have been pretty weird since I'd be the only one.  I'm also a big fan of Thanksgiving.

That's all I can think of now.  I'll probably add more later (in the comments or something.)  If you would like to do the same, please feel free.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I Got Worms

Actually, they're not worms.  They're amoebas.  But we do have parasites.

For about a month now, we've been having off and on Delhi-belly.  We thought we just kept catching different bugs everywhere we went, but it turns out that the bugs have been traveling with us.  (Actually, we did catch another bug also, but it was just a run-of-the-mill bacteria.)  I could catalog our symptoms, but you might be eating.  It was in our stomachs and it made us miserable.  Use your imagination.

It's been particularly bad for the last week, so we finally went to the doctor.  After a consult and a stool sample given in a comically small cup, we were diagnosed with amoebic dysentery.  Christin also has a bacterial infection, but that's par for the course.  We got a 5-day course of meds to take care of the acute amoebas and a 10-day course to take before we leave the country to eliminate them completely.

Once again, the grand total for all this medicine, doctorly expertise, and peace of mind was about 300 rupees or $6.50.  For both of us. 

K&C's Patented Travel Wisdom:  If you're in a tropical country and you get a weird disease, especially malaria, don't go home.  Doctors in India, Thailand, etc. know how to treat these diseases, in many cases better than doctors back home who never see them.  And it's also way cheaper.

So don't worry moms and dad.  Amoebic dysentery isn't as scary as it sounds.  We've got medicine and we'll be better before you know it.

Monday, November 1, 2010

It Ain’t All Sunsets and Touching Moments With Poor Kids

This blog was actually written on October 19th, 2010 but we’re only uploading it now to keep our blog posts in chronological order.  The previous posts were delayed due to Chinese censorship. For more info, see The Great Firewall.

It doesn’t look that far on a map—and really it isn’t—but it took us 76 hours to get from Kathmandu to Delhi.  Here’s how it went:

We got to the bus station in Kathmandu just before 8am on October 16th.  We wanted to go to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha, because we didn’t want to get stuck spending the night in some crappy border town or railway junction.  We found the bus very easily with the help of some Bluto looking guy (as in Popeye’s arch nemesis).  I was slightly suspicious of him, which unfortunately you have to be of almost everyone who helps you when you’re traveling.  It also didn’t help when one of the other bus station touts yelled to me “That bus not going to Lumbini!” as I was getting on.  But everything has to be taken with a grain of salt.  That guy probably just wanted me to get on his bus.

The bus ride went OK, but as we should have expected it took a lot longer than advertised, so we didn’t reach our destination until after 4pm, too late to leisurely bike around Lumbini.  And, as we also should have expected, our destination wasn’t Lumbini.  It was Bhairawa, the crappy border town we were trying to avoid.  Bluto was trying to quickly and confusingly usher us onto another bus when he pulled Christin’s pack out and it was soaked in water and mud.  Keep in mind too that her pack contains about half of everything we have with us (but thankfully not the laptop, which we just happened to luckily store in the drier half of the storage compartment), so that’s pretty significant.  She was extremely upset and yelling at him and he was being a general dick about it.  Then he just hopped back on his bus and rode away smiling.

Christin was also unhappy with me because I under reacted to the whole thing (as I usually do) so we got in a fight and decided not to get on the bus to Lumbini.  The whole time we were fighting a group of Nepali guys gathered around and stared at us.  You get used to being stared at when you’re the only white guy in town (or especially when you're the only blond girl), but sometimes you’re just not in the f-ing mood.

Trash along the side of the road, very common all throughout this part of the world
For some reason that baffles me now I thought it would be a good idea to just go five kilometers down the road and find a guest house right next to the border.  First, we got on a bicycle rickshaw.  After about a kilometer, his bike broke down and we had to get off.  Then, a minibus driver offered us 10 rupees each to get to the border.  When we got to the border I gave him a 100 rupee note and he gave me 60 rupees change.  As I argued for the other 20 rupees he owed me (Purely on principle.  20 Nepali rupees is about 25 cents.), he tried to tell me that there was a tax.  I politely told him that that was bullshit because we both knew he wasn’t paying any tax and either way the tax rate is not 100 percent.  Finally, after way too much discussion, his partner gave me my money, a tiny and unsatisfying victory.

We spent the night in the shittiest guesthouse we’ve seen since Vientiane.  Please heed this advice:  NEVER SLEEP IN A BORDER TOWN.  We did, however, find a restaurant with a TV that was showing The Simpsons, so we had a one-hour respite.

The next morning, the 17th, we woke up and leisurely crossed the border into India at Sunauli.  Then we entered into negotiations for a shared taxi to Gorakhpur, where we could catch a train to Delhi.  First, the guy quoted us 1200 Indian rupees for the whole car.  Way too much.  We started to walk away and he told us we could get into a shared car for 150 rupees each.  That was reasonable so we checked it out.  We walked over to the car and then suddenly they wanted 200 each.  We objected and they said that if we paid 200 each they would give us the whole back seat and we could leave immediately.  We begrudgingly agreed even though we hate dealing with clear swindlers like this.  We just wanted some comfort after the rough time we had the day before (A share car would have been 8-10 people plus bags in one SUV).

Then, when we got in the car and paid the 400 rupees, they said we couldn’t leave yet because they were waiting for another person to put in the back seat.  When we strenuously objected and reminded them of the deal we had just made not even 60 seconds earlier, they asked for another 100 rupees to leave right away.  We got pissed, asked for our money back, and started to get out of the car.  But then, the very nice Indian man who had purchased the front seat paid the extra 100 and convinced us to get back in.  I guess he had the money and really wanted to leave immediately.  He said, “It can’t be helped, these men cheat.”

I must say, though, after the way these guys showed that they were clearly willing to do anything to squeeze more money out of us except for honor the agreements they had just made, I didn’t feel good about rewarding them with my business.  But sometimes you just give up and sit back for the ride, which was pretty smooth except for when it started to rain and the windshield wipers didn’t work.

We got to Gorakhpur and went straight to the train station to buy tickets.  A travel agent in Kathmandu explained to me how the Indian train ticketing system works for foreigners.  Indian trains are always full so Indian people have to book tickets days in advance.  But, they keep a “tourist quota” which means that a foreigner can walk up to a special window and buy a ticket the same day of their trip and always get on.  I think this causes an Indian person to lose their seat, which isn’t fair, but I still didn’t hesitate to use it when I had the chance.

After wandering through crowds of families camping out on the platform and a dog suckling a litter of puppies, I went up to a random ticket window.  The girl there didn’t seem to excited about dealing with me and she gave me vague directions to the “reservation office” down the street.  When we finally found our way there it was 2:05pm and the guy at the foreign tourist window told me that the office closed at 2, so I couldn’t get a ticket today.

View from our hotel in Gorakhpur
Cow in the train station
We went to four different hotels and picked the least dirty one, took one of those “hit the hot spots” sink baths in cold water and went to eat at the surprisingly good open-air restaurant downstairs.  Right after we sat down a cow came up and started licking the clean glasses.

The next day, the 18th, we bought a ticket for the Vaishalli Express leaving Gorakhpur at 5:05pm and arriving in New Delhi at 6:30am the following day.  The finish line was in sight, but the trainathalon had yet to begin.

We bought tickets for the sleeper class because we hate air conditioning (It’s always too cold) and it was really cheap.  Plus, it was perfectly comfortable in China.  It turns out that India is a different country than China. 

The sleeper class has 3-tiered compartments with six bunks and during the day everyone sits on the lower bunks like they’re a couch.  Same as China.  But when the train pulled into the station we looked into the windows and there were way more than 6 people sitting in each compartment.  Did we do the math wrong?

It turns out that the train companies just keep selling tickets for “standing room” in the sleeper cars and regardless of confirmed tickets and seat numbers, things are just a big free-for-all.  Shortly after we settled in three big railway cops plopped down in our compartment and packed us all right in.  At one point, a man who had a ticket for one of our seats demanded that one of the police officers get up.  Things got heated and the cop grabbed for his beating stick but luckily his friend held it back from him.  The guy eventually had to give up and let the cop sit in his seat.

The guy sitting next to us explained that the guy did technically have the right to the seat, but he rudely approached the cop and didn’t show him the proper respect.  Also, the cop was a cop and the man was poor so he didn’t have much power in this situation.  If the cop had beat him for his rudeness, nothing would have happened because the man was poor and the cop was a cop.  In India, the rules are vague and everything is a compromise.

A bunch of people lingered in our seats until about 11pm when we ticket holders finally decided we wanted to go to bed.  Christin got into her middle bunk and I laid out on the lower bunk.  One of the standing room guys was sitting on the corner of my bed and I didn’t say anything because he didn’t have anywhere to go and I could spare the space.  I fell asleep and when I woke up he was sleeping head to toe with me.

We woke up at about 6:30 in the morning on the 19th to the sun rising over some beautiful Indian countryside.  We did not, however, wake up at 6:30 in New Delhi station as planned.  We finally arrived in New Delhi after noon, six hours late and 76 hours after leaving Kathmandu.

Sometimes there's beauty in even the awfulest of situations
We caught an auto rickshaw (or tuk-tuk for those of you familiar with the Thai system) to the apartment of Indu Jaggi, our couch surfing host and the mother of the world famous Sid from Hong Kong.  She so far she has treated us to a nice homemade vegetarian Indian lunch, a hot shower, our first Hindu temple, a giant statue of Hanuman, an Indian-Chinese dinner (quite a unique cuisine indeed), and plenty of conversation and good humor.  It’s almost midnight now and I’m looking forward to sleeping in a clean bed.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Skipping Through Nepal

We didn't really stay in Nepal very long.  About a week and half I guess.  During our time there, we didn't write any blogs, mostly because we were either disconnected from the internet or sick and unwilling.  Mostly the latter.  We headed straight for Kathmandu, and along the way we enjoyed the change in scenery:  in contrast to the dry unending plains of Tibet, northern Nepal is lush, green, and crammed together.  There were waterfalls everywhere, and it seemed as though the Nepalis decided it would just be better to let them do their thing than to try to tame them, because they regularly ran right across the road.

View from our bus ride
After arriving in Kathmandu and rejoicing in the creativity of their knick-knacks and tourist clothing, we decided to do a 4-day motorbike tour of Kathmandu valley.  First, we headed to Bouda to see Boudhanath.  We changed hotels here, something that boggled our guesthouse owner Santosh, since it's only like 15 minutes away by moto.  We just wanted to stay near Boudhanath, which is a beautiful giant Buddhist Stupa.  It was built sometime around 590-604 CE or 464-505 CE, depending on who you ask.  Either way, it's really ancient.  It may or may not have been built by the Tibetans, but in any case, they assumed it's upkeep a long long time ago, and have been visiting it as a holy site ever since.

From there, we headed to Kopan monastery, also very close by.  Kopan was founded by Tibetan monk Lama Thubten Yeshe, who is famous for among other things being among the first of the Tibetan refugee monks to take on western students, and later choosing to reincarnate himself as a westerner.  As such, it has become a popular destination for western tourists and spiritual seekers.  We just happened to have read a book about Lama Yeshe while we were in Laos, so when we heard his monastery was nearby, we decided to pay a visit.  It was an exceedingly beautiful monastery, among my favorite of all the temples and monasteries we've visited in our travels.

After that, we visited a nunnery in Shivapuri national park called Nagi Gompa.  In our time here in Asia, we've visited many temples and monasteries, but never a nunnery.  They, and nuns, are in fact somewhat rare, so I wanted to visit one.  Once there, an older nun happily showed us around their simple temple, gesturing to communicate what was what and who was an incarnation of who.  After that, we went on a long uphill hike with a nice Austrian guy so that we could get a good view of the mountains.  The view never materialized, but we got some exercise along the way.

Prayer flags at Nagi Gompa
Next, we headed to Kakani, from where we could get a glimpse of the Himalayas from the other side.  Unfortunately, it was cloudy both the night and morning we were there, so we could only get the slightest glimpse of them through the clouds and only for about 10 minutes.

On the way to Kakani, we spotted a bus which had crashed on the side of the road and been left there.  Upon closer investigation, we discovered 2 small girls playing in the wreckage in what we perceived to be a dangerous spot.  We took their pictures and then offered to show them in an attempt to coax them out of there, which worked... temporarily.  After fixing their hair and posing for another picture, they headed right back for the wreckage.  Sigh...

I guess getting their hair done made them squinty
This and the speed at which they drive plus this probably makes for the crashes
By the time we arrived back in Kathmandu, we were both suffering from a full-on bout of traveller's diarrhea, which later compounded itself with a head cold.  After waiting out the sickness, we decided we didn't really want to go trekking for 10 days or more and since we missed the 3-day meditation retreat in Pokhara we had wanted to do, we decided to high-tail it to India and spend the rest of our time there.  We spent the rest of our time in Kathmandu recovering, talking with our guesthouse owner who treated all the guests in his hotel as though they were guests in his home, and generally avoiding the Dashain festival, since it involves the ritual sacrificial killing of thousands of goats.

a puja, or an offering, for the Dashain festival
Us with the guesthouse owner, Santosh

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

China in Tibet

This blog was actually written on September 27th, 2010 but we can only upload it now thanks to Chinese censorship. For more info, see The Great Firewall.

Tibetan children in traditional dress at the Norbulingka
Mom fixing her up with the proper headdress
China has been occupying Tibet now for 60 years, and there is a lot said about the good things (mostly by China) and the bad things (mostly by everyone else) China has done there.  Here are my impressions:

Good Things
The touristy section of Lhasa is really nice and a lot of the temples and monasteries that China destroyed are now being rebuilt.  Also, they (the Chinese) don’t slaughter pigs in the Jokhang anymore.

Buddhas at Tashilunpo Monastery
Bad Things
All of the aforementioned good things are for the benefit of tourists and much of the money they bring in goes to the Chinese government in the form of travel permits.  Before we went to Tibet, we had to pay a huge lump sum to arrange the necessary permits and the guide we needed to enter the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and only after we entered could we slowly trickle our Renminbi down to individual Tibetans for food, lodgings, and the handicrafts that we tourists so covet (in order to prove that we actually were there).

Unemployment seems to be a huge problem among the Tibetans.  Our guide took us to a local teahouse where men go in the morning to get leads on where some work is available around town.  Also, our tour group mates were harangued by a very drunk Tibetan man one night who insisted that they only patronize Tibetan owned establishments because he said the Chinese come in and take all the jobs and Tibetans can’t find work.

The Han-ification of Tibet is another problem.  The Chinese government is using economic incentives to move Chinese people into Tibet in order to change the ethnic make up of the area and artificially bolster local support for their claims on the region.  One recent trend has been an increase of Tibetan women marrying Han men, which is all well and good.  Love is love is love and all that.  But, the government has a policy of hiring Chinese men and Tibetan women to work together on highway projects in the TAR in an effort to promote such unions because of course, their children will be considered Chinese, not Tibetan.  It’s kind of like America’s one-drop theory but it works in the opposite direction.

Prayer flags at a high mountain pass
The Tibetan people (like all Chinese people) completely lack any freedom of political expression.  Pictures of the current Dalai Lama are banned in Tibet, but I heard rumors that a few people might have some hidden in their homes.  One day we were on the bus and the driver started playing a pop song about the Dalai Lama on the radio.  Our guide got very nervous and insisted that we get off.  Images of the current Panchen Lama (who is being held under house arrest as the youngest political prisoner in the world) are likewise banned, but the Tibetans get around this by posting pictures of the former Panchen Lama.  They are allowed, however, to put up pictures of the Chinese appointed Panchen Lama, but we didn’t see any.

Yamdrok, a holy lake outside of Lhasa
We also heard stories about other political prisoners.  One person told us about their uncle.  He was a monk at Drepung Monastery when the Chinese took over.  At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution he was imprisoned for 2 years.  When he was released he returned to Drepung but it had been destroyed.  Drepung used to be the biggest monastery in the world, but it was still being rebuilt when we visited it.

Drepung Monastery
Another person told us about their friend who was sent to prison for life in 2008.  Only his family is allowed to visit him and ask about the charges against him.  If his friends attempt to visit him or speak to his family they put themselves at risk, so no one even knows why he is really in prison.  We heard one theory though.  Since he was educated, he would occasionally go to villages and give teachings.  When he did, he referred to the area where they all lived as Tibet instead of China.  He was very brave, but he wasn’t very careful.

We also saw a lot of poverty in Tibet, but that was the story all over China.  Some neighborhoods had brand new shopping malls, others had children playing around garbage fires.  Some people drove foreign luxury cars, others followed you around waiting for you to finish your water so they could get the deposit on the plastic bottle.  The biggest difference was that in Lhasa there seemed to be an ethnic divide.  There were plenty of Han Chinese in the area and there were plenty of beggars, but none of the beggars were Han.

A woman's home outside of Drepung Monastery.
We also heard a little bit about education in Tibet.  School is taught in Mandarin and Tibetan is studied like a foreign language, but only through primary school.  Starting in high school all classes are taught in Mandarin.  Tibetan history is not taught in school.  If a Tibetan wants to learn his or her own history, they have to find a way to access the whole cannon of banned literature on the subject.

My Final Evaluation
The suspicious historical claims to Tibet made by Chinese scholars do not justify the slow destruction of Tibetan culture and history and the desire of the Chinese government to look bigger on a map does not justify the continued subjugation of the Tibetan people.  Free Tibet!

Ancient wisdom preserved in these hundreds-of-years-old texts

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Mt. Everest

This blog was actually written on September 27th, 2010 but we can only upload it now thanks to Chinese censorship. For more info, see The Great Firewall.

The other day I realized that mountaineers must really enjoy suffering.  I mean, think about it.  They climb high-altitude snow covered mountains for fun.  Their trek involves suffering through cold, dirt, wind, gruel, and possible altitude sickness all for what?  As near as I can figure it’s either for the glory or the “experience.” Well, the experience is surely mostly suffering.

Our first view of the Himalays
I came to this conclusion as we were trekking the relatively easy 4 kilometers to Everest Base Camp.  First of all, there are 2 Everest Base Camps and both have their rigors.  There is the South Base Camp in Nepal, which requires around 14 days of trekking to reach and is slightly lower at 5,360 meters (17,590 ft), and the North Base Camp in Tibet at 5,545 meters (18,192 ft), which requires surmounting not mountains but Chinese bureaucratic red tape.  We chose the Tibetan version.

Mt. Everest at sunrise
Basically, the hard part is securing all the necessary permissions from the Chinese government (which really isn’t so much hard as it is expensive and subject to the ever-changing whims of the Chinese government).  After that, we just rode up a really bumpy road in a 4WD Toyota Land Cruiser and stayed the night inside a yak wool tent.  In the morning, we had the option of either taking a bus up to the hill that comprises the base camp, or we could hike the 4 kilometers it takes to get there.  Sangpo, our guide, explained to us that hiking is more “glorious,” so we chose that option. (Sangpo, however, still rode the bus to meet us at the military check-point where we had to secure permission one last time). 

Us after our grueling hike (somehow we look exhilarated.  Must be the glory.)
Which brings me to realizing that mountaineers like suffering.  We only walked 4 kilometers along a bumpy road, but it was pretty rough.  It was freezing cold with frigid winds blowing in our face, and the up-hill trail itself was much more rocky than glorious.  But when we got to the top of the hill, the view of Mt. Everest was beautiful.  It was definitely worth it.  Plus, now we get to say we hiked to Everest Base Camp, which sounds way more impressive than it actually is.

Basecamp is that hill there with all the people on top

Throwing our prayer papers after arriving at last at the highest pass