Week in Journals

So, as you may have noticed, I have been quite miserable about keeping up a blog and my placement in rural Himanchal Pradesh and the lack of consistent internet that comes with it has not been helpful. What I have been trying to do though is keep up a Journal and from time to time add pictures and edit out personal information so I can send it out to friends and family. So here I will begin posting the journal (hopefully once per week). I apologize to family and friends for falling off the radar, please comment if you have questions. We will kick it off with Christmas Day up to New Years.

Journal      24-31 December

December 24th This Christmas eve was a sleepy one as I awoke frustrated around 11. Of late, and partially to distract myself from the reality of not seeing Rachel another 6 months, I have been captivated by a book titled “Seven Years in Tibet,” a true account of Heinrich Harrer and Peter Aufschnaiter’s war induced expedition into the Forbidden areas of Tibet. It gives an astonishing account of life in Tibet before Chinas red army removed them. The two were able to escape an Internment camp in Derhadun (a place I have visited before) twice and escape via night trekking hundreds of miles into Tibet. The hospitality and bureaucracy they faced there was amazing as random nomads would allow them to sleep in their tents and a number of people invited them into their homes despite them having little money. Their initial goal of reaching Tibet was that it was neutral grounds during WWII and so it at least they wouldn’t be behind barb wire while they were there. Harrer seemed to be a supreme athlete, very disciplined and personable. Both were able to pick up a difficult language in Tibetan to the extent they could convince people they were Indians on a pilgrimage. It changed my view of Tibet before China’s invasion as I have learned of the vast nomad populations, the penetration of European goods into Lhasa the capitol, with the previous Dali lama even having three cars and nobels sending their children to be educated abroad. Khampas are regarded as fierce, ruthless robbers in the book, but I have found online that they maintained an offensive against the Chinese up to 1974, 15 years after the Dali lama was forced out. These men come from the high and cold plains and stories of their ruthlessness even penetrate here as I heard stories from a local doctor how has treated some, about how they use to behead those who would not move fast enough out of their way on the path. The Tibetan guard was also big, with an average height of 6’6 and some even rumored to have reached 8 feet! The book makes it sound that there are plentiful hot springs in pockets of the country and have inspired me to think the 20,000 ft peaks around me are not so difficult to manage. The journal entry style has inspired me to treat each day and experience anew in this area and document my findings, even if they have already been documented. I plan on starting tomorrow with a morning hike up to the pine groves which locals seem to be harvesting gum or something from.

Other than reading, Pragia (my aunti’s granddaughter) brought back a smuggled 4 day old puppy which could easily fit in the palm of her hand. It was very cute, but I was worried it might not make it long in her hands as she gave it quite a shake and tried to feed it dry food. Luckily, her grandmother was not up for her keeping it, and quite openly made fun of her until she agreed to bring it back to its home. (Unfortunately it did later die) I accompanied her on this (needing some supplies from town) and received some relief when it peed on her which she declared disgusting and embarrassing. Unfortunately for me, all of the stores in this midpoint town close on Wednesdays (I didn’t get the memo) so I came back empty handed.

The way people take care of dogs is a bit discomforting to me. Our house is pure veg, so that means the pets are too. The dogs often subsist on a diet of rice, dal, chapatti, and whatever other food scraps are tossed there way, apart from any bugs they manage to snatch from the air, they are pure veg as well. Despite this, they seem healthy.

Upon return, I put on some sports cloths and went running up the mountain away from the sunset and was pleased with my progress. Returning back, Aunti demonstrated her use of garlic leaves and coriander in the spicing of Kuddi, a sort of sour curry. Earlier in the day, she showed me how she makes paratha with miti, a local weed, which inspired me to maybe do the same with nettle or other weeds in  the states.


December 25th Christmas Day in the hallow wood

Today I (of coarse) awoke late after a rocky night sleep which saw me finish my book, but feeling rather frustrated about loss of sleep. I quickly washed my hair, changed and grabbed a granolna bar before settling on my. After some difficulty I was able to lodge four bricks into the pack and threw my jar of coins and camera on top for good measure. I threw the heavy pack over my shoulder and set off for my first minor training adventure. For a week or so now the feeling had arisen that I was not in touch with the culture here and made several assumptions for how things were done. I vow to now treat everyday anew and to live more curiously. This begins with my morning training hikes and proceeds via the questions I have for the things I see in a new light. Today I set out for a forest about 500 ft above rakkar.

One of the great things I love about India is the great amounts of commons left in the mountain areas. This fills me with a sense of adventure and fills others with doubts of my sanity. Just a 30 minute hike from my home, I can be immersed in a hallow grove of pine trees left over from British timber escapades. In one sense this is a sad place as a shedding of pine needles has sucked out the diversity and only stanch weeds such as lantana, blue mist flower and something which resembles mulberry can survive in the understory. But luckily the edges still demonstrate the diversity that can be found in the undisturbed upper forests, at least some of it. Here, you find a number of local berry varieties which attract the most beautiful birds of paradise, with a whole spectrum of colors and shapes. It is quite a sight to spot some long-tailed varieties of birds of paradise swoop from pine to pine. Their tails are almost twice the length of their bodies so as they take off they first glide for a moment and then must flap heavily to create enough lift to continue. Turning is quite an ordeal as the tail acts as a rudder. Thus their turns must be wide which I am sure takes some getting use to. I would be curious to see these attempts made by younger birds, just learning to fly. Interestingly enough, the male and female both have long tails so I would be interested to know the utility of the tail, as I imagine it makes them easy prey for leopards and hawks. I cannot really distinguish the sexes, but one is gold breasted with black/gold wings and the other has a white breast with blues wings. They appear to subsist on insects, berries and frogs. In addition, there is the ever cheerful goldfinch. Now is mating season so their colors are bright and the males are busy chasing each other around willow trees, that is, until the presence of a hawk or griffin is announced. There is also some sort of medium-sized rainbow colored, iridescent bird which twitches its head and tail in opposite directions as it calls and a large purple bird which hops along the forest floor collecting nuts. Along the edge, farmers copious trees for cattle feed or fire including willow and drake. The former is also used as a traditional insect/ pest repellent.

Within the forest, locals make use of the trees, collecting sap from them by cutting knotches in a bangerang shape for about a half meter down the trunk. At the bottom of these cuts they place a lip which feeds sap into a metal cone. Once one tap is finished, they make another down one spine of the tree until they reach the base of the trunk. Rarely, the taps continue to the other side of the tree. There seems to be a correlation between height of where the taps start and the height of the local population, as they go no more than six feet. Almost every tree thicker than 6 inches is tapped in this forest and I have yet to determine what the utility of the sap is (I assume it is some sort of glue). There appears to have been a fire here a number of years ago as all of the trees are charred at the base. In a way, I find the taps beautiful with their red and orange outlines of the exposed cambium, but I worry that these trees may be overworked and many will soon die. I have later learned that what is being tapped is actually Turpentine, done by the government. The locals get no value out of this forest and neither does the wildlife. With forest food sources gone, monkeys and wild boar devastate the local farmer’s crops. I wonder if I can get to trouble for cutting down trees and starting a tree planting program.

Notches cut in trees for harvesting turpentine. A Disappointing government project.
Notches cut in trees for harvesting turpentine. A Disappointing government project.
Almost every tree in the forest has been tapped multiple times
Almost every tree in the forest has been tapped multiple times

Continuing my forest trek, I came across a group of boys holding a picnic (fire, rice, maggi=ramen) to celebrate their Christmas day off (no Christians in this community). They seemed a rambunctious group and when I was on the return of my trek they offered me some food and we enjoyed each other’s company in broken hindi/English. They were all in middle school and were curious about my pack while I was curious about their game of toss. Essentially this is like golf with stones and the target being cut out matchboxes. If you missed the matchbox initially, you threw from where your rock landed. Players take turns throwing and whomever collects the most match box cutouts wins. They are pretty good and each had brought their own special stone. Just before leaving, they asked about my pack and I let them try and carry it, almost causing them to fall over. I had forgotten I had my jar of American coins with me and was happy to give them something in return for their hospitality.

Continuing my trek I came across a terraced pasture and climbed up the ravine as to get toward another section of forest, but along the way stumbled upon the remains of what must have been an incredible stone mansion. The foundation was massive and one can only wonder how all of these large pieces of slate were moved from high on the mountain to here years ago. Leading out of mansion was a raised/polished stone patio which overlooked all of the valley below. Even though built of stone, the building still contained storage cabinets and shelfs of where idols were placed. From the center rose a towering stone chimney suggesting to me that it was two storied . After extensively exploring the compound, I again set my eyes again on the forest until I ran along a cliff which widened into old mines. Here I had a fantastic vantage point of the mountains which lie ahead. The noise vantage was special too as I could hear boys from the top of the hill taunting the boys at the bottom and women singing traditional bahari tunes. The noise and sights (minus a few concrete buildings in the distance) made me feel like I had gone back a hundred years in time. I contemplated from my perch for a bit and then set off for aunty’s.

Inbuilt shelves for candles and religious idols
Inbuilt shelves for candles and religious idols
A traditional mortar and pestle for grinding grain into flower
A traditional mortar and pestle for grinding grain into flower
The remains of a huge stone property
The remains of a huge stone property

Along the way, I met a boy and his two little sisters one of which had an absolutely commanding eyes and tone which sent a shock through me. Though only 6 or 7 years old, her eyes and demeanor pierced right into my soul and I felt a bit awestruck after our short encounter. I am sure that, given the opportunity, she could go on to be a great leader.

When I returned to aunties I was treated with a fruit salad of sorts consisting of Kinu (a sort of orange), garlic, chilly and apple.

Book notes:

I started taking some notes in the books I am reading about subjects that interest me or raise questions. Harrer was actually a proud gardener by the time his stay in Tibet had matured and he conceded that tibet’s summer climate is perfect for a number of European vegetables as long as the roots are well watered. The capital is on the same latitude as Egypt and is very dry and sun is intense so everything well watered grows exceptionally well there.

Tibetans were actually aware that the only thing which could save them from the Chinese was intervention from the outside world so they tried to send ambassador monks all over the world. One group was successful, but the rest were tied up in India. When the first group returned they packed with them a full size jeep which was driven once and later turned into a backup generator for the Dali Lamas movie theater.

The 13th Dalai lama had actually fled to India also from Chinese invasion. He was able to return so it was seen as a good omen and helped dictate the later move of the current Dalai Lama

Tibet was ruled mainly by a monastic class with some balance of power given to nobles. While many monks live up to our generalizations, they are not all so and one group is even militant. They are called Dob- Dobs and bully around other monks and carry daggers. They later led their own offensive against the Chinese. They were always at war with Dob Dobs of other monasteries. The only place Harrer was able to find athletically built Tibetans was in these monasteries.

While Dalai Lamas are intended to rule as God-kings(not true, according to current Dalai Lama, they are simply important reincarnations of a certain deciple of Buddha, recognized in Tiber as the most important), many were used as puppets by their regents. Not the current.

Many of the nobels owned vast estates which were given to them as payment in their government jobs. Many of these had castles with moats to prevent against the earlier threat of Mongol attack.

Are there still oracles today?

Yes, and the Dalai Lama frequently uses them even though the government doesn’t support it as much anymore. In his autobiography he clears any doubt that these are just actors, but stresses that each spirit which communicates through them has a different personality and advise shouldn’t always be followed. The spirit is brought out by specific chants which put the acting reincarnation into a trance. At this point a 30 pound helmet is secured onto his head. The weight makes his eyes bulge out and he makes strange grunt sounds. Then suddenly leaps into the air and often throws his head in every direction while dancing around with a sword and giving prophecies. At the end, he essentially faints and the helmet is quickly removed. In the time of Tibet, there were thousands of oracles and now there are 100 or so.

Important advice at the Dalai Lama Temple
Important advice at the Dalai Lama Temple
 A painting of the Potala, the Dalai Lama's winter home in the capital of Tibet, Lhasa. He hasn't been there since 1959 and today the site is overshadowed by Chinese development as part of an incentive given by the Chinese government
A painting of the Potala, the Dalai Lama’s winter home in the capital of Tibet, Lhasa. He hasn’t been there since 1959 and today the site is overshadowed by Chinese development as part of an incentive given by the Chinese government

One thought on “Week in Journals

  1. You are extremely interesting and do not short change yourself about your talents. Every story in your life adds to your world and opens doors for others to see wonderful pictures. Sancha

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