Monday, September 8, 2008

Himalayan kingdoms

In the previous post I wrote about the Dalai Lama. Tibet! Of course, a land of magnificent mountains on the "other" side of the Himalayas. The first of my two trips there was so mind boggling I had to go back. I remember flying almost over Everest-- everyone rushed to the left side of the plane!

I have been in Kathmandu four times so I went, yesterday to the Rubin Museum to see a film set in Nepal, partly Patan, a city a little west of Kathmandu that I visited one monsoon-y day and waded ankle deep in the water running in the streets. The film was in some ways very confusing for it showed an event. On the Road with the Red God Macchendranath where local people built a 64 foot tower on a rather small base of a chariot, all made of wood. It is a temporary shrine for an idol of the god Macchenra and must be pulled and pushed on a triangular journey, which occurs once every 12 years. It seems very, very primitive but attracts thousands of people. Strangely the film's "main character" is a Buddhist "priest", not a lama apparently, who works in the state anthropology department. This does not se explanation but it certainly was an interesting film.

I just titled this post "kingdoms." As we know the king of Nepal has been deposed and has left the capital. The procession of this tower predicts, said they, political unrest when it has accidents, as it had had twelve years previous, after which the notorious palace massacres occurred. This time it did not predict the fall of the king. Ah, well -- it did show the little "living goddess" a couple of times -- a child who is chosen to simply exist in a secluded life to assure prosperity. She was not deposed, as I understand -- although she is replaced after she matures enough to have a period. All this is strange, strange, strange and exotic.

Today I saw an even more thought provoking film at the Rubin, Bhutan: Taking the Middle Path to Happiness. I knew about Bhutan's agenda for "gross national happiness". I knew the king who instituted this program had abdicated in favor of his son, entirely by choice. In fact, I've read a lot about Bhutan and passed its border when I was leaving Sikkim, but it has never called to me as a place to visit. I knew about it's careful entry into the modern world -- but a lot of reading comes alive, as we in this very visual media world know, information comes alive when you see it on film. Many wonderful Bhutanese spokea and were pictured. Yes, the country sincerely strives for general happiness. Nothing sappy and Hallmark-y. They are poor people, but they now have schools in every town and they have decent medical clinics and they foster pride in their culture, which is largely Buddhist, and they care greatly about their environment which is a difficult one but gorgeous. The definition of happiness is more one of well being, contentment. No, it's not all perfect. Since television has been allowed there is youth unrest, some gangs, drinking. But they have a democratic constitution and apparently no corruption. People are people so some are surely less content than others. But it is a country to inspire one's belief that wisdom can be exercised by kings and a country can be beautiful -- spectacular -- and the people joyous.

The photo above is my "favorite" Himalaya, a near neighbor of Everest named Ama Dablam which means a lady's jewel box for the squarish summit. I'm told many people agree with me about it's beauty. Our sirdar, or chief sherpa, on my trek past it had been on a summitting climb with a group of seven women who climbed it. ... I shall always rejoice that I was able to go into those mountains and meet many gentle and wonderful local people. These films and many books I read reinforce that feeling. Sometimes I feel so full of very wonderful memories I almost feel like a balloon about to pop and spew gold dust hither and yon.

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