Monday, April 23, 2018

In the Land of the Divine Madman X

May 22, 2003

Sat up front for the ride to Paro, through scenery reminiscent of northern New Mexico, with long red valleys over rushing water and high pine hills.  Passed three chortens built at a confluence, a temple with a large cave below, and a house, high up on a hill.  A new house was being built at a remote twist on the river.  A couple of funny signs, one saying, "Leave early, arrive early,"  one speed bump looking like a swollen anaconda, and "Wang's Wood."

We drove down Paro's wild west main drag, over the bridge and up the hill to the museum built above the Dzong, which previously had served as its watchtower.  A curved building, we started near the top and wound our way downhill through the seven floors.  Some of the walkways were crooked and rickety.  At the top was a temple with a 3D mandala of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism.  There was a large collection of Bhutanese stamps.  In the basement were a variety of weapons, some incredibly long.  The clothes too were beautiful, their patterns getting more elaborate over the centuries.  Perhaps the Buddhas were most impressive, in varied sizes, types, and materials.  One Shaka was winking.

I finished my visit early, so I sat on a grassy area and looked at Paro below, its density lessening up the valley, until it was just a few houses whose white walls winked in the sun.  Down the hill to Paro Dzong.  No much going on, probably lunchtime.  In the temple, a couple dozen young monks sat in front of their prayer books, swaying and chanting.  I sat in the back and closed my eyes to meditate.  More monks must have come in during that time because the sound began to build and strange harmonies developed.  A very profound experience.  Out in the courtyard, a cat was playing around a small stupa, teaching its kitten a few things about life.  On a veranda nearby, a few monks were painting mandalas. One tried to hide a magazine when he saw me walk up.

After a delicious lunch in town, we drove up to Kyichu Lhakhang, identical to Jambay Lhakhang in Jakar, except much smaller.  Repeated was the lazt western feel, of dusty courtyards, shade trees, and people slowly working through manual labor.  A monk chased a cat out of the main room, and showed us the four beautiful statues of Chenrezig, with incredibly detailed arms.  All the figures were beautiful and all seemed to grow quieter.  One person had apparently been so moved that there were foot indentations from all the prostrations.  The figures in a small antechamber had amazing power.  One Shaka seemed to be crying.  The front of Manjushri was blackened with the years.  Another figure seemed to be tilting.  A cloth wheel hung above the altar, spinning continuously from the heat of the flame below.  Walking back into the the bigger room on shifting floorboards, I found a quiet spot to sit awhile, in front of colored pine cones.

We entered another room across the courtyard.  Here was a room for Thangtong Gyalpo (?), his statue placed to the left of the enormous two-story Guru Rimpoche.  To the right was a picture of his reincarnation, the young boy we met last week.  We performed a small service, me in front of an elephant tusk, near the foot of Guru Rimpoche, nearly as big as me.  As I chanted I looked up at him, sunlight streaming through a spiderweb onto his forehead.  As we meditated I began to cry.  Why?  From the remaining energy of the boy lama?  I can't figure it out.  But as we came out, sun streamed into a small valley further up the mountain.  As I spun prayer wheels along the temple's walls, my eyes kept going to that place.

On to Chhoeten Lhakhang, a hallowed out pagoda of a type I'd seen the last two days.  This one had no light inside so the detail and color of the paintings was astounding.  The blues in particular really jumped out.  We walked the rounded center, up two more floors on rickety stairs, incredibly steep and shifting with each step.  A brilliant Chenrezig was in the doorway.  

I walked the kilometer or so back to town.  In the river, a few kids were swimming and an old woman washed clothes in the faster parts.  The area stank of manure, but as two girls walked by, I got a quick whiff of chewing gum.  I walked up the main street, looking in shops not unlike those in Thimphu.  Row after row of general stores.  Two young dogs frolicked in a dusty parking lot, and I ducked into a cafe for a coffee.  There was a cute Nepali girl behind the counter, who had an endearing head wobble.  Western music played from somewhere.  Three Indian guys flirted with the girl. They seemed to be laborers, their sweet spicy scents filling the shop.  I drank my coffee to the sound of three languages mingling.  

I walked back up the street. Two monks left a temple at the edge of town.  A dog slept in the median.  Another dog, ravaged with mange and with crusty ears, shivered toward death. People spun prayer wheels mounted before a shop without breaking stride.  Young mothers carried babies in a sling on their back, their older children playing nearby.  Old women sat on the sidewalk working their malas.  Indian women wearing sari as they gossip in the shops.  Young men take their gho from their shoulders.  A puppy tries to follow its mother across the street but gets scared back by a truck.  A girl gets smacked by her mother and howls.  Two teens kick a soccer ball up and down the street.  Men play some board game in a back alley.  A drunk sleeps it off.  An old guy holds court in a park.  Dogs roam in gangs.  Himalayan peaks peek through the clouds, down upon all.

We drive up to the hotel which sits atop a high hill.  From my balcony I can look up the valley to Tibet.  I think I see Tahksang atop a mountaintop my right, its whiteness fading with the light.  In the valley below, some kids play soccer in front of a small apartment building.  A boy on the next ridge does his homework at a picnic table.  His friend calls down from a trail across the valley.  The hill in front of me is cut with trails, nearly treeless.  Prayer flags wave from the crest.  A woman, her son and white dog come out of a house on the ridge and walk toward more lights further up.  Three women move slowly up another trail, carry loads nearly as big as they are.  I sip tea and listen to the river far below.  Magic...

On the turntable:  The Del Fuegos, "The Longest Day"

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