Thursday, May 26, 2011


The Mystery of the Karmapa

Rumtek Monastery has a problem.  They have two instead of one Karmapas.  How could such a crazy thing happen?  That’s what I have been trying to figure out my self. Here is how the situation is presented by the members of the current Rumtek Dharma Chakra Center communities (resident monks). 

One Karmapa was appointed by the Dali Lama and is considered by the monastery lamas and monks as their real religious leader (Ogyen Trinley Dorje).  The other (Thayer Dorje) was appointed by some mysterious person or body and considered a ‘fake’ by the Dali Lama and the Monastery members.  The Karmapa considered legitimate by the monastic community stays in Dharmsala with the Dali Lama, while the other is at a monastery in Delhi.  The one considered ‘fake’ was supposedly appointed is said to by a mysterious Rampoche.  The ‘fake”, Thayer Dorje is said to be of Tibetan or Sikkim origin depending on to whom you talk.  While the one supported by His Holiness, the Dali Lama is definitely from Tibet.

Until this situation is straightened out, neither seems to be allowed at the monastery. There are soldiers guarding the monastery who say they are there to protect a tourist mecca, while the monks say the soldiers are there to protect the monastery from the bad (Thayer Dorje) Karmapa. 

I ask one of the lamas who was in an official capacity about the situation, and he would not talk about it; He was totally noncommittal.  He said he did not know who appointed the other Karmapa.  There are calendars and signs throughout the monastery with the picture of Karmapa Trinley, who was supported by the Dali Lama, stating ‘bring our Karmapa home.’  I actually have one of the calendars.

What is the real story?  Dump ta dum dum!  Dum!!!!!  Actually during a brief Internet research I found out the real the answer.            

After his escape from Tibet in 1959l, the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Ripe Dorje built Rumtek Monastery as a home and religious center for his Black Hat order of Mahayana (Tibetan) Buddhism. The monastery was set up as the ‘Karmapa Charitable Trust.’ When the 16th Karmapa died in 1981, per his wishes, trust board members ‘assumed the management of Rumtek.’

Second-ranking Lama, Shama Rampoche of the of the Trust was entrusted with finding and recognizing the late Kamarpa’s rebirth which is part of the Tibetan tradition dating back to the 12th century.  Before Shama Rampoche found the re-incarnation of the 16th Karmapa, two other Rampoches stated they had found the real Karmapa, a nomad boy, Orgeyn Tinley, from Tibet.
HH Dalai Lama as well as surprisingly, the Chinese Government also backed this child. 

Historically, each of the four autonomous schools of Tibetan Buddhism are responsible to elect their own leader, which means even though the HH Dali Lama is considered the overall head of Tibetan Buddhism, he has the spiritual authority over only his own Gelugpa school.  This means he has no religious authority over the other three schools.

After much legal wrangling, both at the monastery and through India’s court system, the case finally went to India’s Supreme Court.  The courts backed the ‘Karmpa’s Charitable Trust, which means the monastery monks/lamas and HH Dali Lama’s candidate Ogyen Thinley lost.  The winner, considered the ‘fake’ Karmapa, Thayer Dorje is the by Indian law, the legal Karmapa, but unacceptable by the Rumtek religious community.

Note:  Reference – Indian Supreme Court decision on Rumtek -07/22/04

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Rumtek Monastery, Sikkim

On May 10, I rode 129Km (about a four hour drive) north of Darjeeling to the Indian Protectorate of Sikkim in northeastern India to see the chham (mask) dances at Rumtek Monastery, the capital Gangtok, listed in the book, One Thousand Places to See Before You Die, and to ride a yak at Tsomgo Lake.  Sikkim borders China, is predominately Buddhist and, my young Bhutanese monk friends tell me, it is similar to its neighbor, their homeland, Bhutan.
Although circuitous, the road to the border of Sikkim is much better than the one I traveled from the Indian boarder to Darjeeling.  At the border between India proper and Sikkim, I had to clear immigration just like I would to go into a new country, giving them an extra picture and photocopy of my passport.  Even though I was traveling north, because much of the southern part Sikkim is at a lower altitude than Darjeeling, there are tea plantations, and at lower elevations along the roads are Palm and banyan trees, bougainvillea, hibiscus and many other plants native to south Florida. I learned from the ‘moss man’ (more about him later) that this was called a Mountain Tropical climate.  At one point we stopped on a high cliff to see the convergence of three major rivers, which was quite beautiful.  At the turn off to the monastery the whole road went to hell.  There were areas where the road was just dirt or large sharp stones, and some of the runts in the road were so deep the car actually bucked as we drove over them.

Upon reaching the monastery I found that Sungay Guesthouse, where I had arranged to stay and supposedly right next to the monastery, was actually at the bottom of a very steep hill.  It was inside the monastery gates but I refused to walk up that hill daily.  Being told that another guesthouse was much nearer; we drove up to check it out.   As I walked out of the second one, called Sangay, a veritable hellhole, (probably why it cost only 150 rupees – about $3.00 a night), a man leaned into the car window and said, “there’s a guesthouse right at the monastery.”  I thanked him and up we drove.

Eureka!  A habitable room, well not quite, I mean I really could not put my bare feet on the floor; there was no hot water shower, only a hot water faucet and a large and small bucket set.  A dirty gauze dust laden cover was over quilt and a very large, very fast spider in the corner of the ceiling, but it would do. The sheets were clean; one side of the gauze quilt cover was torn, so I took the liberty of helping along the damage and removed a very clean quilt from its dirty cover.  I carry flip-flops with me just in case of emergencies like these and they solved the floor problem.  The cost was 300 rupees, about six US dollars a night.  Conveniently, there was also a restaurant used by both the monks and the locals (see the pictures), albeit most of my friends wouldn’t eat in because of sanitation concerns, but I could walk across a cement parking area and I was in the monastery.  I took it for three nights. ---- Twice, I found other little creatures trundling across my sheets but I removed them carefully before I got into bed, so as not to hurt another living being.  After all, they were not what I consider in the insect/bug universe my worse enemies, cockroaches and mosquitoes, which I kill on sight.   Any one who has been so bad in their previous life that they are reincarnated into a cockroach or mosquito needs a second chance and I always give it to them when I can.

That evening when I went down to order dinner in the kitchen, hanging over the stove were strings of disgusting looking greasy, wine colored sausages.  It was then and there that I decided I would be absolutely full vegan (not entirely - I did eat egg the next morning for breakfast).  While I waited for my dinner in the dinning room, six young monks ask me to join their table.  These young men ranged in age from 15 to 19 and were here from Bhutan to study in the academic school or Institute.  They told me there was no religious/academic education at this level in Bhutan and that they were to study at Rumtek for eleven years.  The fee paid by each of their families was 1500 rupees ($35) for the full eleven years. After finishing their studies, they each planned to go back to a monastery in Bhutan and become teachers.  They wanted to know where I had been so I showed them pictures of the places on my computer.  Interestingly, although they had all seen television, they had never hear of the Great Barrier Reef, and were surprised at the pictures of coral and to learn they were living beings.

Chham Dances

On the eleventh the monks began with their daily puja at 3:00 am, ending at 6:30, so when I awoke at six I could hear the drums and horns of the prayers.  It was really the chham dance dress rehearsal day on the 12Th

After the dances, the young Bhutanese monks took me to the Golden Stupa. Inside a glass-enclosed room, which is always locked is the large stupa. The monks prevailed upon the grossly fat old monk (lama?) who sat in the corner reading his mantras to let us in.  He not only opened the room but also locked the outer door to the stupa entry room so we were the only visitors.  On the walls around the center stupa are bust effigies of all the sixteen former Karmpas of this monastery, the bust of he current 17th Kamala, a Buddha bust statue, and two other scary effigies that were a mystery to me.  Inside the center stupa laid the body of the 16th Karmapa.

Rumtek Monastery consists of five distinct parts, (1) the Academic School or Institute where monks study Tibetan, Sanskrit, English, grammar, Buddhist philosophy and mantras, then there is the separate (2) Ritual School where another group of monks learn the mantras, dances, chants and music of the religion, (3) the housing for all the students, (4) the monastery itself, which is the focal point and meaning for the religion, (5) the Golden Stupa and (6) the Karmapa’s, house which is currently falling apart (more about this later).  Each school has about 200 students, and there are over 400 additional Lamas at the monastery.

The next day, the 12th, the monks had their puja from midnight to 3:30 a.m., then prepared for the mask chham dances.  They started at 6:30 am with the Black Hat dance (Rumtek monks and lamas are of the Black Hat Sect), and then we saw the Skull Dance, which is always fun to watch (I had seen it previously in a monastery outside of Leh).  The monks continued their dances until 4:30 in the afternoon.  There are eight major chhams and each have a distinct meaning.  (Hopefully you all get the photos I send, if not seek out a friend who does). There are scary masks, lots of jumping and whirling, and very colorful costumes – some of very old silk that have been used for many, many years.  Behind where I was sitting just happened to be a room of unfinished masks which were obviously made right on the premises for either the dances or for tourist sale in the local shops.

Dignitaries from the High Court of Sikkim and also from Bhutan came and were seated in a special area. They were given gift snack boxes, box juices and lunch.  I rushed down to my very own elegant restaurant and they made me a bowl of veggie chow mien, which I carried back to the dances and ate as I watched.

The next day there was a famous Rampoche giving blessings but I had to leave because I had already arranged a driver and tour to Gangtok.  I was sorry to miss it but having just been blessed by the Manang Rampoche in Kathmandu, I figured I could survive a missed blessing – but maybe not – who knows.  But I was blessed by the opportunity to meet, Sungay’s (one of my young Bhutanese monks) adopted Gangtok family and have my picture taken with them.


It is my guess that the author of the book The Thousand Places to See before You Die, who suggested Gangtok as one of those places, has never been there.  As Gangtok really has no distinguishing features except as a way station to plan treks and get the paperwork done for permission to go to other parts of Skim.  The hotels, although a few quite nice, were generally unpleasant or booked. It’s about three or four kms long covering three very hilly streets.  The amusements around the area were under-astounding and there weather in May was just ‘warm.’   There is no commercial transportation to there except jeeps/cars.  But because I did not get permission to go yak riding on the day I requested (had to leave the next day to catch a train), I may go back, but that would be the only reason.

Note:  I am not an authority on Buddhism but I know there are two different major groups: Theravada, which is practiced in parts of Southeast Asia (Thailand) and Sri Lanka, and Mahayana which is the Tibetan Buddhism we hear so much about and also practiced in Korea, Japan and parts of China.   In Tibetan Buddhism there are four main sects: Yellow hat, Red Hat, Black Hat and White Hat. The Dali Lama (he’s a yellow hat) is the highest reincarnated lama. There is a Puncha Lama (the current one and his family have been hidden away or killed by the Chinese Government and another  has been put in                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              his place – now about 22 years old, a puppet of the Chinese government –and leader of one of the four sects ), Karmapas (here the highest is a young man who escaped from his monastery in Lasa at age 15 and now has a monastery in Dharmsala in Northern India –he is now about 26 - leader of one of the four sects) are the next highest level of reincarnated Lamas who are also heads of important monasteries throughout the Buddhist hierarchy.  The fourth Karmapa is of course the head of the Black Hats of Rumtek but there is a mystery about him (see next entry).  Next are Rampoches who head monasteries under the Puncha Lama, the Karmapas and/or the Dali Lama. There is also a title for a pre-monk but I don't remember it off hand.

Levels: Monks, Lamas, Rampoches, Karmapas, Puncha Lamas and Dali Lama.

At Rumtek I was shocked to see a monk who was four years of age. He was visiting with a group of monks from another monastery in the area to see the dances.  I was told he was placed in the monastery at the age of three.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


The Road to Darjeeling

May 2nd, I flew to Bhadapur in southeastern Nepal.  India borders Nepal at the flat, dusty, agricultural town of Kakarbhitti, thirteen miles from the airport.  There is a free flow of Nepalese and Indians across the border daily; in cars, on foot, bicycle rickshaws and on bicycles over-laden with goods. The driver of the car sent by the hotel, although he lived 146 Km away in Darjeeling was also exempt from immigration, and when we crossed the broad Mechi River Bridge, the actual border between the two countries, he removed the Nepalese plate from the front window of the TATA Spacio and drove with only the Indian plate on the rear of the car. 

One thing I observed, was that although Lord Shiva had declared that cows should be free, on the Nepalese border side people tethered their cows, while on the Indian side cows roamed free in fields, on roads, in traffic.  As we went on our way the road remained flat until we eventually turned and began an uphill climb.  Between the curves and switchbacks so tight they reminded me of coils of the west Indian cobra, I once found in my Dominica kitchen cupboard, sharp rock-sized unpaved gravel sections, super-sized potholes and the driver’s joy at passing the caravan of TATA SUVs and TATA Jeeps also Darjeeling bound, I felt like a passenger in the La Mans with added obstacles.  It was while we were traveling higher and higher up this cliff hanging mountain drive, that we encountered stupid goats. Goats that just stood in the road seemingly unable to move unless the side of the car brushed their tails causing them to jump out of their animal ‘haze’ into reality. I have definitely decided that a goat will NEVER be a Rhodes scholar.  Actually the nuances of the one cat we saw was much more clever. In what might be considered a game of chicken, he sat down on the opposite side of the road his back to the passing cars and his tail extended straight toward the side with the oncoming traffic.  It was as if he had measured the distance and as we passed, he didn’t flick a whisker but just sat there and nonchalantly washed his paw.

After four harrowing hours of near carsickness, we reached Darjeeling in a cold rainy drizzle.  Fortunately the comfort of the Snowlion Home Stay, a room service dinner, aglorious hot water shower, the room heater and a hot water bottle made for a cozy arrival.   

Darjeeling, like Kathmandu and Timbuktu, has always had a mystical ora for me.  But I found that it does not have the class of Shimla, (the British Indian Government’s former summer capital in northwestern India), nor the weather.  Mainly because much of the old colonial architecture has been replaced with ugly cement buildings. Like many hill stations, it is chilly, hilly and riddled daily with afternoon rain which leaves the spectacular views and the cool summer climate the main attractions; a summer respite from the oppressive heat and humidity of Calcutta and its southern neighboring states. 

I spent much of my time at the hotel recovering from my second respiratory infection, maintaining the same pattern as I did in Pokhara; a short walk daily to the Mall to look at the view and watch the kids take pony rides, then back to the hotel.  Not my original plan but it had to do.  As soon as I was better, I expanded my walks to the Zoo to see the snow leopard but he sat far away in his enclosure with his back to me.  At the Mountain Museum, there is equipment on display used by Tenzing Norgay, the sherpa who guided Sir Edmund Hillary to the top of Mt. Everest summit, in 1953.  During my walk to the zoo, signs on all the electrical poles screamed ‘LUZ COZI innerwear’ and I mused, ‘where are mine now that I need them.’ Even though I had long silk underwear LUZ COZIS sounded so, well snuggly.  But I didn’t see any in the mall shops or stalls. What a tease.

On my last day I walked down the steep hill to the train stations, a dreary, dirty cement box, to get a ticket for Calcutta for May 16th.  Then I walked the Mall up to Observatory Hill, a killer of an up hill walk, where I was rewarded with a small yet unique, round green Hindu temple surrounded by Tibetan prayer flags, magnificent views and renewed wheezing.  Damn!

I had already seen a couple of baggers placed outside shops one without legs, and other smaller ones ‘rolling’ down the main Mall street making high pitched sounds to be more noticeable with tin cups in their hands.  But walking up to the top of Observatory Hill was the first place I saw the traditional Indian/Hindu baggers who follow the seasons traveling from resort to resort lined up along a walkway.  An obvious sign that Darjeeling’s tourist season had begun.

Many of Darjeeling’s locals are former Gurkha’s; retired members of an Indian/Nepali regiment of the British military.  Darjeeling, India is one of the two recruiting stations (the other, Pokhara, Nepal).  Entry into this crack military unit is so rigorous applicants often break limbs or worse during the selection process.   Because of the area’s relationship with the Gurkhas, the locals have labeled this corner of Northeastern India, Gorkhaland and occasionally these inhabitants, fomented by the retired Gurkhas, cause strikes or minor insurrections in an attempt to secede from India and become it’s own country.

Darjeeling is also known for its excellent boarding schools, many started by the British so they would not have to send their sons back to England.  Currently there are numerous boarding schools for both boys and girls, but St. Paul’s is the most famous with such a rigorous curriculum that children throughout India and as far away as Thailand are sent there to study.

Tea plantations surround Darjeeling and I had hoped to visit one, but my plans changed.  Having already been to two, one in China, the other in Sri Lanka I was not too disappointed.   Because of a festival at the Rumtek Monastery on May 11th and 12th, I decided to leave Darjeeling a day early for Rumtek and then go on to Gangtok, the capital of ‘Sikkim.  Lama chham dances at Rumtek seemed much more exciting than a vat of roasting tea.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


Osama bin Laden

NOTE before I begin:
So you won’t miss anything, in the last two days I have put the following five articles on this blog. 

 Oh My God!  I need a Facelift
Mt. Everest
Extra Facts and Thoughts
Climbing for Water
Osama bin Laden

Here in Darjeeling, India I get the BBC, McNeil Report from PBS, and bits of ABC, CBS and NDTV, yet the local Indian newspapers have some very different facts than presented in the international media, which I thought might interest some of you. 

Unless otherwise stated all of these quotes are from the May 6, 2011, Calcutta paper The Telegraph, -quotes:

“Saudi Arabia and Turkey separately played significant roles in persuading Pakistan to give up Osama bin Laden and facilitate his elimination by the US, according to pieces that are slowly fitting the puzzle of Sunday’s anti-terror operation in Abbottabad.”

“it was necessary for them to take the al Qaida bull by its horns as part of a bigger strategy to manage ‘the Arab Spring’ which is threatening established governments from Oman to Morocco.”

“It is well known that Packistanis serving in Bahrain’s police brutally put down the recent Egypt style Shia protests in the island kingdom. The forces sent by Saudi Arabia to reinforce Bahrain’s security were also reported made up of significant numbers of Pakistanis.”  

“Similarly elite units of Pakistan’s army protected the Saudi royal family for decades because the Saudi rulers did not fully trust their own citizens or even those from other countries.”

“By all accounts, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan’s chief of army staff, would not be averse to reinventing Pakistan’s role in global security affairs on these lines.  After all, that is how Pakistan has all along remained relevant to the world:”…  article continues to explain that in 1971- “Islamabad was the secret gateway for”. “Kissinger’s visit to China” … to arrange Nixon’s visit … “to open Sino-China relations.”

 “Saudi Arabia has always been a factor in Pakistan’s domestic politics.  No Pakistani leader either from military or from civilians can ignore Saudi ‘advice’, although Riyadh’s plea to spare Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s life” [the Pakistani’s government’s position is she was killed by terrorists] “is a rare instance when such advice was rejected by Gen. Zia.”

My take on this, for what it’s worth, is with the new Middle East rise of people wanting to reorder their governments, it seems that Saudi Arabia and Turkey hope to weaken the al Qaida element in these uprisings, and Saudi Arabia also just might want a ‘friend’ on their side in the future.   Bahrain has large US military bases in their country and would like it to remain that way (consider the financials of this situation).  Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Pakistan are all strong centers of Islamic Sunnism.  In Bahrain the ruling monarchy is Sunnis, but the majority of citizens in Bahrain, those who were rising up against the government and monarchy, are Shia.  

The current take by the Saudi Arabian government, to I suppose cover its tracks in the affair is (from The Bengal Post, May 6, 2011)  “Dubai: Al Qaida chief Osama bin Laden was betrayed by his deputy Ayman al Zawahiri who led US forces to his hideout as the two were involved in an intense power struggle, a Saudi newspaper has reported.”

I read in the May 7, 2011 Telegraph, that Zawahiri and bin Laden had their falling out five or six years ago, so why would Zawahiri give bin Laden up now?  Just a thought?

Also reported in The Bengal Post, May 6, 2011 newspaper: 
“Washington: US elite Navy Seals used top secret, never-before-seen stealth helicopters to swoop down on an unsuspecting al Qaida chief Osama bun Laden in his Abbottabad safe haven and shoot him dead.  One of the secret choppers was disabled during the raid by the seals, blowing it up in an apparent bid to ensure that the frontline technology did not fall into non-US hands. US media reports.”

Also, The Telegraph, May 6, 2011 stated:  “Osama appeared to be lunging for a weapon ----- an AK-47 and a Makarov pistol were within arm’s reach.  One Seal or more,
who are expected to take split-second decisions opened fire.  The first bullet struck bin Laden in the chest. The second struck above his left eye, blowing away part of his skull.  But a Pakistani official claimed Osama was killed in cold blood.”

As for shooting bin Laden dead, I believe that not one of these countries, particularly Pakistan, wanted him to come out alive because of the tales and/or information he might tell. 

I hope I haven’t bored you, or given you info you already know.  If you are interested, you can go on line and read the whole article(s) I have quoted and also follow these papers’ articles about the topic.  

PS:  On a lighter note: The Kathmandu Post has the best, bar none, horoscopes I have ever read.  You can go on line and read these daily too if you are so inclined.


Climbing for

As most of you know seven of Asia and Southeast Asia’s major rivers flow from the Himalayas.  This of course affects the water resources of most of the populations of one of the earth’s major continents.   Ice and glazers are melting through out the world and fresh water will soon be, if it is not already in many communities, a valuable commodity almost everywhere in the world.  There have already been ‘water wars’ in a number of areas in the world:  Use of the Colorado River has already caused friction between southeastern US states’ farmers and Las Vegas, and Turkey’s wish to build dams which would affect the water flow to its southern neighbors, Iraq, Syria and Jordan, to list just two.

The Bagmati River, which is the major water source for Kathmandu has garbage strewn along its banks as well as the major GAT (cremation area) located just above the city center.  On World Water Day, March 22, 2011 held a marathon walk the length of the river from Kathmandu GATs to its local source to accentuate the need for cleaning up the river.  

The walkers included twenty-five sherpas, all with the last name, Sherpa and two of their wives, bright and very impressive, Armand Dirks and Nemgyal Sherpa (he’s been to the Everest summit eight times) who are two of the originators of, Tobias Arnold, a handsome, charming very clever fellow, Crystal Frank, a very pretty effervescent young woman I nicknamed Sparkle Plenty after the Dick Tracy character because she does, and me.   As we walked we watched as a garbage truck (although now there is a new dump facility outside of town and it is against the law to dump along the river) dumped their garbage on the opposite side of the river from where we walked.  We drew water samples from different locations, checking the difference in the pollution from down stream to nearer the source.  We talked to villagers about the problem, who lived across the roads from the river’s banks. We also discussed the problem with children we met along the way and suggested ways they could help through their schools.  It was a lovely hot day and a real eye opener about the water pollution problem here and in probably many other similar locations in the world. 

Go to   Also see what’s needed to be done in your own communities. 
Think Water
Conserve Water
In the Future You Won’t Have Enough Available to be Around to Enjoy It

Friday, May 6, 2011



Facts and Thoughts


 Colonel Sanders Chicken was the US fast food restaurant to invade China.  Unlike of its American counterparts a major part of their menus are hamburgers and noodle dishes (both major foods in the Chinese diet). 

In Japan the ‘in’ place for Christmas dinner is Colonel Sanders Restaurant.  Reservations are made months in advance, and among many, it is a sad holiday if your family must make other plans.

Ubud, Bali, has a Circle K mini store on almost every street.  There are no gas stations attached, but it is the corner store of choice in the area.  

Thailand is riddled with Swenson’s ice cream parlors and is the land of 7/11s.  Much like the Circle Ks in Bali, one often sees 7/11s through out many locations in the country.  But most fantastically, when in Bangkok in an emergency dial 1711 and it is advertised you will get your Mickey D fix delivered within 15 minutes.  Yes, in Bangkok Macdonald’s has home delivery.  Did I try it, no but I tend to be nearer to vegetarianism than Ronald Mac.       

I have fallen in love with Ciptadent Fresh Mint Indonesian tooth past.  At about 1.47 US, it is not quite so ‘minty’ – good, and more foamy than American brands; enough to create that mad dog look in the mirror making for a more fun tooth brushing experience. 

2011 must be the year of the child.  Children are traveling with their families everywhere.  I saw lots of babies in Bali, and late grade school and middle school kids in Bangkok. Families with children of all ages are traveling in Nepal.  As for pregnant women! They are everywhere.  I can only assume that the sex lives of international young couples are just great.  Or, are they so patriotic that in they are really trying to contribute to the needs of the aging populations in their respective countries – Ah, forcing themselves to sacrifice for the greater good.   

Need to go to the Dentist?  The places to go are Thailand and Nepal.  I have met a number of travelers whose dentists are in Thailand, particularly Chaing Mai.  Sam had her teeth cleaned for ten US bucks there.  I had mine ‘scaled’ for 40 US in Nepal, and a good job too.  The same dentist, Dr. Prehigga Shiwakoti, has done major work for my friends Armand and Eveline, both from Holland, who cannot praise this young dentist at Dent Inn enough at her skill and inexpensive rates.

Riding in a local bus (local can mean transport to any part of Nepal) in Nepal is like experiencing a Bollywood movie with only the music and no picture for often six and a half hours at a time, with drivers who have a death wish to see the ‘white tunnel’ at least twice during every trip. 

The Acronym for India’s spy agency is RAW.   (The Telegraph Calcutta, Thursday, May 5,2011)

Dogs have Business

I t has always been my belief that many dogs (particularly male) that are not tattered have business, a purpose to their wonderings, irrespective of their owners.  Often I see an untattered dog wondering about on its way checking with his nose to the ground, for which of his friends have been in the area of late.  Or they are head long off on a secret mission of determined importance around their neighborhood.  Maybe going to someone’s house for a cookie, meeting a child after school, or meeting his dog ‘gang’ at a doggy haunt.  There are any number of reasons, but many dogs do have definite reasons for their wonderings and if a University did a study I have no doubt they would find I am correct. 

Yet, I have found during my current travels in places like Myanmar and Kathmandu, Nepal that these worlds are filled with many starving, ill and maimed dogs. Some with cancerous sores all over the outsides of their bodies, mange, other skin diseases, limps, and any number of other medical problems and starvation.  Like many starving, neglected children around the world, these dogs are nothing but listless hunks. Yet, these dogs also have business but it is quite different than that of their healthy counterparts. Their business is having enough strength to forage for food. Survival. 

Words You Might Like to Know

 Cop coon ca  - is thank you to Thailand women

Suk  sa mur  - is  Bali’s way of saying ‘thank you’

                Sur ra  - is good night in Thai I think  ?

Keep checking back to this blog entry as I may add more thoughts and facts as the cross my mind, my eyes and ears.


Oh! My God I Need a Facelift!

That’s right, I need a facelift, or at least the liver spots removed from my hands. I’m well aware these are two distinctly different areas of my body, but they do relate in more ways than you are probably aware.  During my last visit to Nepal, I went trekking to Namche Bazaar on the path to the Everest Base Camp.  During that Trek, at every guesthouse I stayed, the Sherpa woman guessed my age to the exact year. 
“How do you know my age?”  I finally asked
“It’s the spots on your hands,’ was the answer.

Although we would be aghast if ask in a western country, it is standard practice to inquire of one’s age in south Asian countries. This year while riding in a taxi in Kathmandu, the driver asked the perennial inquiry  “How old are you?”
Having been ask my age at least three times already that day, the driver had finally pushed me over the top and I retorted, “How old do you think?”
‘Well your hands look like someone eighty-five.”
Oh, My God! Eighty-five. Well that certainly backfired.
 “Keep your eyes on the road.”  I responded, hoping he wouldn’t evaluate my tire-treaded face next. 
 Obviously, I need to do something about the liver spots on my hands, as it seems to be the main clue to my age.  Also maybe an eye job (about $800 in Thailand) to reduce the baggy sacks under my eyes.   But a facelift?  Eliminating life’s patina?  I don’t know?  I was recently told about two young Scandinavian women traveling in Cambodia who were thought to be quite elderly because of their blond hair. 

Another rather alarming habit that happens to female travelers in India and Nepal is that after a woman looks a certain age she is called ‘mama’ by almost everyone she meets: hawkers, people in the streets, shopkeepers.  A title I always find a little disconcerting.  But at the Ganesh Himal everyone, the owners, their relatives and all their children as well as the hotel staff call me ‘Bobbie-mom’.  At first I was a little offended but now I am so used to it, I take little notice.  A silly loving name, but please, don’t any of you  (old friends and natural clowns) try it, or I will be highly upset.  There is a place for everything and Bobbie-mom is NOT appropriate outside Kathmandu.  They are my ‘Nepali Family.’  I am fortunate that travel has given me a number of loving extended ‘families,’ both at home and abroad.

 One of the more fascinating events of this trip is that handsome, intelligent young men have surrounded me.   Cory, Indra, Kristen (taken by lovely Ann), Tomasz, Tobias, Armand (taken by Lady Eveline), Rhoman, Jack, Iolo and on and on.  Where were young men like these when I was 25?  Although, during a period of my younger years, I decided that if I didn’t smile, I’d appear to be a ‘spy’ and that would make me more mysterious.  Actually, I probably looked like a sourpuss.  A look that certainly didn’t attract a many of the opposite sex!

Now I smile, I smile a lot.  But there are still no men my age! They are either traveling with their wives (that’s off limits), old, tired and/or fat, traveling with groups of other men (those he-men trekkers), or too short.  Where are you?  All dead?  I can’t believe that!  Meanwhile, it’s good I smile a lot as it works for a wonderful social life.  I’ve found that it’s easy to start up conversations when one has a welcoming smile.   How dumb are the young.  Anyway me. 

Oops!  I almost forgot.  I can’t say the man ’well’ has been completely dry.  During a visit to Delhi in December 2007, there was this colorful Sikkim Festival, which had a stunningly long parade through out Delhi.  I took lots of photos, from the back, both sides, and the front.  Old fellows whom I had previously seen in Amritsar with their aged, angular, faces and white beards were again adored in their same blue, red, black and a multitude of other rainbow hued pants with matching colored long coats and turbans.   They marched along to the music with their long curved sleeved sabers tucked in their belts swinging along at their sides.  Near the end of parade families in cars threw candies out to the children along the parade route, and when I took photos at the very front of the parade, one of the leaders put a beautiful lei of real golden flowers around my neck.   The next morning when I came out of Cottage Yes Please Hotel for breakfast in the restaurant across the street, a rather tall, portly Sikh gentleman (I could tell because he wore he traditional turban) was sitting in his Tuk-Tuk outside the restaurant.  He stopped me, as I was about to enter.  “I saw you yesterday.  During the parade,” he paused. 
      “Yes, a wonderful parade.” I smiled and nodded.
       “ I’m a widower.  For two years.  67 years old.  You’re not married are you?’  He questioned. 
        “No,’ I responded, a little wary of where this was all going.
        “I didn’t think so.’ He continued.  His background intelligence was flawless.   “I’m not married and you are not married, so I come this morning to invite you to see my Sikh Temple.”
I was more than a little astounded and a bit flattered too.  Here without meaning to, I had attracted my very own Delhi Sikh Tuk-Tuk driver.  But I had to decline.  “What a lovely invitation.  But I really can’t, I am flying out in four hours and I need to have breakfast, finish packing and get to the airport. I am so sorry.”
         “It won’t take long,” persistently pleasant. 
          “Thank you, but I just can’t.  It’s the time factor.”  I shook his hand and went to breakfast feeling really terrible for the man and his gentle kindness.  But what could I do?  Airplanes don’t wait even for romance.  I have no idea whether he was watching when I left the hotel but I suspect he or one of his informers was on task.  A nice, tenacious man with a case of love at first sight?  And off I flew.  But I digress.

Meanwhile, I have a new passion.  Riding with my friends around Kathmandu on their Motorbikes.  Maya, Rinku and Rhomen take me on daredevil rides thorough the frenetic streets of the city; whizzing though potholes, barely avoiding pedestrians, and out maneuvering cars, cows and other riders; it is quite exhilarating.  Whereas, Mukhiya is a much slower, safer driver.  With Mukhiya, I feel like a valued package that he wants to protect rather than thrill.  But don’t play International Business (a local copy of Monopoly) with Mukhiya as he turns into a viper.  He takes no enemies!  No matter, Muhkiya’s diabolical personality change, and although I have been riding on Hondas and the Indian motorcycle counterpart, I have often thought I would enjoy owning one of the new energy designed Vespas.  Maybe I am closer to it.  Beware neighbors and friends. 

Kathmandu Events
The Puja

Upon my arrival a major 26 day Buddhist Puja had begun.  This is a once every fifteen year affair in Kathmandu in which a famous Rampouche from Manang comes to lead the prayers and teach.   Forty-nine former Manang families were honored to support the puja.  My friends Mukhiya and Maya Gurung were one of these.  Pujas are prayer events in both Buddhism and Hinduism.  They can be but a moment or last for days on end.  They can be a simple prayer or an extended teaching experience by a religious leader.   Everyday both of them were up at the temple working in some capacity to make sure things ran smoothly.   Over 1100 or 1200 worshipers had to be delivered a puffy round bread and butter tea during the break in the Morning Prayer, and a full lunch including soup, main course and dessert was served free daily to everyone who arrived.  Most people were there all day, while some arrived at lunch and stayed for the afternoon prayer session.

I attended two days, and on one received a blessing from the Rampouche Lama Sherp Gyalzen; an older lama, I suspect in his 60s.   After he asked me where I was from, he proffered an incantation to me in Tibetan as he tapped me gently on the head with his prayer wheel. Although I have no understanding of Tibetan, I am sure it was a positive prayer, and I am probably much better for it.  During the last day everyone, laypeople, monks and nuns all received a 300 Nepali rupee gift because so much money had been collected for the cost of the puja, the Manang community and the local Manang Trust and Temple.  My friends were at the Manang Temple/Trust every morning at 6:30 and would arrive at the hotel between 6:30 and eight o’clock every evening to do their hotel work.  Yet they believed this was their community duty, and Muhkiya and I enjoyed many discussions about the Rampouche’s teachings and the meanings to both of us. Muhkiya is a devote Buddhist, while I a non-Buddhist, am an avid follower of the Dali Lama.  (I am again already booked in Dharmsala hotels during what will be my second set of teachings with His Holiness in McLeod Ganj in August of this year.   But more about that in late August.)


As you recall earlier I gave you my travel clothes list.  In that list I said I was having pajama bottoms fixed to wear either on the street or to bed.  Yes, Shiva, a very fine Katmandu tailor, fixed them just as I planned.  But my plan didn’t work.  With all the really funny clothes tourists wear in Kathmandu I found I could only wear them as PJs.   Therefore, it was time to shop. I finally found a pair of lightweight black pants for 1500 rupees – two dollars.  Albeit, some pockets had broken zippers and they were too long, but two bucks – Shiva hemmed them for 50 rupees (70 rupees to the US dollar) and I was in business.  As for blouses, I found one with an infinitesimal hole near the shoulder in Pokhara for again 1500 rupees.  After a wash it seemed to mend itself and works fine.  Meanwhile, I lost a little weight and my study gray chinos, the lifeline of my elegant travel wardrobe were falling down to my shoes if I wasn’t wearing a tightly clinched belt.  What to do?  Even Runku said there was nowhere in Kathmandu with pants with the same quality of material of these great pants (Gap by the way).  In Pokhara I saw red pants for about five US dollars and in desperation I spent   but I needed to replace my gray pants.  Then in Darjeeling, India I saw them, some great pants on sale for about $18 US, a bloody fortune next to my other purchases but I splurged.  After wearing them three days I have finally sent them to the laundry, if they wash well, I may buy another pair and leave my gray ones in the hotel when I leave. 

Health Issues

The new heavy level of pollution is the major Kathmandu community enemy.    Locals as well as tourists wear masks daily.  The masks one can purchase have no filters and infuriately, which was not enough for me.  As Dr. Robin at the Civic Clinic, and excellent medical facility, stated,  “If you had waited one more day you would have been joining us as a resident with pneumonia.”  Instead, after checking me for malaria and dengue fever (they always do this in this part of the world), they kept me there for the day and gave me an antibiotic drip.  Eventually, they released me with massive antibiotics and told me when I felt strong enough to get out of town, i.e., leave the pollution.  Four days later, I flew to Pokhara, the second largest, but sleepier town in Nepal situated on a pleasant lake with much cleaner air.   I stayed at the lovely little Hidden Valley Inn in a charming second floor room with private bath, balcony and in room Wi Fi, all for $18 a night.  I rested most of the day taking a late afternoon/early evening walk having dinner out.  Then returned ‘home’ (when one travels as log as I do, where ever I sleep becomes home) for a quiet evening of reading and Internet. 

I returned to Kathmandu healthy, energetic and had planned to leave four days later on April 27th with reservations in Darjeeling, India.  I was looking forward to a new venue I had never visited, with my renewed health to enjoy the reputed sunny May weather of the area. 
Then it happened:  Sonar, Muhkiya and Maya’s fifteen-year-old son had an emergency appendectomy.  “Please ‘stay, Maya insisted, ‘at least a week or ten days.”
What to do?  The pollution was still rampant.  Thamel shopkeepers were still throwing water out on the road in front of their shops to cut down on the dust.  There were still the massive number of cars and motorbikes and the black exhaust spuing out from the large trucks that rambled through the city streets.  What to do?  I compromised and stayed an extra five days.  

The hospital was a revelation.  The day after the evening surgery, we all waited for hours for Sonar to be released from IC to his own room.  There were his parents, aunts and uncles an adult cousin and I all sitting in a hallway waiting most of the day.  During part of the wait Rinku, his mother’s sister and my dear friend, and I ran off to the Kathmandu’s largest grocery store mall to buy a rice cooker, and other supplies necessary to feed Sonar during his four days incarcerated in his future ‘lonely’ hospital room.  After all, although there is hospital food, Maya’s child could never be subjected to that!  She would cook daily right in his room whatever was best for his diet during this trying time.   There is a wing, which I did not see, with expensive suits for the very rich and the foreigners, of which there are many in Nepal.  But the little room assigned to Sonar had a standard single bed, nothing mechanical, a smaller bed against the opposite wall and a thick plastic privacy curtain across the hallway wall.  There were no rules about the number of visitors so the eight of us trouped in.  Some sat on the opposite bed, some sat on the two Tibetan style rugs that had been brought from home and placed on the floor.  Sonar wanly smiled at us all and Maya began to cook.  Sonar was to stay in the hospital for four days, but was out in two and a half – hardy child - and the parade of visitors transferred to his home with aunties, uncles and grandparents coming daily.  With the help of both hers and her parent’s young maid with the cooking, Maya not only cooked Sonar’s special diet but also for the family retinue that showed up daily.  Upon my initial arrival at the beginning of March, I was invited to a family lunch (these luncheons can go on for three or four days at a time) and there I must have met fifty different people of which I suspect 49 visited the Gurung’s home during Sonar’s illness. 

I had wonderful lunches and game times with the family and chats with many members of this lovely family.  Our good friend Rhomen was leaving on May 2nd as well and Rinku, Rhomen and I were able to sneak out To Chez Caroline one late afternoon and have a snack, Molten Chocolate Cake with ice cream and a great bottle of pinot noir. 
The next morning I had the sneezing, sore throat, and slight discomfort, I always related to a standard allergenic reaction to something I had eaten the day before.  But it persisted.  The day before I was to leave I went off again to the clinic and found I had another respiratory infection.  Not as bad as the first but bad enough to necessitate another battery of Antibiotics.  Dr. Robin was not there and the other Dr. suggested that I not fly.  He changed the antibiotic regime that I had previously used to a much weaker medication which was a bad move and sent me off with warnings of being stuck at the dust infested Nepali/Indian border with no medical available.  Dust in Kathmandu, was a plague for me and April and May are suppose to be two of Darjeeling’s warm sunny months.  Unfortunately, I arrived to dreary, rainy, cloudy Hill Station weather.   But I had picked the right hotel.  The Snowlion Home stay had not only room heaters, but also constant boiling hot water from the shower and bathroom taps.  Besides breakfast being included, one could also order in meals from one of the best restaurants in Darjeeling; reheating anything that was the least lukewarm when it arrived on the premises then delivered to my spacious, yet cozy room or in the lounge whichever, I preferred.   But the best part         of the whole venue was the hot water bottle that was slipped under my covers at bedtime, heating up my whole bed like an electric blanket without wasting electricity. 

Drinking cold water is not good for your system any time, but I have learned from these hardy mountainaires that hot water is one of the keys to a long life and helping to heal any respiratory infections.  Natural Ginger and mint teas are helpful too.  

Manang: The northern Nepali area from where most of the local Kathmandu Buddhist families have emigrated.

I flew from Kathmandu to Bhadrapur in the southeastern part of Nepal, called the Trai, which is thirteen miles from the Nepali/Indian border at Kakarbhitta.  A TATA Spacio from the hotel picked me up at about two PM, and 90 US dollars later, we arrived in Darjeeling at six that evening. 

The only transportation service to Darjeeling and points north i.e., Sikkim and it’s capital Gangtok, is cars, and a cog train that ends in Darjeeling but is out of commission until June 2011.  The nearest air service is about 90 klm away.  So one must be in hardy shape to be hanging out around here.  


Mt. Everest

The skies are sunny this morning so I know they are gone.  My dear friends Eveline and Armand are probably flying to Lukla as I write.  Last night at dinner Eveline was exhausted.  She had arrived two weeks earlier to prepare for an Everest expedition and she and Armand had been running daily.  Either, each were on their computers making lists, dealing with news briefs, movie companies, insurances, ordering equipment, or running around buying groceries, necessary supplies, arranging for satellite phones, solar panels (which hadn’t as yet arrived from the US), obtaining a Trekking Information Systems Card for each trekker, etc., etc., their list seemed endless.

Whenever I see pictures of Everest expeditions there is always an heroic individual bundled up in warm clothes standing somewhere on the fabled mountain holding a flag, waving at the camera, or nobly looking into the distance surrounded by unbelievably beautiful scenery.  Yet the effort that goes into these expeditions is never the focus, only the end result.   After two grueling weeks of planning, yesterday Eveline, Armand, and others packed eight four-foot high barrows of supplies and three enormously over-sized duffels.  Yet this is only a part of what they will take to the base camp to sustain their small group for the two-month trek. 

Also, because it was their last day in Kathmandu , before beginning any part of the actual trek Eveline and Armand attended a Puja with a Lama near Boda to protect their safety.  This half hour prayer session ended with each receiving a mantra on a small colorful piece of paper folded into a one-inch square and encased in plastic to protect them on their way.  This is very important for every trekker as Everest is considered a living entity and as such doesn’t always know its own mind let alone those of its visitors.  It’s shifts and changes, snowmelts, and avalanches happen often causing disaster and even death.  Trekkers need all the protections they can get. 

The flight to Lukla is not necessarily a piece of cake either.  There are as many as 50 flights to Lukla daily during the high trekking season (March through May) weather permitting.  The first at first light around six AM, with the subsequent flights after depending on the weather.  Each morning reports come in from three different flight towers along the route about visibility.  One, Kathmandu, the second, a small mountain village about mid-way and the third is of course Lukla.  If any of these towers report even the slightest cloud cover, all flights are stopped until the skies are pristine clear.  If one’s flight is canceled than back to their hotel they go with their flight ticket moved to the next day.  Generally trekkers ‘get out’ within three days, but I do know of and instance during the summer rainy season in which all flights stopped for seven days.  The passengers in Kathmandu were beyond frustration and those who had finished their trek and were waiting for flights out of Lukla were after seven days wasted on beer, whiskey, and card games.  In fact, stir-crazy trekkers were hopping from guesthouse to guesthouse card games and beer, just for the minutest change of scenery.   Although I was on my own trek at the time, I was told that a few trekkers over that seven-day period went from silly to ‘wasted’ and it was not a pretty sight.  But better bored then dead. 

After their arrival in Lukla (about 230m or about 8000 ft) Armand and Eveline will head out immediately for Phakding (I always thought it was called Fhakding but found out differently at dinner last night which gave everyone a good laugh – maybe reading the guide book might be a useful gesture on my part!) with porters carrying all the supplies.  The next day they and the porters will head for Namche Bazaar, crossing rivers over suspension bridges and passing as many as 19 waterfalls during just that day’s trek and ascending 3429 m or 11286 ft.  Because of the extreme height to be covered from Phakding to Mamche Bazaar, a trekker might be affected by altitude sickness or AMS.  Therefore all trekkers rest for few days in Namche to adjust before proceeding to the Everest Base Camp, another six to eight-day trek.

Actually Armand and Eveline will probably have to wait for about nine days for their head Sherpa, and friend, Nemgyal Sherpa (all the sherpa I have met [I have met about 25] have the same last name: Sherpa) to arrive with the rest of supplies.  Nemgyal is a small, sturdy, unassuming, obviously hardy person is well known in the international trekking community as he has conquered Mt. Everest eight times.   He has saved lives by going back and rescuing trekkers others felt were impossible to help and left for dead.  And he and other Sherpa have gone back up the mountain to clean away the trash left on the mountainside by irresponsible trekking companies.  He is the man to head your team. 

Eventually Nemgyal and the cook will arrive at Lukla with the other supplies he has brought (this is all the fresh foodstuffs) and the porters who are hired to carry all these stores up the mountain.  Then he and the other sherpas leading other expeditions will literally ‘RUN’ up the mountain arriving at the Everest base camp in three days.  They need no time to adjust to altitude, or to acclimatize.  Their bodies are attune to the mountain altitudes and so they are physically ready and able to deal with the heights with no adjustment period at all.  When Nemgyal and his crew arrive Armand and Eveline will have already pitched their 4ft by 10ft tent and be prepared to store the additional food and supplies he has brought. 

If your concept of the Everest base camp is a bunch of little pup tents scattered across a small flat snowy area, think again.  This is a vast upper mountain plateau at a little over 5000m or 17,700 ft., which at peak season can be covered with over 200 tents many much bigger that Armand’s and Eveline’s, with cooks, porters, portable restrooms, solar panel water heating, GPS devices, satellite phones; all the luxuries of home.  Almost!  And a lot of snow. 

Before any sherpa will begin an actual climb from the base camp, they must first have the lama decide that the all aspects of the environment and universe are in tune to allow an ascent.  There are too many variables involved to make a misstep.  When the Lama feels all universal aspects are favorable, he will hold a puja for the group and bless their ascent.  No sherpa will go up the mountain without this puja.  Eveline said that last year it was six days before the Lama determined it was safe for their group to leave.  She of course hopes the mountain will accept them sooner, as the wait seems interminable. Although she understands it is for their own safety.

Beyond the base camp, on the south side of Everest there are four more camps on the way to the summit.  These camps range from around 19,900 Ft to about 26,000 ft. before the last one and final ascent.  Climbers generally begin this around 10 in the evening and climb all night.  The summit is about 28870 ft but because the Himalayas are the world’s youngest mountains they are growing taller all the time.

This year they will be making a movie of their trek going up the south face of Everest.  But I don’t think they plan to go to the top. In the past, Armand has made it to camp III and Eveline to Camp IV – you go girl – for all of us.  They and Nemgyal have a trekking company,, which promotes safe trash free trekking and their foundation,, which promotes clean fresh water (more about this later).  Although there are disasters and people do die on Everest Treks, it is one of the easier mountains to climb in the Himalayas.  Anapurna is considered the killer mountain and more trekkers die trying to reach its summit than any other in the Himalayan group