Life Adventures -- Part II

Hope you were all able to take a nice break..the great thing about computers is that you can always hit the delete button...

Anyway, continuing on from China..

I originally flew to ChongQing to see the beautiful old city set in the mountains. The roads are so steep that it is known as the the only city without bicycles. But again China proves that it can rip down a whole city and build a completely new one without any resemblance to the traditional alleyways, as it now is replaced by major roads, tall buildings and new malls!! So I left to ChengDu to fly to Lhasa, Tibet.
I write about my Tibet experience separately not because China invaded Tibet and deem it politically as a separate country but because it just seems so different. Tibet is in no way Chinese. It is hard to write about it as the experience is almost indescribable in words. It is a whole other environment. Lhasa is set about 10,000 feet surrounded by mountains and vast plains with very little development and sense of crowdedness. It is like looking at a place from space as the surrounding is so vast, pure and natural. The people reminds me of the aboriginal natives living in the Americas. They are full of expression and energy and openness about them. Although the Chinese government represses local Tibetans from exchanging ideas, I was easily able to make friends with them once you isolate them from their fears. On my free time in Lhasa, I regularly visited the shopkeepers who I became very close -- sharing our time to just joke and exchange questions. Their traditions are so deep and different, that my time was simply too short to absorb and understand it all. Their character is much the result of living in traditional beliefs of being in harmony with nature as nomads and also the Buddhist religion. I was so infatuated with its culture and religion that I developed this thirst for more. My curiosity started in Thailand as I tried to find the roots for the peoples' innate positive view on things. Since my time in Tibet, I have read countless books and literature on it cultures, religion and history. While I was there, I was not able to learn and delve as deep due to the government's restrictions. So I can say most of my experiences, besides limited conversations, were of seeing various palaces, monasteries and the land's beauty. Again, my time was shorter than I wished in Tibet due to my pre-arranged schedule to meet friends in Nepal. But during the 4 days in Lhasa, I was able to see the infamous Potala Palace which now stand empty but is kept up for tourists. Most valuable is the friends that I met and the conversations that drove me to learn more on my own. We then shared a jeep for 5 days that took us to the border of Nepal. On the way, we were able to see the numerous nomads that lived on the vast plains high up in the mountains. I was often overwhelmed as we stopped on high mountain passes to enjoy the vast openness and beauty with cold blizzard winds shaking us, only to see a child barely clothed to show up out of nowhere in the vastness. See the website for photos as words just can't describe it fully. The last night we were able to basically drive up to base camp of Everest Mountain and stay at a Buddhist monastery. I felt fine when we arrived that night at the 5000m ( over 15,000 feet), but felt so weak in the morning that I spent it in the jeep sitting as still as possible. The headaches and sickness disappeared almost immediately when we started driving downhill. This just to tell you that one does not take high altitudes lightly nor do you the forces of mother nature.

When I arrived in Katmandu after a long day of numerous car rides, I was overwhelmed with the amount of pollution, people and just chaos. I thought about going back to Tibet. But, I ended up staying in Nepal for over one month and half the time just relaxing in Katmandu as the place has a way of growing on you. Now I know why people keep going back to Nepal and staying months at a time. The country is an adventurer's paradise in many ways. There is so much nature in the surrounding areas. I ended up doing two 5 day treks and one rafting trip. Nancy showed up from Hong Kong for a 10 day holiday. During the time, we did the Poon Hill trek in the Annarpuna Mountains. This was kinda pampered trek compared to my previous treks, but it was just as enjoyable. The trails are well traveled with numerous villages along the way to get a hot cup of tea anytime. Every night, we had hot showers and a hot dinner in a village wooden hostel. Although we did not climb as high, we saw just as much scenery and variety. We hiked to the top of Poon Hill (3600m) at sunrise to see the beautiful mountain ranges. Mountains after mountains with snow peaks and the orange glow of the rising sun mixing with the pure whites of the clouds and peaceful blue of the sky cannot be compared to anything else. Before Nancy returned to Hong Kong, we did a 3 day rafting trip..Turned out we were the only non-Israelis in the 75 person group. Boy, did we stick out like a sore thumb.. But we all connected very well, made many friends and had a variety of interesting conversations. This I found out to be true with many Israelis that I have met along this trip. The other trek I did was the LangTang Frozen Lakes. It is a protected national park, so the land is as natural as it can get while with scattered rest houses along the way to offer comfort on cold nights. Every mountain are also so different in its personality and beauty. On the first day of this trek, we crawled into camp at dark as we hiked 2000m altitude gain in one day. Not recommended! But we were welcomed with a light snowfall that made the place seem like heaven. Overall, Nepal was great for its variety of activities and due to high tourism, one can have basically all the comforts of home at a reasonable price. One of the attractions was going to the Steakhouse and having a delicious meal for less than US$4. So I found it very easy to relax there between activities just enjoying a nice book at a cafe.

Before going to Tibet, I did not know where I would go after Nepal but I knew that I did not want to go to India. But after visiting Tibet and reading so many books on it, I could not get enough. So I decided to "suck it up" and go to Dharamsala/McCleodGanj where the Daili Lama and the exiled Tibetan government resides in India..hoping to take some classes and learn more about Buddhism. One thing lead to another and the next thing I found myself on a 25 hour bus journey from Katmandu to Veranasi. Again, Veranasi is a place that I tried to avoid at all it is known to be like no other place on earth.. People suggested to leave it as the last place to visit in India since it can overwhelm a newcomer. But since it was "on my way" I said I had to give it a try. People did not exaggerate with the stories that I heard. We got off the bus and literally people were pulling at us to take this taxi or go to that hotel. Arriving at our hostel, we found out right in front of the hostel was where bodies are cremated on the Holy River Ganges. We could see and smell the burning of the dead bodies clearly from our roof balcony. All I can say is from my experience is that it is not healthy (physically or mentally) to look at the rituals too long. I as a person with western upbringing just could not feel comfortable seeing burning of the dead bodies in public as comfortably as the locals. But the next morning, I would find out the larger ghats where they burned like 20 bodies at a time was further down river with many others in between. Later that evening of arrival, we walked around old town looking for dinner. While walking the town's electricity went out. Here we were in a foreign strange land, feeling our way around dark winding alleys crowded with cows, dogs, people, rickshaws, and whatever else. This while having to be careful not to step in cow shit and with the thought maybe there are unhappy ghost floating around from the cremations.!!! What a way to get welcomed into India. But, I expected the worst and so in a is not as bad as it sounds. It depends on how twisted you are I guess.... After one full day and two nights, it was time to move on..anymore would probably be too much. So I stuck to my goal of McCleodGanj. The trip from Veranasi turned out to be over 36 hours straight between trains, buses and rickshaws. The trains are so primitive that I think they are left over from WW I times. In a rush, I got on the train with no food or water and with a regular ticket hoping for an upgrade. I was not able to figure out an upgrade, so I was in the local train figuring this is what I imagine prison to be like. The seats are basically hard long benches, windows are bared, interior is old and gloomy and crowded emotionless faces just stared at me. So in some way, I thought I was on a long religious pilgrimage through foreign lands only with the hope of finding Buddha..

When I finally arrived, I felt I reached salvations!! -- the "punishment" on the travel to finally reach the holy place and to be received by friendly familiar faces of Tibetans. ( I admit a little overdramatic, but amusing). So I have been here for about 10 days now in McCleodGanj and have yet to see Daili Lama. I hope to have the opportunity when he returns from his travels on Nov 16th. The place is very much what you would imagine Tibetan. The place is small and minimal development on the sides of a mountain at about 6,000feet surrounded by snow peaks in the distance. Everyday I get up at 7:30 to walked 30 minutes down the mountain to take my morning Buddhism philosophy classes. And at noon, I walk 45 minutes back up the steep slopes for my lunch on a rooftop with mountain views as far as the eye can see. So if you can not get spiritual in an environment like this, then one is probably not spiritual at all. I have taken various different classes and participated in numerous religious ceremonies. I will say that I found some of it is not for me. What I learned about myself is that Buddhism, like all religion, I can not accept by faith and can not comfortably do any of the rituals without deep understanding and acceptance. So all the religious ceremonies, rituals, prayers and so forth.. I have chosen to stay away from. But I have found the daily classes in philosophy very interesting. During my first class, we talked about the different stages one goes through upon dying. That kinda blew my mind as in Buddhism they approach things almost scientifically so they can analyze something right down to the smallest details that most of us cannot conceptualize. Other classes have been very practical on such subjects as patience, anger, compassion, and wisdom which each can be taught over days. On the other hand, some subject can be so deep that I get lost, like this morning's subject on how SELF does not really exist. So overall..I have found the classes enjoyable and that its philosophies still drives me to want to learn more.

I would like to end this LONG note on religion. Don't run away!! Ever since I was in Zanzibar and introduced to Islamic religion, I began to think about religion on a broad level. In Dubai and Pakistan, the endless rules and restrictions from the Islam religion and culture confused me. It was so foreign to me being raised in a culture of openness and individuality. And through trying to learn about Buddhism, I realized my problem with religion. I know this is a sensitive subject, but I hope to raise the issue not to anger some people but in the hopes that a greater understanding will result. I feel that many teaching of religion are taught missing the fundamental messages of their respective Gods. And many follow the religion with blind faith and without gaining the understanding on their own. Here is my simply humble logic...Doesn't happiness and goodness result from individuals' spirituality more so than religion itself? Can one really gain spirituality from blind faith in any religion? Should not one find their own spirituality first then commit to the religion that they see fit?

I know that some of you think I am off the rockers now.. but I have been learning as much as I can on various religions and similar subjects. And through my experience, some of the religion teachings and following does not makes sense. But, of course religion and spirituality is very much a individual "thing". So who am I to say what is better or right?

But let me leave you with one thought that drives me to think this way...What is going on with religion of the world when...every belief teaches loving each other and helping each other...but why?

Is the Hindus at war with Muslims, Catholics with Protestants, Palestinian with Israelis? Most of the wars and killings of our times seem to be in the name of religion and their respective God? Why is Bush and Bin Laden at war with each other when one is a Born Again Christian, and the other a Muslim? And why do a Catholic in the US kill a doctor at an abortion clinic because his religion tells him it is wrong to take a life? These followings or teaching of religion really perplexes me! Help me out here...

OK lighten up.. I am not off the deep end.. But I guess these are the things I think about when I am on a 36 hour train ride! But I thought it was appropriate to bring this out as it seems there are so many problems in the world that now we have all become more aware. So if I angered or insulted anyone with this ....just forget that I ever mentioned it..

Most importantly, I wish everybody great joy and happiness in whatever their pursuits. And am looking forward to sharing it with you.

Love ming