In spite of the beauty and history, the friendliness of the people, and what may be the most inexpensive cost of living on Earth, it is time to leave Cambodia.
After a week or two in Nepal to break up the long trip, Spain is the next goal. The cost of living is bound to be more expensive in Spain, but I speak the language enough to carry on basic conversations with the locals there. The frustration of conversations ending with a first smile instead of beginning with one can cause devastating loneliness, even in a strong-minded traveler. A sixty-eight year old person is isolated enough when going around the world alone. Most individual world travelers are much younger. They are zip lining and night clubbing. The older ones usually travel in tightly knit tour groups. Not being able to speak with locals hammers a big, uncomfortable nail into communication’s coffin and can put a damper on an otherwise joyful trip.
On To Nepal
You may remember my friend Neil from the Netherlands, described in an earlier chapter. Before leaving for home, he advised me that help getting through customs and security at the Siem Reap airport was available through his connections. He sets it all up from Holland by phone. I get a ride to the airport in a Lexus from Neill's Cambodian business partner, and am guided through check-in and customs by one of his friends that works at the airport. Neill continues to be a godsend, even from several thousand miles away.
It is great flight with wonderful crews on Silk/Singapore airlines. A Nepali couple fill the two seats next to me on the second plane. They are very sociable. We speak for hours as if we have known each other for years. Dayal and Orina live in Pokhara, about five and a half hours outside of Kathmandu. Oddly enough, their city has just been highly recommended to me. A good friend in America with Nepali traveling experience emailed just the previous day to say that, considering my health concerns, I should leave Kathmandu as quickly as possible and get to the lakeside Himalayan beauty of Pokhara. I tell Dayal and Orina to expect me within a couple of days. They are very happy about that and looking forward to my arrival.
A Terrible Beginning To A Wonderful Experience
Kathmandu, Nepal has the certified worst air quality on the planet Earth. Oxygen has color and texture here. The temperature is currently running between thirty and fifty degrees colder than Cambodia. I reserve a hotel room near the famous Boudhanath Stupa, and am guaranteed three times in three different emails from the manager that it has efficient heat.
When I step off the plane after the all day trip from Cambodia by way of Singapore, a hotel representative and driver are waiting with a sign that says, “Mr. Tenzin. Mandala Hotel.” So far, so good. Upon arrival at the hotel, I find that they have no heat in the rooms. The manager is gone for the night, so there is no way to confront him. It is too late to get anywhere else. Being out of options, I crawl into bed figuring death is imminent but at least my exit will be peaceful. Death ignores my invitation and sends suffering to take its place. All night shivering while fully dressed replaces sleep. Fiery anger with the dishonest manager is brewing in my cauldron. Anger is almost always poison, but in this case it may have raised my blood pressure enough to save me from illness.
When the manager that sent me the “we definitely have heat” emails comes in the next morning, I give him a massive tirade of shit and feel no guilt about it. It is loud and severe! Employees are staring around corners and folks look in from neighboring shops to catch the show. The word “fuck” is used more times in this five minutes than I have used it in any other five minutes since my early teenage years in Brooklyn. I tell the guy that if I die from this episode, Italians from New York are going to visit him. To his credit, he finds me a hotel with heat and has his people help carry my bags to it. The Pema Boutique Hotel is what I pictured the Mandala would be like. It is heated and clean. They are both about the same price, but the Mandala has cost me a lot more in terms of health problems and aggravation. It takes two days and gallons of hot tea to thaw out my lungs and get rid of the chill.
There are valid reasons why this situation is so serious. For the first time since twelve years old, I haven't had any ganja for four days in a row. This has me more than a little tweaky. The forty-two hundred feet altitude and 30some degree low temperatures here would be a shocking change to anyone’s system compared with the sea level altitude and 70some degree lows that I just came from hours ago. These problems are piled on top of jet lag and the ever present fact that doctors had already labeled me a walking corpse a full year before starting this trip around the globe. The in-room heat most Americans take for granted is a real concern here in the third world.
The situation is well remedied in the next venue. If you are ever in Kathmandu, do yourself a favor and stay at The Pema Boutique Hotel on Phulbari Street. The place is as nice as any in the Stupa area and the staff is incredible. I’ve been in hundreds of hotels, motels, and hostels during my life, but never at one staffed with better people than those working here. Nikky is the manager. He does everything possible to insure the health and comfort of his guests. Power went out in the whole ten block Stupa area and Nikky spent a half hour rigging up the heater in my room with extension cords and batteries. Wangmo is Nikky’s sister and seems to be the hotel’s administrator. I immediately take her presence as a good omen for a few reasons. She is kind, honest, clever, and has a giant Beatles sticker on the front of her computer.
The food here is good and the service is great. This is due to a fine cook and wonderful staff that is fronted by two very special people. Bishnu is the young lady usually at the front desk. She is lovely, efficient, speaks English fluently, and has a patient smile that never fades. Passang is the 20some year old go-to guy. He is the main waiter in the restaurant, the room service person, and the main housekeeping person. He works fifteen hours a day, six days per week, without ever losing his happy, personable, pleasant attitude. I think of him more as a younger brother than a hotel staff member. The staff is rounded out by Tashi and several other young ladies. Each is as beautiful in character as they are in physical appearance.
Daytime In Magicville
With the preliminary disaster behind me, I step out into a spiritual paradise. The giant Boudhanath Stupa is in the middle of it all. A Stupa could be very loosely described as a dome-shaped Buddhist monument containing holy relics. The word Stupa is literally translated from the Sanskrit language into English as “heap.” Stupa structures actually pre-date Buddhism as burial mounds for relics as well as people. There are many levels of symbolism associated with the structure. All the earthly elements are represented. The building has a solid square base that represents earth. The hemispherical dome represents water. A cone shaped spire above the dome represents fire. There is a lotus parasol and crescent moon at the top representing air. Giant eyes painted on the dome represent the all-seeing wisdom ability of Buddha. The nose represents Nirvana, the liberation from suffering. It is in the shape of the Nepali character for the number 1, signifying universal unity. A whole book could be written about the various representations and interpretations of Stupa symbols! Perhaps the most important of these is that Stupas are considered to be a representation of the enlightened mind of all the Buddhas.
The Boudhanath Stupa is thought to be the mother of them all. Many folks feel there is a magic in the structure itself. Others feel that the building’s power stems from generations of human energy being fed into it. Reverence, devotion, prayers, and aspirations have been inspired by and fed into this structure for over a dozen centuries—and not just by visitors, pilgrims, and local passersby. Many spiritual professionals wearing robes live in the several monasteries surrounding it. They have been on the job for their entire lives. There is no denying the intensity of the structure itself, the intensity that radiates between the building and its devotees, or the energy that permeates the entire surrounding neighborhood.
On the grounds are a few hundred people, nearly a third of them monks and nuns, walking around the structure in a clockwise direction. Many of them are working rosary prayer beads and reciting mantras as they walk. A mantra is a short phrase containing the message associated with a particular deity. Continuous repetition of this phrase not only instills its qualities into the person speaking it, but is simultaneously directed toward the benefit of everything alive. For example, “Om Mani Padme Hum” is the mantra associated with Chenrezig, the deity of compassion. Continuous repetition of it fosters compassionate tendencies within the person pronouncing the phrase as well as sending those tendencies out into the world. There are varied opinions about which end of this equation is actually in play. Some think that a compassionate energy is actually projected into the atmosphere in the manner of a positive spell being cast. Others feel that the person pronouncing and absorbing these positive thoughts then passes the benefits on to the world through their actions, which are upgraded due to a strong association with the mantra’s message. The evidence I have seen supports the possibility that both opinions are true to at least some extent. To exactly what extent may depend upon the length and depth of experience, and the strength of motivation, in the practitioner.
I join the walk around the building.
The sound of monks chanting, blowing giant ceremonial trumpets, and beating drums seems to be coming from everywhere. It is. There are temples in all directions. The air is thick with an electrical vibration of elevated consciousness and compassion that I can physically feel as a swelling in my heart. It also feels like I am walking in slow motion as if through deep water, but with a lightness and lack of labor. This otherworldly experience seems out of my control. It is overpowering enough to draw tears from my eyes. A child brushes against me. According to his father’s watch, I have been walking around the Stupa in a trance for an hour. There is no way to tell how many times I have gone around it, but the crowd has grown since my trance began. A sea of people from around the world, many clothed in outfits that match the red-wine colored robes of the monks and nuns walking with them, flow around the Stupa structure. They are both engulfed in and creating the massive vibration, like the current within a river.
The flow of people that surrounds the Stupa is itself surrounded by a ring of shops. Most of them deal in Buddhist artifacts, masks, paintings, and Nepali souvenirs. Streets feed into that ring of shops from every direction. Like the spokes of a wheel, they branch out to create the neighborhood.
I float up to one of the rooftop Stupa-view cafés in the primary ring of shops. There is no way to be sure whether or not it is the same one filmed in the Keanu Reeves Little Buddha movie. Imagination tells me that it is. A strong cup of coffee there helps bring me back to Earth a bit—but certainly not altogether.
Love and Medicine For Breakfast
I will try to describe the rest of the Kathmandu experience in terms that are as grounded as possible. I don't want to sound like a person whose LSD experiences never wore off. But the truth is that the baffling energy of the Stupa and the folks that frequent it spreads throughout this whole neighborhood and doesn’t seem to ever fade or weaken. The Pema Boutique Hotel is only a few blocks up one of the adjoining streets that act as spokes in the neighborhood wheel with the Stupa as its central hub. If you are anywhere within that wheel, you are engulfed in and become part of its motion, as it seems I have.
The next morning starts with the breakfast that is included in the price of the room. It might be the best breakfast available anywhere. Guests are offered a choice of American, Chinese, or Himalayan breakfast sets. I go with the flow and pick the Himalayan. It contains more food than one person could possibly eat and includes porridge (oatmeal) with honey, nuts and raisins, tsampa (a traditional Himalayan barley flour dough), a scrambled egg, a bit of well flavored spinach, Indian bread, mildly curried potato soup, fruit juice, and the option of cappuccino, coffee, or tea.
I eat seated at the front window counter of the hotel with a full view of the action on the street. The folks passing by are a very beautiful collection of humans. Besides the regular type of physical beauty, many seem to have a glow or radiance about them. Many are working their prayer beads and reciting mantras on the way to the Stupa. An old lady walks by with a limp. I project Medicine Buddha mantras in her direction.
There is no way to tell if the old lady feels it, but it feels so good to me that I continue to do it toward everyone walking by on the street. About halfway through breakfast, it clicks in that most of the people already look healthy. They don't really need Medicine Buddha! I had been listening to the Beatles singing All You Need Is Love on the computer in my room while getting ready to come down for breakfast, and so switch the mantra to the “Love, love, love” phrase from the song.
Yes, folks, I realize that an ex-junkie from Brooklyn, New York sitting in a window in the middle of Asia casting love spells on everybody passing by in the street sounds a little fucking nuts—but that's what this neighborhood can do to a person! And the more you think about it, the less strange it sounds. Being in a war zone will likely turn anyone defensively violent and keep them in a constant state of fear. The nicest of people can turn into a raging beast when life-threatening danger is in the air. Being in Stupaville fosters the attitude of projecting positive energy at any and everything that is alive. This sort of thing only sounds weird to most of us because we have spent much of our lives being on guard, stressed, and competitive instead of loving, comfortable, and cooperative.
The positivity in the atmosphere is largely, but certainly not solely, about the influence of all the monks and nuns in the area. Every one here, not just the spiritual professionals, is warm, friendly, and helpful—even when it doesn't involve any obvious profit for them. It is also very apparent that the girls and women seem less nervous around white men than they are in Cambodia. Maybe this is true because they have seen more of our spiritually oriented gentlemen, and less of our bombings and sexual tourism.
But as much as I love Nepal and want to see more of this country, it is time to go. It is very chilly and wet at this time of year, the concrete buildings radiate the cold, the electricity cuts out often and takes the heating systems with it, it isn't altogether safe to eat a salad, the air quality is as dangerous as the weather, and there is no access to the dietary needs, vitamins, medicinal supplements, and other resources necessary for an old ailing Westerner to stay alive. Spain has constant sunshine, warmer temperatures, more reliable electricity, healthy Mediterranean food options—and I speak enough Spanish to hold a conversation with locals. I will certainly miss what, in less than a week and in spite of all its material shortcomings, has become my favorite place on Earth. It would be wonderful to return in the warmer season, but for now it seems like this old man's survival is dependent upon getting to some warm sunshine and greater resources. If I had discovered Nepal when eighteen years old, my last fifty years would have been spent right here. But old age brings with it a degree of physical fragility and restriction, as well as the wisdom to recognize and obey it. A person in my condition may go to sleep here and, if the electricity cuts out during the night, might wake up with a long painful illness—or not wake up at all.
PUT A DOUBLE LINE SPACE HERE IN THE ACTUAL BOOK
There is a distinct line between courage and stupidity. I am going to erase that line. Those two commonsensible paragraphs above about leaving immediately for Spain were written last night. They still make a lot of sense, but I can't bring myself to leave Nepal. Every time I walk out on the street, my brain experiences a joyful explosion and I start laughing at nothing just from being around the people here.
Of course this Stupa neighborhood is a particularly consecrated area, and likely unique within Nepal as well as being unique on Earth. Even the rest of this city is probably quite a bit different. The Stupa is universally regarded as an international treasure, is a certified World Heritage landmark, and one of the holiest places in the world for Buddhists and Hindus alike. Besides that, it is now Losar (Tibetan New Year) week—so the vibe is likely stepped up even a notch further than usual. Every time the thought of leaving pops up, I cry like an abandoned baby. Part of that feeling, and the rest of my personal emotional circus, is no doubt the result of not smoking ganja for an entire week for the first time in fifty years, culture shock, and all the other variations in life that are being dealt with. But there is a lot more to it than that. Every day I go out and kiss the sky like Jimi Hendrix. Every night I punch up plane and hotel reservations for Spain, but can never bring myself to push that last button and finalize them. Whether it is a case of courage or a case of stupidity, I’m going to be here a bit longer. If I die before finishing this book, or even the next section of it, know that I love you and have loved being able to write for you. This will be true no matter where in the world my body gets left behind. But this feeling, like all feelings, is a little stronger here in heaven.
PUT A DOUBLE LINE SPACE HERE IN THE ACTUAL BOOK
Today is Losar, the Tibetan new year. It includes going to temple with family as well as public festivities. The Tibetan New Year’s celebration lasts for several days. When I hit the lobby for breakfast on this Losar Day One, Nikky, Wangmo, and much of the hotel crew, along with several of their family members, are present and dressed like royalty. They are even more smiley and sweet than usual, if that is possible. The streets are lined with people in their finest and most colorful regalia. If Walt Disney was still alive, even he would stand back in awe of the spectacle.
My positive-energy-projection-toward-the-street shtick is being done from the front window counter of the hotel without even thinking about it anymore. It happens on automatic pilot. After breakfast, I head toward the Stupa and watch as the entire massive structure is painted. This happens every New Year’s Day. It has been cold and raw since my arrival in Kathmandu, but even the sun has come out in force for this festive occasion. So have folks from all over Nepal and the world. A 20some year old named Milabuddha sits next to me on a bench by the Stupa. He is from another part of Nepal. Mila starts a conversation and then takes a selfie of us on his phone. The friendliness of the people here continues to astound me. It will be very interesting to travel elsewhere in Nepal and see if this friendliness is a national habit. Being in the Stupa neighborhood is somewhat like being in church. Visitors are on their most noble behavior.
But for the thousands of people that actually live here, their most noble behavior is way of life—and the animals on the Stupa grounds are just as amazing as the humans! A couple of dozen dogs, by far and away the most conscious, mellowest, and sweetest animals in the world, surround the Stupa. They seem to belong to no one and everyone. These canines seem more human than many actual biological humans. They also seem to have a sharp intelligence, a kind of radar and sense of premonition.
A white one sits himself in front of the bench that me and Milabuddha are on. A man walks in our direction and starts to approach a woman two benches away with his hand out. The man looks more hungover than hungry. He has an air of snarling surliness about him that I can feel from a distance. He isn't doing anything loud, crazy, or even noticeably different than other folks—but to me the energy radiating from him seems to stand out like a sore thumb within this otherwise serene atmosphere. The white dog feels it too. He bolts up and darts himself between that man and the woman on the bench. White dog barks as if his master’s house is on fire! The man backs off and walks away quickly. The dog continues to bark at the ornery man's heels for twenty yards or so until both are well out of range of the benches. White dog then simply lays down silently by the Stupa. This creature seems to be in a meditation, as do all the canines in the area. These animals lay around as if they are reincarnated saints that have earned the right to relax in heaven for a lifetime—unless there is a situation that calls them to action.
Several hundred of the most well fed pigeons in the world have their own corner of the Stupa grounds. Locals sell grain to visitors who spread it around for the birds to eat. Any form of caring for any form of life is considered a source of blessing here.
While I’m sitting on the second floor deck of a temple building facing the Stupa, a monk comes over to talk with me. He tells me that the crowds are a lot thinner than usual for Losar this year due to the Corona virus threat. We speak about how this is just one link in a long chain of well-publicized pandemic threats that included Swine Flu, West Nile virus, Henta, Bird Flu, SARS, and so many others. I guess out loud that these maladies may be largely manufactured, or at the least exaggerated, by the media and their associates that profit from public fear. These human vultures know that scared people will pay blindly for imaginary protection from manufactured enemies. Folks in Cambodia had also complained about the sparse tourist traffic this year. They also blamed it on the disease scare (as well as on the potentially volatile political situation there). For whatever reasons, tourist traffic in Asia seems to be way down this year. The merchants, manufacturers, people who count on visitor fees and contributions, cab drivers, and so on are all suffering the result.
On the way home, I stop at Thar Lam Monastery to visit the temple that sits halfway between the Stupa and my hotel. The monks are having New Year's badminton and volleyball tournaments! The adult monks are playing as the elder and child monks cheer from the sidelines. I sit down near a few elders to watch and am immediately approached by a young black dog with markings that make it look as if it is wearing a white necktie. The dog licks me until I fall off my seat on the narrow curb, and keeps licking as I lay on my back on the ground. The monks are laughing at me almost as hard as I am laughing at myself. The dog seems to be laughing too.
Midway through the game, I go into the temple. It is, as most of them are, a beautiful structure with a gorgeous interior composed of giant iconic Buddhist statues. The walls are painted with scenes from the historical Buddha’s life. There are offerings of yak cheese, cookies, fruit, and many other goodies stacked everywhere in obvious preparation for a later ceremony. After a short solo meditation, I head back to the hotel with a big smile on my face and the love of fearless puppies in my heart.
Much of humanity thinks that a power beyond itself will drop from the sky to help save our species. Few people are coherently concerned, consciously aware, dedicated, motivated, and common sensible enough to realize that the only way our planet will become a better planet is if we each individually put in the mental work necessary to become better people. I may be in the ten square block area of Earth that contains the highest concentration of people that are aware of this fact. There is a palpable density of love and goodwill here that is fostered internally by individuals. This internal mental work, this fostering of goodwill, is not done as a self-serving mechanism. It is motivated by and done on behalf of the entire human community. It is extremely powerful—and it seems that even the animals are involved in the process.
My experience of being here is akin to that of a thirteen-year-old baseball fanatic who has suddenly found himself living in a bed-and-breakfast planted smack in the middle of the Cooperstown Hall of Fame. I have spent almost all of my life in America. In America, many people who see soldiers in uniform approach them and say, “thank you for your service.” The soldiers are considered heroes worthy of respect and admiration. My heroes are not professional killers. My heroes are professional altruists that dedicate their lives to producing saner, kinder, more compassionate opportunities for everything that lives on this planet. My heroes are walking on the streets of Nepal, and I have a campsite in the Hall of Fame.
***If you missed the Introduction to the book that will be titled Temple Dog Soldier and contains the above chapter, or would like to see several other chapters that are available for free online, go to the Puppy website blog section at www.fearlesspuppy.info, or check out fearlesspuppy at Wordpress.com, or send email requests to firstname.lastname@example.org. This is a book in progress. You are reading it as it is being created! Just like you, I don’t know what the next chapter is going to be about until it is written. As the Intro will tell you, this is a totally true story and the only book ever written about an around the world voyage being made by a corpse!***The books Fearless Puppy On American Road and Reincarnation Through Common Sense by this same author are also available through the www.fearlesspuppy.info website, as are free sample chapters from those books. Very entertaining tv/radio interviews with, and newspaper articles about, the author are also available there. There is no charge for anything but the complete books! Author profits from book sales will be donated to help sponsor an increase in the number of wisdom professionals on Earth, beginning with but certainly not exclusive to Buddhist monks and nuns.