Sunday, April 24, 2005

me and my monkey

monday morn broke sunny and warm in darjeeling, where i am leaving as soon as i can get an plane ticket changed at the indian airlines office . . . have been here for four days, made some friends and really gotten to know the place . . . some images/experiences i'll carry with me to sikkim and beyond:

-- steamed tibetan vegetable dumplings (momo)
-- sun rays relflecting on the kangenjunga matiff in early morning
-- the happy nepalese kids, everywhere laughing, skipping, having fun. so carefree.
-- sharing the huff-and-puff with others at the top of the countless hills (not easy climbing at 8000 feet altitude)
-- darjeeling tea. first blush. light and tasty.
-- fog rolling in over the ridge
-- the cool air
-- attending buddhist prayer sunset service in the beautiful, hilltop dalai monastery, about 200 young monks, traditional ceremony (in tibetan, lots of percussion and horns and very intense rythmic chanting), the only "non monk" there, was invited in by lama (red hat) and given a "seat of honor" from which to observe . . . was given my first drink of yak butter tea, have heard one needs to acquire a taste for it, and it is true . . . unforgettable experience


in a comment to last blog entry, louise asked "how are you doing with the right hand left hand practice? Is it as difficult as you anticipated or does it come quite naturally?" (what she's referring to is our discussion before i left about how i had read/heard that indians eat only with the right hand, leaving the left hand to be used for bathroom cleanup functions -- no toilet paper) . . .

well, i have to say i've been real fortunate with this . . . on the second day of my trip (in agra), while sitting in a little courtyard eating some nuts, i befriended a little grey tree monkey (i call him dostchota -- "little friend" in hindi) . . . anyway, my little dostchota has been my travelling companion, he's real cute (looks a lot like danny g. in nj), sleeps cozily in my small canvas knapsack, and we share meals (i hide him in my shirt pocket in restaurants) . . . in exchange for showing him india and keeping him well-fed, dostchota performs certain, er uh, sanitary functions for me . . . so louise, let's just say i haven't needed any toilet paper or "left-hand practice" . . . and wow, combo of soft fur and sharp little fingernails (again, just like danny) works . . . am next going to teach him to floss my teeth . . .


last night shared dinner with a couple of peace corp volunteers who are teaching english in bangladesh . . . great kids (from washington state) this weeklong vacation in darjeeling is their first time out of bangladesh in nine months . . . was funny to hear their reaction to "city life" . . . also sharing the meal was a dentist from france who is doing two months of volunteer service at the tibetan refugee center here . . . the stories that went back-and-forth were wonderful (bangladesh described like this: "take all the people living in the u.s. east of the mississippi, put them into a state slightly smaller than wisconsin, and then flood 1/3 of that state for six months each year and you've got bangladesh) . . . also much much hardship there on just about every level . . . came away with deep appreciation that there are kids/people like this, and makes me imagine and hope my kids might one day have the calling (and nerve) to do similar work . . .


am heading up to sikkim later today, once a kingdom, now an indian state, the entire northern half is closed to tourists due to army activity (most of sikkim borders on tibet and there are hot feelings between the indians and chinese) . . . dalai lama is in sikkim today, am not sure of his itinerary but if i can get to see him will do so . . . sikkim is heavily tibetan buddhist . . . from what i understand, no internet, no phones in the small villages i'll be going to . . . i am flexible, may be in sikkim for a few days, will see.


update, monday aft: back in darleeling after being turned away at sikkim border, permit issue . . . backup plan: have hired a guide and tomorrow am beginning three-day trek into nepal along border range . . . will go as high as 12,000 feet, after 5 days here (in altitude) think i'm ready for it . . . after trek fly to delhi and back to "hindu" india . . . see ya' all down the road . . . mark