16 December 2007

Traversing the Friendship Highway

Tomorrow morning I depart with my mostly Japanese cohorts on our 4-5 day expedition to the Nepalese border. Hashing out the details amongst ourselves, with the travel agent, and then amongst ourselves again took a predictably Japanese amount of time and is still somewhat in process (they prefer a set schedule determined in advance, I prefer to wing it). I bought a traditional Tibetan "thangka" painting, a nice gold one of Chenresig (the Tibetan version of, naturally, the thousand-armed Avalokitesvara, Om Mani, etc.), had it sewn into a traditional silk hanging device, and mailed it home at the traditional Chinese post office--they boxed it for me and everything (please be expecting this and other boxes in 3-6 months, Dad). Last night, I attempted to throw a party at the hostel bar for my new Japanese friends. I had bought the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez retro double feature, "Grindhouse", in Xi'an, but I hadn't had a chance to watch them. After I ordered ten pizzas for less than $30, we ordered beers and settled in and, bootleg DVD karma on queue, there were no Japanese subtitles and the voice track didn't work.
So instead, we watched the bar owner's pirated copy of "The Simpsons" movie (in English!), which was fine, because I hadn't seen that, either. Sort of lame, though.

My idea of doing the ritual prostration circuit around the Jokhang Temple will become reality this evening. I asked a few Japanese at my hostel if they'd care to join last week. At first, they hemmed and hawed because they aren't sincere Buddhists. But I convinced at least one of them of the irrelevancy of this, he apparently told others, a Chinese girl found out about our plan, and now six of us are going tonight. The Japanese word for "prostration" is "gotaitouchi" which means "laying down five parts of the body." After I finish writing this post, I have to go buy some cheap clothes to protect myself from the spit puddles. While I may earn a modicum of merit from this act, I've read that many pilgrims do kora circuits three times, a few 108 (!) times, since this is an auspicious number in Tibetan Buddhism. The even tougher Tibetans go out west to prostrate around Mt. Kailash, which takes three days just to *walk* around and has passes above 6000 meters. And if you're really, *really* devout, you can prostrate sideways, so that each time you stand up, you're only taking one small step forward instead of a whole body length. Insane..?

Our route to Nepal goes via the lovely turquoiseness of Yamdrok Lake, the old Tibetan towns/cities of Gyantse and Shigatse (home of No.2 in Tibet Panchen Lama), the Mt. Everest Base Camp (5200 meters and reputedly has much better views than from the Nepalese side), and other small towns with notable must-see temples. We ought to cross unceremoniously, and with no turning back (illegal!), into Nepal, and arrive at Kathmandu (wish I still had that T-shirt, but it didn't survive), on Saturday or Sunday. I may be incommunicado until then. Dhal Bhat three times a day for a month... here I come!


Jhenn said...

Isn't 108 relevant in all sects of Buddhism? (Even if they don't care about it)

Good luck!

The Steve said...

F if I know