Pilgrimage on the trail of Alexander Csoma de Kőrös (1784-1842)
Diary excerpts – India, 2007
“Huxley calculated that the circle of silence is shrinking thirteen and a half kilometer yearly. It is not too far when the silence disappears totally from the world. Happy will be the one who can partake for half an hour the quietness of the Himalayas or the oceans. The circle of intimacy is continuously lessening.” Béla Hamvas
To see the pictures taken while the journey please visit yun.ro
English Translation by H.Galántha, Judit
This is also just a journey in spite of the familiarity of everything and everyone here. Nothing is mine. Here either. I am only passing through this land as a guest.. (A Guest of Life).
The problem is that we are quite bad guests on this planet. Tourists and not travelers. Not real travelers but tourists. Look what we are doing to the Earth. Tourism is just a legal form of terrorism – traveling is a wavelength, a mental and heart frequency.
Wherever the traveler goes the host takes a moment to be. Everyone rest in this internal no man’s land carried everywhere within himself. So when he leaves what was there before becomes even stronger and more obvious.
The tourist leaves nothing behind but hungry ghosts and they are only interested about the next tourist season. The Koran quotes Jesus: „… life is a bridge, it is foolish to build a house on it” – not to mention heavy industry, highways and tourism.
A true traveler is selfless. He comes and goes with an empty mind, switches to automatic pilot otherwise it is impossible to absorb what there is. A tourist leaves his ego’s stamp on the landscape wherever he goes and shapes it in his own image and in the mean time it multiplies for he likes to meet only and only with his own self.
Like a radio frequency: the one who listens to the same station is recognized before even saying anything. There are not so many if there are still some at all. And it needs only a mental infrastructure, a special mental plug-in that either exists or not.
The external travel is always and only a pretext to a journey inward. The tourist doesn’t grasp that.
Traveling means staying in no man’s land. To see the butter in the milk and vice-versa; to hear the noise in the silence and the other way around. There is not much chance of a meeting in no man’s land but if there is one it means arrival. You travel to arrive, to encounter.
To arrive home, to find a home at last. Home is every traveler’s greatest motivation and illusion. Ubi bene ibi patria.
(Bucharest, 20 September 2007, after the journey)
Huxley Calculated That The Silence
I didn’t wake up to the Dacias’ rattling noise or some new car’s backwards beeping and for that I feel extremely lucky. My watch’s alarm goes on at 7 AM. I open the curtains and watch the Tibetan blue. This is how I get up.
8:09 PM. The ladakhi girls are busy in the kitchen with my supper. My boarding is free but I don’t know yet how much will my meals cost. I hope they will not hand me a hefty bill at the end. However, Namgyal offered me a short car trip for tomorrow, he will come to pick me up at 6 AM. He is taking one of his customers to a monastery close by to participate at the morning Puja. I am happy and grateful for this chance.
Finally I began taking pictures today; at the Soma Gompa first. It is a simple and tidy place and there were not many tourists yet. Later I walked up to the Moravian Mission’s small church – I wanted to search for Csoma’s Tibetan Bible translations if there is any. There was a mass (or a church service or whatever) pumpkin-assembly where an enthusiastic woman from Singapore howled about God’s words while right beside her someone translated it into Hindi (most likely Hindus will convert, it makes no difference to them, the Ladakhis feel fine just the way they are). At the end someone puts me in touch with somebody but they never heard about Csoma although there is a Bible translation in Tibetan, of course. A small old Ladakhi, just retired from government services, seems to remember a missionary who did some translation between Kaza and Pooh in Kinnaur… I did’t really understand what was he saying with his poor English but at the end he only praised the Mission.
They convert aggressively and literally go after the people by knocking on their door. Everyone has to bring in someone else, to convert just one more. Of course Jesus is only a pretence to the darkness and stupidity. There was an interesting moment when I recognized a face (perhaps an American) from Wongdhen Guesthouse in Delhi; he was sitting in the restaurant with a huge black guy and a Tibetan. I had the feeling it was a sort of an Ocean’s Eleven gang. Later I discovered that the chap was traveling on missionary business. Really, a kind of (reversed?) Ocean’s Eleven. This is only important because I see all these tourists around and I imagine about them this and that – what a false veneer that can be. For example I look like an American (a German or at least a Scandinavian) tourist. Today, I saw a 50s man totally in black and his motoring gear. He drank his chang almost motionless (I sat behind him in the small bar). Then, he hopped on his motorbike (a huge pack behind him) and pulled away. Lots of people do this: they are coming to India to buy a motorbike and then roam freely up in the Himalayas and beyond. (I hear a subwoofer. In the middle of Little Tibet. There is no Hope. At all.) I also have an extreme feeling of liberty here.
Then I took off for the Mahabodhi Center I thought I’d stylishly finish the day with a set of Vipasana meditation. It was closed. Going there I said hello to Namgyal while on my way back he called out to invite me in. We talked about his web site, etc. and I explained to him the function of the AdWords. Luckily I am sort of a web-geek, hence it is a pleasure to teach the Ladakhi yuppie in the name of Google – I am just like the Singaporeans… I heartily laugh at myself and at the situation.
Sometimes I think it was the middle class that fucked up the whole thing. With such attitudes as “I want a subwoofer too, I want a TV too”. There was once a higher culture (mostly religious or political) and there was the folk art as a lower one. The latter one is clean and simple while the former rose to the sky. Only some people can practice both of them. And the middle class, the tepid want it all. They pay to take pictures of it though they mostly don’t understand any of it. And above all they love to eat, be comfortable and the thought that they can have everything. Indeed as I sit here in Little Tibet I listen to the same car alarm beneath my window that stirs my blood back home in Transylvania. There is no hope. At all.
(July 1., Leh)
I was standing among the (Hindu) Christians as a (European Christian) Buddhist. The local youngsters in the kitchen are watching a Bollywood movie on a laptop. Next door a traditional Ladakhi folk group entertains the moneyed tourists. I continue reading “Silentium”, then off I go to bed, I have to get up at 5:30 in the morning.
“The attitude (practice) of reality without myths is: serenity. It cannot be disturbed for it is pure emptiness. It is easy to recognize for it doesn’t have any music. It does not have any resistance. It is transparent and lets everything pass through.”
(Leh, 1 July 2007)
Delights Of The Mantras
A joyful mantra reciting. On the bus from Shey three old monks sat besides each other in the back row. They were talking exuberantly – at times they broke into some mantras, one began, the other continued while the third finished it – and they heartily laughed at it.
(19 July 2007)
Foreplay To Madness
What the hell am I doing here?
At the other side of the world in an unfamiliar city and in a completely foreign culture. Alone. Again, in the same situation. What brought me here so far away? What for? And what brought Csoma to this land? An external cause such as the origin of the Hungarians or an overlapping project or an internal cause? But never, in any circumstances did or could he associate with the secret cause. I run in three circles: an outer one, an inner one and a secret one. I wish for success since I already got to know the world back home, somewhat; again, then on this trip I also want to know myself (Hamvas) somewhat, again.
Until he understands that all there is just a play, madness, he can be seen defeated (Hamvas.). There is no hope. At all. So be positive.
After a long gaze the old rickshaw man smiled back and he was me. This is India where “all and everyone is one” in the most trivial way. As many languages as people but all languages are of one man, of one being – in Hungarian we don’t have a word for that. The Hindus do and they built an entire spiritual empire on that. At least the memory of it can be seen here and there.
(Bodhisattva: literally, one whose essence is perfected wisdom; one who has almost reached nirvana, but who renounces it in order to help others attain it.)
The loud Buddhist propaganda is vociferous; you can hear it all over the Tibetan colony of Majnu Ka Tilla. There is no escape from it. It doesn’t matter if the speakers roar Communist marching songs or democratic ones – they are actual manifestation of an era’s spiritual addictions. It doesn’t really matter if the planes drop bombs on a city or it is some fireworks, all we people need is blasting and noise and circus.
I never yearned for India. What kept Csoma here? Perhaps I’ll have some inkling about it at the end of my trip. For why didn’t he return home? Perhaps he found something else here than what was he looking for? I never longed for Tibet either nor did I want to visit any traditional Buddhist sites. So my trip in this sense is odd many times over and it probably will continue as an inner experience above all, I think. Buddhism exists only when it does not exist. Visits to the usual pilgrimage sites (Agra, Benares, Bodgaya, etc.) at the end of my journey are more repelling than attracting to me based on the Lonely Planet guidebook – here and now I feel it will be enough to pay my respects at Csoma’s grave in Darjeeling. And not to place a stone on his grave from home as most Hungarian pilgrims do but to take one to home from there.
Today a fit-looking monk in his high-tech Nike polo shirt sat beside me in the hall. He made me think of the Sakyong’s. I asked him if he had any idea about where could I find Csoma’s Tibetan-English Dictionary (I already leafed through the Yellow Pages for bookshops) and I show him the picture of Csoma. He asked who did it but he seemed not really interested or excited about it. Just like back home people cannot really bear Csoma’s strange story. No one was really interested back then in Csoma’s “cause” (finding the Hungarians’ roots in Asia) as most of the people I meet think my “cause” (walking in Csoma’s shoes) is also pretty weird. If I had a traveler’s blog it would be all over the newspapers at home. But I don’t have one and I don’t want one. I’m a simpleton: I only have one goal. (H.B.)
I would loose my mind if I let all this misery, poverty and unpretentiousness touch me. Compared to this we live truly well back home. We always think of what we have or have not got, yet. Just one more of this, just one more of that… Just one more. Just one more cigarette. All day large birds are circling over the Tibetan colony (Majnu Ka Tilla) – maybe these birds are also Tibetans; they followed the refugees.
Today I walked a lot around the old city and hardly saw any Westerners. (Here I am also a Westerner). The locals behave pretty much like flies. Every second someone, mostly motorized or simple rickshaw driver, merchant, beggar or kid, comes to me. I gave twice one or two Rupees to the beggars although neither of them said thank you, they didn’t even smiled or anything.
At the Tibetan colony beside the Buddhist Temple (a larger but scabby and smelly place in the alleys) the ceremony (Karmapa’s birthday celebration) just ended when a young Western photographer saluted me right away and I did the same. Are you here for the show? – he asks. Will there be a show? – I answer back hoping there will be some kind of a nice spiritual show. He asked what am I doing here, I told him. I even mention Sylvain Jouty’s freshly printed new book when I discover he is a Frenchman but it was futile, neither was he interested in Csoma’s story.
To explain the reason of my journey is as difficult as answering the question of where are you from? There is no easy reply. Romania, Hungary, Alexander Csoma, trekking, Sütő-Soto, Tibetan-English dictionary, blah-blah – a great fog for an outsider. I’ll have to invent some protocol for such occasions. Let’s say I am a regular tourist from Hungary, at present this would be the most obvious and most simple. Or perhaps from Transylvania?
Promptly out with the flashlight is my reaction to the blackouts. Not the finally I can relax. I can thank the techno age for this. That is during the day if I am in my room I switch off the noisy fan and the air conditioner just to hear the world I got myself into.
If a nobody from Ladakh would suddenly appear in my hometown and would look for a book written about 200 years ago by a Ladakhi traveler who walked all the way to Transylvania, I would consider the situation extraordinary. I am just like that. Open to the extra ordinary. I would laugh and ask for the story for both of those being so unusual.
It would truly be interesting to put all this directly into a blog together with my pictures and wait for the comments (if any). But that would be an even stronger umbilical cord. Writing is quite binding already, not to mention my strange native language and our world at home, my project, Csoma and myself. All are binding. This is not a real voyage. To travel is just like a twinkling star across the sky that’s worthwhile. Stars are bound only by the elements. Perhaps there are luminaries like the stars among the wandering monks.
The umbilical cord is also reinforced through the Internet by those e-mails even if just a few. It feels good to send these short, wire like messages (small, smelly cells, two electricity blackouts in 10 minutes, only Explorer and nothing is updated) I know they will be happy to hear from me back home. I know I would be delighted with a friend’s message from afar. (You should become one with what you wished for yourself. Is this the creative imagination? What one sets the mind to one will become that. – H.B.)
The day after tomorrow I’ll leave at dawn. To the North and will be there before 8 AM. Although it doesn’t really bother me but I am still scared of oxygen deprivation and what is waiting for me up there. Perhaps it’s a question of time but most importantly with whom and how will I become in contact.
There is roughly 80 TV channels plus HBO. Most of the channels have non-stop advertising at times there is only a narrow band at the bottom of the screen. For this India is a heaven for it has over a milliard consumers. These are scary proportions. Brainwashing the people here too is exactly the same as elsewhere. No hope. I dose off into a deep sleep with heavy dreams. Now I heartily yearn for the mountains, the Himalayas. And for Csoma’s Tibet. (Interesting how suddenly I got the hang of diary writing. I forgot how the handwriting feels. One more good reason that I don’t have my laptop and any Internet.)
I had a glimpse of myself in the tuk-tuk’s mirror today. I didn’t see this face of mine for a long time and I hardly recognized it. I was strong and awake (concentrated) with shining eyes. And simply joyful. I realized suddenly that I left my hat in the hotel, again!
Huxley figured it out that how much the circle of silence is tightening yearly (H.B.). Even he noticed it already. There are not many spots left (the Himalayas, oceans) and who is there is the lucky one. I am here only fleetingly so the great noise doesn’t touch me. And the hell of home (quads, motorbikes, mopeds and the endless streams and rivers of cars) seems to be far away. The area where I am going at 3 AM is such a spot, theoretically at least. God help me.
With my departure I involuntarily put an odd slanted mirror in front of my folks back home and thus in front of myself too. This is not really an earthshaking expedition, Little-Tibet or Ladakh is not even a white spot anymore on the map. Some people asked me to bring back (something), others sent something (to someone). Some whished me something, others laughingly embraced me through the phone or in person. A friend’s kids bluntly asked for precious stones. A farewell is always a concentrated encounter. The values expand, the heart either opens or closes stronger than at other times. Either you focus on yourself (you’re asking) or on the others’ (wishes).
I am happy that the great day has come, I want to see the blue high up over the Himalayas. I wait for Peter-la’s call about where and when we’ll meet – I still have some things to do (bookshops to find Csoma’s dictionary, malaria medication before I go to Darjeeling, what I brought with me is not good as it is clear by now; I also have to exchange some money – Peter-la says it is better here than in Leh and if I have some time left I want to drop in the Himachal Pradesh Tourist Office to find out where exactly Kanam is and if I still have time I would like to visit an authentic Hindu temple.)
After all this is a true voyage, really. Whatever bothered me home here seems to be natural and I let them pass by. I left all my neurosis back home.
The experience is almost impossible to record. The stench of the loo almost everywhere, mountains of garbage, sauna type heat, noise, crowd. The traffic on the roads is chaotic. There is non-stop honking although I didn’t see drivers quarreling or any accident yet. My favorite is the ear-cleaner. He comes right beside you with his homemade cleaning instrument and tugs at your ear. It only costs a few Rupees.
Peter-la, my sturdy Ladakhi help is totally crazy: he pats my back, laughs loudly while looking into my eyes and at the same time with an odd American/Indian accents asks: ookayyy? He is constantly on the phone, makes notes and arrangements all the while he explains in a perfunctory manner what the Sikh religion is about. He loves his work, the whirl of the big city; I can see that he is happy. There is no need for advertising, he answers my questions, has a steady clientele of mostly American Buddhists but based on words of mouth new ones also find him through his network of acquaintances. Sounds like a good business, I say. He adds that he doesn’t want more and more, more clients, more money – everything is fine as it is. Ookayyy?
Finally I got Csoma’s dictionary. Not the Tibetan-English but the Sanskrit-Tibetan-English Vocabulary a compendium of Buddhist expressions translated into English by him. 200 years ago. It could not have been better. Now I should haul the two substantial volumes up the mountains. I browse it with Peter-la on the tuk-tuk he reads the Tibetan script right away. Finally we found it in the Tibet House after unsuccessfully combing through the back alleys of Hauz Village (the two volume cost 850 INR, roughly 21 USD). I am very happy with the book. Now I not only haul Csoma’s spirit with me (more likely he carries me) but one of his works too. However it is not exactly clear where will this book take me.
The highlight of the afternoon is the Sikh temple. It seems to be a down to earth religion and the people reflect it: the Indian yuppie business-look mixed with Muslim-like attire and the typical turban. By the way they are everywhere. Sitting in the Temple I felt that this religion is alive. It is present, it is there. One of the expectations from the brethren is that they visit the Temple daily. Hence there is constant coming and going. The altar is in the middle (perhaps this is the guru’s tomb) at the side there is a man with his (Turkish Persian style) drum, while four women are singing obviously devotional songs. A bit further there is a small room the guru’s bedchamber behind the glass wall – everyone bows in front of it. (An interesting difference between this and the Holy Right Hand of the Hungarians… The bedroom is a pretty intimate place even with a right hand). Outside is a great basin with large goldfishes for the ritual bathing. The women have their own partition there is no way to look in. Before entering or exiting there is the feet washing.
If you desire to play the game of love,
Carry your head on your palm
In complete dedication;
Then, enter the path of my Faith.
If on this path you wish to tread,
Hesitate not to sacrifice your head.
(from the Sikh Temple flyer)
Compared to this the Hindu Temple seemed to be a window display – perhaps it was indeed. I got a red dot on the middle of my forehead – imagine how I looked like. Delhi’s air is horribly polluted. In the tuk-tuk you are sitting about the same level as the busses exhaust pipes. In spite of this, even at the first experiences I felt Delhi would be unforgettable. I can’t describe or tell about it even the pictures are deceptive, false copies of reality. So here comes the next stop: the Himalayas.
I sit about ten minutes outside, the weather is good – I had a conversation with a French woman who came to trek. Pas de spiritualité! – said it right away, she is only interested about the trek, only the muscle (seulement le muscle). Duh.
Great creations are all and always contemporaries. Always present. In the midst of the turba I turn to Hamvas and read his thoughts for he explains what is confusing. He makes it obvious and understandable what a conventional brain is unable to grasp or see through. Where sin prevails mercy overflows. This is a pilgrimage my dear and not an expedition. I am not religious. But it is odd that only the religious understanding of how things are can satisfy me. Now I see that the quality of the “have a nice day” thinking is incapable to understand Csoma and neither the scientism nor the neo-nationalism. And not even the Hungarian (or Japanese) Buddhist mind whereas we venerate a Bodhisattva in Csoma (though all the characteristics practices of a bodhisattva seem to be recognizable in him and in his story.)
I’m afraid I will probably not be able to grasp Csoma’s essence either, the nature of his being. Albeit, according to some here in the Himalayas I will understand. Until now here in this region I only found Csoma in the early morning call of the Muezzin. True, I slept through yesterday and almost today too. Tomorrow will also be a buffer day (I feel in my chest that after all the altitude is over 3,500 meters) as soon as the sun rises I’ll leave.
A walk in Leh at 3,500 m altitude. There is a crowd, a great number of automobiles and lots of noisy motorbikes. No hope. The circle of silence in an inhabited area has become nonexistent. There are a lot of fancy travelers – probably I look like one too. I see that the majority are here to trek (it is cheap with awesome landscapes, etc.) others, a minority, are coming with spiritual motivation (yoga, meditation, Buddhism, etc.)
I am told that deep among the mountains such as Zanskar one walks back in time. Mostly trekkers go there, some regions are accessible only on foot; they are just coming and going not leaving behind a German Bakery or a High Life Nirvana Hotel (such things abound in Leh) just some empty Coke-cans. As a reminder of the world they are from. So local teenagers will have something, another world to yearn for. Exactly as back home in Transylvania where the life and soul of the villages are disappearing by the hour.
My room has glass windows to the courtyard. The rags serving as curtains don’t cover them properly. Thus I am on display non-stop, a reality show. Here is the “western student” who writes in his notebook, reads, sometimes goes out, lights a cigarette, sleeps – all alone. Due to this tempo and such behavior soon they will look at me exactly the same way as Csoma was looked upon once, a freak. Of course, there is no need to marvel about us for we deserve this role, this mask that is only one of our ordinary ten thousand faces. I hear the call from the minaret. It is surreal, they strike up their tune roughly at the same time, they are electronically boosted and the speakers are creaking, distorting the sound.
They chant five times daily: take your time to be awake.
I saw a poster in Delhi, a mobile phone company’s ad: You spend 500 Rupees on vegetables a month – a mobile phone only costs 50. Here in Leh everyone has one too. As a friend said: we rather forgo the milk but we’ll keep the Internet. On a bus everyone speaks to someone who is not there. Not one is present, not one is there. Only bodies. Like some ghosts in flesh and blood: seulement le muscle.
It is interesting and typical that there was always more money and chance to publish books on Csoma than to make his works more available. He is considered the founder of the science of Tibetologie, one of its pioneers. So many forms can be given even to a dictionary. The big question is and in this case also just what for? (I turn the dictionary’s pages, it is openly transparent, a true cognitive masterpiece. It is fortunate that I don’t have an academic background hence I can easily comprehend the true meanings of these words. Here and there, what seems to be important of Buddhism such as the Bodhisattva practices or attributes or whatever it is called.)
Show me such people today as Csoma was.
The title of Sylvain Jouty’s freshly published book on Csoma is He, who lived like a rhinoceros. I turn the pages of the dictionary’s second volume, just now and it is spelled out: Names of the Self-Sainted. There are two; one lives like a rhino (alone), the other in the society. A basic dilemma, a crossroad, before and since then. (There is full moon).
There is no difference between Asia and Europe we equally get the shit of glob-capitalism. The difference is only in the traditions – but all true traditions say the same and point to the same direction. You’re in trouble dear! The myth of liberty has got you.
Csoma was a loner, at least in the conventional meaning. There is no trace of passionate love at all, some friendship perhaps here and there. To travel, to see is only possible in the singular first person, and whoever has the plural, the Gods love or punish that man very much.
Blackout. It often happens here. There are three respectable size candles burning on my table. I am ashamed for Csoma didn’t have a fancy sleeping bag, a bank card, trekking sandals, SD-cards in his 20 years long wondering in Asia, he did it just as is. I am that much weaker in comparison. He was the one who not only self-taught the Tibetan language from basically nothing but made it understandable and learnable to others. I thumb his Sanskrit-Tibetan Vocabulary and it is obvious. Csoma really understood the Buddhist world. What in today’s Buddhist literature (and there are lots of them) is commonplace, also language wise, it is already in his Mahawyutpatti. In pure English. Meanwhile, the two busybody Ladakhi girls (one of them called Padma) brought in my supper: rice, steamed vegetables, raw vegetables and a glass of water. By the way it is no accident that Csoma was the one who did these great jobs, I can only just walk in his footsteps. I can only whistle for that good old world or those great spirits. In the meantime the muezzin started again. (At the end I can also thank Csoma for my evening.)
Leh is a big village. At one place an Indian chart-buster roars at another a Ladakhi traditional music show while a screaming Muslim calls for prayer, farther a Buddhist marmot is amplified – this is Asia, I suppose.
Today: early morning, at the Thikse Gompa, not too far from Leh, ceremony hall, puja. Old and young monks repeat the holy text then about every 10 minutes as a wake-up call: the drum and wind instruments start up then everything begins again. (There is another blackout, I write beside candlelight.) Seven year old novices come and go barefoot, they fill the monk’s teacups, they sweep, etc. One of them expressly objected about any kind of photography, I laughed at him. I peeked into the kitchen; I thought about what was it like being the chef at Dechen Chöling I would love to try it again in one of these local monasteries.
Here almost everyone and everything is dirty and unpretentious. (It reminds me of the “filthy” Csoma). To such an extent that today I will not wash either. It can go to hell. I wavered. Perhaps I should have gone to Japan, to a Zen monastery. Where everything is clean, transparent and simple.
Namgyal’ s office is like a busy passageway, a club. All day long people are coming and going, they sit down and rap (in Ladakhi – I don’t understand anything of it), take tea and do some business at times. It is one room, not even large, on the main street. Today, I noticed that the room/office suddenly filled up with saffron robed monks. They sit in a circle on the chairs, they twitter, smile, Julay! Julay! – they even exchange some words with Namgyal although they more likely talk amongst each other then hipitty hop they disappear as fast as they came. I ask Namgyal: what was this about? Laughingly he says he doesn’t know it either. He is an interesting man: he lets everything to pass through him, he doesn’t judge, he doesn’t have one mean word.
Today I went to Tikse with an American couple; the Farkas family, with some Hungarian roots. It is difficult if not impossible to tell Csoma’s story in a superficial touristy chat. I say he came through here 200 years ago on foot. Ah, yeah, a traveler. Yes, but eventually he made the first good Tibetan-English Dictionary, among others. Ooh, yeah? I didn’t know that. And then where are we from his original quest, his early years back home in Transylvania or in Gottingen, his Sanskrit-Tibetan-English Vocabulary (the light came back on). Don’t even mention the Bodhisattva-thing (Japan) and the Csoma-cult among the Hungarian Buddhist circles (Hungary). It could be a typical instance, of living multiculturalism. I am getting more and more skeptical that the Hungarians will ever be understood by any other nation. Don’t even mention Transylvania that even the Hungarians don’t understand. We got an interesting fairytale-fate from God to carry on. If I can sum it up as such. (The light is dancing slowly up slowly down… then it is gone, again.)
The problem with the new-age people is that they prefer not to perceive what they really see for the benefit of what they actually don’t see but want to see – this is ignorance .The fog, a purple spiritual fog.
Well, even a Zen monastery is not a place where people stay. Eh, I am just a lost stray vagabond. My only attachment to the world is that I don’t gamble away the faith extended towards me. There is nothing more. (According to some not even Csoma had more than that. More than that.)
I found a new travel mate for 195 Rupees. Journey without Goal.
The Muezzin started again. He roars about the suffering that will never end and that we’ll never be happy. Trungpa used to say that is the basic mantra for the Buddhist practitioner. No self-sustaining words, no protector deities or wish fulfilling mantras, only the rock hard depression. There are no promises, not in this world and not afterwards. I am distrustful of all “metanoia” what has not been born out of depression or despair. I have to call out to the kitchen for these girls are listening to the Ladakhi techno music and the subwoofer is pulling my brain to pieces.
I am definitely happy that Csoma didn’t live in the monasteries of Greater Tibet. Not even the smaller bits of me are wishing for the so familiar (Chinese) communist methods and the way they are killing that country and that world. Even in the monasteries Chinese soldiers are guarding – what? You can look at what ever is left of Tibet through a window – and whatever is left they all wish for our consumerism. Contrary to Ladakh where I am at the moment is free; India is not oppressing the region, they accept the Tibetan refugees. So much so that the “Tibetan refugee” is a fancy brand nowadays for they can sell stuff better with this moniker to the tourists. There is an original Tibetan refugee market on every street corner.
The question is repeated at least 10 times daily: where are you from, Sir? Romania. Aah, nice country. Yeah, right.
I am not a mountaineer, I am not an experienced trekker, I am not a man of science, not a journalist and I am not even a philologist or linguist (what is my knowledge of four languages compared to Csoma’s knowledge of 16 or so, and I only know to some degree a few Buddhism related words in Tibetan. I am not a traveler (especially that each of my trips were particular like this one now). I can only call myself a photographer. That only means I have countless pictures and sometimes I shoot a lot, I am intrigued by the techniques. In my heart I am not even a photographer but a photo-blogger only. It’s funny for I am unique in this too (as I said to a friend just before my departure, this is not even a photoblog: I noticed that for some time I began to post concepts, ideas and even from here I don’t post anything although if I wanted it would have been possible. Instead I stepped back a bit in time and speed. The days go by very fast, even here. A helicopter is circling overhead for about an hour now.
I got to know today the head of the Ladakhi Heart Foundation. He is a monk. He was quite a long time at the office (there was a black-out all day long; we worked on a borrowed generator but we had to give it back in the afternoon while the second borrowed generator didn’t want to kick in for anything even tough they worked on it for hours). They also need a website. I told him Csoma’s story in a nutshell. He is a sympathetic yuppie monk, with a jeep and a foundation, with good sense of humor and enormous trekking sunglasses (they work on cardiac disease prevention and healing – there is some kind of a local high altitude related heart trouble, I didn’t understand it properly – and the Dalai Lama is one of their patron).
There is an enormous joke behind the whole thing, a big joke. (The humor of the Carnival.) And the Buddhist approach is not to use any reference points at all – none whatsoever. And: Some people are Tantric by nature. Ear whispered, secret. Powerful, magical, and outrageous – but also extremely simple. No fireworks, no applause.
Chamba, the other young girl at the guesthouse comes into my room without knocking. She never says anything even if I ask or say something or thank her. Sometimes she titters back. From this (and non-existence) it comes to my mind when they implemented the Buddhist Studies as a facultative package (or something) at a well-known American university it became so pop that the students made a stamp with the inscription on it “This does not inherently exists”. Then they stamped everything with it.
Maybe it is true after all the sight of high mountains ease the burden of sins. For supper I had some apricot pits with a cup of chai. I got fed-up with rice and steamed vegetables.
I plan a sort of pathetic thing. As far as I know up ‘till now it was fashionable to take some soil from Transylvania (or Hungary) to Csoma’s grave. I would like to do it the other way around and take home something, a piece of stone or a pebble from here. And drop it into the river of my town perhaps. (With my luck I’ll find an imported pebble instead of a native one…)
I clearly see and find that the computer + Internet changed not only my relation to (things and) my (hand) writing but also my way of thinking (related to writing). I don’t write anymore but blog. What an emoticon is doing in my hand-written diary?! These dimensions are all and already mixed up.
It cannot be a coincidence that Csoma didn’t come home from India at the end.
Trust your nonexistence. E.g.: thy will be done. I hear the humming of a generator in the background since I woke up. It destroys about 5 % of the peacefulness as a constant background noise. I envy Csoma for he had real silence back then, I would even give up for it my 200 years worth of civilization differences, without hesitation. It is very possible that those monasteries I am heading for are already equipped with these noise-generators.
Everywhere everyone always asks: Where are you from, Sir? Romania I say. Yesterday, at the Shey bend’s bodega the waiter said: Aah, Nadia Comaneci! Yeaah!!
“Today this man cannot be an example to us for he left his homeland and never came back. He wandered the world as a homeless person. He lived alone, with no family and didn’t procreate. He accepted money from the English and he served them for it. He didn’t reach his original destination. He didn’t find the cradle of the Magyars. His life was full of failure. There is no need to be proud of such a man.” (This message was delivered in Covasna, Romania at a commemorative meeting in 1994. You know, grumpy people standing in a circle in our folk attire, yawning and nodding… What a farce…)
It is not by chance that very few people value Csoma’s work: it is not enough to be a philologist. Take in your hand a Tibetan manuscript or a scroll and imagine how difficult it must have been to discover, to strip, to taste and to break it up into its constituent parts of that totally new language… You only know a language when you think in that language. We see through our language. There is no such word as yun in Hungarian, thus it does not exist for us.
An Israeli woman was very much interested about Csoma; she thoroughly interrogated me so I had my discourse. Csoma’s history is made up of many stories. I also wondered about them anew while I was talking about them. Here in Hemis there are about 400 monks but lots of them are away mostly in the summer, hence there are a lot of empty rooms for rent. The price: as much as you think.
Somehow I ended up at the school, took pictures of the kids as they assembled around me. They don’t really speak English so I said something in Ladakhi, repeated what one of the kids said earlier. They were laughing wholeheartedly – we played this for a while then someone called up from the stairs: Tea? The teacher, also a monk, invited me for a tea in his room and we talked. Tomorrow there will be a book launching in Leh: he wrote a study on Tibetan language. I showed him my letter of recommendation. He heard about Csoma and recommended two scholars in Choglamsar and suggested that I look them up. He has a book about the Monasteries of Ladakh. I asked him to translate what it said about Phougtal (apparently Csoma was there for almost 2 years, supposedly). It says: they built a stupa for a great and famous Lama (perhaps the founder) and they say in full moon a pleasant scent emanate from it. We laughed that I’ll test it when I get there. (The richer Hindus are going to Ladakh for the weekend. They hop on a cheap plane and that’s it.)
I got fairly tired. I lie on my back on the mattress at an altitude of 3660 meter and smile. I am here on the top of the world and everything is fine. Yesterday in Leh I didn’t sleep much, my brain and the whole house was echoing a subwoofer all night long. It was either coming from a car or from a nearby club. I am wondering what this night holds for me. Tomorrow I’ll have to get up early.
The internal courtyard of Hemis is very much known for quite a number of documentaries were made here during the festivals. And there is a huge, 12 meter long thangka of Padmasambhava (if I am correct) they display it once every 12 years, at that time everyone is coming here on a pilgrimage to see it. The Gompa is an archaic structure, nestled to and concealed by the mountain cliff with small alleys, pathways. Thundup, my host has arrived, I am going to ask for a blanket for I didn’t bring my sleeping bag with me.
What’s in the spirit of a person who speaks twenty languages and thus lives in twenty different worlds? (The strong sunshine dried and hardened my whiskers and moustache and is continuously itching).
I think the head lama is keeping together the community and the monastery. Thundup became emotional when I asked who is in that framed picture. It is interesting that back home in Transylvania only the villages had such a thing, like the picture of the Pope on the wall or some other saints or so. The road is quite short from the picture of a lama to the posters of mega stars. But the former has a very much different mood. It gives a very different energy to the room – I say that without any new-age overtone. I have to go up on the roof to pee. Since the john is there I have to climb up the ladder and while doing it I can look at the stars.
I had my last cigarette on the roof, the Hemis Gompa below, the Milky Way above. I prayed to all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas including ours: Csoma; that during the night only good spirits should visit my room and my conscience that I mustn’t have any more nightmares. Yesterday evening I wondered again through the eyes of the local people that the Western world has only one Bodhisattva more or less sort of officially recognized by the Dalai Lama and that is Sir Csoma, the Hungarian. A “technically homeless” who preferred to escape the army.
(the next morning:
It seems that the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas decided that I’d have a hard row instead of an easy one: all night long strange and powerful dreams tormented my sleep. It’s raining. I see fit to go forward, then, if somewhere the feeling gets better then I will stop.
Imagine what kind of geographic and intellectual white spot was Tibet 200 years ago. The excitement what Csoma must have felt when he eventually threw himself into it. As a philologist (studying the Tibetan language), a theologian (Buddhism) and a traveler (the discovery) at the age of thirty something.
My other traveling companion is the soundtrack of the movie called A Guest of Life – Tibor Szemző’s music. It slows me down and opens me up every time I listen to it. It is an extremely awakening music and at the same time it is weightless like the sunrise. I listen and see myself about half a year ago, wintertime as I listen to it back home and try to imagine how is it like there. I mean here. The music, the good music always gets me back to the present tense.
Now, that I am on the road I see more clearly how the discursive mind works. I see myself as falling from one bucket into another. If I give in to the alertness then I smile on both – they don’t disappear, there is too much happenings inside and out. Their temporary nature becomes clearer here then back home in the familiar environment and rhythm. Hamvas must have been talking about this when he wrote that on a trip one comes face to face with self. Back home he gets to know the world.
Today, I saw 3 pigeons sitting on a wire – that was the day’s most Tantric experience.
I wake up in Thikse. I wanted to participate in an early ceremony with the monks but there are more tourists than monks so I rather stroll outside. As soon as I lift my camera the novices sullenly and aggressively scream No photo! No photo! They are fed-up with tourists. They come, stay for about half an hour or so, click-click and that’s it. They are back to the comfort in Leh. At the same time the locals try to exploit the situation by building guesthouses, restaurants and souvenir shops. There will be a Spiritual Shopping Mall, here pretty soon.
I often see soldiers as they lightly brandish their weapons like a purse – it is quite scary, for me the arms are one of the biggest non-sense. The main difference between the Siculians and Ladakhis (beyond the analogy) is that they are Buddhists therefore they don’t have a super ego while within the Christian Siculians everything is decided by the bearded God up there. (By the way, my dear friend, the Asians have as much to do with the Buddha as Westerners with Jesus. No hope. (LOL)
Basically, transmission is the meeting of two minds. (Trungpa). Nothing more. This is why it is so rare, the tradition of wakefulness. Simple basic things that we always forget. Well not everyone for there are moments of meetings from time to time. They say that when you are ready the encounter will happen – I see now that it is true. As I see now that desires are only there to be fulfilled. So you have to handle them with care. Though there are those who live their lives without one true encounter (refer to for example to the sixth race as in Hamvas). Contemplation seems to be the answer for both ways. I, when I can, practice that. A 2 days old young calf is running up and down in the courtyard. He cries after his mother who is at the other side of the fence. It stumbles, lies down when tired and runs all over among the apricot trees. Calls out to its mother and she answers. What a merciless experience is to leave the womb.
Once we give up our heart and brain, the magic begins.
We talked a few days ago about the culture shock (in the company of a multicultural bunch). I told them that it happened to me only once when I went to Hungary the first time.
Though it might be possible that the awakened ones are well and I’m the one asleep.
There is an old Ladakhi man, the owner of the house, he lives with his family next door – every morning at 7 (perhaps already from 6) is practicing until 8 AM, he chants the mantras, etc. He has a special room on the upper floor as there is one in every Ladakhi house, a prayer room; a small chapel with related objects, pictures, thangkas, mandalas, statues and books. A few days ago I knocked (Dorje told me I should if I want to) and although he didn’t invite me in just looked at me as I bent down to the ground as customary and entered. I sat beside him, kept quiet and just looked. I think he was making some mandala offerings with rice. He was reciting from a holy book, in Tibetan. He didn’t say a word to me. I am not exactly sure if he was happy about my presence but he didn’t kick me out. This was a very typical situation.
Thundup paid us a visit yesterday. He’s also a travel agent and is from Teta – Sangye Phuntsog’s village, he was Csoma’s lama. He said that the Csoma’s room in the Phougtal monastery is in a bad shape; he’ll put up a metal roof for me for $250 to head off the leaking. I told him that I don’t have such goals at this point yet but I’ll look around, take pictures and bring them home. Perhaps there will be some sequel to this project: to set up a commemorative Csoma-room in these monasteries. (Finally I didn’t have any nightmares tonight.) I got to know that the word chomo means nun in Tibetan, it is the female version of the lama. When I mention Csoma’s name every Ladakhi thinks that I am talking about a chomo, a nun – consequently there is always laughing.
Some mention Csoma’s vow made with two of his friends regarding the search for the original birthplace of the Hungarians. I don’t know what could be the foundation or the coverage of reality of this since everyone else is just guessing although I do remember my adolescent vows and perhaps my adult faithfulness to them. Padma brought me a cup of tea without my asking for it. I laugh at myself, at the situation that as one thinks about one, two or three and so on… then in the next moment one sits in the Himalayas in front of a zippered plastic sheets with 10 rolls of film, tidy away bit by bit, looking for the one that can still be used in the camera.
Yesterday the guys were laughing at Peter-la’s story on our malaria medication buying adventure in Delhi. There will be Zolto’s grave in Darjeeling beside Csoma’s… Malaria, what a beautiful female name. They call me here Zolto for it is easy to remember, easier for them to pronounce. (I wonder if the Tibetans could use the Messenger in their own fonts?)
To get on the same wavelength with strangers it is best to have a few drinks together. So we drank beer (Godfather brand) until well after midnight in the courtyard with Dorje and Gonbo’s father-in-law while the girls fed all of us. At a given moment we all danced inside to Ladakhi hits. There were about six girls more or less relatives from the same village. Dorje brought them here to work, that’s how he helps them. He is a restless spirit, wound up all the time, he leads a civil organization of the Ladakhi unemployed people and fights with the government: “it is indeed part of the constitution that the state should provide work for every educated young person” – he says. The girls worship the ground he walks and he is their favorite. He is 30 years old, a bachelor and this is a bit complicated. He tells me that when hiking he is so quick that he has time to snooze before the rest of the party (the trekkers he guides) catches up with him.
I sit in the garden and people are coming through the gate. Gonbo’s daughter points at me and exclaims: Look, the Buddha. We all laugh out loud, I show them my lit cigarette: Yes, the smoking Buddha!
Chogyal promised me another letter of recommendation, in Tibetan, from the head of the Ladakhi Monastery Organization, he thinks it would be much better for me, more effective. Well, who would be familiar here with the .hu Buddhist University…
Here are these “scientific” Csoma researchers. They put on fastidious airs; laugh (dismiss) those who venerate (a lot) Csoma as a Bodhisattva. The problem with this is not whether Csoma was or was not Bodhisattva but simply these people don’t know the proper meaning of the word Bodhisattva. That’s it, nothing more. The world of the awakened is mutual, all the rest are in their personal dream world. That Csoma was a Bodhisattva or not or we can discuss if he had a lover at least once in his life, if he was a spy or not, did he do any Buddhist practices or not, if he was happy in India at the end and that’s why he never came home or anything – all these are of minor importance. All these are not so important at the end.
As soon as the muezzin starts calling everything thickens and concentrates, it is a kind of yun, a focal energy. It focuses everything into a spot.
Thanks to the guys, I shake hands with rather interesting people, locals or visitors whose life in one way or other is interwoven with this land. Frankly they all fell in love with this world here. For Csoma, the Transylvanian reality (I have to press forward from this land where even the more mature people are full of prejudices” – as he said it in 1819) and after Gottingen came a totally new experience in Asia. I don’t feel this world strange, not at all. The dust, filth, the smell and the unpretentiousness tire me but basically I also feel home here. Here too. I mean if I could let go of all what I left back home or what I left behind, I might as well stay here. There are as much familiar noises here as back home.
Today, for the first time I got into a loo where there was no way to use toilet paper. An interesting experience to clean myself, as they say, knead the shit in your bum with the slowly dripping water. Fortunately I found a piece of soap afterwards. It is not a tragedy and not a complaint: all over India this is a normal thing to do and I marvel at that I haven’t encountered this before.
Tomorrow I have to leave. In spite of all negative impressions this is a positive place – for example the practice of patience here is exemplary and easily could be learnt from the locals. Also how to loose the stress.
(Dorje explains my journey, the whys at the table to his cousin: Alexander Csoma was a great Hungarian Buddhist. I say to him: no, no, nothing indicates that he became Buddhist at all. He looks into my eyes with his profoundly smiling, madly glowing eyes: You’ll see. You’ll see in Zanskar. We all laughed.
Lamayuru. Somehow I found the small open chorten above the monastery where my friend sent back the scrolls. (Years ago he lifted them from there and took them home. I returned and dropped them off. Mission accomplished. The first chapter of my journey is now over tomorrow I’ll join forces with the others and get going on foot towards Zanskar.
On my way down from the monastery, the first guesthouse where I dropped in was a Ladakhi family home with windows all over showing off a magnificent panorama. The kids are peeking; nobody speaks English. It was not too clean although it didn’t bother me and there is an attached bathroom too. I open the faucet, finally I can wash myself with soap – the water comes from the bottom of the washbasin onto my shoes… well, it is a basic room, kind, authentic Ladakhi faces, cheap, I sit down. From somewhere nearby a subwoofer beats out the rhythm; a soundtrack to my trip and to my existence.
I stand up in about 20 minutes and leave – I can’t pay attention to anything except the woofer’s dull beats in the background, on my nape. Once more I envy the silence from Csoma for he had part of it, the true silence before the techno age. My mp3-player snapped and it only plays the same 3 songs all the time – it doesn’t worth a shit, it is a cheap thing although I was happy when I won it. Too many gadgets are no good. Also, we don’t need many mental plug-ins, only one – no, rather one (perfect) OP system, that would be authentic. (It does matter whether you see the world in stereotypes or through archetypes.)
What travelers chat about? First: where are you from? Secondly: first time here? Then come the local conditions and the people, who saw what already and where are they going. Last: the global warming can’t be skipped, everyone everywhere feels and experiences it. I thought of Csoma what would this unusual person converse about? The Bodhisattva’s way comes to me: although he is not exactly an initiator but he can talk to or converse with anyone.
With everyone on his own level – are as many languages as people. They say people talk about simple things in the outer circle, i.e. such as mentioned previously. While feelings are communicated in the inner circle, they are uncovered (if there is a receiver who sees, hears and feels it) and at the same time receive the same messages from others. This is a kind of lower level (?) meta-communication. In the secret or the most inner circle people make contact through their real essence and that is beyond global warming or sentiments since these are only dust particles on the mirror’s surface. Such meeting is like two facing mirrors and there’s no doubt on either side. I think an awakened soul communicates this way. The Bodhisattva is just there. Here, you can sniff me, you can dig into my words, my intestines, you can rummage among my inner organs, take out my heart, you can taste it, you can take a picture of it, etc. – this is me. And you? Who are you?
What we really bring with ourselves on such a trip is becoming evident during nighttime when some long time not seen, long time forgotten faces from great distances reappear in one’s dream.
Up in the mountains sometimes a butterfly appears unexpectedly in front of you. Everything is but stone, sand and rocks and then suddenly a butterfly joyfully dances around you.
There was a minor pass at nearly 4 thousand meters; I passed it without any problem. In a very narrow canyon I saw Csoma heading towards his destination, to Zanskar where supposedly the writing knowledge and the erudition of the (holy) Buddhist texts are still the strongest. (Some say this is just a myth). He went there for this reason, they say.
“The invisible but vivid Csoma cult creates virtual and real life communities, it facilitates friendly relations in a way that is incomparable. It produces a spiritual harmony and compassion among those that perhaps never met personally before but they have the same passion: Alexander Csoma de Kőrös” (a quote from one of Kubassek’s book)
Majestic landscape, you’ll see it in the pictures. As much as photography is deceiving they will be even nicer. The sky is changing all the time as the clouds move around.
A Very Bad Buddhist
I snoozed wide-awake while my feet carried me. I have a slow but stable walking rhythm and when it sets in there is no problem. I speed up or slow down periodically depending on who is walking in front of me, beside or behind me. It is interesting how the energies are revolving, dancing. I totally forgot how much this off-line happiness is. Truly it is. We arrived, put up the tents (mine is the handsomest, everyone admires it, they never saw one like it.) Some have tea or coffee; I have a cigarette, wash up at the creek and later do the laundry. Now everyone takes a break, some reads, others write or nap. There is a constant loud gurgling. The site is breathtaking – though I still don’t have any problems with the oxygen deprivation. We start to know each other. It feels wonderful to rediscover the simple elementary happiness of mountaineering. I neglected Csoma and it is possible it will stay that way since my body and the walking consumes all my energy. He lived in these landscapes for years.
Singge La, 5010 m. Glucklich. No comment. There is silence.
Today there is nothing extra only two mountain passes over 4 thousand meters. I slept poorly due to the cold. Today we are still over 4 thousand meters altitude. I reached a milestone today: I am on the road for a month now. I wish for a traveling companion for sleeping alone is lonely not to mention the need for a daily communication. Today was like a movie: the Swiss talked in German among themselves, the Ladakhis conversed in their own dialect while I was waiting for the subtitles.
Lingshet is a truly remote Ladakhi village that can only be reached on foot. A huge closed in valley; on one slope there are the monastery buildings. The houses are scattered. There is lot of greenery, like a real oasis. The whole village is in an upheaval: the Dalai Lama will arrive (by helicopter) on August 11 and they are so overly excited that we decided to find a quieter place for our tents not so close to the village. There is a cabin, in the middle of nowhere, and has a satellite phone… My snot is bloody.
Lingshet is true magic at night. The moon is not yet full but there is a sparkling bright light outside. A true Claire de lune. Gigantic cliffs overhead, beneath a wide valley. The supper did its magic, our darling cook made some momos (the boys helped her) we all licked our fingers afterwards. I am getting better. My eyes are still tired, bloodshot and watery. Today, on the way here the last leg of the road passed through a creek, it was familiar from the Csoma documentaries. I drank from the stream, until now I didn’t have a problem with the local water and I am hoping it will stay that way.
Every morning I wake up and every evening I go to bed with the soundtrack of singing and reciting. Spaltzing sings and recites just before my watch begins to beep. She practices the Ngöndro. Yesterday evening she let me tape her while she was prostrating. Today I thanked her again on the pass and asked what is she practicing? On my journey she is the first Ladakhi who takes Buddhist practice seriously and at such level. Not everyone is able to do the Ngöndro, not even here. It was a truly pleasant and happy discovery. It is not accidental that she is a divorcé (divorce is very rare here) and takes care of her two kids alone; she works as a cook among others. It is a truly mad and genuine enlightenment, meeting her.
Tomorrow we’ll cross the boundary between Ladakh and Zanskar. The “Kingdom of Zangla” is made up of a few villages around Zangla – this is my first destination. (To enliven these huge mental swings from 4500 meter altitude down to below 300 meter).
Joo-joo-joo is a kind of thanks-thanks-thanks in Ladakhi. Yesterday in the Lingshet bodega while I was waiting deadly tired for my tea a local girl sat down beside me. I breathe in her ear half asleep a tired joo-joo-joo … at first she doesn’t understand then I conjugate the words until we laugh loudly then everyone, the whole bodega laughs. Ashamed, she runs out. The whole place is roaring with laughter.
My hands begin to look like true Ladakhi hands: there’s dirt under my nails. There are a few more people in this camp. Above are some neo-hippies playing Massive Attack on the flute. At times I tell my Buddhist name “Lodro Tharpa” to the Ladakhis. Generally it is a great success. Although I always add I am a very, very bad Buddhist – they always laugh, they like that very much.
I watch the Zanskar River, is it the same as Csoma saw it? The water changed so many times since then. Then what could be the same? Perhaps the river bed, most likely the bed. What we call “I” is the riverbed, the slowly forming channel. And what gets into it, what fills it up is constantly changing, never the same and is almost impossible to follow. The meadow where our tents are is full of edelweiss.
Although I didn’t even get to my travel destinations yet, today I imagined the sequel of a project that a small Hungarian-Indian-Ladakhi group sets up a commemorative room in every monastery Csoma visited in the Himalayan region while we retrace Csoma’s path and make a documentary movie, plus we do some interviews with the colorful people of Csoma’s world of cult. The question of course is still the same: what for? And moreover (come on now) for whom?
On the occasion of my birthday I see directly over the Zangla fort from my tent’s entrance. I never had such a gift in my life. Over the handsome village there it is, the famous fort. The Zanskari lads are pushing each other at my tent, peeping in as I write. I don’t have much patience with them by now, I’d like to sleep and get drunk, I already fed two and gave them drinks, etc. They’re just begging, begging and begging.
I’m The One Who’s Not Good
I ask if I could stay here for a few more days. She answers: you can stay here for good – if I want. I ask perhaps she knows some local wife material (they had an experience with a Frenchman some years ago) and she laughs back at me: What is my heart’s wishing for, an older or a younger one? I say one of each, if possible. Spaltzing wasn’t back home in her village for 2 years; we are in her brother’s house. She told me this morning that she is sad for she has to leave again. And that I am staying behind. This is – I think – a typical Ladakhi house and family. There are a lot of people in a relatively big house they are all smiling at me the visitor all the time. The kitchen is the most important part of the house, this is where everyone congregates around the stove, and you take off your shoes at the door – although not everyone does that. You can go to the roof to smoke and to look at the stars; the children even sleep there. We drank a lot of chang yesterday too – that’s good to ease the bad feelings.
Yesterday we passed the day at a Buddhist festival in Sani. Luckily there were only few tourists. During the Tibetan mystery play we witnessed a quarrel Italian movie-style. It was about an Italian woman’s naked shoulder that the Australian Buddhists commented to her husband. In such a popular event the Ladakhis are pushing and shoving just like people do while an Italian religious event for ex. The Sani Gompa has a Naropa statue and they show it once a year to the general public during this festival. We waited in line to see it (there is nothing to see), there was a great pushing indeed – Naropa Wrestling, we called it and we heartily laughed.
This time I watched the dance of the Lamas to the end. They release the bad or scary spirits that are raging furiously and scare the spectators while they dance devilishly. Nevertheless at the end they turn into protectors of the good. This turn always makes my mind to stop for a while. Ladakhi male dances interrupted periodically the dance of the Lamas. They move very slowly then the beat gets faster. (Meanwhile two players tease the audience. This is the only opportunity for the masked men to do something otherwise unimaginable: to physically get close to the foreign women who obviously enjoy this exotic attention.)
Tsering has a kind of Ladakhi Guinness-book. It has a whole page on Csoma showing him relatively well to my surprise. (My life’s fundamental question is am I a slut or a monk? Venturing further: is this one of the fundamental question of Tibetan Buddhism, also.) I slept about two hours and that felt good. My knees are acting up on the other hand…
The great wash. Doing laundry, two hours with my hands in one of the streams. Everything is dusty. And everyone knows everyone else. Yesterday evening following the festivities at the farewell supper of momos (Tibetan dumplings) Spaltzing persuaded me to sing my song as an opening then everyone followed. At the end we all twirled around. The Swiss’ traditional dance was a rock and roll (I played the Hound Dog for them – you can imagine how it sounded) then I improvised a short Hungarian-like ankle flaps (!). At the end there was Ladakhi singing and we danced in circle. At times during the day I felt I am among the Gypsies while in the merriment I felt I am with the Csángós. It was interesting to see how the three cultures met: I brought my happy-sad traditional Hungarian song (after all Hungarians enjoy themselves crying) – the jaunty male dance and I. The Swiss had their Heidi-song for two voices and the rock and roll as their dance while the Ladakhis did something totally different. Theirs was truly communal. Everyone sang, everyone danced and everyone stood in the circle – those who didn’t want to were bugged, pulled and squeezed or made fun of until they gave up and got in.
Did Csoma ever participate in such a Zanskari folk-parties? According to the myth he ascetically never drank, danced or partied. No food no drinks and no women. Actually I always feel that Csoma is eluding my intellectual or spiritual grasp. When I feel that finally this is it, I got it, I seized the essence of his real personality he slips away again like sand from my hand. A fine sea sand.
Spaltzing’s brother is an extremely humble man. His wife doesn’t know English; she is always drunk and makes faces mostly with her tongue although most of the time she is quite grumpy. Today on my way to wash up in the woods I bumped into a calf’s rotting carcass.
In the village the hordes of children beg right away instead of saying hello. One photo! One pen! One khaka! After a while it became so annoying that I felt like slapping them. Of course, I don’t do it I couldn’t do it. For I would have done the same thing if I were them. The way I did it with the Turkish truck drivers who drove through our town when I was a kid, asking for sweets. Today, walking on the way home a young boy kept me company. After a while we sat down, I gave him a biscuit, some candy and good words. The son of the house came in while I am writing this. I showed him on the map where I am heading, where is Leh, etc. He’s in third grade; seems to be very intelligent and gentle, said the numbers in English and I counted to ten in Ladakhi for him. He got a pen and a piece of caramel (today in Sani I bought pens, biscuits, candy precisely for this kind of encounters) and a picture of the Dalai Lama. He was happy with these small things and thus I was also pleased.
I unpacked my stuff from my backpacks and I realized again how little I have with me although it is still much for me especially the small stuff. I practically live in a backpack and an email address. Although some of the small stuff could come handy such as a transparent tape: my ever so popular hyper cheap tent, one of its tube already broke the first day, I taped it together that’s how it survived the next 9 nights. And there are my several meter long cords I bought in Leh. I use it to dry my laundry at the moment. All my technical stuff is packed in zip lock bags reinforced with elastic rings; they have to be protected from the dust. The cameras are in the photo bag and this is in the uppermost compartment of my small backpack. My windbreaker, perhaps a polar fleece is on the bottom with my plastic water bottle on the side while my passport, other documents and the money all are in the inside pocket. This room is a luxury suite compared to Csoma’s (alleged) rooms, for there are glass windows here. True that two of the five are missing the glass. There’s only a rug on the dirt floor. The door is a sack it swings in and out, in and out. The light bulb works for 2 hours every evening (there are some solar panels on the roof, almost every house have some in Ladakh). That’s when the household listens to the radio and I recharge my batteries.
I see now that in a journey after the flow feeling of drifting the second most important thing is human contact. When and with whom you meet and what will remain of that encounter. What a thrill would be if I could meet my personal Moorcroft.
These people here have quite a hard life. One of their sons, the young Tensing slept in my room, the one who thought me how to count yesterday. On waking I saw that he was spying on me through his half closed eyes. What an excitement for him such a visitor, you can imagine. He is a real bright mind. I see in his parents that they would love if their younger son would be sponsored like a certain Martin did it with the older brother who since then is studying in one of Leh’s better schools. Unfortunately I can’t take on such a long responsibility (I don’t even know where I’ll be next January) but perhaps I have some ideas how could I help him, them.
We know that Csoma worked and lived with a lama, Sangye Phuntsog for an extended period. This must have been a defining relationship. Perhaps this is such an aspect that his biographers don’t pay enough attention, the possible human aspects of it. Some of the books about Tibetan Buddhist lamas describe how they lived, behaved with their students (or with others in general), perhaps he participated in such a human game, it is easy to imagine such a relationship between Csoma and his “teacher” in spite of all the apparent meager life of the local lamas and nuns who (most of them) seem to live in spiritual materialism.
Of course this is only a speculation like everything else in connection with Csoma be it academic or an artistic movie. He runs through your fingers like fine sand. Whoever not admits it, doesn’t see it probably lie: they’re projecting their own stuff on him. (Like I do, probably.)
One’s work is very important. If one passionately loves his work then it becomes even more important. That Csoma sunk into the Tibetan world is understandable for he was a linguist and a theologian – the Tibetan culture is one high theology after all. Csoma ‘s letter to captain Kennedy in 1825 should be handled with reservations: he was held up hence he said what they wanted to hear. It is odd how he withdraws his own self not only from this report but it seems always – this is the greatest Buddhist areté. Obviously Csoma saw clearly the importance of his penetration into the Tibetan way of thinking, language and world – then it was an exotic Terra Incognita. It isn’t anymore but its exotism endures. In fact it grew. Think about the vast number of tourists going to Tibet or the proliferating Tibetan Buddhist centers all over the world. Imagine the magic of this world 200 years ago… (I keep forgetting and always forget that I am at over 3 500 meters altitude.)
After lunch the whole family trooped into my room, I took a picture of everyone separately and all of them together. Like in the good old days when a photographer arrived to the house. They loved it very much and I did love it too. (I have to send back ever more prints.)
Csoma learns the language in 16 months. And during this time? The villagers? Monastic friends, girlfriends? Mountain strolls? Weddings and other folk merriments? A few days ago I quoted a poem where “I have chosen the path for it chose me”. This is a good line, frank words. It would be good to find some (new) traveling companion(s). (If someone already speaks English is great, I could talk to a bit and that can mean a lot).
There are gigantic grasshoppers, locusts here in Zanskar; I never saw such big ones anywhere. Many legged worms terrorize my hosts’ garden and a big chunk of the crop is gone. They don’t use anything that would kill them – they are Buddhists. Or maybe they just don’t have enough money for that.
The Zanskari lamas thought that Csoma worked for all humanity and not for self-gratification. Most people think that I am a trekker or just a tourist, albeit… Is it possible that he also had some sort of religious motivations? That Buddhism began to inspire him in a given moment? The ship entering the sea of Dharma – as Sangye Phuntsog wrote about him in a manuscript. Nice heading.
Here, Csoma called himself Iskander Beg. They call me Zolto or Lodrö or Lotus Tharpa while the Swiss call me simply Zsolt. I found two packs of Orbit in the bottom of my backpack. What a delight of the senses!
“… Bodhisattva, namely a saint (-) …furthermore (characterizes them) the strength or capacity of the soul that make them suitable to influence the universal joy of the world in a positive way.” How simply he writes (Csoma’s report, Sabathu, 1825). What a simple task from the outset. I find it funny how the Bodhisattva is defined as “a person who attained perfection”. No. There is no need to be perfect to tip the world into a better direction. Even just for a moment and just a very small corner. Csoma writes very well in this case, also.
What an unusual situation, turn of event just think about it: wherever you are I am here, somewhere in Ladakh, on the floor of the highest room of a country house and write all these to you and to my later self. And, I don’t write this for the effect of some self-purpose, my dear, but simply not to forget what came to your mind here. At the very same moment! All my respects are for Csoma. For a long time I didn’t have anything as bad as the famous butter and buttered tea of Zanskar – it is definitely an acquired taste.
(31 July – 2 August, 2007 – Tungri-Tahan)
They got the drinking water from the glaciers as a gift. Following a long pause I offer myself an hour-long Internet use. It is a rough trip. Numerous e-mails from home. After all I don’t have any other contact with them. It was dizzying and eventually gave me a headache. (Imagine how much more exciting it was 200 years ago when one received a letter from the East, in it that he is still alive and that “X and Y met him here or there!” Then suddenly some complimentary copies arrived home. I melt away as expected, cast my guarding eyes on my blogger-friends (entertainment) – this is the sign of loneliness. It felt good to see some familiar faces (blogs) but it is not so good to stay long online and offline from the offline life. It is not good to have such buffer days (years) I see that now: only the absolutely needed ones.
The origin of the Hungarians is a strange thing. A Terra Incognita – always. We could be home here too. We could be from here too. Could be as much as we could be home back home, could be. I feel home here as much as I am home anywhere. The Romanian Hungarians are rather homeless “bozgors” – technically homeless people. Csoma apparently possessed 16 or so languages in one head, in one heart – that makes as many different worlds, as many homes, countries and as many kind of homesickness. He writes on the Buddha: “he lived 80 years and he was a genius of his era but later when his fundamental morals and doctrines were moulded into one order of conception his followers began to worship him the same way as Christians worship Jesus.” He sees it clearly he is as bright as an awakened spirit. “…we should respect this religion for it is based on the same ethics as ours on the “love of thy neighbor” – a quotation from Csoma if I can believe the translator. He sees it clearly, he’s a bright spirit. Oh how simple it is. He writes with great love about Buddhism – it seems much more than a simple scientific approach. Today I ate some scrambled eggs. Finally. (Christianity was/is also an imported product.)
Imagine all the enthusiasm when Csoma found himself there – somewhere here in this land and he suddenly realizes that he’ll accomplish something as great as he read and heard about when dreaming about making discoveries, Terra Incognita, new languages and so on. Everyone has ambitions even if secretly. What a joy and zeal must have taken over him. What I am doing now is nothing compared to him – but at least I do what I was looking at, admired for years how others did it. The delight and excitement, the eagerness to act is similar, at least at its basic mechanism. Maybe even more: the underlying archetype itself.
If I am correct in his different “accounts” Csoma didn’t write explicitly that he is studying these eastern historical references written in Tibetan also to find the trail of the Hungarians. Most probably this would not interest his British employers. On the other hand there was no reason to keep his personal motivations secret: every employer allows at least one personal thing to his employee while he is motivated, there is no problem. We always put what we have to in our so-called reports.
The letter dated in October gets delivered in January – back in the times of Csoma. Take that e-mail.
When Csoma went to Calcutta (now Kolkata) to take care of the preliminary printing works is like one keeps an eye on the picture from exposure to the enlargement, the framing and its place on the wall. It is yours, your creation. “…the incertitude and the hesitation have the most cruel, the most oppressive effect on a sensitive heart.” Brave hearted is this darling man (as Szemző called him) as he states it. The heart as such is a sensitive subject altogether.
This morning I tried to have a conversation with my landlord (he is an important local school teacher). At one point during the conversation he spoke about Csoma like he helped Sangye Phuntsog and not the other way around to put together these great books.
All kind of “boxes” correspond with Csoma’s personality but never entirely: Always just as if. He lived like a monk but he wasn’t one.
Indeed, one truly gets to know oneself on a trip like this. I always confront myself e.g. what are my needs, or what I think I definitely need. For example I want to eat-drink-smoke constantly. Hence is the distance between Csoma’s simple lifestyle and my needs although from time to time I try hard and even do it. In my own way I truly gave up a lot with my presence, staying here although I am light years from Csoma’s legendary simplicity.
Hungarians always fuck up: Alexander Csoma (who is he today .hu or .ro?) worked for the British government (.co.uk) and not for the .hu government, Academy, etc. On top of that some thinks that he did that while being a Russian spy… Thus he would be the first (Russian) Bodhisattva-spy. My hosts turn the volume high on the noisy folk-techno music in the next room every morning at 6 AM. It is raining again and that means further delays. I can’t do anything else but to eat, drink, read and write well. I dangle my legs at the end of the world. “… for God ordered that when one reaches the end of the world at the same time reaches the end of his life” (from a folk tale about Csoma).
All day long I faced an abundance of absurd situations. Or at least I interpret them as such. This is an absurd day. E.g. the phone rang about 40 minutes without stopping. At the beginning I picked it up a few times, I said who’s phone it is, Julay, Julay – a woman called (perhaps it was my host’s wife) but she didn’t say a word since the first call up. She kept calling for 40 minutes but never said a word again. Although periodically I still pick it up but I don’t say a word either. We amused ourselves this way. This is the same when the natives are looking for the Teacher (my host) – they rush in, stare at me and then disappear without nodding or saying anything. No greetings, no nothing. At the government run net-café the host kept hitting the refresh button on the desktop with the right click thinking that it will speed up the computer (this must be a Ladakhi myth for everyone is doing it). He kept doing refresh, refresh, refresh. In short, the disk got stuck somewhere, perhaps I brought this with me and now I don’t need a refresh instead a great restart. I’ll wait another day then I resume my journey whether it will rain or not.
The only bright spot of the day was that three people inquired me about Csoma’s story. One marveled, another said that he’ll participate in the memorial hall project while the third wrote down Csoma’s name in his notebook and laughed that this is really something, a true trekker, from Romania on foot to here, no small feat!
At the intersection of the bazaar a Hindu cobbler is repairing my tent when I catch sight of Thundup, whom I met in Leh. He is going home to his family in Testa/Teta (also a Csoma-related village that you can only approach on foot) for a few days of holiday. I like the guy, he is very enthusiastic and I more or less trust him. If our Csoma-project will progress he could be our local man. He has something that reminds me of the old Ladakh and he also claims to have a good connection with the Phougtal Gompa’s Head Lama. (Just an example of what a right connection means while yesterday the same lama asked three times more money for water today seeing me with Thundup he dispensed the plastic bags free.) I really would like to say only good things about the locals but… My hosts were very nice today, for the first time since I am in their house. They will get money from me today. Theoretically they are educated and enlightened people. Compared to them where is Csoma?
(Padum, August 2007)
Where Even The Silence Is Beta
From above the monastery everything: human games, hard work, attachment (Samsara) truly seems nicely foolish. It comes with goodwill to slap people the same way as we pat children. Here even the silence is Beta. It is wonderful to retreat here for a while, let say as a Buddhist to do the Ngöndro-practices. I still stick to my belief that what one finds in these gompas is not the Buddha dharma but one form of the Buddhist culture and here this is the Ladakhi version.
(Karsha, August 2007)
Zangla. A few hours in Csoma’s room. The very first time in my life I am happy for a Hungarian cockade and can appreciate its beauty and also for the acquaintances from back home. I confess I am over came by emotions (a short cry, etc.) – even I was surprised about it. After the many (spiritually empty) monasteries the run-down Csoma’s room in Zangla somehow charged me. How? Did I arrive home? Being here is a great joy. There are Erwin Baktay’s words on the wall among many Ladakhi and Hungarian “Simple Johns” memorial. There are also a few memorial plaques. The translator of this diary, Judith Galántha Hermann, put one up there.
In spite of the fortress very bad condition it is awesome. Built on a high cliff it has a commanding view over everything here in the Zanskar valley. I found the room on the top level. Inscribed on the wall: Csoma’s room. It is questionable, of course.
I felt ashamed a bit in front of all these commemorative markers although I think they are snobbish. I was never interested about them as a genre per se. Partly because I didn’t see any Transylvania related plaques (perhaps I didn’t notice it?) but the marker from Balassagyarmat was loud and clear. In one respect I didn’t bring one with me (but engraved one yun.ro like a true Hungarian kid would do). On the other hand if the “Balassawhatever” had money for a plaque they could have offered one for Csomakőrös if they passed this way (it seems they didn’t have time either) but use Csoma’s name anyway. Of course this is a very naïve idea; I mean such goodwill. This is it, my dear, dust and ashes, in Csoma’s room, too.
There is a majestic, lofty vista of the world. This is really the top of the world. Indeed if Csoma lived and worked here in this room (the window is too small but the next room has a spacious balcony) then he really looked down on this world. He wasn’t interested about the people but about their culture and their language. Viewing from up here with a cool look what is going on down there. It would be easy to furnish a smart memorial room without any political overtones.
I got tired of the Zanskari hospitality (there was no sign of it in Padum) and I am happy that I finally met with one of my countrymen who treated me well for a few hours. True that he didn’t offered anything, he is terribly poor and is very silent but I had some boiled water and smoke a few cigarettes on the balcony. Nevertheless he taught me one thing where (not) to look for the above-mentioned goodwill. Silence several thousand meters above the subwoofer world, the view truly opens blue, a genuinely deep look on the soul’s even larger world. No noise, no games reach up here.
Being in Csoma’s room is like finally arriving home and meeting with an old acquaintance although I am on the road only for 40 days and not 40 years. It was good, especially for my heart whatever and wherever that is. A local burst through the door like a tractor and if I wont salute him, he wouldn’t do it either. A lonesome traveler’s place hence is up here, in Csoma’s room.
(Zangla, 17 August 2007)
There’s A Spring
The first surprise in Dzongkul was that Kunga Choleg, the great lama is so very much venerated. He authored one of the so-called Alexander Books for Csoma’s request answering his questions. He might have been a crazy wisdom type teacher as I see it and was far from being a conventional Buddhist figure similar to Sangye Phuntsog who wasn’t one either. It is interesting that Csoma found him among these specific lamas and not others thus my theory seems even more possible… Thundup interpreted – he is cunning enough to say what I want to hear. The lama who received us would also very much like to get a “project” for his Gompa similarly to other monasteries in Ladakh. He knew about the Hungarian who was Kunga Choleg’ student. They say that in one of the gompa’s cave lived and meditated Naropa himself for an extended period of time. He showed it to me. Some of the walls of the building that runs into the cave are real while further the rocks form the wall. There is a spring barely dripping; they look upon it as a cleansing holy water. Apparently there is such a spring in the Phougtal Gompa where I am heading now.
So, Dzongkul Gompa is open to some kind of co-operation. The Lama asked me to bring a copy of Kunga Choleg’s Alexander books, he would be very grateful. Or I could send it to him so if you go there some time… (Their eyes shine as soon as I mention my Buddhist name, it works well, opens doors and channels of communication). I am a traveler, what a great happiness that feels.
The walk from Purne to Phougtal Gompa takes about two hours. The Tsarap River is a spectacular sight in its narrow valley. Phougtal is bewitching at first sight. A huge open space.
The lamas I met with so far seem welcoming. I truly feel in the cave or sitting on the balcony with my legs hanging above the nothingness that this is a real monastery. A Buddhist monastery close to 4000 meters altitude with a good positive vibration. I have three names I can turn to here for lodging and help – at the end I turned to Tsultrim who is about my age, a teacher at the monastery school, I watched him while he taught the very young future monks. He speaks good English, he is an educated man, his Padumi teacher friend recommended him; they were classmates in Leh. He seems to be intelligent and kind, that’s what I need. He went back to teach about an hour ago (we had lunch together on the terrace, here everyone: monks, visitors, tourists eat together). When he left he said “full relax, you’re home”!
The tourists coming from Purne stay only for a few hours, this is only side trek for most of them. There is Elsa (we picked her up in Ichar, she is twenty something with a backpack who wonders the Himalayas looking for the meaning of her life, she lost it not so long ago) and a Spanish guy, a painter; they both are super loose, no guide or Sherpa not even a target destination or something like that. They have only basic stuff in their backpacks and off they go. They are simply sleeping on the terrace. There is also an older, German guy who comes here every summer for an extended period of time to practice meditation. Tsultrim said that on one of his longer retreat he healed himself of a seemingly terminal illness (cancer). He is right, this monastery is ideal for a retreat; indeed it seems like. If I didn’t see the approaching horde of tourists (the Nepali workers are building an all-inclusive guesthouse nearby) I would seriously consider it. One of the walls of my room is the rock; the room is neat and spacious. I fished out my letters of recommendation tomorrow or perhaps even this evening I have to present myself to the head lama. Full relax!
Perhaps my backpack got heavier because my diary is already half full. I am half way somewhere… These words are heavy, brought mostly from home: ideas, plans for the future and I left with well-defined targets and a pathway so I have to carry home a lot with me. Next time I’ll come without anything, even without a camera. A true photographer puts down his camera from time to time. Tsultrim has Olivier Föllmi’s book called Zanskar, a photo album (among others thanks to this book that the French tourists are here in troves). I looked through the book, 100 picture dated 1988; very good pictures with short captions without any trace of tourists. My heart is aching for this world I missed by simply born into this age we’re living in now. I imagine a similar book with 108 pictures, mixing colors with black and white or sepia/cyanotype images with short captions about Csoma and maybe my experiences. These tourists are absolutely free and super loose but they never stop long enough to strike up true friendships. Most of them are fancy travelers.
Just think about it, Csoma lived here for years, there could have been, there must have been connections, friendships. Or, perhaps there are some Csoma offspring running around somewhere in the next village? (as there could be a few back home in Transylvania and Gottingen…). It is even possible that I already met some of them. (Not necessarily true that Csoma lived here, even his researchers are searching in a fog).
In the introduction of Olivier Föllmi’s book the last words of the King of Padum before his death is quoted: “Don’t be sad. In Zanskar we have always followed the teachings of Buddha. Those teachings are based on the transience of all things. It’s part of the natural order that Zanskar should change”.
About 60-70 monks live in the Monastery of Phougtal; I just participated in a ceremony at the main assembly hall. There is a strong positive feel of this place but I don’t know what is it exactly. I found only by accident the 1992 commemorative plaque of the Galánthas (“To the memory of Alexander Csoma de Kőrös Hungarian pioneer of Tibetan Studies who worked here in Phougtal 1825-1826. May his achievement inspire future generations”), a piece of paper in Tibetan, some kind of house rules covered it – so I uncovered it. There is an English text underneath about the story of the monastery; only a page but there is no mention of Csoma in it. I don’t know… how much would it bother him? Slowly they could be won over to open a small Csoma museum here (what’s with me I was never interested about this kind of a commemorative projects?). It seems they are not interested either. E.g. to approach them first with some official letters with many beautiful Buddhist type stamps on them and with holier-than-thou texts, perhaps some gifts, sketch of the project, etc. The tourists come here for the (Tantric) Tibetan Buddhism (and for the Himalayas) and not really for the Hungarian scholar – traveler. Thus they should be convinced that a Csoma-room would be a plus, a colorful spot and the well-off Hungarian visitors will appreciate especially that the Western tourists interest is weaning of this region (the main artery lately is the Keylong – Kaza – Tabo – Nako – Peo line) so here they come the more affluent Eastern Europeans (although the plane ticket is expensive but everything else is still very cheap).
This evening Tsultrim takes me to the head lama; I carry my letters. (At lunch we talked about trivial matters when I mention that a Bodhisattva-cult is forming around Csoma. He says looking at me smilingly we cannot say anything about anybody – there are so many forms of the Bodhisattva. I laughed and I cried at the same time. He hit the spot, really did. Many times these people write about the Tantric transmission this way. Everything is simple and then boom, suddenly two minds meet. Very simply in an everyday manner and without any fireworks.
He says that he was so young when he came to the monastery that he only thinks in a monastic way not only about his childhood but even himself.
There’s quite a long afternoon and evening behind me – above on the terrace there are plastic tables and chairs, the lamas are sitting in a circle. Tsultrim told me to get my letters of recommendation. They read them carefully then began the conversation, the mutual questioning of Csoma, his lama, who when where and what; they re-examine, re-read my letters, the map and Csoma’s dictionary. They take me into the sanctuary where the Baktay stone is – it must have been part of a wall once and they only kept it because according to an old lama it is an auspicious piece of stone. The lamas thought that Csoma himself chiseled the letters into the stone.
The end of our conversation is that they don’t know practically anything about Csoma. I, as usual, almost got infuriated that the people who left the rosettes did not send back any books, they didn’t do anything, etc. Tsultrim reassured me that everything is only a question of communication (now he listens to the BBC’s Hindi broadcast, some kind of voting is going on).
Then the sun is setting, the sky is red and I sit at a table on the huge terrace with the high lamas and other dignitaries around. Suddenly a lad from the nearby village Testa appears who is not other than Sangye Phuntsog’s descendant and he came today to investigate his ancestor. Who was no other than Csoma’s lama himself. We all laughed this is truly an auspicious coincidence: On one hand I arrive on Csoma’s path while he came on the heel of Csoma’s lama, Sangye Phuntsog. Soon the terrace filled up quite fast, everyone showed up. Suppertime under the red sky on the top of the world. The monastery’s head geshé-la (geshe is a rank, meaning doctor of Buddhist philosophy) praised again my Buddhist name and I try to give justice to it with my words and presence. Thanks a lot, Csoma, good night!
I keep forgetting that I am staying in a monk’s room. True, Tsultrim is a bit hesitating, he is somewhat interested in the Buddhist monk’s path and at the same time not really. He says he’ll wait until he is 30 years old then will make a choice; perhaps he’ll stay perhaps leave the frock behind. I didn’t get to the part of love and sex, he is exceptionally reserved and I don’t want to intrude).
In the morning, after my breakfast (chapatti, jam, milky tea, biscuit, cigarette) I walked around and ended up in the kitchen. Since I have a chef-chapter in my past I love big kitchens a lot. At first I took some pictures, the sun was shining through the chimney and the small windows and I could take a number of low-key pictures like how the saffron robed monks sort the green peas. A beautiful contrast between the dark red robes and the vivid green of the beans – I hope some of them will be sharp enough. Then I helped to clean potatoes. A huge group of foreign medical students arrived at lunchtime. They are working today and tomorrow at the local school where they take care of the monks and all the neighborhood villagers needing medical attention. There’s traffic, lots of comings and goings now all over the Gompa.
Sangye Phuntsog’s relative told me that he also looked through a lot of manuscripts but neither him nor the lamas found anything about his relative or about Csoma. In turn he found many over hundred years old documents and he tried to save them right there on the terrace by flatten them and gluing them on rice paper, etc. One of them was written in a vertical manner, I took some pictures of it while I was watching them. (Then I thought perhaps he found some information about Csoma but being a scholar he wants all the glory for himself. He is studying in London). Following lunch Tsultrim and I went down to the river, there is a plastic pipe channeling fresh water from the other side for washing and cleaning. I have to find out if I can charge my batteries here, how freely can I take pictures for there is a lot to shoot.
Yesterday while I was sitting in the main assembly hall I listened and recorded their puja as they hold the dorje in one hand and a bell in the other – one is the male, the other the female principle – as far as I know. All the while the small mischievous kids beside me were teasing each other. Suddenly one of the older lamas jumped, rushed to the kids and whacked all four of them on the head. The kids got scared with popped out eyes, even I was startled and tried to save my voice recorder. Then everything went on like before, the older monk went back to his seat while the kids continued their banter alas somewhat quieter.
Tsultrim knows Spaltzing they are relatives also while this morning I discovered that one of the young kids is the brother of Thundup sister’s husband. We stayed in his house in Ichar for a few days. You see here everybody knows everyone and at least everyone is everybody’s relative. Among the 4-5 head lamas here at least three are siblings.
One of the old monks didn’t let me take his picture; we smiled at each other, no problem. In Tsultrim’s room there are at least 4-5 mice, this evening before I retired I saw them running up and down on the craggy wall then listened to them before falling asleep. He calls them Pets and smiles.
I lied down perhaps I could have a snooze. Suddenly I had a glint of the land of the quads (my hometown), the neurosis, money-issues and such. No, on second thought I don’t want to go home. Or should I come back to Phougtal? For a longer period perhaps? (Why do you want to come back since you are still here?). Outside there is thunder, rain and a strong wind now.
There is a 100 years old English-Tibetan dictionary, Norbu Choepel edited it but I can’t find the word yun in it either. I think the yun-thing is part of an esoteric teaching in Tibetan Buddhism (in Shambala Buddhism it is among the secret texts, my Romanian friend let me see it only after long urging, well it is that kind of a secret) maybe this is why it is not so well known. I find it now a relatively simple and obvious stuff. I thumb Csoma’s dictionary too perhaps I’ll find it somewhere eventually. Today I realize again that mentally I already processed the gathered material and experiences. After each photo session I screen them at least once but the camera’s indicator is too small. In plain English: I really would like to see my pictures on a large screen, then on paper (our mice are stirring) to see what size of enlargement are they OK for. I still believe that only giant prints can elicit maximum enjoyment, effect and attention due to the many (visual) stimuli day after day. At least 10-20 giant pictures in an exhibition.
There is a cassette player on loan with 3 cassettes, one Bryan Adams and two Ladakhi hit parades. It also has a radio. Yesterday Tsultrim listened to the British-India cricket match. Today I listened to the radio; some Chinese, a few local (Hindi?) and the BBC. A pleasant smell of laundry detergent seeps in, I installed my mobile laundry line again, my clothes are hanging on it. A small package of laundry soap costs about 5 Rupees (or maybe 3?) it is very handy – it does miracles in five minutes soaking (isn’t it interesting how some small things can become so important?). Next time I’ll have to wash the larger stuff. I wonder if ever I will bump into a Hungarian tourist around here somewhere? According to the LP Phougtal Gompa’s altitude is at about 3850 meter. I set my altimeter on my watch to see how will it change tomorrow morning.
My Buddhist name has great success; in the kitchen everyone calls me Tharpa-la today while they were laughing and slapping my back happily. This Hungary-Romania issue still bugs me a lot; due to this it is very hard to explain where are you from? – There is no simple explanation to this. Especially since it also means who are you? If I say I am from Romania it is true but just half a truth for I am not an ethnic Romanian. If I say I am Hungarian then they say right away Ah, Hungary! – but I am not from Hungary either. Neither from here nor there. From here and there, both.
Don’t take this diary too seriously. It was much more important to work on it than what’s in it. It is personal and discursive. I use it partly to twit in Hungarian to myself, just like that or later if I become tired to identify my pictures and my recordings easier based on the dates if I can’t do it otherwise. I don’t want to publish it really, my pictures as a medium are more than enough, perhaps even too much. So again, I think you shouldn’t take it too seriously either for this diary reflects only a fraction of the actual experiences and what I went through. (Interesting how the world nowadays is such that a handwritten diary is downright suspicious while a blog is not.)
I wake up at five in the morning to the sound of the monastery’s gong. It isn’t too loud but deeply powerful and at the same time very gentle. There is perfect silence at daybreak in the monastery, only the Tsarap is roaring at the background down in the valley. The gong vibrates through the walls, the rocks and reaches everyone. Myself included, and that’s how I wake up.
There is a Cypress tree above the monastery. That – I think – is a miracle in itself and that is still alive up here. It is revered as a holy tree and is good to sit under. It is Sunday and there’s no school today, it feels like the whole place has slowed down – the playing was going on all day on the terrace. I also played it a bit with the monks although I don’t know what it is called but was interesting, a board with pucks that should end up in one of the holes in the four corners. Meanwhile the tourists from Purne are streaming in and out, they take some pictures, of me too, etc.
I wonder about Csoma, who lived here among the monks who are also human beings as we all are, how much did he participate in the life of the community? For they say he didn’t like merriments although a monastery gang can be somewhat different from a pub’s crowd. The winter is very hard here they say. But for example today’s summery day was truly warm and beautiful. To my amazement people (myself included) seem to be opening up here in unexpected ways, perhaps Csoma did that too? I am sitting on the terrace, below is the deepness while above the great blue (split up by a rope full of prayer flags) around me older and younger monks are sitting, lying on the floor or playing. They spend their whole life up and out here or at least the greater part of it.
I was dreaming a lot all night long, it was intensive, old friends and faces emerged amidst never seen or long forgotten landscapes and towns, I got very tired of them. Yesterday there was movie night on the patio: they set up a huge TV and a DVD player, the generator was on (I hastily recharged my camera batteries) – the monks were sitting in order beside each other and watching the movie in silence and open-mouthed. It was a Chinese movie dubbed in Tibetan (!) it was some kind of silly story about Padmasambhava but it was evident that it had nothing to do with him; it was like a children’s movie on the Hallmark Channel. Before the movie we had a tasty but very fat and substantial yak-meat soup. Yesterday we also cooked some momos it was a big job and went to bed well after midnight. My knees are very painful especially in the morning.
When I meet the younger kids they are always touching me looking for some physical contact, I think, foremost with the exotic stranger. It is the same with the older ones but they seem to have a need for a strong intellectual contact too.
There is a beautiful sunshine today and that balances the social deficit. It is sad if someone can’t find a companion. I mean a spiritual connection, a true connection – with his many and peculiar characteristics what could have Csoma count on? Here in Phougtal or even back home in Transylvania? “I have to hurry on from this place where even the more mature people are full of prejudices. (1854, as Ujfalvy quotes Csoma). He probably had “work related” connections but what about beyond that?
Tsultrim opened up and talked a lot, about Buddhism, his monastic life and himself. Basically East and West meets and clashes in him. Partly the monastic way of life, what he was born into, the Buddhist way of thinking and lifestyle (east) and partly what he saw, heard and studied in the government schools and what he picked up from the high number of Western tourists (west). His wavering (clashing) is somewhat gentle (due to the influence of Buddhism) and not so stressful – an Eastern feature I should pick up. And he laughs at himself; he has a good sense of humor, self-irony. He’ll wait with his decision until age 30. (Sort of same as I say should I be a slut or a monk?) If he grew up and settled in the western hemisphere he could become a popular Buddhist teacher, people would love him (such the ones in Budapest). He has all he needs for that but a decision (as I said he is hesitating). He didn’t accept a penny saying that he has everything he needs but if I want to give him a gift I should give it to the monastery. And to send him on a CD what ever comes out of my project. With my greatest pleasure.
Today suddenly a Hungarian face pops up on the patio – he was Russian. The lamas finally made up their mind to let me take pictures only of the Baktay-stone in the sanctuary and nothing else.
According to my host Kunga Choleg was not a monk but only someone who moved into the Dzongkul-cave for the winter (there was no Gompa at the time) where he did Tantric practices and meditated then went back to the village and his family for the summer. He thinks that Csoma went to see him or Sangye Phuntsog called him to Zangla or perhaps they just passed the questions on. At the time there was no monastery in Zangla, today’s nunnery is also new, about 100 years old; Csoma lived with the royal family – maybe in the Csoma’s room.
Before my departure Tsultrim smilingly said he had a dream while sleeping the first time in two years, he was in the middle of the river the water was rushing in one side but frozen on the other. He interpreted it as a reflection of his dilemma. This is truly an auspicious coincidence.
Of Imported Lamas and Other Illusions
Testa/Teta (3950 m). We went to visit the home of Sangye Phuntsog’s descendants. It was a nice surprise that the old Tashi Wangdus (actually his wife is the relative, their son Tensing Norbu, the lad living in the UK who just arrived to Phougtal the same day as me: he on the path of Sangye Phuntsog, me on the path of Csoma) was waiting for me. He offered tea then he showed us a metal box containing Sangye Phuntsog’s relics. In it were an enormous mala and two headdresses. We talked about our heroes. It seems that Csoma’s lama was similar to the other chap Kunga Choleg, was not a monk but somebody like Milarepa/Tilopa who lived in a family and village like way while at the same time he practiced all kinds of Tantric stuff and from time to time went for a retreat, etc. We went into this other (huge) house that – as the old guy said – belonged to the “royal family” at that time and showed me a room where Csoma supposedly lived and worked with his teacher. The moral of the story is that they don’t really know much neither about Csoma or his lama, the old man also asked me for books about them.
Tsogfel is mighty intelligent with a bagful of diplomas and you should hear how he hawks the phlegm up. He teaches history in Padum, if there is a need to send packages for example to the Phougtal Gompa he could be the contact point, he is evidently very much interested. We laughed that soon there will be a need to import some lamas to Zanskar, the locals don’t think that sending their youngest son to a monastery is good business anymore they rather send their kids to the government-school to study trade, management, IT and such subjects. Import lamas – this would be the new product from the West to the East. He told me about an Austrian university project (the faculty of Buddhist studies) are gathering all the valuable old Buddhist manuscripts/books from Ladakh, they want to establish a library in Phougtal – this could also nicely concord with our Csoma-project.
I often ponder on Csoma, his story but the questions are multiplying instead of subsiding. I still have as many as before I started. In spite of having answers for many of my questions the mental fog is still great. It seems that it will stay as such, I am now pretty much sure of it.
Practical solutions for my Himalayan everyday I put up the walking stick between my boots to dry my freshly washed socks. My hands got frozen while I was washing in this awfully cold stream. (Since Padum I didn’t meet any one bonbon – one khaka kid, you wouldn’t believe me how good this feels).
I woke up at 5:30 AM to a hysterical screeching female voice who was waking Chotak – there is no trek my son, go back to Phougtal to the grind. (He said yesterday that he doesn’t like to be home). In about half an hour there was so much smoke in the room that I had to go out of the house. (According to the myths Csoma never worked in such a smoke he rather didn’t have a fire even in winter. Just like now. I’m waiting for the time to pass, Tsogfel to wake up for he promised to find a horse for me. Chotak left the order although he still works for the monastery. I can’t unzip his mental files on why did he leave and this time not due to my lack of language. He’s a good kid and it’s OK to drink with him.
Noon passed but the horseman I hired in Purne is still nowhere. It seems that a 51 years old man is ready to come with me tomorrow. Basically I am at the point where I still can’t trust them and I take only what they say as a half-truth. Csoma also waited here in this village quite a while for his lama, Mr Phuntsog so I can also wait another day for the horse and its owner. The always-cunning locals are somehow not inspiring me anymore. Roughly this is it and from now on I’ll only look forward to see the main range of the Himalayas, to flounder over it and to rent a room with a shower in Manali. Nothing else has an effect on my mood momentarily. This morning I listened to the news, there are great floods in Himachal Pradesh, around Shimla and hundreds are dead. I just arrived at the right time into the monsoon, did I really need that? The room is still full of smoke and makes me cough, hawk and weep. All windows are nailed there is no way to open any of them. Hello tourist!
I browse the maps and have a dilemma which way to go from Darcha. (I see the Himalayas through my window, now). It doesn’t matter much, I will probably set off toward the south, Manali or Shimla in one shot or two perhaps the monsoon will not hamper much my journey. Since I left Phougtal I sank into some sticky slimy mental state as I felt in Padum, as if I wanted to go forward but something just wouldn’t let me do it. Drift away all this is just a joke like a carnival, it will be over in a wink and nothing else. At least four people came to me saying Horse? If I say yes they just look at me or say me, horseman! – but they don’t know anything else in English.
Twilight. Beside Teta (more likely Testa although this is disputed as much as anything else in connection with Csoma) there is a small house alone in the direction of Darcha. I am here, it belongs (he is also fifty-something) to the guy I made a deal with that tomorrow morning will leave with me. My headlight is on while I snuggle into my sleeping bag; the members of the household are still in the kitchen. How could I put it into words now this odd observation that at one time I outlined speaking of Karma who ever sees the past will see the future too. A flash, when I saw myself in the past sitting here now, in the future. It is all projection, a dream, this is how the world creates itself – Monsieur Buddha was a quite an intelligent man, I recommend him and his works to your attention whoever you are, who ever reads this. Illusion. I am completely shattered. Up, to dance.
The Tibetan-Hungarian Dictionary
We are just outside of Kargyak, a bit further away from the campsite near the stream. It is very hot there is not one cloud anywhere, no shade. The altitude is 4050 m according to my maps although my watch shows 4070 m. At the other end of the valley I can see the Gumburanjan, tomorrow we’ll pass it. A huge monolith.
My traveling companion, my guide, chef and horseman is Tsedan Falban from Teta (his father’s second name is Phuntsog, perhaps he is also some kind of descendant of Csoma’s Lama – I just play with the idea, these are pretty common names here). This morning I tried to talk about this with him but he doesn’t speak English. We are talking through body signs with each other and it is fun. Fortunately we don’t have to talk much about how to pack the horse. I try to help him if I can to make his chores easier. A very strong wind is blowing the heat around and already tore down Tsedan’s tent that was only a simple tarp. Theoretically I could give him my tent. I don’t think I’ll need it in Kanam, my pack would be lighter and he would probably make a better use of it. He’s about 50.
The wind just changed direction.
We arrived and pitched our tents up. He made tea. He is a widower, I met yesterday with his four sons and his mother. He is so meek that I play all the roles I pay him to play for me except the breakfast. I would play if he would let me – it is only possible with some ruse.
It feels good to be at a place where Csoma really passed. He passed through the Himalayas here in his way to Sabathu (that I don’t see anywhere on my maps) then back again. I have to zip my tent up to shut out the effect of the strong wind otherwise it would fly away. I’d like to give my tent away as if it was mine… It is almost perfect, its form, the broken pipe will last and the patched up part also. It was a wonderful traveling companion and it was very cheap. The horse carrying the packs is often stubborn; it has to be prompted, she keeps stopping. A mare. For a long time I didn’t see such big pussy. Actually today while walking I was following a huge cock-alley – for hours.
Zanskar is like one big village (where we are now is not much more than 1 to 3 houses, in some places there are bigger villages with let’s say 20 houses side by side) there is no need for the internet: yesterday evening at Tsedan’s house sitting beside the fire his oldest son told me that he already knows where am I coming from and where I am heading, who carried my pack from Reru to Phougtal, etc. My hair is long and my beard took on a never before proportions. The wind is blowing from the Shingo-La. Its message is be careful, be careful for I don’t give anything easily like my northern brother… (I wonder about Csoma how much he was alone around here?) Today my left knee is acting up a lot I hope it will calm down before the mountain pass.
The hiking and walking is a wonderful meditation in action especially if one is alone even if there is someone beside or behind. You are alone with your thoughts and the outside world – I mean with your neurosis and the landscape. It is the same as a sitting meditation as the thoughts and the landscapes are constantly changing. We walked today for five hours with only one tea-stop. I hope the wind will slow down – back in Padum there was a night when the wind was so loudly tearing at my tent that I constantly woke up from nightmares.
There is also a school in Kargyak the Bohemians are behind it and manage the affairs. Perhaps the Czech Republic is in a better shape than Romania or Hungary, it is quite possible that it is closer to Europe’s western half but I doubt if it is richer than Romania. In fact we also could establish a similar school especially that we always beat our chest when talking about Csoma. It would do a lot of good for both countries.
There are so many possibilities, there is so much open and given possibility in this.
Himalayblue. Himalayablues.com. Today I realized it once more how truly blue is that blue when I took pictures of it again. It is actually the direct descendent of my Paris Bleu. There is a great panorama from my tent of the Himalayan main ridge and its white-capped peaks. I think it will be quite cold here again. Last night I froze in spite of putting on all my clothes, it seems my stuff is not so great stuff after all. I didn’t sleep much, next time I have to organize this differently.
We inch forward like old people, thank god for the guy is just 50ish and not some young vitamin-bomb. What others do in 4 days (in hurry some even in 3) we make it in 5 days as we decided with Tsedan since he is small and old but nimble and sinewy. He never stops for a break only after a water crossing to dry himself. I only felt the altitude yesterday the first time, the air is thin periodically I get dizzy and grasp for some air. Perhaps it is only due to smoking… The heat is a beastly 37.1 degrees. My back is hurting; my left knee is wobbly while I walk. Excuse me for going into such details but whom would I tell if not to you?
It is simply impossible to piece Csoma’s face together. I doubt those (more precisely their “true” descriptions of him) who state the contrary. (See for example the Hungarian heroic picture of the Transylvanian “Scientifists” or such as Szemző’s contemplative traveler or the .hu Buddhists Bodhisattva, etc.) These are all projections. These theories talk rather about them and not Csoma. And I think I will also fall into that trap.
(Now I understand the meaning of the TKBF secretary’s saying that 3 months in India is a lot and a few at the same time).
Trekking and walking is also a practice of self-knowledge. Yes, it would be positively good to have a small trekking team back home. (There are some manager-like trekkers here. Today I saw a team of four they were literally running without looking “no left, no right, only forward” and not even a greeting or a nodding.)
Tsedan is like Spaltzing only an older man version. While walking he hums the same melody (mantra? Prayer?) as she did. When he offers something or he is packing he similarly puts the other (in this case me) before his needs. I follow his example thus the you and me is constantly mixed together – this is how we talk laughingly in a meta-language since we don’t understand each other’s words.
One of the most important things about Csoma is that he created the Tibetan-English dictionary and not the Tibetan-Hungarian version.
If, let’s suppose this Csoma project will continue indeed than the best thing would be the Dalai Lama’s patronage. In this region it opens all doors. I squat in my tent getting ready to slide into my sleeping bag (with its bad zipper) when my dear old horseman brought me a tea. Today we forded a stream several times; at one moment I dropped my boots into the water. I was lucky that Tsedan was close enough and snatched it up. I was positively bored with the Shingo-la (4980 m) to say the least compared to its northern sister the Singge-la (5010 m).
The Darcha River’s valley is a huge stupendous heap of stone with a powerful blue above. Something is eating Tsedan. Perhaps he would like to be the horseman of a fancy tourist group. The Zanskaris who were in contact with the tourists don’t have much manners and the courtesy costs money. Today we had to ford several creeks, my letter of recommendation (that will not be useful in Kanum anyway) got wet though it’s still readable.
Here, everyone asks for a cigarette and that in a most impudent way. So today I closed the free-cigarettes shop and from now on only those can get some if they offer me something (tea?) back. Basically I am fed up with everything and just tired. Yes, I will give my tent to the old man (the one everyone even the Germans admire – I wonder how come?) perhaps he will put it to good use; true I’ll have to teach him how to put it up for it is pretty tricky.
It drizzles (huge dark clouds are approaching from the south, it must be the monsoon) a bit further the fast flowing Darcha rumbles; here’s a big German tourist group arranging their tents, there’s a pack of French teen-agers chirping. Average well to do Westerners and as such they pay well and that greatly influenced the locals’ way of thinking. Here for example in this place most of them have dollar signs flickering in their eyes. And everything else is secondary. The dollars and your stuff (tent, boots, jackets, pen knifes, watches and so on). Such thing as remote Zanskar at last was about 10 or 20 years ago that way. And in the time of Csoma. This, ladies and gentlemen, is terrorism. Tourist terrorism. This is it, no hope: the newborn poverty mentality of local people has been born thanks to us, Westerners.
I bought some eggs and we had scrambled eggs for supper. Tsedan opened his eyes wide and loudly burst into laughter when he finally understood that I am giving the tent to him. It felt good to do good even this way even if I encourage the so-called terrorism… I hope he’ll have good use of it, it was beneficial to me and I got attached to it. After a bit more than a month of walking and wandering all over Zanskar I don’t want anything else but a shower and a bed. Tomorrow I’ll leave for Manali.
Monday, the week begins. I wake up at 6 or perhaps even earlier. Tsedan, this darling old man makes the scrambled eggs at 6 AM (some eggs left from yesterday). I am only ready for breakfast generally around 7:30 if there is no need to press forward (I begin with coffee or tea, a cigarette, going to the loo, pack the bag, the tent – to make everything ready for the horse, washing, etc. without haste – only then I am ready for breakfast). By that time my scrambled eggs are already cold. The farewell breakfast what this dear man prepared. He doesn’t have a watch instead follows the sun. I had to eat it cold, at least he should be happy. To round it out I also paid him for his services and gave him my tent. There is a strong possibility that he’ll sell it in a nanosecond.
The Ultimate Neurosis
It’s an illusion – I’m telling him. He doesn’t hear me. He wants to leave India for France or even for Romania he doesn’t care where just get away from here. Be off. I tell him it is an illusion for people are also leaving Romania – I would do it too at the first occasion. If you want to go then go – I say it then and I take my leave. I can’t and don’t want to encourage anyone to immigrate to Romania. (Come on now, Romania. Such country doesn’t even exist. Only the US, France, Israel, Japan, India and China exist.)
Those with a poverty mentality should come here, to India. This is a true Canaan, everything is so cheap. As it is a trekking heaven for some it is psychotherapy for others. I feel I have outgrown this neurosis by now. It is (poor people’s) adolescence. The true neurosis comes only afterwards freedom.
I didn’t sleep that much for a long time; then I stretched. Yoga poses that Dorje taught me in Leh and some that I knew before. No wonders that the best Yoga masters come from India. As it is not by accident that so many young junkies come here. They swarm in Manali. They bring the juice. I have to leave from here pronto. Usually this is how it begins.
Rencontres au bout du monde – this is the name of the (French) association I rode with from the Darcha Valley. They are bringing the tourists in and of every “entry” 100 Euro goes to local charities plus they pay the locals very well. Something like the Fair Trade. The French guide is not getting richer (although at times some small business is coming his way such as me – I paid him for the seat in their car) but he lives well. And he likes very much that he travels 3-4 months a year – for free. It is possible that this is just a summer job the same way as the university students from Leh do it to finance their winter semester.
I could do something similar to this to finance the sequel of my Csoma-project. Like pay for the trek for the sightseeing for Buddhism and some of your money goes to the Alexander Csoma business. As if everything fits together for a moment. Csoma tourism. Just one trekking trail among many. Entertainment. Anyhow that’s what everyone wants even the more intelligent ones.
I am as stoned as everyone else in Manali. Except the local Muslim merchants, they just look at each other and think another junkie; they all buy the same things: coke, chocolate, toilet paper and maybe some apples. A typical ganja-lunch. LP writes about it well “a surplus of dope and techno music”. Since I got back I hear the subwoofers somewhat muffled in the background. Club House is the name of the monster not so far under my window.
The motorbikes are rumbling all over the place and there’s also a go-carting ring (soon the quads) – exactly as it is back home. Today I got through a checkpoint without showing my passport. I hope I’ll have no troubles later because of it.
I think Csoma was also alone. That is why he left and didn’t come home. It doesn’t really matter where are you alone but where you are you should feel good. Maybe a decent job, nice climate and colors. This region, country, continent is far, very far away from Transylvania. The plane ticket is expensive but the happiness you might find here is 108 times ……
This is a cheap room. Basic as LP writes. Not too pleasant but if you have something or someone to occupy yourself with (for example a traveling companion) or if you want just to sleep, to relax after crossing the Himalayas it’s perfect. When the concierge came to my room for my passport details promptly offered me some hashish to taste. Everything seems to be cheap.
On this side of the Rhotang Pass everything seems to be stoned. The creative dust of cannabis lingers in the air. As we approach (my knees were more and more painful) more and more things fell into place. When you come through the pass suddenly everything changes, everything becomes intensely green. There’s a green forest, pine trees, apple trees and the humidity – it is a real jungle after the desolate Zanskari landscape. The change is indescribable and if one is bored, he or she is actually sleeping.
The tradition of wakefulness. I am only interested in the tradition of wakefulness. Everything else is not more than entertainment or bullshit. Culture. It is funny that I live in two backpacks; everything has its own place, like two small apartments. A snail-shell. Once in a while I miss my home – true, back there I also feel the same. This is the greatest illusion of the travelers, the ultimate neurosis. There is no home we are all on the road: you, Csoma and I too.
At first Manali reminds me of the mountains of Transylvania with its natural endowment and climate although here not wild plants but cannabis grows in profusion beside the road. Peacefully. So many tourists come here (for the dope, for sports, to trek and to practice yoga, etc.) that now they are building a huge private clinic that the nearby American, French and Israeli embassy billboards highly recommend. This place is such a big business. Indian newlyweds pass their honeymoon here, while Westerners came in the 70s and brought properties in the nearby villages due to the availability of the excellent quality of local THC.
Indian girls show off their henna painted ankles in their Chinese nylon flip-flops. Yesterday, we stopped on our way to eat somewhere ahead of the Rhotang-pass. There was a trekking groupie in her sleeveless T-shirt, for a long time I didn’t see such impressive boobs, I just stared – she loudly and flirtatiously laughed back at me. (Here in Manali, the ganja is an invitation to drop in and is like an appetizer. Yesterday evening just behind the Tibetan kitchen I overheard an English couple talking that for three thousand Rupees is not even expensive for that kind of hard stuff.) In my backpack I found an Orbit and what a great pleasure that is.
On the road somebody shouts after me: Tharpa! It was Tsedan. We shook hands and just laughed since we still can’t communicate in any other verbal way. But I am happy for during the four days of walking out of Zanskar together he never called me by either of my names. So this circle also came to an end. I mean this circle is now complete. Finally today I found a map at the Tourist Office that shows the location of Kanum.
Most of the tourists here are from Israel (they own the place and they are mostly teen-agers) or from France. They think I am from Germany especially that I have my trekking clothes on since I am totally out of my jeans. This is the perfect camouflage they think I am a simple tourist. They just stare when I take out the tobacco and roll myself a cigarette for true trekkers are not doing such a thing instead they are munching on fruits, chocolate and muesli. Here everyone is smoking grass (and even the policeman is a human) there’s a problem only if someone reports it. That is if someone wants to get even with somebody. The locals seldom smoke it except the holy men. They are doing it continuously all day long. One can go in to the temple and for some donation they let you smoke theirs. The locals don’t really like marijuana or its derivatives but it has become a big business (ganja tourism) it is prospering and brings so much money in that they tolerate it.
Countless loud motorbikes swing by. Yesterday I realized that their noise don’t make me fall apart as much as they did two months ago. Would that be the result of the Himalayan silence? (Oh, the silence is internal. It can only be found there and nowhere else). Soon I’ll have to start to take my malaria pills.
In India, even in the mountains a lot of people are working (I suspect for pittance) with stones. All over on the roads groups of small and thin people (children and women too) are working by splitting, hammering the stones one by one then a great iron roller smooth them down. On their back are the woven baskets…building and repairing the roads. They are in tattered rags (in the high heat and strong sunshine) with a kerchief on their face (against the dust). They don’t appear unhappy (more like apathetically tired) but if one looks into their eyes (from the bus, car or rickshaw) one sees and feels their dream (Bollywood) is to live like you, the tourist.
This journey is a huge experience for me. I feel it all over my body. Just think how could have been 200 years ago, before the glass windowpanes and all what tourism means. In Csoma’s persona I don’t only have an erudite scholar but also a great traveler. Yes, there were such men once upon a time. The word (traveler, traveling) meant something different then. He jumped into the great void, into the unknown. It was a Terra Incognita back then. I think it is useless to waste money on stereotype Csoma statues instead spend it on a good book that is not difficult to understand and everyone could marvel at. As I read on Galántha’s memorial plaque “May his life and works inspire future generations” is the only worthy way.
I woke up earlier, lit up on the outside corridor. Beneath on the ground floor Dayulu’s brother teaches his young son at the faucet how to clean his nose without a tissue. They looked very happy, father and son, before breakfast.
What’s there, on that landscape
What’s not here
In this language
The booze pulls you back, to the ground (if you are spaced out or too high) – the grass loosens the ground (if you are too materialistic). Both ways are intoxication, daze and illusion. They both have as much disadvantages as advantages; the difference is not quantitative but qualitative. Awakening (I preach this following a few days of being completely stoned) is above, below or in them but certainly outside of them. A bird screams in the jungle and the whole world resonates.
What horror life can be for these people due to (legal) tourism: there is a three-story house with an outside corridor. You and your family live on the ground floor and rent out the rest. Then come the visitors, full house in high season. You live (would live) your days downstairs – more tourists, better business, more money and more happiness, your wife is happier and the whole family (at least it seems). Every tourist has a camera, bigger, smaller mostly digital by now. Most of them are small automatic ones. They are taking your picture from upstairs and since most of them are automatic the flash is on. You live your life in the flashlight as a megastar in the limelight. Of course not all tourists are butt-heads some of them even come down and flash the light into your eyes from just half a meter away.
There are these extro-masters (Trungpa and Hamvas is the outer circle, the Hinayana, you put yourself together) there are the intro-masters (mostly living humans like the monks, this is the Mahayana, you scatter yourself) and there are the secret masters (what you pick-up from them is your secret, this is the Vajrayana – and this can be madness itself).
I feel good about these Indians who have no idea about what Romania is or what is this eastern Europeanism. E.g. I met in the mountains a Spanish couple and when I mentioned where I am from they said awkwardly that there are lots of Romanians in Spain – and slightly moved away from me.
A friend was surprised while we chatted on the Internet that I don’t know what is a Kingfisher. Well, are you not in India? – he asked. It is never important where are you but who you are.
To travel alone is good for you can more easily loose your ego. You leave a part of it everywhere you go and when you think back it never is the place (where) what you really remember but what you were at that place (who). You can really burn yourself out in this – perhaps this is why these trips (can) have a strange therapeutic effect – this is why the ancients recommended it as a method of self-discovery or life changing. Now imagine Csoma how many places he visited, how many worlds he entered and how many burnouts that traveling produced in him.
The bus is exactly as the LP describes, noisy, loud music, stinking, stuffy, the driver is the boss (same as back home), periodically he nonchalantly gets off to chatter then you can wait for him, etc. We descended to under one thousand meter then climbed up to Shimla; there’s jungle-like vegetation, hordes of monkeys on the road and cows all over. We stopped for lunch, my appetite was gone but had a tea and a cigarette amongst many Hindus, a few tourists here and there, in 20 minutes ordering, chowing down the food, cacophony, loudly blaring speakers, everyone babbles… I just watch.
Shimla’s location is absolutely beautiful at 2127 m altitude as my watch shows (small monkeys are jumping up and down in front of my window). Getting off the bus: there is a huge crowd, a mix of people, you have to fight your way through this crowd to pick-up the backpack and by the time you get there you are under siege by porters who want to carry your bag. A Punjabi lad stuck with me, at the end I got tired and told him all right take me. That’s how I ended up in this hotel with a back room (view to the valley + outside corridor) for 350 Rp – I bargained it down to 300, scrambled egg and hot chocolate included… Today I go to bed without a wash for I am too tired and just happy that the day is over.
Don’t forget to study the similarities between Csoma and (Mahatma) Gandhi.
The bus was drafty, I feel sick and gulp down some medication. It works. My CNN squeaks but this TV feeling is good, I didn’t experience a TV for quite a long time. While we got here and until I took the room I thought all the way that this is only a scam and on the bus I worried about my luggage (the baggage rack wasn’t locked) now it feels good behind a close door (with peeking monkeys at the window) as I stretch on the bed. It is odd how these villages, houses, people, mountains and pictures pass by alongside. The monsoon just got to me with its cloudy, humid weather and periodical rain and fog. Perhaps it will be over before I return home.
I wake up at 5:30 in the morning; I snoozed through two AXN series, hot chocolate and a promenade. I am not so sure where I went but at some point a local dude sits beside me at the fence, roughly we are the same age, his feet like petrified dirt and we talk very slowly in a low voice and in short sentences. For a long time I didn’t have a meeting with a Hindu who didn’t want anything from me. Not to sell, not to ask, not to persuade, not to denigrate, not to explain, not to convince, not to immigrate not anything. It is a true relaxation especially that in Shimla even this morning people were pounced on me to sell trekking and all kinds of other stuff. There are countless Indian tourists and some foreigners. I slept well, the Panadol did the trick and I sweat the disease out.
Then I was talking to a Sikh travel agent, I will talk with him again tomorrow. He seems to be normal not overly pushy, perhaps it will be good to have some local contacts in the future. Until now he was the only one who knew where is Kanam. Every now and then the sun was shining but it is foggy now, again.
Finally, I felt something of the Hindu spiritualism at the Jakhu Temple. Lots of people came up early morning for blessing (?) (a dot on the forehead and slaps on the back from the Brahman). There is lots of honking and back-up noise in Shimla, that’s it for the Himalayablue. A few days ago (?) there was a bombing in Hyderabad, it was some kind of terrorist action, the news bulletins are full of this since then.
On the way home I had a tea with Dev, the Sikh. I related the Csoma story; he listened very attentively and took notes. I showed him Szemző’s pictures I am taking to Kanam, I told him about the project and some of my future ideas. He seems to be intelligent and if there will be a sequel he could also be a good contact on the Shimla-Kanam line. In principle there shouldn’t be any laundry done in the house; hey all those wonderful days in Zanskar where I could easily wash all my stuff in the ice-cold creek. These monkeys are so immoderate. One of them opened my door and came into the room.
Their office is a table in front of a dhaba, leaflets in hand. Dev’s sibling looks exactly like him (the Sikhs in general are fairly similar in appearance), I sit down. His mind is as fast as his brother’s. In fact he is a guide of the Wahoe team, perhaps he knows about more historical facts. He exhaustively queried about Csoma; we also talked about lots of other things, in the mean time I had my supper. They have several hotels in upper Shimla, their father was a Sikh prelate in Delhi. As a matter of fact I have an issue with trust – it comes out more evidently here in India. He said Sikh means learner. Soon enough I saw that the Sikhs are not only “learners” but you can also learn a lot from them. For example what does it mean to be a Buddhist? I told him that I am not exactly sure if I want to open a travel agency back home – he answered what are you afraid of? We crossed the sea all you have to do is to follow. Well first I want to arrive home safely then see what can I bring home and mostly for whom.
It is a personal, subjective and not a scientific expedition. Traveling in and out. East-west, poor-rich. Traditional and post-modern. Home, on the road. Native land and statelessness. Homesickness-freedom. On foot and flying. Travel and tourism. Nature and urban. Community and loneliness. Tibet and Szeklerland or Terra Incognita versus Terra Cognita. 30 thousand Tibetan words. Reflection, pilgrimage. Poem. As many languages as people. As many roads, as many colors as people. Digital slide projection. Multimedia essay. Multimedia poetry.
You have to get used to and become immune to the mixture of that stinking smell of urine and excrement. You go on the road and periodically it assails the nostril so much that you falter.
Simla, August 2007
The Secret of Iskander bey
Kinnawar. This place surpasses all my expectations and preconceived notions. Yesterday I switched to robot pilot in Rekong Peo; my legs carried me (up to the Gompa) while my eyes led me (pictures). Perhaps that’s why I survived the Indian bureaucracy and finally have an inner line permit since Kanam is too close to the Chinese border, it is a restricted area. I am in the so-called Csoma’s room. I am the only one in this monastery and Lobsang, the head lama and Csoma’s spirit of course. The lama generously cooked supper for me. There are familiar faces on the pictures. Bethlenfalvy, Szemző, Sári a bit further the book of Kubassek in English (!) there is the Sárosi’s stone – in one word I feel pretty much at home. He said that Kanam and the Hungarians are very good friends. Who ever comes here, foreigners, almost all of them are Hungarians.
I am on top of the Kanam Gompa, sitting in a camping chair, overhead the starlit sky, around me the Himalayas, down under the Sutlej rumbles, opposite is the Little Kailash while inside the room my sleeping bag is waiting for me. Lobsang replied to all my requests with an O.K.
He shows me László Sári’s writing, published during the Book Week in Hungary, that he sent. He gives me two of them right away. Sári’s translations are like pure honey. He also shows me an Indian book about Csoma, the writer calls him yogi in the title. I think about it how right it is since his whole lifestyle was like a yogi’s. Perhaps not all the time but certainly for a while. Kanam is very pleasant surrounded by almond, apricot and apple trees, greenery and large houses. The Sutlej valley is dramatic but contrary to Ladakh it is green and thus the vegetation alleviates the drama. Suddenly there’s the mood of the Csoma movie.
The full moon is over the mountains and the walls of the monastery are shining. Dogs howl. The sky is clear and full of stars there are only one or two sparkling clouds here and there. Over there is the silhouette of Little Mount Kailash. Down in the village and up on the other side windows are blazing. Silence.
This is not a rich monastery: its prayer flags are all faded. It could use some (fresh) blood infusion.
I slept with open windows and watched the sky. Lobsang invited me for breakfast of chapatti, dhal and chai. Then he improvised a beginner’s introduction to the Tibetan language and gave me a booklet, a spelling book for young children. It was relatively difficult for he doesn’t speak English. I had a taste for an hour of what Csoma did here 200 years ago.
They say the winter is not so harsh around here; perhaps thanks to global warming. Although the conditions must have been different, he could have slept on the floor, without meat, wine and women, Kanam still seems to be a sort of a small paradise. And yesterday I experienced the locals’ friendliness; I risk saying more so than the Ladakhis and Zanskaris who are only seeing the moneyed tourist in everyone. Such a site is in front of my eyes, such cleanliness and radiating calmness. It was easy to get lost in photography. Perhaps I have some fleas for I am itching and scratching since I arrived. There are also lots of houseflies. It is very possible that Csoma was happy here and not the stereotype Hungarian martyr. Kubassek and most of similar Csoma-researchers perpetually use the word self-sacrifice in connection with him. With all due respects this is misrepresentation. He did not sacrifice himself for the so-called noble goal. He was like that, that was his thing. This was the norm in his world. It was not self-sacrifice but self-surrender, self-giving.
The VHS version of the Csoma movie strained my backpack for two months. Tibor sent it to a young guy in Kanam who helped them during the filming. Another mission accomplished. True that Lobsang was hurt for he didn’t get one I had to make excuses instead of someone else. In Phougtal I didn’t get their trust (to take pictures in the sanctuary) because of other tourists before me while in Kanam due to the Hungarian visitors and a VHS tape put my venture to the test for half an hour.
Luckily Lobsang lama is fairly intelligent to separate the Csoma movie and me. I also made him understand as much as I could that a big package will surely arrive separately for him and it will be much more valuable than what I brought. After supper we talked again although it was hard but we somehow understood each other. Like the Lama of the Dzongkul Monastery he also waits for adequate donations and foreign intentions for the locals are less and less generous with the Gompa and Lobsang’s efforts although they are quite wealthy. He would be ready to establish a school with Csoma’s name on, meaning there could be a continuity of our Csoma project here too. Amply.
I washed myself and did my laundry. I got used to it by now after two months of hand washing. It is a forceful spiritual experience I say I should practice it back home too. These flies are eating me alive.
Baskir lost his wife some years ago, she died in childbirth. He is talking openly moreover he speaks English much better compared to others. I reckon he is an eccentric for he fell on his head years ago, since then he picks berries and also boozes. I think he smokes grass too, perhaps he is the first one in India who loosely uses such taboo words as sex and fuck; since his wife died he is hung up on sex. At the end of each conversation we both get very tired of the foreign language.
Lobsang, the head lama waited for me. He accompanied me to “Csoma’s cell”, he came in, sat down on the camping chair and we talked as much as his English allowed him. Tomorrow he’ll take me to a villager’s house for a puja, where I could take pictures and make sound recordings. If I understood him well he said that in the Baskir household three brothers have the same wife (yesterday I was surprised that there are so many man there in the house) – tomorrow I’ll ask him about this. I tell him that in my travels this is the most comfortable guest room. In the Csoma cell; I slept the best, the deepest. And how many guesthouse has a head lama to cook for the guests?
To conclude Kinnawar’s Kanam is an enchanted village. I am not kidding, I feel like I am in a fairy tale.
By now even Baskir is laughing at the Hungary-Romania schizo (he has a good sense of humor). When he wants to know something about your country he says the two country’s name laughingly with the flick of a hand. (I don’t really have the Trianon-trauma, that is more typical to an older generation – for us it is more likely the recent referendum blooper) for this “romhun” existence is much more irritating (to explain) then exotic. Simply said, it would be nice at times to say without complication and more explanation where am I from, like some can simply affirm Je suis Francais.
Conch trumpet blares and drums roll. There is some kind of ceremony down in the village at the statues of the local saints (Baskir mentions them frequently as idols).
The monks are holding prayer services (pujas) at the village houses wherever they are welcomed – they sit in a separate room on the floor in a circle and do their practices while the family are serving them food, tea and so on. Today I sat with them and for a while I have become the perkiest and newest Lama among them. Later Lobsang said that I should become a lama. It wouldn’t be bad I certainly could get the Csoma cell, I could revamp it, I would learn Tibetan and the local dialect(s), let’ say in exchange I could teach them English, perhaps I could even get some money through the net (connecting from the nearby Peo) for the monastery’s projects and after a while I would fit in, etc. – I was very much tempted for a few minutes. I would be pretty much well here. Lobsang sends his regards and well wishes to Tibor and his Csoma movie team, to Bethlenfalvy to the Hungarian Embassy in Delhi and its cultural center: he is waiting for them fondly – and his message is: be happy. There were a number of nuns and other females in the house and they all asked us to play photographers.
They are reciting, chanting, praying (you can listen to them on the sound recordings) then suddenly Lobsang thinks about something and screams over the room, everyone shuts up and pays attention, I answer him and we talk. Then when all the questions are answered they continue to intone. Obviously they all enjoyed that there is a special guest in the house, there was abundant laughing and merriment. I pushed down half a cup of butter tea but it continuously comes back since then.
In the morning I went in the Gompa sanctuary (took pictures) to snoop around. Most probably it didn’t change much since Csoma’s visit. Lobsang says that I am a lama. I objected a bit then we agreed over being a half-lama. Here in the Himalayas (occasionally) I feel a much milder homesickness. In Paris I was the poor villager among the rich westerners, here I am the rich westerner among the poor (Asian) villagers and this is an important difference. I feel this kind of richness for the first time in my life. In Ladakh everyone looked at me with wide eyes what the hell do I want with this Csomo di Koros for us a plain tourist is enough or you trek you pay and that’s it. Here in Kanam every connection and communication is built on Csoma, on his story. He is the bridge, the foundation and that’s more than enough. We could build many colorful relations with Kanam there are as many possibilities as the stars in the sky.
I walked to one of the stores, men play the dice or shells for money; a bit further there is an auction where the native and regional merchants are fighting for the local apple crop.
Again Lobsang cooked a huge meal and I remorsefully stuff myself as much as I can. I don’t have much appetite nowadays. This evening we played as if I were Csoma while he was Sangye Phuntsog. We laughed and I saw he also noticed the (archetypal) situation. He would like to study English and also to learn new things to find new friends and a partner in his “work”, to work together with westerners, start projects, etc. In the Kubassek-book he misunderstood several pictures, e.g. he taught Sven Hedin is Csoma and an elderly from Zangla is Sangye Phuntsog. According to a book written in Hindi Sangye Phuntsog would have been 5 years older than Csoma, this is also an interesting detail. I say that this is a Buddhist type crime puzzle. Iskander beg mixes it up then puts it together … click, click.
Lobsang lama is a true Tibetan Buddhist teacher who is over and above cool and direct, a good friend. He also could teach for example at the TKBF the Csoma connection would only reinforce the task and if I think of it (refer to the .hu Bodhisattva affair) he would be a better candidate than the one holding the position (when I was visiting there). I say all this after a few days worth of nexus that perhaps yes he is a true kalyanamitra. A friend. And this is in short supply not only here but also at the TKBF.
This evening I take a donation for the monastery to Lobsang’s farewell diner. It’s not only my own idea but he openly asked today if I could give something. It is quite natural here. I give 1,000 Rupees that is about $25 US) – I hope my sponsors won’t mind since it could be the first “official donation” to the “Csoma monastery” of Kanam. It is not a large amount compared to the Csoma movie team or the Hungarian state’s donations but it goes to the right place.
And here is this triviality always mentioned but in reality always passed over and nobody gives much importance to it; Csoma (supposedly) had a servant. This is another human contact and might have been important or close. When did you have for the last time a servant? They lived together more likely in all practicality.
It was still dark when I got up at five. Lobsang arrived soon after to wake me up then brought tea to my (Csoma’s) room. He sat down and while I was packing he cleaned some almonds for me to take it on the road and at the end he put a kata around my neck.
The almond cleaned at dawn by the abbot of the Kanam Gompa for me so I could eat something on the road I will take home and will share the 9 pieces with my close friends. I left Kanam with a heavy heart where I found happiness and true meetings. Perhaps I didn’t stay longer for fear that something will spoil it. It is interesting that I write with much smaller letters on closer lines now compared to my diary’s first pages.
“The world is a strong fort for the hiding sage.”
He saw who I am right from the beginning. (Chill out I am not the 157th Dalai Lama). With sharp eyes (wisdom) and a heart (compassion). This happens to me let’s say only once or twice a year if at all. And if it does that’s truly exceptional.
When saying farewell Baskir asked me to bring him next year some Romanian perfume and a Hungarian girlfriend.
Kanam, August-September 2007.
Here, the same stinking cheap and useless self-starting car alarm fucks my nerves. Full relax.
I bought a padlock in case the luggage rack on the bus doesn’t have one, again. The noise level here is high. It’s like a cold shower after the calm of my Kanam cell and the view. Wake up my boy, you’ll be home soon in the country of quads. Basic room without charm but cheap. At least I save some money. The boss of the place with his mobile phone shouts non-stop, since I woke up, inside, outside and around. It feels good to retreat into a nondescript room. For this is truly Asia. There is a construction site under my window.
I was watching these brats but mostly the TV screen while I was waiting for the Internet connection to see what they are playing. In India (at least in Ladakh surely) the government employees can ask for and get 10 days of plus vacation yearly for Vipasana meditation practices. It would be interesting to try it out for everybody, to retreat for a whole month just to see what kind of shit, virtual game-boy world we are living in. You either get out of it by yourself for a while and when getting back become dumbfounded or you fall out of it due to some family tragedy, etc. There is no other way. Only this if you snap out of it for a while. There is nothing to talk about it with those who didn’t fall off of the big picture at least once.
Travelers are coming and going you get into contact with some superficially, with some deeper, for a few seconds or for hours, days even weeks but at the end the paths are parting. All these meetings pull you to pieces. The traveler scatters itself, loses its ego otherwise it is impossible to endure it with breath and emotions for among all these stimuli the “I” shrivels. Like a burnout, like a fast paced emotional survival-course. Kubassek mentions in his book that some Hungarian travelers on Csoma’s path broke down mentally, physically under the weight of the trip. Well, I should take care for I am beginning to think and write about total stupidities. The I get back to where it is coming from. Like you are I and I am you. All in One. Please refer to the first page 3rd paragraph of my diary. (Instead of paragraph I wrote post by hand on a piece of paper)
I switched on the TV and the world has changed. If you are into this quite often you get used to it and don’t even notice this change anymore.
Being on autopilot, that is carnival.
Finally the Kinnawar Kailash showed its true face. I am terribly tired and very happy at the same time. This is truly a holy mountain.
Rekong Peo, September 2007.
A Bearded Csoma Portrait
The worst road, a bad car, 2 Nepali youngsters one would like to drive but didn’t know how the other assists him, they can only moan in English at best. The car breaks down repeatedly, we wait for the mechanic then continue onward, it breaks down again and again together with the battery, we have to push it upward on the mountain while we finally make it to the hostel in the dark to find it closed.
Yesterday in Delhi the rickshaw man didn’t take me to the negotiated address instead he wanted to get rid of me in the “neighborhood” due to simple laziness. I don’t want to say or think anything bad of these people but even today I can only formulate my impression that India is the country of Sudra first and foremost. There is no way to give money to every beggar, there is no way to educate everyone – they are too many, they are far too many. After a while you become immune, burned out. I step out of the Bhagdogra-Siliguri airport, there are about 30 taxi drivers after me, they encircle, roar at me but they don’t understand much than the address. There is nothing to talk with them or it is very difficult. I run back and pre-pay for a taxicab then search for an un-decipherable license plate; they try to pull a fast one to con me to change for another car.
It was best on foot. Csoma was a better traveler then we are today. I don’t like the chaos tourism. When I travel I look for quietness and not chaos, there is enough of that back home. In short I am exhausted, wringed out.
It is a rainy foggy day. A mirror is facing me where I see my tired face, the contracted pupils. I think that besides the tiredness and my bad temper it could be the result of the Mefloque I am taking for its main secondary effect is depression. Not to mention the fact that I have to pee every 15 minutes and as much as a horse. There is no mosquito screen on the windows or anywhere else but I don’t see any mosquitoes either, thus I don’t know what’s the real deal with malaria. You can read books but there is nothing that prepares you for India. You are alone and tired. You are not the type who fancies the chaos more like the one looking inward, etc. Well, my pictures will compensate. And to top the day I forgot my penknife my favorite personal fetish and symbol of my old/new life in one of the pockets of my small backpack that I had to leave with the security to their delight. It was my favorite gadget and thought in Zanskar that I’ll need it since the major part of my trip is still to come but at the end I didn’t really needed it. Too bad, my old life is gone. (Thoughts whirl in my head in a way of a true Indian chaos and I can’t even properly write.)
If this is truly a pilgrimage tomorrow I will reach its last outer station: Csoma’s grave in Darjeeling. It was a long journey in every which way.
Darjeeling, at Csoma’s grave. A noisy main road cuts through the small cemetery. It felt good to be there but it was less moving (than Zangla) there was just too much traffic and noise for me to be genuinely there. The grave is in a good state of repair, a large cockade encircled it with all kinds of names and signs on it while the official plaques are behind. Suddenly the cemetery’s caretaker appears and tells me that several generation of his family take care of Csoma’s grave. (I took three small pebbles from his grave, I will throw one into the river at home; I didn’t bring any rosettes here and I don’t want to disturb Csoma’s remains either). He shows me memorial books crammed with notes of mostly Hungarian visitors. Here and then my heart was in my mouth for a moment when I read “those who are still expecting him”. This one sentence brought along all the mood and the meaning of the Csoma movie. I also found Paulius Normantas’ note in one of the books to my great delight. The majority of the notes are average museumgoers type texts or nationalistic but some were Buddhist related. It would be important to browse through all of them for I noticed remarkable background stories here and there.
I looked through my pictures; it is odd to see myself at Csoma’s grave. Until now I only saw other peoples there, like Jakabos, Normantas and so on. It would be nice not to deceive others and myself (mostly my sponsors) with my work. I trust Csoma perhaps because the Galántha-Nógrády’s good wishes came through for me. He inspires me and I am one of those next generations. In some way this is how things are linked to each others looping the loop. A truly great man’s thoughts are forming large rings and Csoma was such. I sit in a green room on a red bedspread about half an hour walking from Csoma’s grave and I am grateful to someone who lived 200 years ago. You are such a great inspiration that I am here presently and can still write about it.
There was no Transylvania related memorial tablet at the gravesite. Not political, nor scientific or ashes claiming ones.
A few days ago I had a look to a few familiar blogs, a friend wrote about the most recent Hungarian calumny (some kind of guards) and the general bad public moods. Oh it is so good to travel without Internet for all the domestic nonsense will not reach you.
If it is a pilgrimage then it is also a rebirth. Namely you’ll find your way back. I did something this evening what I did last time 25 years ago: I read French Asterix-comics. I am deadly tired.
Though from far away but this morning I had the chance to look at the Kanchenjunga (8598 m). Very early members of the household knocked on each room saying if anyone would like to see it. Before and after there was only fog. The pain that Csoma could have felt here under such magnificent mountain peak (in good weather it is visible from all around, this is a unique local spectacle at tea time. Lots of people come here for the site and the nearby Tiger Hill) on their way to Sikkim and Lhasa (from here everything is very close: Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet, you leave in the morning and arrive to Katmandu in the afternoon) this close to the (next) destination. As Csoma lies in tormenting fever knowing that it is deadly.
The Himalayas are indeed holy mountains, now I can see although the Carpathian Mountains are also but they are on a much smaller scale. By far, far smaller. The dimensions are bewildering everything is manifold of itself. A huge storm at night woke me up several times.
It is now clear, that “our collective desire to race ever faster and in greater numbers from place to place will lead to the end of this planet as a gracious and agreeable habitat for its dominant species”. – James Hamilton-Paternon: The End of Travel.
India is the best test to one’s patience. A pretty good but tough lesson.
Today I thought about Csoma while I looked at the 200+ orderly monks during the ceremony that he wasn’t linked to anything or more likely to anyone, somewhat like me. Although lot of people live in me or at least their mental print to whom and what I am linked to but in reality as if not. I am also alone on the road although some encounters occur while the effects of some are strong and lasting but these are all parallel experiences in the end.
There is some Spanish chatter on the corridor. I look at my universal packing list and look at Csoma’s what kind of books he carried on his last journey to Lhasa – it seems as he only lived on books. I cast a glance on my traveling trunk what is in my backpacks, on the differences, on my awakening.
LP formulates the Indian experience very well. “India is a place to expect the unexpected and your journey through it is ultimately going to be exactly what you make of it. This mystifying country isn’t a place you merely see; it’s an invigorating assault on all senses, an experience that’s impossible to define because it’s so incredibly different for everyone. Love it or hate it – and most visitors seesaw between the two – India will jostle your entire being and no matter where you go or what you do, it’s a place you’ll never forget.”
The footprints that Csoma left behind are too scarce. Before his death according to dr. Campbell Csoma was preoccupied with two topics. One was related to the origin of the Magyars, the other his own particular notions about Buddhism. What are they precisely he doesn’t say.
I say, from here where and who I am to there where and who you’ll be by the time you’ll get home that to travel (too) is simply worthwhile as the ancient Sufis did, as the stars move on the sky. Otherwise there will be what is, where we are today, just look around. I correct myself and vary: as Csoma did. Namely to learn (at least the basics) of a language they live with there. Not in one or two weeks but at least 3 to 6 months. Yes, I think from this point of view Csoma was the greatest Hungarian traveler. Not a botanist, not an explorer, not a geographer and not a language scholar but simply a traveler in the best sense of the word. Not a tourist but a traveler.
There is some kind of perverse thrill in that you leave some small things behind in a hotel room. If I work here I would also keep an eye on these stuff. Not to mention that some people are able to say who you are just from the garbage you left behind.
I am constantly amazed how much my handwriting changed since June.
One of the most annoying things is when you ask for direction they show you one but at the next corner there is a three-prong junction and then what? That’s how I found the Bhutia Busty Monastery not far from the Tibetan refugee colony or perhaps in it. I found no locals or monks only a huge tourist group there. Probably it was a kind of spiritual tour. A chap was speaking about Buddhism, the fundamentals. Everyone took notes and he was constantly referring to a near future like you’ll see during meditation, etc. He spoke clearly, in a simple way without much American fluff. One of his thoughts seized me and it became my mantra for a day, I could say. You are the result of your thoughts. Thoughts in a wider sense, in the “meditation” way. The participants were mostly older women and obviously beginners. It couldn’t be a bad grind to work as a guide here and on top of this beautiful location. Buddhist therapy – they were talking about this too. It is such an interesting concept or practice that it would be worthy to be acquainted with back home.
Something big is happening, a TV program Indian Idol as they call the stars. In Kanam the religious statues wore such names – do you sense the qualitative jump between the two? And in Darjeeling the town’s Nepali pride; the whole city was full of his posters with the mention where to send the supporting phone messages. Yesterday they demonstrated for him, demonstrated with placards and singing. The whole city clicked for him, because of him, amen.
I am very lucky that the Kanchenjunga showed itself again this morning like the Kinnawar Kailash not so long ago. I am very grateful for this. But to whom? Where I took my coffee (a true espresso) a Nepali woman told me that they didn’t see it for a month until yesterday and this morning she totally revealed itself. It is colossal. To receive people is an art for they can be made happy with the simplest things.
Yes, I think another chapter of my life has ended again.
India is not better than any other country especially from a dog’s point of view. The numbers of stray dogs are enormous. They mostly sleep or bark at the monkeys, most of them limping and nobody cares for them. I read it in a paper that for example in Himachal Pradesh there are more animal protection groups than human protection NGO’s. I agree.
The Chinese liquidated more than a million Tibetans, they destroyed several thousand monasteries and thousands of people disappeared. Compared to that when there is some news about China they usually talk about what a (great) economical power (will) it become.
Szilágyi wrote in the introduction to his book that we forgot Csoma after his death and if there is no Duka perhaps we would not know much about him. He formulates that we Hungarians not only know how to bury but also how to put aside. And then a couple of hundred years later we practice totally the opposite – see all the cockades, memorial plaques, ashes, blahblahblah…
It would be a very interesting job to play Csoma in a movie. Periodically he must have kept his beard (it seems logic) but we don’t remember him as such for the only portrait drawn by Ágoston (Austin) Schöfft shows him clean shaved. We could try once to apply a beard digitally on his picture.
Darjeeling, September 2007.
Even the Buddha’s Patience
Agra: the Acropolis of global tourism. How lucky we are that pictures lie well. Like LP says: the locals would strain even the Buddha’s patience. Everyone wants your money and impossible to get rid of them, at best just ignore them. No relax. The Taj Mahal in any way is not enjoyable for me; not even strolling or taking pictures for three kids are nonstop repeating one photo, Taj Mahal, twenty Rupees. Add to this the horde of rickshaws, the vendors with their hello sir, how are you, where are you from, come into my shop and the unreal heat. I have a splitting headache just at the bottom of the Taj Mahal.
Today I saw a motorized rickshaw with a subwoofer and techno music – it was the lowest point of the day. I forgot my hat in the rickshaw and the driver ran with it after me – this was the highlight of the day.
Twilight, the call of the muezzins. As always it pleases my heart that there is a wake-up call in the great chaos of noise.
Obviously there is a problem with me and not only with Agra. I can’t absorb all these stimuli, I don’t even have the force to select them anymore. I am full, running high, having a surfeit of all and everything.
This morning my headache was gone although due to the heat I didn’t sleep much. I begin to know Agra’s city center and my patience is greater today. I stopped in the middle of the Wallah-sea and listened to their never-ending jabber (since their livelihood depends on it) come with me, come with me at least from 5 directions then I repeated in the same manner my own no thank you, no thank you laughingly. They thought I am mad and stopped. They fell silent and then I could say relax, please relax. Some laughingly apologized. I don’t wonder anymore why they do this to the tourists for most of them can be easily duped especially the (middle class) Americans who are unable to say a direct and assertive no. If you could see how the local photographs are posing the tourists… What luxurious colors are here if you could see. It is an ideal place for photography.
There is room for 108 photos on my last SD-card.
I only wanted to say by the way that it was good to say farewell again to another illusion, to the biggest one: the goodwill of people. Not even put to test my beliefs in it. This world is a bridge but don’t build a house on it a quote of Jesus and the Koran as I saw it on the wall of a mosque about 10 km from Agra. Oh, no. It is only a play, an illusion, a carnival.
Today the rickshaw men almost fought over me. At the end an old guy took me to the railway station for 20 Rupees, I never ever saw such an unfortunate old rickshaw driver. I bargained it down to 15 Rupees but at the end I gave him 20 and I saw his eyes watering. What kind of personal story might be behind his tears?
The best picture of the day and perhaps even of my whole three-months journey could have been taken today while I was walking to the station. I didn’t have the heart to spoil the perfect moment. This photo should remain my secret. I totally fell apart.
Agra, September 2007.
As Many Languages As People
I don’t know where will I be in or from January. I see my future more or less until December but after that what kind of (internal and/or external) travel is awaiting for me I don’t know.
Photography is lying. It is the art of illusion. So only give as much credit to it as you would to an illusion.
Interesting how the Parisblue suddenly turned to Himalayablue.
As many languages as many people; this was the inner circle of my journey. The outer is more or less still visible (photos), readable (notes). The essence of a non-religious Bodhisattva practice in one sentence. That I was able to formulate it I can thank Csoma. Let’s see it put in practice. Proceed, go further! Until I’ll find my home, ‘til I’ll be everywhere at home. To travel is to tarry on no man’s land – robot pilot, illusion, and carnival. And at times meetings, then you are home for longer or shorter periods of time. Your life becomes a continuous pilgrimage. As for Csoma, hmm – he was the most interesting man with whom I ever met ((Malan, 1883) such a meeting is very rare. And: silence is only internal – it exists nowhere else.
(Don’t even try to ask me about the secret circle)
silence in noise
milk in butter
noise in silence
butter in milk
I set out to the airport. I have to be there before midnight. I feel the approaching wormhole as it absorbs me and at the other end it spits me out somewhere in Bucharest. That is the beginning of the next journey.
To see the pictures taken while the journey please visit yun.ro
© 2007, Zsolt Sütő – yun.ro
© English Translation 2008, H.Galántha, Judit
 Old, classic Romanian Communist cars
 Tibetan beer
 taken from one of Csoma’s studies on Buddhism
 Sylvain Jouty s book: …..
 Csoma was called the “the Western student” by his lama teacher and probably by the locals too
 Hamvas talks about the ten thousand faces of the soul
 …. called Csoma „filthy”
 by Chogyam Trungpa
 Hamvas Bela’s novel
 Mission accomplished.
 Written in Tibetan by officials of the Gate of Teachings Buddhist University of Budapest, Hungary