Sunday, March 28, 2010

Everything is Jul-lai

Traveling in the clothes I slept in, haven’t showered in three days, nothing but ice cold glacier runoff dripping out of the tap anyway. If last night was hell, today was heaven. Hired a guide and drove south out of Leh down the Indo-China Friendship Highway that snakes along the Indus River out onto the Martian-esque landscape of Ladakh, this barren valley lying within the Himalayas to which Leh is the modern capital.
We drive past Tibetan refugee camps, Indian military outposts with serious dark skinned and mustached faced soldier carrying weapons, ruined villages still ravished from the Pakistan-India Boarder Wars, Spinning prayer wheels, careening mountain buses, and sleeping farms of stone cottages and filth covered cattle where the dirt brown fields yield only radishes and barely.
Nothing can describe my euphoria as we speed on down the covered road. Clean fresh air. Amazing sites. I am breathing. I mean, the beauty takes my breath away, but I am breathing and full of joy. I was right not to board a plane and return to the sea level air of Delhi after my asthma attack. I stuck it out and the gamble paid off. This day trip is exactly why I came to India. My guide is Tariq, a Buddhist and native Ladakhian. We chat very freely for the 100 km roundtrip drive. He is a 22 year retired veteran of the Indian army and fought the Pakistans in the late 80’s. Though 20 years my senior, we easily converse about our children, Indian religion, politics, and eco-tourism. He answers all my questions. Yes, Indian men mandatorily serve in the military. Tariq was stationed on the Nepalese border, and once climbed K2 in a joint Indo-American exercise. “You think adjusting to Leh’s altitude is difficult, wait until you are at 24,000 feet.” It is good to just talk to someone for long stretches of time. Just talk and drive, Tariq. Take me some place cool.
Our first stop in Hemis Monastery high atop a long winding, rocky road above a series of farms and dry creek bed of dripping glacier. The view is amazing. I’ve been to so many temples stretching all across Asia, but none more authentic that Hemis. A real working site, where Buddhist monks live and study and pray. It was an amazing insight. Tariq also pointed this out. “Look at the construction of the old buildings here. It is cement only in the modern restoration. Everything else is wood, dirt, stone. Everything from the earth.”
I run my hands along the wooden thatched roof and cold stone exterior. “Yes, everything is from the earth.”
On the ride back down to the next village we stop to give a monk a ride, then another woman. Every time Tariq chats away in Ladakh. “We say, ‘Jul-lai’. It means, hello, goodbye, thank you, you’re welcome. Like the stones and the earth of the temple, it is just jul-lai. Everything is jul-lai.”
“Everything is jul-lai,” I repeat, as we stop to give a woman in brilliant blue wrapped sari and big eyed, dark haired baby a ride.
Our second stop is the dazzling Thiksey Monastery high in the hills. Again, absolutely authentic with incredible landscape and views. We have a monk unlock one of the inner chambers to study a 7 meter tall Buddha and chat over tea on the floor. I feel very overwhelmed by this and just let the man talk. He is wrapped in scarlet clothes and yellow vest, with black head shaved and skin dark as sun-roasted tomatoes. He tells me about the circle of life. How we come, we live, we die, we are reborn. I know all that he says. I have known God in his different faces all my life, but it feels so good to let the man explain, to watch him struggle with his English, to let him feel as though his words to me are more important that if I relate to them or not.
An hour ago on the road, Tariq and I picked up a monk hitching to a smaller temple and he translated his question from the backseat.
“Yes, I am a teacher.” I said.
“Ah,” the monk sighed, “That tells me everything about you.”
“Really?” I said.
The monk laughed, “It means you are a man the world can trust. A man the world needs to teach us what to believe.”
Later chatting with this other monk, I thought about his generosity of opening the inner chamber for me. But then again, isn’t that what people do? We sit and talk. We make time. We are thoughtful when we pass knowledge from one to another. At least, we should.
One of the cool things about Thiksey are the Buddhist paintings full of philosophy, riddles, and proverbs. I scribble as furiously as I could in my notebook standing in the dark corners of this inner temple while Tariq and the monk talk. I take few pictures. Instead I want to capture them with my mind. I saw a painting of a man upside-down riding a horse; children looking at a demon dissolve into smoke; a scholar on a cloud writing on a scroll; a smiling goddess with wine bowl emerging from a lotus; a barefoot demon eating a village; a boy at his father’s feet smiling; a monkey deep in thought on the river banks; a teacher watching children laugh and play; a wolf beneath a tree dreaming.
I wander for a long time at Thiksey until Tariq finds me. “Time to go,” I say. Then bowing to the monk, I make him laugh. “Jul-lai. Jul-lai.”
He bows in return. “Jul-lai.”
Everything is Jul-lai.
Our third stop was Shey Palace, almost abandoned now and falling into ruin. Burned out doorways, caved in storage sheds. Still, this once seat of power for the first Ladakh king is a wonderful hike. I say hike, as it is straight up the mountainside. You can’t help but think of barbaric warlords in places like this. Enormous, brutal men, forged just like their temples out of stone and mud. At a vista point I stop and look out over the vast stretching farm lands all the way up to the towering Himalaya. What is life for a king here? King of stone and dirt? King of riddle and proverb? King of power and fleeting wealth? So transitory. Come. Go. Circle of life. I look out and see the road stretching forever. No end. The road makes you think about yourself. This is a blessing and a takeaway. Everything that makes you is what destroys you. Everything you believe in is what you hold too close to let go. Everything you love is what strangles you to death. Jul-lai. Look to the oneness. Jul-lai. Everything is Jul-lai.
We return in time for afternoon goatmilk coffee on the frozen wooden bench covered in rugs outside the hotel. The sun is setting and the ground is cold. Lately, I’ve been thinking a great deal about my life. How I move from such strange moments of joy and sadness, madness and clarity. How there are times I hate myself, but others when I feel I am closer to the actual meaning of life than I have ever been. I know that I am alive. I know there is a reason. I feel it. I know everything is connected, everything the same. I know this. Everything is Jul-lai. Everything, yes.

1 comment:

  1. Brian, Matt C. turned me onto your blog. I love your writing, and I'm loving the vicarious travel as I sit in my easy chair in Newberg. :-) Be well...

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