The golden mountain at sunrise from Thasang Lower Mustang. I was far too lazy to get up when dawn was breaking but saw this spectacular scene just a little later before we headed north to Kagbeni and the restricted zone.
We went sightseeing, in the afternoon and found the Keni or Ghost Eater statue that guards the Kagbeni North Gate. A fearsome figure, he is endowed with an extraordinary large set of male genitals. A female Ghost Eater with large orange-nippled breasts guards the South Gate. It is debatable whether these effigies are remnants of the pre-Buddhist religion, Bon-Po or are of the animistic traditions. They are strategically placed, to eat all the ghosts who might dare to enter the town. Zombies also have a difficult time because the doors are deliberately made small and they can’t pass through them because they are unable to bend. Every time they attempt to enter, they crack their heads on the door frames.
Lo Gekar monastery was the highlight of my journey, a blessing was said for my welfare by the resident monk and I felt tears come to my eyes as I realised that I had finally reached this place.
The humanist symbols are from the time that animism, the worship of spirits in the trees and mountains was practiced in Mustang. The religion is pre-Bonpo and pre-Buddhism.
Thrilled to be at Lo Gekar monastery, I tied my white katak at the base of the prayer flag in the courtyard hoping it would bring me good luck.
Raj our guide is joining my prayer flags from Ladakh to the others at Lo Gekar. I brought them with me as a ‘Thank you’ to the benefit I have received from the blessing at Lo Gekar.
They will also bring benefit to my adopted family in Leh who gave them to me.
Today, we headed to the Tibetan border. This was totally against all the rules but I did so want to see Tibet that we decided to bend them just a little bit. I was once told by an Indian guide, in the Himachal Pradesh, that rules on paper only become rules when you get caught. The Kora La is the gateway, between Tibet and Western Nepal. Sven Hedin, the explorer, crossed this border into Mustang in 1905; he travelled as far as the village of Garphu, a short way from the checkpoint. He did not stay long, because he was running short of money, having only enough for two more days. Secondly, he had no knowledge about whether the Nepalese were hostile or friendly. Finally, he turned round and went back to Tibet, because he was afraid if he stayed away for too long, he would be refused admittance back into the country.
This Tibetan folk religion has many beliefs which predate Buddhism and encompasses indigenous beliefs and animism practices. These are primarily concerned with propitiation of the spirits and demons of Tibet, which are believed to inhabit all areas of the country. Folk religious practices rely heavily on magic and ritual and are generally intended to bring mundane benefits, such as protection from harm, good crops, healthy livestock, health, wealth, etc. I was fortunate to be allowed to photograph the interior of the monastery when I visited in May 2017. There are only two Bon monasteries in India the other is in the Himachal Pradesh.
I had the chance of visiting a farmhouse in the Haa district also known as Hidden-Land Rice Valley in the west of the country on the Tibetan border.
There is a large Indian military presence here because of the incursions by the Chinese. The farmhouse is also a homestay guest house.
I found many similarities with the houses in Ladakh India, but there were some surprises. I found a western bathroom and Tibetan-style bedrooms which looked comfortable with colourful mattresses and cushions laid out on the floor.
The lunch was delicious and I ate so much that I had to be helped down the ladder style staircase.
This intrepid traveller was in Lumbini in search of the birth place of Buddha in the south of the country. I am happy to say she succeeded in her aim.
The place was full of pilgrims from all over Asia queuing to venerate the actual birth place which is housed in a large building. I had hoped for a moment of enlightenment but nothing happened so I went back to the hotel for dinner
Prayer flags flutter in the breeze taking blessings into the universe. Tibetans sell trinkets and bric-a-brac at the many stalls. A few monkeys try to make a nuisance of themselves but the tourists and pilgrims just ignore them. It is pleasant to sit under the prayer flags and reflect on life and watch life go by.
Two day after leaving Leh I finally reached Padum. I stayed overnight at Kargil. The guy who carried my luggage to the room was shocked at how little I had. We changed drivers here I said goodbye to my Buddhist Ladakhi and hello to the Moslem Kashmiri, who spoke little English which suited me. The road was barely a track in places and often we forded streams. The icy mountain peaks followed us along the Zanskar river. I was aware of them watching me.
The Srinagar-Leh highway is open about four months of the year from May to September. In July 1978 as part of a group I travelled from Srinagar to Leh stopping overnight at Kargil. We were some of the earliest tourists to come to Ladakh since this remote region bordering of China and Pakistan had been open to foreigners since 1974. After about a week we were all due to return to Srinagar but in the meantime I had made friends with a young motor biker who promised me that he would come and pick me up from Alchi and take me back to Leh leaving the others to return to Kashmir. I did not really believe he would turn up but to my amazement he did and I had the most thrilling ride of my life riding pillion along one of the highest roads in Himalaya. This itinerary change altered my entire life because I made friends in Ladakh which have lasted nearly forty years.
I waited all day at the Glenborn Tea Estate just outside Darjeeling for Kanchenjunga to appear. Finally I saw it on the day of departure for Sikkim.