Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Dum Maro Dum

Mit Jaye Gum

Erase all sorrows

Bolo Subaho Shaw

Say in the morning in the evening

Hare Krishna Hare Ram

Lord Krishna lord Rama

Dunija ne jumko diya kya

What have the people given us?

Dunja se jumne liya kya

What have the people took from us?

Hum Sabki Parvah Kare Kyum

Why do we worry so much?

Sabne humara kiya kya

Have we done anything?

Everyone here who listened to What Cheer?'s cover of Dum Maro Dum was overjoyed by it. It was way more popular than my attempts at introducing John Coltrane to India. Thanks to Kartik for the rough translation.

I have spend the last five days in Kalpa, a 1000 souls village at 3000 meters of altitude, 100 kilometer West of the Tibet border. After a two hour hike, I was having a picnic at the snow line. It is a place so remote, you cannot surf the Internet nor can you buy a cola. I was able to find, however, a fading Coca Cola ad painted on the side of one house.

When I visited Poland, I made a point of covering the remaining distance eastwards to take a picture of myself facing the Russian control point. I didn't dare repeat the performance. The Russians might be crazy, but the Chinese are crazier, especially those in Tibet. Sorry folks, there will be no pictures of myself being pursed by the Red Army.

I grow more fascinated by Tibetan Buddhism the closer I get to their homeland. I sat down with the lady monk of Kalpa for the morning Puja. She sang in my presence and invited me to turn the prayer wheel. They are heavy, these wheels, as they are filled with scrolls which are covered with copies of the prayer. The scripting of the scrolls is a meditation exercise for the monks. The wheels themselves are an optimization. Once rolled tight, each turn of the wheel sends millions of copies of the prayer into the wind at once.

A distance of 100 kilometers might not be much, yet here it represents 10 hours of bus rides. Such is life when you are following the twisty little roads that grab to the sides of the plunging Himalayan cliffs. The ways are one car wide, plus half a width for the space that would be occupied by the cinder blocks, if there was any. When you meet another bus, the driver find space to pass, somehow, most of the time without stopping or slowing down. It is a feeling not dissimilar to flying. In both cases you have given fine control of your altitude to a trusted professional, and you have nothing to do for hours but to ponder that fact.

Some mountains here are so steep, they are devoid human presence, something I have not seen anywhere else in India. It takes a 70 degree climbs to discourage an Indian from establishing a settlement, apparently. Everywhere else, on the bus at night whenever I open my eyes I confuse the village lights for the stars.

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