Sometimes the word brush is inadequate to the task of recreating a master scene so rich, so unusual, and so detailed that witnesses require all senses to comprehend let alone to convey to others.
Today was such a day. We began with life maps, Nepali language day 2, and a sensory maxload on Thamel streets teeming with tillary bead stalls, a village trio a la sidewalk with real talent, and a mass of humanity watching each other go by in mild humor and great curiosity. “Observing” seems to be a special Nepali skill. With relative ease we bought things and joked with passers by and enjoyed street music together. This part of the day was full with authentic interaction. Revisiting this area, I was struck by how dense and tall Central Kathmandu has become compared to the relatively tamer scene 30 years ago. And then there are the tortured, holey streets that have regressed in that time due to the earthquake that had a fury to match Shiva’s.
But the unpaintable masterpiece that I refer to was later for a couple hours at sacred Pashupati around dusk. We dragons strolled into the netherworld of riverside cremation ghats with attendant garishly colored Sadhus, grieving families, offerings, and numerous cheeky monkeys. A small offering fire smoldered. A cow sauntered over the bridge. Up the steep hill above into the Deer Park, Amrit persistently inquired about a certain wise elderly Baba who was hard so find.
Through serendipity, fate, or the hand of the gods he finally found a Baba who he had seen while on a Shamans’ trek a few weeks ago high in the Himalayas. Before you could snap “Krishna” 3 times, we were huddled beside a smokey porch fireplace enjoying wood fired chiya and quizzing three hilltop Baba’s (monks of the Hindu religion) and a Guru about their cloistered lives of total dedication to enlightenment. The nature of our existence, we were told, is to love everything totally because it’s all inseparably connected together – every sentient being, plant, lake, and place. What about practices for monks, love, anger, evil, hate, future lives, and what to eat?… we asked. And how did you discover that you were a reincarnated Baba anyway?
Holy cows moo’ed next to us. A wild pack literally had a dogfight with the large and small monkey team nearby. Visitors peeked over the railing by the Baba’s tea fire to join the wonderful Nepali practice of “observing” us. A guitar softly strummed to the side. An elderly man in a pink turban, who had complemented my fine Nepali Cap and adjusted it on my head, share our tea and eavesdropped behind the calves. Smoke curled around us as we sat squatted sipping and heard about the union of mind, body, and god in light or living alone in a forest cave at 13,000 feet or Shiva’s great trident toss to quench his poisoned thirst thereby creating a distant pilgrimage lake. Sun’s late glows shot across the temple carvings as we finished our tea but only began to whet our curiosity and skepticism.
Oh my, how can I paint this masterpiece for you? But it’s not done yet. I asked Middle Baba why mountains clarify ones thinking so well like my tshirt says – “Believe In Mountains”. He said because Himalayas are the top of the world like the head is the top of the body. Tibet is hair. Nepal is forehead. Veins flow as rivers do. And the whole world stems from the top of the Planet Body right here. And with a wry note he said that makes the US the bottom of the foot, the lowest part of all. This last was probably a bit of humor but this analogy of the integrated planet flowing from the mountains head was novel to me. Something to meditate about.
Bidding polite and appreciative dhanyabad’s with hands up in thankful wai’s, we headed down the hill into a Ektam Ramro (translated here at fantastic) Kathmandu sunset of radiant gold firing into the clouds and bouncing off the central temple’s riverside golden roof and onto the steps of the ghat. There below is was an orange wrapped body ready to leave this world as it’s occupant had… and his grieving family with relative receiving ritual waterside haircut and offerings.
Purple high heavens and giant golden sunset glow brought light to suffering families with their “lost one’s” body below. Lost one. Not really but that’s the turn of phrase we all use. Eternally connected and inseparable light shone down upon eternally impermanent transition below. What we heard from the Babas was all before us in the dusky tones, in a way, played out in utterly beautiful colors with the strains of Hindi music flowing up to us like the ghat steps’ fire smoke also wafted over us and the mountain-to-sea river streamed by below us. Soon a procession would take the body to burn and join the river, delivering impermanence back to Shiva’s creation from whence it never left. Day’s last embers faded as we walked out of Pashupati and onto the rest of our journey.
Sight. Sound. Smell. Feeling. Soul. All senses maxed out in 4K hidef technicolor yet truly uncopyable upon articulation. A kind of Nepali symphony of color, a master painting that I couldn’t possibly describe adequately with my word brush. Eight of us were witnesses, though, and I doubt any of us will ever forget the masterpiece ‘painting’ that we were honored to view for those few hours late one day in Kathmandu 2017.