The Dalai Lama, October 18, 2007
In the summer of 1987 I was fortunate enough to make a trip to Asia. Specifically, I travelled to Hong Kong, Thailand, Nepal and from Kathmandu, I went overland into Tibet. It was a two-day trip because heavy summer rains had washed out the road to the Nepal/Tibet border. In my second attempt to get to Tibet, I had pared my travel parcel down to what fit into my day pack. I knew from a previous attempt to make it to the border that a 40 kilometer hike awaited me when I got off the bus at the end of the road, and I knew that the hike would not be easy. It might involve jumping over fast-flowing water rushing down a ravine recently carved through the trail that I would be taking, and with that in mind, it behooved me to travel as light as I possibly could. After a long first day on the trail in which I followed in line with amazing sherpas who carried huge loads on their small backs, I found a bed in a house in Tatopani (means "hot water" in Nepali). The woman who ran the road house motioned me up a flight of wooden stairs with a candle as her light and pointed to a narrow spot in a long row of wooden planks - that would be my bed for a night through which I remember sleeping fairly well. The next morning I fell back in line with the sherpas who turned out to be my bed mates from the night before and we hiked on to the Tibetan border. I remember passing quickly through customs which was nothing more than a shack in the middle of a bridge that crossed a river. On the other side, in Tibet, there were three seemingly insurmountable cliffs of rock - the remains of what had apparently been a hairpin road that was washed away by recent storms. I began the arduous climb, glad again that I had nothing but my small day pack on my back. I was much younger then (28 years old to be exact) and hopped over the early rocks with ease, only stumbling a few times, glad also for the high-topped sneakers that I had chosen for the trip when it was in its planning stages back in Albuquerque, NM. I remember pausing briefly and taking a long draw from my iodine treated water bottle at the top of each heap of rubble. When I reached the top of the pile of washed out hillside and was back on what appeared to be a road, I saw ahead of me what turned out to be an encampment of Chinese soldiers. I was so weary that I don't think it even occurred to me to look for a way around the camp, I just kept walking into what was apparently the midst of the soldiers' outpost. I was quickly surrounded by a group of soldiers - what struck me about them was that they all appeared to be so young, boys really, teenagers definitely, a hardship post most assuredly. They surrounded me, and one of the boys pulled a gun out of his belt and aimed it directly at my forehead and proceeded to pull the trigger - a dead clunk - nothing happened, but even with my exhausted and delayed reaction, I mustered a show of terror on my face and the boy-soldiers broke into a fit of laughter. I kept on walking until the encampment faded behind me.
MFH in Tibet 1987
Forgive this 20 year old flash back - I guess I am feeling a bit nostalgic today. This post was inspired by a piece I read today on HuffPo about a visit that The Dalai Lama recently made to Radio City Music Hall. Of course, I didn't meet The Dalai Lama when I was in Tibet - His Holiness had long ago left his home in Lhasa for another home in exile in Dharamsala in Northern India. I did visit the Potala Palace when I was in Lhasa, and all along my travels I was struck by the calm kindness of the Tibetan people, who always had a smile and a nod for my feeble attempts to speak a phrase or two of their language, and who always welcomed me to join them in their current pilgrimage to the next monastery or temple. Om Mani Padme Hum....
See NYTimes article (October 17, 2007) - Dalai Lama Is Honored on Capitol Hill