The Most Beautiful Island in the World
What do you do when you arrive in paradise and you realize something has gone terribly wrong? I gather that that is the big question posed in the movie, The Beach, that was shot here on the Andaman Sea coast of southern Thailand. The sand is white, the water turquoise, the full moon is rising above the coconut palms. Sounds perfect but it's been terribly over-developed with about 500 rooms, restaurants and dive shops on the small isthmus and I'm on the verge of a depression wondering what can be done about it. The climate may have effected my brain-- it's dreadfully hot, steamy and a little stinky.
No complaints about swimming. I found a quiet bay where I swam and floated like an otter through perfectly clear water onto white sand. The sea heals. Still my mind keeps asking how we can reset priorities in this modern commercialized world. Met a smart kid from Argentina at sunset time and talked about the effects of globalization in South America and here in Thailand.
A lovely moment this evening
I watched a Thai family gather in a circle on the shore and light a fire under a hot air balloon-like a giant lantern. It was some kind of ritual. They held it until it had enough force to lift off and gently waft over the bay, then it ascended towards the tropical peak of the island and drifted higher and higher. I observed the soaring lantern in wonder for about 20 minutes. A pretty French woman ran onto the beach and asked me if it was a UFO. It could have been the star of Bethlehem.
On the shore of the Andaman Sea
Cruised by ferry today from Koh Phi Phi to the mainland of Krabbi . Then another boat out to the legendary Railay peninsula, surely one of the most gorgeous tropical beach locations on the planet. Went through some big waves, round dramatic cliffs and arrived as the sun was setting beyond mythical islands. Despite the remote location, Krabbi is teeming with Europeans---beautiful babes in bikinis and their Viking consorts, rich Thais on their honeymoons, international sportsmen here to rockclimb the fantastic limestone formations . In the evening a thunderstorm cooled the air so I slept comfortably in my bamboo hut. I swam in the turquoise water and drank fresh papaya shakes. There was a full moon party with fire juglers and dancing 'neath coconut palms in the enchanted embrace of fantastic rock formations.
Spring Renewal Celebrations
This morning a flower festival procession rolled along side the old city moat, marching bands played, dancers twirled painted parasols, ---it was an explosion of color. One float was drawn by elephants entirely covered with flowers. There was an antique wooden cart carrying musicians beating a huge drum and a series of old gongs. I was so intrigued with the rhythms that I was drawn to walk with them an unknown distance. Later I realized I must have been in a trance . Those gongs have power.
Innovations and Discoveries
Today I designed some great lighting. The look is clean and modern, it has a sense of humor. When I showed my drawing to the artisans they said it couldn't be done, but we did some clever redesigns and it worked.
Found a rare shaman's healing tool from the Yao people, nomads from Yunan, China. They have a fascinating culture full of animism, sorcery and ancient medicine rituals. It looks like a medieval dagger with rattle on top. Healing rituals are performed in the presence of mythic characters painted on antique Taoist scrolls.
Meetings with Remarkable Men
Met an accomplished expatriot writer, John Cadet, who's lived in Thailand for 40 years and is interested in many of the same religious themes as I am. Asked him to contrast the earth based spirituality here with the influence of Indian mythology. I have done some research and written the rough drafts of stories.
I went to a conference today with educator/environmentalist, Thom Hartmann(The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight), a great mind with many inspiring stories. We sat together for a vegetarian feast at the same table with Elaine Lewis, the woman who wrote the definitive book on SE Asian textiles.(list both books)
Flew in from Bangkok and breezed through the airport rigamarole. Dinner at an open air restaurant where I sat around the fire with friendly Nepalis and exchanged travelers' stories. You can communicate here. The infrastructure is in place. The paths are staked out. The possibilities are exciting. I'm planning a trek in the Himalayas as well as explorations south to India and north to Tibet. There'll be a huge gathering of sadhus and pilgrims for the birthday of the god, Shiva. Great opportunity to pass the pipe with holy men and mingle with snake charmers.
What's it like in the capital of the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal?
First of all you can't see the mountains anymore because of the smog. I was here years ago and the development since then has been a mixed blessing. But there's still lots of charm. When I stepped out onto the street this morning, parades of costumed Nepalis were going to and from the market, Indian techno music was playing, the air was thick with incense, bells were ringing in the ancient goddess temple. Bumper to bumper lorries in clouds of exhaust fumes, weaving rickshaws and minivans full of people and cargo were rattling past the white washed royal palace. I spotted a well-worn Western couple, dressed in denim and turquoise, with pony tails braided down below their waists. They looked wizened but happy. I guessed they'd been traveling in Asia since the seventies and always returned to Kathmandu.
A busy day in Kathmandu and Beyond
First thing this morning I dealt with the legendary bureaucracy at the Indian Embassy over my visa. (I'll be taking off next week for Bombay, Rajasthan and Kerela) Then I went hunting for a good silversmith to set some stones. My jewelry collection is going to be splendid this year. Then I had tea in the workshop of a family that's been making buddha statues for the last seven hundred years. I finally got a hold of Greenwald's funny and insightful, Shopping for Buddhas, set in Kathmandu. I'm also reading Alexandra David-Neel's Magic and Mystery. She traveled in Bhutan and Sikkim in the early twentieth century and was the first European woman to actually become a Buddhist lama living in Tibet.
I savored a vegetable curry for lunch. Nepal's traditional meal, dal bhat includes spicey lentil soup, a curry dish and a big mound of white rice. Wash it down with fresh lime soda. My Nepalese friend needs two dal bhats a day. Well fortified, we battled the crazy traffic and pollution of the city two hours, then another hour through antique Bhaktipur up to Nagarkot in the high hills surrounding the Kathmandu Valley. The higher you head, the cleaner it gets with terraced farmland and aromatic pine trees. On top we felt the freedom of hiking in the natural coolness, healed by the air and sunlight. A vast horizon of snowcapped mountains stretched out before us.
Trying to get to the higher altitudes
Thanks for forwarding the Tibet article from the New York Times(I only get the Herald Tribune here in Nepal). Very interesting and timely since I'll be heading to Lhasa next week. There are many lamas painting thangkas here in Pokara. Met an old Himalayan trader who came down from the mountains and laid out his wares beneath a tree by the lake. This is a major crossroad for travelers and trekkers. We're up every day before dawn trying to get to the higher altitudes by plane. Spring snows and avalanches have cancelled the flights three days in a row. Our alternate plan is to hike on the Anapurna Trail. Meanwhile I've got an actual bed, there's time to read-The Dalai Lama's Way to Freedom and I found a cafe with carrot juice, brown rice, vegetables and beans where they play sophisticated jazz. We gaze longingly at mountains.
Sending the deceased to heaven
I'm traveling to the mountains with Shyam Lama who's years of experience as a trekking guide shine knowingly on his broad smiling face. Our sidekick is Rohit, a college kid from Kathmandu who looks like King Tut and plays guitar in an alternative band. His venerableGorung grandfather died and we were invited to the funeral, a fusion of animist and buddhist clan ceremonies. There were many voices singing in a circle--copper skinned Himalayan women ornamented with old coral, gold and turquoise necklaces, Gorung and Gorka men carrying traditional quills chanting round an altar tree. We all joined in sending the deceased to heaven. Witnessing the group spirit, the ritual sacrifice, the clouds of incense, and the look in their eyes was more than I can describe.
While the rest of the travelers were adjusting to the altitude, I went to explore. Was there any spiritual life left in Lhasa? After the Chinese had "liberated" the Tibetan people from their religious overlords, the state had built a commercial district next to the sacred Potala Palace. By small miracle I found an old authentic monastery where artisan monks were creating an alter to the buddha of compassion. They invited me in. Everyone was engaged in prayers, drumming and chanting rituals, sculpting and painting the many-armed central statue of Avalokiteshvara. Through the flickering lights of butterlamps, a sanctum of shrines glowed behind the main altar. I was wide-eyed when the youngest monk beckoned me to follow him further inside. My heart was beating, my mind was wondering how there could be such temple treasures in a humble monastery? The spirit was palpable. How do they invoke the living presence of the gods? How could I bring the magic of the moment home to share with friends?
Recent snapshots from a trip to Italy.|
Exploring museums, churches, ancient sites, and home-made ravioli
Recent snapshots from a trip to Cuba.|
Suprising landscapes, great music, and rice and beans
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