Thursday, July 01, 2004

6/13/99, 3:24am email - excerpt

"hello from ktm!

i just made a killer deal to stay at the Lhasa Guest House for 300rs/night! With the exchange rate for 1 USD now established at about 65 rs, that means I'll be staying at a somewhat classy (moderate to upscale) hotel in a TIBETAN neighborhood for $4/night approx. They knocked the nightly rate down by 50% (!) because it's now the off-season and nobody's booking rooms now. NO problem! I'm there. You should be here too. More tranquilo than mexico, if you can imagine it. i feel like i'm in a place close to heaven...

I'm excited for my move out of the too-noisy and not-too-clean Mont Blanc 2nd floor room I've inhabited for 2 nights. though people are very laidback, they sure are noisy. never a feeling of loneliness or isolation here. from around 8am until well after 9pm, the ramrod traffic styling of everything from rickshaw to motorbike and these little tiniest automobile vans you ever saw, all command the narrow Kathmandu roads. and nobody recoils, not even the pedestrians, when a motor vehicle swoops close by--within about 6 inches of your bones--as mary evans says you have to re-calibrate your "kinesphere", cuz there's nothing like personal space here. everything is up close and in your face, without the mean spirit and aggression of the u.s. style of closeness.

the colors, the smells, the sounds. all 3-d, finally. and i am very indulged. what a mindtrip, what a different place. i am happy. i am relaxed. so far, no sick.

i just celebrated (every moment a joy to celebrate, actually) with a 650 ml bottle (they only have these in KTM, no little beer bottles here) of STAR premium lager--'nepal's original beer', as reads the bottle label. And a plate of Tibetan veggie momos (steamed) and chipati bread are on the way! A vendor in Thamel just told me that I have a Tibetan face and the guy at another email access place near the awesome stupa at Swayambhu got really confused when i spoke english cuz he thought i was Nepali! I am so relaxed; am glad too that i fit in, blending in so it's easier to meet & observe the locals. Everyone's doing a thing, some thing. Every moment has an experience of newness for me. I am noticing and relishing every detail of my perception.

'Ma lanu huncha?' Can you take me to...?
'Ma lanu huncha?' Can you take me to...?

Next, I take rickshaw to Vajra Hotel to have dinner with Rajendra and Sabina (and her husband) at their invitation. They are long-time friends of Evans' (having done theater and art work here in KTM together for a number of years).

You wouldn't believe the messy mud paths here. It rained non-stop for about 15 hours last night and there's more to come, I'm sure. After all, the monsoon season has officially begun.

And guess what thrills me the most (almost): no one here seems to know where the hell Texas is! i love it! Texas couldn't matter less to these wonderful Nepal people.

Much love!"

Thangka painters in the afternoon

sani-bar / saturday

Now I sit in a small open air hovel, protected from rain. Quietly positioned behind three thangka painters--2 girls, 1 boy--whose busy hands deftly color in the meticulously-drawn Buddhist iconic images. I had been greeted by them with smile, no talk. The guy then waved me up onto the stoop to the room where they worked. He indicated a small bench where I could sit and watch. Turning back to his work, he mixes paints to make the color of human skin for the thangka he is trying to complete. I cannot tell if it is painted on silk or leather. A rare paper fiber? I don't know, but do not ask. I want to fill my eyes with this observation. The young man makes Buddha eyelids now, and every little detail-nuance is carefully placed. Dried color is made to blend in with wet new paint, very exacting. It is like the mastery of pointillism--what I am watching.

Later I learn that the young painter is: Tibetan, a father of two daughters, and a dedicated student of thangka painting--having studied in Lhasa for some time before moving to Kathmandu (probably as a refugee). There are thousands of Tibetan Buddhist refugees in Nepal, and this is evidenced by the proliferation of Buddhist book shops, thangka galleries and showrooms, and spiritual trinket (y'know, beads, singing bowls, and Dalai Lama picture cards). This young painter, after about 10 minutes of me watching them paint, invites me in to the interior rooms of the small building for some tea. I remark that one room is beautifully-painted, and I am told to say "sundar kotha" ("beautiful room"). It's my first time to try the infamous hot butter tea, which is a staple beverage of the Tibetans. I'd read in several guidebooks that it wasn't the best-tasting thing to drink. But--it is, apparently, good for people in many ways: to help keep the body warm, aid digestion, cleanse the body of excess lactic acid, and rejuvenate strength and stamina. Hoping to not offend the young painter and his young daughters in the room (watching midday tv), I kindly accept a cup of the tea and take my first sip cautiously. I've eaten things that others have tried to dissuade me from, finding that my tastebuds actually found the suspected food quite delicious. In this case, the rumors and reports were well-founded. Tibetan butter tea is nauseating. Would you ever go to the movies and buy a bucket of hot butter oil, minus the popcorn, and find it enjoyable? Ugh, I just couldn't mouth it, much less stomach it. After five small sips, intermittently spaced during my 20-minute conversation in the room w/ the Tibetans, I politely pushed the cup to the middle of the table and spoke a thanks, but no thanks farewell to the tea. End of hot butter tea in my lifetime. If I can help it.

I bid a quiet farewell to the painters and the young daughters and make my way down the puddled road in the late afternoon rain. Seeking a new flavor.

This small thangka-making center is named SURYA ART--TIBETAN THANGKA GALLERY and it is very close to Swoyambhu, also spelled as Swayambanath (and about three other ways).

Have a look at some beautiful full-color thangka images at

Wow! or Very Cool! => "erambro" (pronounced excitedly, like "RAM-ROW!"