Nexus Nirvana

Susan Griffith-Jones


I looked into the sky… the morning was unusually clear for that time of year. Monsoon time had these freak days of clear skies. As I opened the gate and left behind the house where I was living in Bouddhanath, Kathmandu, ‘Please be safe’, were the words echoing in my mind. To leave my kids behind with our Nepali family, to go off to countries I had never visited, unfamiliar lands and people, to visit sites that had been places of sacred interest for millennia and to come back again were thoughts that filled me with a sense of awe at the journey ahead.

I had made the decision to go on this journey two months prior to leaving and I have to admit now that I had thought to cancel it several times. When I looked at the reason why I would cancel such an opportunity to go on pilgrimage, to visit one of the world’s most sacredly revered places, Mount Kailash in the western region of Tibet, I found that this was being fueled by fears. ‘Was I going to allow the energy of ‘fear’ to stop me from making this splendid journey,’ I realistically thought to myself one day, and from that moment on, I began to look at each fear straight in the face. One by one, I saw that they were filled with insubstantiality. ‘Travel with two words in mind’, one lama friend had advised me before I left, “Loving-kindness and compassion… and then you and all those around you will be safe.”

To reach the main road where I would catch a minivan to the bus park that morning, I had to pass the stupa of Bouddhanath. It was crowded with early morning kora goers as per usual at 5 a.m. I recalled the lama’s words as I watched the whirl of human energy reciting mantras and prayers proceeding past me. I was looking out for my friend Tina with whom I would travel as far as Jawalamukhi in Himachal Pradesh in India.

One of the stupa dwellers came towards me in the street. Not stopping, he called out the words, ‘Pheri aunuhosh’. In those two words, ‘Come again’, I heard the answers to the aspirations I had made at the gate of my house that morning. Those two words from a familiar face had infused my mind with a confidence that would make me trust every step of the way that I would return. ‘Thank you, I will,’ I replied, feeling as if I had signed a contract.

The drive out of the Kathmandu valley and beyond towards the Terai plains of the south of Nepal always fills me with a sense of something unexplainable. The mountains are impressive in a way that provokes such a feeling, but then as suddenly as that, they seemingly dissolve and are replaced by a land that is as flat as a pancake. Coming from being landlocked in the mountains for many months makes seeing this scene like a breath of fresh air. There is nothing there to block the horizon and sunsets that fill the sky with a pinky-orangey haze where everything is seemingly all at once infused with that rainbow light.

Following the fast flowing rivers along the deep green valleys had been just the first of much contact with the vast water network of the Himalayas, Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Kunlun ranges of mountains that I would see along the way. From Mount Kailash flow four of the great river systems of the South Asian world, of which the Indus would be the most prominent on my journey. We were to travel through Pakistan to West China and then to the Ngari region of Western Tibet, the residence of Mount Kailash.

The first bit of amusement occurred when we stopped for lunch at a restaurant serving the traditional Nepali rice, dal and vegetable dish. One friend Davor walked in. We had planned to meet him and his friend Richard at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab near the border with Pakistan and travel on together from there.

The Punjab literally means ‘Five Rivers’ as the five tributaries of the Indus flows through what was once an independent nation. Now when I think of the Indus carving all the way to the Gulf of Karachi from its source in western Tibet, I picture my journey that was to follow much of its route upstream, the Ancient Silk Route.

We were unaware that Davor had been delayed in Kathmandu due to a dental emergency. As it turned out, that tooth was to change the whole journey. I was to meet up with Nuria at Jawalamukhi in Himachal Pradesh. ‘See you in Amritsar’, I said to him as Tina and I boarded our bus.

Tina and I were to immediately experience what was to repeat itself so frequently on the journey, that of broken plans. On this occasion, we had thought to stay over night at a monastery in Lumbini, but as we passed a sign that indicated the Indian border was just a few kilometers ahead and as we were about to pass the road that would turn off to Lumbini, we both looked at each other with the same thought in mind. ‘Shall we cross the border now,’ I said, ‘Let’s do it’, she replied. By 10 p.m., we reached Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, India.

At the station the next morning, we were to get the next stab in the original plan as there were no seats available on any of the trains going directly towards Himachal Pradesh and we would have to travel via New Delhi. ‘Great’ said Tina, ‘We can visit the National Museum’. I laughed as we had been discussing just a few hours before how she had been advised by one lama to visit some relics of the Buddha that are housed there.

Inspired by the thought of pilgrimage to Delhi and having the whole day free before our train would leave in the late afternoon, we made a visit to Kushinagar, the death place of Lord Buddha, a short journey of around 45 minutes from Gorakhpur. ‘I will also leave a tsa tsa there’ I thought as I was carrying around thirty of them. A friend’s mother had died earlier that year and from some of her ashes, she had made many tiny palm-size little stupas made of mud mixed with ashes, one traditional burial method of Tibetan Buddhists. I intended to place one or two at each holy site that we visited along the way.

Standing in the ticket queue at the station, we had met a delightful woman from England and the three of us went off in the frequently used jeep-taxis that run along the main roads in this region. They travel faster than the buses, are a little more expensive and are packed with many locals, with whom we had a pleasant interaction. I very much enjoy this kind of undefined communication. You do not necessarily speak the same language as each other, but one speaks one’s own language in simplified form along with the universal language of hand movements, signs and sounds, like a game of “Charades”.

(To be continued...)

Susan has been living in The Valley for more than three years. Apart from being an intrepid traveller, she is a research scholar with CNAS, Tribhuvan University, a student of Buddhism, a freelance filmmaker and the mother of two beautiful children.