Chimphu Hermitage Tibet 13.04.11

Chimphu Hermitage Tibet 13.04.11

(Pictures at

I’d asked Selka, the Chinese girl to give me a call early and she had done bless her, it was so difficult to get out of bed, it definitely wasn’t comfortable more like a lumpy board really but it was warm under there. I counted 1234 and jumped up, I was fully dressed anyway except for my boots and coat, the glow of the bed lasted only a few minutes while I got my boots on, then across to the very ungainly squat toilets that if the cold didn’t spike you awake the smell from the latrine below sure did.

Across at the tea room/kitchen the nuns were already hard at work, the black Kettles were steaming away in fact they seemed a little ahead of themselves as the 5 of them where sat having their barley and butter tea and pilgrims were already arriving. Then I remembered it was a big day today. On the 10th of each month Nuns started their prayers at 6am and went on all through the day and so the kitchen staff for this day each month prepared food for the whole Nunnery all morning and all afternoon. I’d pointed out that in fact it was the 13th but was told that it was the Buddhist calendar.

I tried to ask for a flask of tea without salt but really couldn’t make myself understood and felt like a bit of a pest as they seemed busy, I was given a yak butter tea, which a sipped and forced myself to down it but next one I said

“Chinese tea, Black” pointing to a big Urn I’d seen them ladle cold tea out of into flasks of steaming hot water. I pointed to a flask then small bird like Nun with the Burgundy wooly hat on pointed to it and I gave a sound of satisfaction, which for some reason caused much hilarity. I just needed something warm inside of me, but the rich yak butter and the salt tea, I just couldn’t stomach.

I spent the next hour and a half tapping away with frozen fingers in the dim, sun shunned shadows of the tea room whilst the Nuns angelic voices floated across from the hall punctuated by the great drums, tuba horns and strangled but exotic clarinets whilst the pilgrim farmers and nomads with their thick padded coats right and sleeves dangling under their shoulders sat and slurped butter tea noisily and some came across and looked over my shoulder, touched and poked at the keys of the lap top, they seemed hypnotized by the letters appearing on screen. It must have looked so strange to them. I had tried to understand a few Chinese characters last night but was double Dutch to me so I understood their curiosity didn’t let being crowded bother me and just got on with it.

Tashi and Sotim arrived at around 9.30 and soon steaming noodles and hot Chinese tea with no salt were served up. They both seem to have really hit it off with the Nuns. I couldn’t communicate in words but my actions and the few words I did know by now always seemed to provoke laughter so I of course hammed it up when I wasn’t typing. I loved sitting in the kitchen not being able to speak, so although I was a figure of curiosity I was left to be quiet, just observe until again I was again on the receiving end of their mischief and good natured fun. They had all seen me every morning sat in the prayer meetings listening and meditating and it seemed to earn their respect. I was glad of and I have to say honored by the warmth and gentle care they showed me all the time I was there.

I went in that morning and sat for must have been a couple of hours. I had great meditations in their. My time there was precious and an opportunity that I wasn’t going to miss. It was exactly where I had wanted to be there were moments that in that great hall that I pinched myself during the seeming musical chaos and sublime vocals that they performed each day. Again I have to stress that Tibetan Buddhism when I had started to grasp the rudiments really is the nearest I have ever been to genuine shamanism in action and on a grand scale. I’d though that perhaps when the Bon and Mongolian Pagan Gods had been forced into the roles of protectors at first they must have been a little anxious, but when things settled down and they heard and realized what was being done in their honor, they must have all settled down nicely with the new boss, it has been going on now since the 8th century is fine tuned and perfected. I wont go into all that I had seen in the meditation as it was just about me finding my balance again after being mightily upset by the garbage situation the day before and had consequently wasted a precious afternoon on something that I could not change or come to that, could even express to anybody there. But towards the end of the Meditation I had seen simply a thorn bush with long strangling branches and large sharp thorns, I watched it for a while expecting something else to happen to it (as it reminded me of something I saw long ago) but it stayed just as it was. So I wrote all that had appeared that morning in my note book went for lunch of noodles and Chinese tea again then decided that as it would be my last chance to get out into the Shannan wilderness, well in fact any wilderness for some time. So I was off to explore some sand dunes I had spotted the day before that had been deposited on top of one of the peaks to the south, down the valley from the Nunnery.

It had looked like a fairly straight crossing from way up the 6000m on top of the mountain yesterday but down there in the dust it was a whole different world. As always if you look across a desert or semi desert you will see all the scrub bushes but until you have walked across it and the land introduce itself to you, you are in for a few big surprises, mind you I was well up for the challenge, it was when I had reached the huts at the end of the road and the rise behind them that I realized it wasn’t going to be a straight walk. The hillside tumbled down the other side over crumbling sand, dusty power mud, huge rocks and hidden gulley’s that just appeared out of nowhere. It was then on the way down the other side of that first rise that I realized what the thorn bush had meant. It wasn’t scrub at all, it was at times walls of different types of thorn bushes, luckily I had brought the tough wind proof jacket and a pair or tough all weather gloves so I was able, with the hood up to just tumble my way through some of them but my wrangler jeans were no protection at all and I got spiked hundreds of times as I made my way huffing and puffing along the trails. By the time I got back that evening my legs were a mess.

Because of the seeing I just took it as an adventure or I might have turned back, but in fact I was loving it. The utter silence, not even a bird out there, though I did see 2 hares and a small fury little creature that I have no idea what it was. The black mountains peaks and their brown sheer sides surrounded the valley in which just about all high ranking Lamas in Tibetan history have used to meditate starting with the Indian Master Pema Samboa who brought Buddhism over the mountains from India and had lived in a cave there for some time meditating. They are strangely formed and seem all at odds with each other, the waters from winter storms and snow melt had cut deeply into them right across where I was heading, I felt it hadn’t changed that much in the 12 or 13 centuries since those masters had first trodden there.

There were luckily faint trails in places and at others deeply cut paths right across the gulley’s and sheer drops to the dry stream beds below. I saw 3 cows and a bull way up on a hill side and figured they were the trail blazers here, though they hadn’t reduced the growth of the multitude and persistence of the thorn bushes. I was deeply happy out there and I had picked the route to my destination well. After maybe an hour or two I was climbing in short spurts again up to what I expected to be the last rise and over the other side would be the dunes. Wrong.

As I came over the top I was staggered by what lay hidden there, it was about the same distance over again but with bigger gulley’s and deeper arroyos cut through the landscape, for a moment I was disappointed but then the sheer wild beauty of what I was looking at dawned on me, as I took in the full panorama. The black snow capped mountains in the distance with the white clouds resting on top and the heavens resting comfortably on them. The meandering milky Yarlung river with its sandy exposed shores dotted with green and yellow Cyprus trees with their black trunks, the frame of the mountains I had walked though on either side of me and right in the centre the circular Jewel of the 8th century Samye Monastery in the shadow of the holy mountain just to the south east covered in red, yellow, green, white and blue prayer flags like a mirage in the pale yellow sandscape. I realized that I was not out to pit myself against the mountains that day, I was out there to refill and recharge myself. So I simply walked to the edge of the ledge and sat for I don’t know how long. There was no knotted stomach today, I took my coats and shirt off lay back against the rocks, gazed out across the beautiful valley and let the cool breeze do its wonderful work.

It was the perfect place to reflect on how far I had travelled on this journey the places I had visited and seen. All the wonderful people across India, Nepal and of course Tibet, the highs and the very lows the beauty the filth and the stench. I am worried about returning to my home land I’m not sure what to say about it or do about it, but it does feel strange. Though I have to say this time I have really missed many aspects of England and the English, London, friends and family, which in all honesty I had not felt so deeply on my previous journeys. I wonder about my next course of action and I am just not sure about it.

“So no point of worrying” I heard “When you are sure those doors will open”

“Thank you” I said out loud. A moment later a hawk flew right across the front of me flowed by another one. It was startling as I had not seen or heard a bird since I had left the monastery. I understood, I had been quietly asking for some sort of communication some sort of sign all the way across the land that day, but there was more.

As I got up to go I remembered I had picked up 5 stones along the way to leave in the circle with the cross I would draw in the sand where I would say my prayer and give my thanks, a black, white, yellow and red one, for north south east and west and a big white rock for the centre. I made the circle placed the rocks at the cardinal points and said my prayer. It felt beautiful too me and when I had finished I simply stepped out of the circle and began a slow and leisurely walk back towards the Nunnery. I hadn’t been on the move for more than a minute when I heard a noise in the sky. I looked up to see a great cloud of Crows, there must have been 20 maybe 30 of them tumbling and circling right above where I had been sat and where I had made the circle. It was remarkable as I had seen plenty of other birds at Chimpu but not a Crow and as I said had not a bird all that day. They were making such a racket tumbling and free falling right above. If you have been following any of these Journals or know me at all you can imagine what the sight of a great flock of Crows would mean to me in such a place and particularly at such a time. I had my answer. All was well.

It was nearly 7pm when I literally stepped slowly and shakily through the gates of Chimpu. Tashi and Sotim were sat smoking and chatting with the Nuns in the kitchen. Tashi had attempted to sabotage staying here for longer than a night back at Samye a few days previous but now the two of them seemed to have taken to monastic life like ducks to water. They didn’t really want to go anywhere, quite happy to fetch and carry for the nuns in the kitchen, I swear if they could have had cigarettes they would both have taken their oaths and stayed on as cooks.

The Nuns had excelled themselves and made home made pasta which had turned into a stew with cabbage and something else that I couldn’t tell. It really didn’t matter what it was, it was ‘hot’ it was filling and right then it very definitely hit the spot. Tea as well and with salt, I didn’t care I was very hungry and after a half hour in my room before hand downloading my photos I was again shivering and cold to the bone.

I had not warmed to Tashi when we first set off. As I have said I am not used to being guided on a tour, it felt liked clipped wings to me. Also I sensed Tashi’s boredom as he went over the facts again to another tourist and rushed me through the first few monasteries not allowing me to sit quietly anywhere. So I had resented him. I’d thought I had cleared the air in Lhasa, but really it wasn’t till Chimpu that he settled down and began to enjoy what he was doing. He was attentive towards me in an un-patronizing way and I learned to accept it as something he enjoyed doing. I think too he finally came to I understand why I had come to Tibet, the history yes, but attempting to feel the place too, I don’t think he’d counted on that.

Those nights there sat around the wood burner in the dimly lit blackened kitchen with the kettles bubbling away, the flasks of butter tea, the 5 cooking Nuns in their dusty burgundy robes wooly jumpers and beanies, me tapping away with frozen fingers while Tashi and I have to say the charming and irreverent Sotim sat smoking in full view of the no smoking sign, making the Nuns laugh with stories I had no hope of understanding, were wonderful and particularly that night. I watched how Tashi helped out and generally joined in, his tone with them, they even had him serving tea in the break between the service, much to all the nuns amusement. Why is it we find Nuns laughing at us so endearing? They weren’t mocking us well they were but it was a loving gentle thing, we all loved it. I sat there just listening to their voices rising and falling, Sotim seemed to be a wonderful story teller and when they laughed I simply laughed too it wasn’t that I understood it was just infectious and warm I was laughing just because I was happy.

Later that evening there was a sound on the roof, a loud tapping on the corrugated iron laying on the roof just above the pane less windows above the kitchen stove, Tashi and Sotim leapt up and ran out and. I wondered what on earth was going on. I followed them out to find it snowing and they had left their quilts airing on a fence so had ran to get them in before they got soaked. It was pitch black I couldn’t see a thing but I could hear Sotim and knew he must be cussing. I took it as my signal to go to bed so when they came back. I borrowed a cigarette and said my goodnight

“Toot de shay’s” which I’m sure isn’t spelt right but is phonetically right, it means ‘thank you’ and off to bed I went. It was like going to sleep in a giant refrigerator I’m sure iot would have been warmer outside. I had meant to write but it was just to cold so I took the extra quilt from Selka Chinese girls bed as her and her friend had left earlier that day, got in fully dressed and fell surprisingly right off to sleep.

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