Everest Blog: Morning Day Four Of Trek - "The Reincarnated God"
Day Four of Trek
Today we start out as a group, at last all together. I trek with Herman at a slower pace. He’s the oldest of the group, in his sixties, and also the less fit. Back at Kathmandu, when we all met for the first time, he patted his robust stomach and said that “fat people” (his words) acclimatize better, and then made fun of his skinny (fit) buddy whom Herman assures us will be gasping for air. Now that we are climbing forever up again, Herman’s probably wishing he had his buddy’s skinny-fit legs. But I’m glad to have Herman’s company. His wit keeps us laughing. His three American friends call it the Hermalayan. But Herman only chats on the down dips and never talks when we’re hiking up. He’s too busy gasping for air.
Tim has shown me the Himalayan walk. You take a small step, then pause, small step then pause. You walk with bent knee and never extend the foot past a 45-degree angle so that you use less energy; take small, slow steps to go high. I try it and I realize I was taking gigantic steps to try and keep up to the men. I get much less tired and gasp less walking this way.
We pass an elderly Nepali man sitting beside a donation box. The money is to pay the workers who are rebuilding the trail after the earthquake. They place one large rock at a time into the path. The elderly man smiles at us and I see only one tooth. His face looks like it’s imploded into a mass of wrinkles. He smiles and says something to us, but it’s all slurred. Even if we knew his language I’m sure we wouldn’t understand him. Rob puts a donation into the box and we move on. We pass piles of slabs of stone with ancient engravings, writings from monks hundreds of years ago. They are everywhere.
Along the way we meet another American named Forrest and his guide Dhawa. Forrest also has a rather robust physique, but he just rocks up the mountain. He’s been to Nepal 17 times, loves it so much he keeps coming back. He also loves Joni Mitchell and finding out we’re Canadian, starts bellowing out one of her songs to us. Dhawa just smiles and sits to wait out the rendition. I find out Dhawa’s brother is Bon Po priest, which I have been searching for. I need to research this religion because the protagonist in our script is Bon Po. The Bon Po religion predates the Buddhist religion and they believe in magic and demons. Many Nepali don’t even know about the Bon Po. There are very few practicing Bon Po in Nepal, they are mostly in Tibet, and the newer sects of Bon Po don’t recognize the shamanism that the older Bon Po practice. But Dhawa’s brother has studied for 10 years to become a priest of the highest order in the older sect. Dhawa has videos of his brother putting iron rods into fire, turning the metal blood red from the heat, and then sticking the rod down his throat. I’ve hit the jackpot. We exchange email addresses and I will continue to keep in contact with Dhawa. Dhawa has promised to send me videos of his brother practicing rituals.
We finally make it to Tengboche (3866 meters), the cultural and religious center of the Khumbu. Rob and I have to stay here for two hours to acclimatize as the others move on to Pangboche. We must stay here at the higher elevation because we missed out on the acclimatization hike that everyone else went on when they stayed an extra day at Namche Bazaar. I go inside the monastery and watch the monks chant. There is an inner square bench where monks sit in lotus position, and an outer square bench where other monks sit. They all have rectangular books in front of them with hand written text that they refer to as they chant. They all sit facing inwards towards a shrine. The head monk, the Rinpoche, sits at the head of the square in a large ornate chair. Beside him and in a gold painted chair sits a younger, smooth-faced, almost angelic looking monk who is draped in a gold fur-lined cape. I later learn that this young monk draped in gold is the reincarnation of a god. The chanting is long and drawn out, and I feel a calm meditation watching them. Rob stays a while, but gets jittery standing in one place too long and says, “I’m out of here.” Just then the ceremony gets interesting. A younger monk takes a gold and red bundle and places the red bundle in front of the head monk and the gold bundle in front of the reincarnated god. The younger monk then takes the bundles wrapped in black cloth and drops them in front of each monk sitting in the inner circle. These monks open the bundles and while chanting and ringing bells, they take out a large ornately decorated rectangular piece of cloth with a hole in the middle. They put their heads through the hole, then take out an ornate apron and lay it on their laps. Next they take a tall pointed black felt hat that has flaps over their ears and tie the flaps under their chins. Long strings hang off the earflaps. The tall pointed part of the hats have what look like three tennis balls wrapped in the felt and piled on top of each other with a small ball on top. Two monks blow into twelve foot horns that lay on the ground making a booming sound as others blow into smaller curved horns while others hit drum or rattle cymbals. The monks take small conk shells and dip them in oil and touch the top of their heads as the head monk takes a peacock feather, dips it in holy water and sprinkles it. They all then take out of their bundles a string-like belt that has several elaborately painted square cardboard paintings attached to it. They wrap the cards around their foreheads tying the belt at the back of their heads. The Rinpoche is elderly, looks to be in his nineties, and seems to struggle tying the belt behind his head. The reincarnated god glances towards the Rinpoche and sees him struggle, but remains calm as if he knows he’ll do it. Finally the Rinpoche secures the belt of pictures to his black felt hat. When tied this way, it looks like they are all wearing crowns.
I would have liked to see the end of the ceremony, but it’s time to go and I have to leave. But just before I go, the reincarnated god looks up and stares into my eyes. I can’t look away, as if he’s locked onto something in me. We remain that way for what seems a long time. Finally I break away, reluctant to leave. We head down to Debuche to spend the night in Paradise Lodge, but the memory of that look stays with me for days.