New Year's Resolution 2013:
So I hauled my bike, loaded with camping gear, up the Berkeley hills. And I learned cross-country skiing in Tahoe. And I quit my job and went to the Himalayas.
The main purpose of my trip was to explore the textiles traditions of the area, but of course I was hoping to encounter some religious awesomeness as well. On this count, the mountains did not disappoint. The lower-elevation areas of the Himalayas are predominantly Hindu, with multiple temples in every town. Once over the Rohtang Pass, we were traveling in the Buddhist “land of lama,” as the road signs proclaimed. But beneath both official religions runs the undercurrent of the local animist tradition. Early on in our trip, we stopped in a village so our guide, Mr. Dorje, could visit with an old friend. While they drank tea, the rest of us walked down to a temple tucked into a strip of shops. The priest gave us bits of sugar and tied white cloths on our wrists, but refused to tell us the story of the god honored at the shrine (the story is told only in February). Mr. Dorje told us a bit more later: every 3 years, the god is carried to another town to visit his brother. At every stop along the way, the villagers sacrifice goats (and feast on them as well). Mr. Dorje said that as a “pure Buddhist,” he cannot participate in these sacrifices. But his son does—every family preserves one person who does not take the Buddhist vows, and who continues the old worship on behalf of the family. Talk about hedging your bets.
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As I write this, my driver-turned-friend is helping carry the gods of his village, decked out in garlands of marigolds and rupees, to visit the gods in a neighboring village. (I know because he used his smartphone to post pictures on Facebook). I feel so blessed to have witnessed the continuation of such vibrant traditions, and look forward to returning to what truly is the Land of the Gods.
Shameless Plug: If you haven't already, check out my blog at threadofsong.wordpress.com for more accounts of my trip.