Ring Road

After this morning's visit to the Stupa, it was time to pack up and head off to Rinpoche's monastery. I bade farewell to the wonderful people who run Dragon Guest House and hopped into the taxi they had called for me to begin my first ride in a vehicle of any sort in over a month. Now Boudhanath Stupa and the former residence of DKHP and Dragon Guest House are on the eastern side of the Kathmandu Valley and Ngesdön Ösel Ling Monastery is on the western side of the valley. So I had a 20 minute ride around the northern part of Kathmandu on the Ring Road. Of course to get to the Ring Road, we had to slowly make our way back out of the secondary road, past school kids and people on bikes and a couple of buses and a big truck or two and dozens and dozens of people on foot. We bounced along at a very fast walking pace dodging potholes and people. I'm in the front seat - great view, no seatbelt.

When we reached the main Boudha road, the traffic begins to really get heavy - lots more 3 wheel, 2 stroke taxis and motorbikes thrown into the mix, plus many more pedestrians. We reach the roundabout at the Ring Road and head north. Two buses are stopped in our lane. Go around them without slowing because that oncoming truck isn't really that wide and the motorbikes will easily dodge us. Big group of pedestrians force us again into oncoming traffic. Ease past this motorbike. The road is two lanes wide - one lane in each direction for pedestrians, one for bicycles, one for motorbikes, one for cars and trucks and buses - no wait, that's 8 lanes. But the road is two lanes wide. Traffic eases and we speed along. Oh, no here come two buses and a truck - no danger of them hitting us - just don't breathe the blackest air. Most vehicles spew their exhaust towards the middle of the road - better for the pedestrians and bicyclists - bad for oncoming traffic. Oops, we are catching up to more traffic going our way. The vehicle in front of us now is a truck - wonder how long I can breathe this shallow. That woman sure has a beautiful sari. This kid is riding his bike pretty crazy. T-shirts are really popular, especially among the young. The Chicago Bulls are very big as is the Caterpillar tractor company. The bus at the head of our line pulls over - we all go around in the on coming traffic lane again. There's a Chinese "walking tractor" - I remember referring to the earlier models as a mechanical cross between a yak and a yeti. The truck pulls over. I can breathe again. A huge pile of garbage is spilled onto the road and several sacred cows are having lunch. We come to another roundabout - this one has a policeman at attention, breathing this awful air all day long.

On we go dodging anything slow going our way by jumping in the oncoming traffic lane, seldom slowing, almost never stopping. I'm very glad I have such a good driver - he's one of the best I've ever ridden with in Nepal. I remember 18 years ago, Steve and I rode our bicycles along this same route. The Soviets had just completed the road and it was totally smooth with zero traffic. I remember it as one of the finest places I'd ever ridden a bike. I would never attempt today - if a bus or truck or taxi didn't kill me, breathing the black air would. I get occasional glimpses of the rest of Kathmandu, but mostly I watch the road - the scene is totally amazing. There is Ngesdön Ösel Ling Monastery in the distance high atop its hill. And there is Swyambunath. My destination is the low point between the two. A big bus is making a U-turn - all traffic in both directions comes to a halt for a minute, then we go on. We pass a very nicely dressed young woman on a motorbike. A guy on another bike charges past us. People rush out in front of us to catch the bus stopped across the way. The only private cars are a couple of Mercedes. It's all trucks and buses and motorbikes and bicycles and pedestrians with a few taxis and tractors thrown in.

Now I've got to remember from 3 years ago just where to tell the taxi driver to let me off. That looks familiar - this has got to be it. My driver pulls a U-turn to get me on the right side of the road and I pay him - 150 rupees, less than 3 dollars for a most interesting 20 minutes. I collect my suitcase and walk to the nearest phone shop. They don't have payphones on the streets here - they have communication shops, where you go in and pay the guy to use his phone, or send a fax, or maybe even send an email. This is a basic shop - 2 phones, 1 fax machine, a desk, a table, a narrow couch. I phone the monastery and Tashi (different Tashi from Tony's wife's sister) says he will send someone down to collect me. I pass the time reading an Indian sports magazine and watching the steady stream of phone and fax customers. An hour passes, no one shows.

Am I at the right place? I could be miles from where I should be. I phone again - Tashi says someone should have come by now. I have him speak to the phone shop guy. He hangs up and takes me to a spot up the road and says wait here - someone will come. A man see me and come over and asks "Gompa?" ("Monastery?") He's my man. He picks up my suitcase and up the hill we go. I call the first rest stop to give him a break. My suitcase weighs 40+ pounds (20 Kg). We go on and here are Tashi and another monk coming down. We talk for a minute and then proceed upwards. We hit the steep part of the path. It's stone stairs. I'm dying. 400 hours sitting in front of a computer in a month is lousy for one's fitness. He calls the next rest stop to give me a break. Up, up, up. I call the 3rd rest stop for myself. I promise to do this hill every morning - gotta get back in shape. On up we go. Some of this has gotta be that we are a mile above sea level. The liter of water I drank just before I left the guest house is now in my bladder - not doing much good there, meanwhile I sweat bucket loads. I can see prayer flags - we are getting near. Now I'm running on sheer willpower because we are close. Here it is. The new retreat center fills the yard in front of the temple - wow, they've done lots of work. Up a flight of stairs. Across the courtyard - I feel like Rocky Balboa the first time he arrived at the City Hall plaza - totally wiped out from carrying my 15 pounds (7 Kg) of computer equipment up here. To the back of the main building we go - and up the stairs. And another flight. And here we are. I unlace my boots, he takes off his flip-flops. A nun shows us into my room. He sets down my suitcase. He's not breathing hard - I'm dead. Both Tony and Tashi said the rate for a porter to carry my suitcase up here was 50 rupees. I give him 100. He's very happy, I feel cheap, even tho I've just given him more than the average laborer earns in a day.

The nun asks if I would like cool water. I ask for Tatopani - hot water - still gotta play it safe. I'm soaked in sweat. She brings a huge cup - too hot to drink just yet. I head for a cold shower and a change of clothes. Ahhh! I begin to feel human again. I dress in clean clothes and collapse on the bed for 5 minutes. Now I feel pretty good. I can actually drink in all the details of where I am. This room is right next to Rinpoche's room (who's now rumored to be in Lhasa). I'm in a very honored spot indeed! There is a bed, a table, and beautiful cabinet with a Vajrasattva, a Quan Yin, another Chinese figure I don't recognize, lots of pecha (Tibetan books) and several baseball card sized cards with various Bohdisattvas on them including a very nice Green Tara. I wander out on the back balcony and drink in that view, then step out on the roof from my room. The view is stupendous! Swyambunath is just below me, its temples and stupa gleaming in the bright sunlight. And the whole monsoonly green valley is at my feet. I can pick out Boudhanath Stupa in the far distance. A cool breeze is blowing. The air is clean. A drum bangs away below me and horns join in. The sound of chanting drifts up to my ears. I'm home again.

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