Living In The Tibetan Book Of The Dead

EDITOR’S NOTE: Phawker South American Correspondent St. John Barned-Smith just completed a two year stretch in Paraguay for the Peace Corps. He is currently in Nepal, Katmandu to be exact, and you can almost see neighboring Tibet from there. Next stop is India. He will be sending intermittent dispatches as our newly deputized Himalayan Correspondent.

BY ST. JOHN BARNED-SMITH My Peace Corps service ended last Sunday. On Tuesday, I took a taxi to JFK airport through the ribbons of highway that look like a spider web of asphalt webbing and I boarded another international flight, this time for the Himalayas and Nepal. It was one of those lucky travel experiences that you sometimes get – the plane was only a third full, and I sprawled out over three seats for most of the 12 hour flight. After a day of flying I arrived in Katmandu. The mountains came out of the northeast with the sun, looking like a long shattered spine of ridges and bumps, rising above the thick haze of the much nearer Katmandu Valley. The city immediately set about revising my expectations and impressions. In Paraguay I had an idea of one developing nation. There were the diesel spewing buses bombing down the roads with the grinding clatter of gears. Here, I’m seeing long canyons of alleyways slick with moss and moist walls and taxis made from converted tractors. The air pollution –a haze confined by the rings of mountains around Katmandu Valley – is so bad that face-masks are almost every day fashion accessories. If Paraguay is a country of youth, Nepal seems far more remote. It wears ancientness like a shirt. In the old quarter there are pagodas and temples at every turn, and shrines appear at every bend in the road. I’m feeling the disoriented-ness that I felt when I first arrived in Paraguay, except here the language is one I won’t be able to learn. On the other hand, this being so influenced by nearby India and by its own massive tourism industry, English is ubiquitous. I’m staying in a house in Patan, with the family of my friend Yashas. It is two stories, with a large patio that has been overturned recently for the planting of summer corn. And there are guavas, oranges, and pear trees. Snapdragons and roses too. More when I actually understand some of this.

Photo by St. John Barned-Smith

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