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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2009


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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2009

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10 photos

Aurora Prehn,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2009

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Posted On

06/3/09

Author

Aurora Prehn

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We have just returned to Kathmandu from a spectacular trek in Dolpo. We are thrilled to have completed the trek, especially as we got caught in a snowstorm while crossing a pass over 17,000 ft and had some fear we would have to descend and return. It was a challenging and spectacular trek and we are deeply thankful to our outstanding staff of cooks and porters and guide and horseman to have ensured our well being and comfort and to have made the trek such a success. We are also happy to have returned safely and on time in spite of road strikes and cancelled flights.

As we wrap up today and students will be flying home tomorrow, we will leave it to them to share with you in person the remarkable excursion we had over the past 2 weeks (and over the months before that). As we have just returned from the mountains, they will be returning to you a bit dirtier and leaner than when they left, but hopefully a bit happier and wiser as well!

Here are a few photos to give a glimpse of what the past 2 weeks have been like for us.

The Instructor Team

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2009

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Our Dolpo Trek

Instructor Team,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2009

Description

We have just returned to Kathmandu from a spectacular trek in Dolpo. We are thrilled to have completed the trek, especially as we got caught in a snowstorm while crossing a pass over 17,000 ft and had some fear we would have to descend and return. It was a challenging and spectacular trek and we […]

Posted On

05/11/09

Author

Instructor Team

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To preface this post I am sure that other people will post and talk about their time spent in silence during the Kopan retreat or the air of tranquility that was created high above the bustle of Kathmandu, a little oasis looking out onto the expanse of the valley. At first I was apprehensive about keeping a vow of silence because I assumed that the only reason I would partake in silence would be to buffer up my own ego and be able to tell all of my friends and family back home what I had accomplished. I felt that it would only be for prideful reasons. Then one of our leaders mentioned how many limited the opportunities would be for ourselves, in a fast paced Western culture, to actually carry out an extended vow of silence. Reflecting on this fact I decided that I should not pass up this opportunity to draw into myself and find the little voice inside of my head.

Coming into this trip, the component that held the most interest of mine was the Buddhist religion. Reading books and articles before I came on this trip sparked my interest about Nepal and served to draw my mind away from my job and float across an ocean to a foreign land full of a culture drenched in spirituality and a basic humanity centered around aspects of compassion and wisdom. It was something that I always felt in the air of Kathmandu, an ancient city nestled between the foothills of the most majestic mountains on Earth. This city and its people have been here much longer than I have, and it will continue on because it knows how to survive, and Kathmandu knows how live with its most valuable resource, its people. People instilled with the infused spiritual aspects brought up from India, migrating to China, and caught somewhere in the middle. I cannot truly explain my silence, my thoughts, my small understandings gained, in any words I would feel comfortable with putting on a page, but I can say that it was amazingly beneficial. Something only gained in a city with an awareness of its own living self that can be drawn into the individual.

The Buddhist religion is one filled with teachings and musings that encourage one to attack and harness one's own mind, question everything, and find your own truth. As our group moves forward I feel that we can take steps to begin shape our own unique truth, whether one prescribes to a certain religion or not. In a beautiful land towering over even the clouds in the sky, we go off in search of our own way over mountains and snow, to reach the end of our journey carrying something maybe we didn’t' expect, but something that is with us now.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2009

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A Time For Silence

Jacob Powers,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2009

Description

To preface this post I am sure that other people will post and talk about their time spent in silence during the Kopan retreat or the air of tranquility that was created high above the bustle of Kathmandu, a little oasis looking out onto the expanse of the valley. At first I was apprehensive about […]

Posted On

04/23/09

Author

Jacob Powers

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2009

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Walking Meditation

Instructors,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2009

Description

We have emerged from 10 days of retreat and for some of us full silence. For all, it was a restorative and healing time of self reflections and generating "bodhicitta" or loving compassion for all sentient being. We are ready to take what we have learned onto the trail tomorrow for the start of what […]

Posted On

04/22/09

Author

Instructors

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After the noise and filth of Kathmandu, or village stay in Chokati was a welcome change. The village is a few hours by bus north of Kathmandu, perched on the side of mountain and connected to the rest of the world only by a long stone staircase and a rickety bridge. The village is tiny, no more than a few hundred people, most of whom are Tamis livinging in traditional homes (no electricty or plumbing) and farming on the terraces that cover the land around the village. There are other ethnic groups in and around the village as well; a community of Gurungs live farther up the mountain, and a Brahman hamlet is nearby.

Within Chokati itself, though is a small communtiy of Kamis, an ethinc group that is slotted into the Dalit, or lowest caste in the Hindu heirarchy. While the Tami people grow or raise thier own food, the only job option open to Kami boys is metalworking. They do produce all the tools, do all the repairs, and in return, are supplies with food and other goods from the rest of the village. They do sell a few tools for cash, but because the village is so poor, most of what they produce is traded. One of the few things that they do sell are kukuris, and when the sell them it is mostly to foriegners like us.

A few people in our group, Jacob, Ben, Emmett and myself, had the opportunity to work with a Kami smith and to make a kukuri (knife). I was paired with Emmett, and we worked with his homestay father, Rambahadur, for three hours a day for six days to produce our kukuri. When I say that we worked, I of course mean that Rambahadur would point to an area of the metal, demsonstrate what was to be done with a few hammer blows, then sit back, laugh, and try to teach us Nepali songs while we strained to imitate him.

Emmett and I would take turns, one of us pumping the bellows to heat the charcoal, and thereby the metal, and the other hammering out the shape of the blade. We started with a simple rectangle of metal, and began by hammering the edges along one half together to form where the handel would be. The second step was to pound out the area that would form the kukuri's signature swell towards its tip, the shape that makes it look and perform more like a machete than a knife. After Rambahadur had added a few aesthetic notches and formed the tang (the part of the blade that ends up inside the grip), he indicated where we were to start hammering to make the edge. The edge was far and away the most difficult part to make, simply because progress was so slow and difficult to see. After about a day of hammering the same area over and over, Rambahadur finally decided that it was sharp enough, and after a few blows to correct the straigntness, we moved on to filing.

As a quick side note, and to help illustrate how much of a beast Rambahadur was, me and Emmett, working as a team, produced a rough but finished kukuri blade after three days of work. Toward the end of the third day, Emmett commissioned an extra-large kukuri to bring home. The blade was done the next morning. Rambahadur had started from the same point that we had started from, and reached the same point that had taken us three days in three hours (except with a larger piece of metal, to a higher quality).

After we had finished marvelling over Emmett's future kukuri, we began finling the spine of the blade to a more uniform peak. We also filed the edge sharp as well. While we were busy scraping away, Rambahadur began on the handel. Using a different kukuri, he carved out the general shape, and after heating the tang in the forge, pressed it into the wood. As hot as it was, the metal simply burned its way into the handle, and after cracking a few pieces of wood, one was successful and smoothed into the final handle. He also put together the sheath, but Emmett and I never worked with wood, since we were too busy with the metal.

The final step to complete the blade was to polish it. To do so, we used a tool that Rambahadur called a "saan." It consisted of a woden cylinder with disk of fine grained stone at one end. It was placed end-to-end between two posts and spun by wrapping a rope around it and pulling alternately on each end while another person (who knows what he's doing) holds the blade against the stone.

At the end, I also bought a kukuri from Rambahadur for 1300 rupees (about $15). Just holding the one that I worked one next to the one that was made by a man who has spent his life perfecting his craft is more than a little humbling. And he never had the option.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2009

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An Attempt at Blacksmithing

Anthony "Invented Yellow" Gray,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2009

Description

After the noise and filth of Kathmandu, or village stay in Chokati was a welcome change. The village is a few hours by bus north of Kathmandu, perched on the side of mountain and connected to the rest of the world only by a long stone staircase and a rickety bridge. The village is tiny, […]

Posted On

04/20/09

Author

Anthony "Invented Yellow" Gray

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It took until nearly the end of our stay in Chokati, a remote hillside village, for me to truly feel the beauty, authenticity and rareness of the environment and community which I intellectually appreciated from the first day. Since arriving in Nepal we have been speaking a lot as a group, and I have been thinking a lot individually, about this predicament, about the role of heart and mind. I remember back during our orientation in Bhaktapur, I was sitting with Shannon and, as part of an activity, trying to communicate why I had come to Nepal using sign language rather than words. I expressed that I wanted to open my mind, using my fingers to show a kind of brain explosion. She smiled and nodded vigorously and when I asked her that question in return, she made the same gesture in front of her heart. It's such a subtle shift that we don't realy think about it in the West. We are conditioned to consider strong emotion suspect, and highly value intellectual analysis. I considered myself a fairly compassionate person and really didn't notice until coming to Nepal, how much difficulty I can have simply trying to connect through my heart and let things affect me deeply.

Arriving in Chokati and immediately stepping into a new role in a family, broader commnity, and work force, I felt somewhat knocked off balance. I saw and appreciated the stunning environment, the humor and incredible generosity of the people, and the fragile rareness of both, but I still felt removed and somehow abstracted in this beautifully woven community.On our last full day, having succesfully completed our pipe laying project, we decided to have a free day to explore individually, relax or spend time with our families. Having spent most of the week either working outside the house or sick in bed, I was happy to have a day to devote to the people who had taken me into their home and taken care of me. It was such a breif visit in which to try to get to know a new family, their personalities, burdens, culture and lifestyle, and I was eager to have this last chance to try to understand more.

Around 6:30 on that morning, one of the many small children who passed through my home urged me out of bed to walk to the next village and visit a new Shiva temple. Quickly downing my morning chhia, I shook myself awake, and with my cadre of young siblings, set out. The path wound quickly around the curve of the mountain, leaving Chokati behind and opening up into a new valley. The sun was breaking bright over the peak of the mountain across the valley gorge, pouring a pale and sparkling warmth over the terraces and illuminating the green stalks of wheat. The mountain rose tall, the mild, beautiful blue of night dimming into day. I looked out across the valley, the river flowing deep below, the growing wheat and lazing animals, the outcropping of villages along the mountain's edge, and the ridgeline of the peaks above, filled with that total comfort that comes from witnessing the unsubjugated earth. It is the kind of environment that cannot be claimed by a few, but exists entirely seperate from possesion.

Maybe the stark contrast between life in Chokati and that to which I am used,affected me on a level of which I was unaware. Maybe because it was easier to witness my own strangeness in a setting like Chokati, so that I was never entirely sure why I should be welcomned there, that made this sight such a joy. It felt as if it existed beyond lifestyle or nationality or birth, and was as much for me as it was for anyone who had witnessed it, journeyed upon it, or drew their life from it. For the first time in my stay in Chokati, I felt fully incorporated and at ease, able to take it as much into my heart as into my mind.

I returned to my home in the village feeling lifted of some artificial burden, happier to engage with my family, to let them dress me up and take inumerable photos, and willing to open myself freely to them. I would have loved to have spent the whole time in that state of openness and heart-appreciation but I recognize my personal barriers and challenges, and learn from each experience here. To have seen Chokati from that perespective, if only briefly, fills me with gratitude and contentment.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2009

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Appreciation

Anna Cooper,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2009

Description

It took until nearly the end of our stay in Chokati, a remote hillside village, for me to truly feel the beauty, authenticity and rareness of the environment and community which I intellectually appreciated from the first day. Since arriving in Nepal we have been speaking a lot as a group, and I have been […]

Posted On

04/15/09

Author

Anna Cooper

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Kapal is the Nepali word for hair. As nondescript as this word seems, for one night in Chauketi, it was the most important word in the world to me. I will preface this story by saying that the eleven days in Chauketi village were challenging. I'm sure the other students will have described how beautiful the community was - the physical setting and the people themselves, so I won't. Everyone was faced with different breeches of their comfort zone, whether it was manual labor or bed bugs or speaking in Nepali. My comfort zone is personal space, physical and mental. It takes a lot of effort to engage fully with a community so radically different from anything you've ever experience in 20 short years on this earth. I tried my best to take an interest in getting to know my family and the other villagers - to humor their curiosity and feel content. But I often found myself vaguely anxious and undesiring of personal interaction and attention. I don't feel a particularly strong urge to play with children or to hold babies, I don't enjoy being touched or being surrounded with a crowd of people simply watching me. I know I sound like some kind of monster, but it's the truth. For the majority of a week, I enjoyed myself greatly, but did not feel the same connection to the village as I had in Kathmandu. Obviously these things take time, but still I couldn't bring myself to let go of this feeling of separateness. I know that it's more fun to be carefree and happy - to let go of yourself, but it's also more difficult when you are unsure of how to cultivate this mindset. The word 'kapal' taught me. On our last night in village, there was a huge gathering of villagers at my house - probably half the village, actually....it was great. There was dancing and singing - the youth club in the village had been practicing all week for the programme. I was sitting on the front step of the porch, when I felt little fingers in my hair. I remembered the feeling of discontent and a desire to be alone when villagers had sat so close to me earlier in the week, leaning on me. But in one moment I felt it all slip away. The feeling of coolness and removal was replaced with empathy and understanding - I kid you not it was the best feeling I've ever experienced in my life. Instead of ignoring the little girl behind me, I turned around and smiled at her, asking her if she liked my hair. Before long there were 30 children crowding around me, touching my head, exclaiming 'kasto ramro kapal!' - what nice hair! I broke into hysterical laughter and was entirely content. All the discomfort and dissatisfaction with my own reclusive behavior no longer mattered, because it was worth it. I left Chauketi a changed person, because I had accomplished a small victory, which Buddhism had inspired me to strive toward for some time. I left with less than I brought - lighter and more content.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2009

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Kapal

Shae Frydenlund,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2009

Description

Kapal is the Nepali word for hair. As nondescript as this word seems, for one night in Chauketi, it was the most important word in the world to me. I will preface this story by saying that the eleven days in Chauketi village were challenging. I’m sure the other students will have described how beautiful […]

Posted On

04/12/09

Author

Shae Frydenlund

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    [post_content] => 

what you would expect, and what i expected was that i would connect far less with my homestay family in village than it kathmandu, even if just for the simple reason that i spent far more time in Kathmandu. but i would not say that is true, i would say that i connected to my village family in a whole different way, we all slept in the same room, i worked with my father every day on kukuris and i feel that i really got to know them.

In Chaukati, the majority of the population are in the Thami caste, wich means mainly farmers and a small number of basket weavers, my family however; were Kami. The Kami caste is considered to be almost an untouchable caste, they are not even allowed to enter a member of a different caste's house. This fact, i would have thought would have created some anger or animosity towards the other members of higher castes in the village, but no. when someone came to have a tool fixed, they seemed to be friends with my family and to what i saw, did not really act as if they were superior to them.

my family consisted of three generations, there was the oldest Dhan Bahadur, his son Ram Bahadur and his wife Ganga Maya and their children: Robin, Ramesh and Robina. Dhan bahadur rarely spoke and so i knew very little about him. My father was great fun, every day when we worked at the forge or ate dinner he sang songs and tried to teach me some nepali tunes ( i now know a couple of lines of " Raato Tika") ( sometimes i was not allowed to leave the dinner room untill i sang a song for them.)

And then there is Dwayne ( Robin). Robin was great and yet the most infuriating thing in existance, he had what can only be defined as an infinite amount of energy. for example, we would play frisbee and if the frisbee went over the edge and down the terraces ( it can go a LONG way) he wouldrace off down the hill leaping for terrace to terrace, sometimes clearing one on his way down, then race back up again to give us the frisbee back. and still have energy to do it over and over again.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2009

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my Chaukati family

Emmett McDougall,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2009

Description

what you would expect, and what i expected was that i would connect far less with my homestay family in village than it kathmandu, even if just for the simple reason that i spent far more time in Kathmandu. but i would not say that is true, i would say that i connected to my […]

Posted On

04/12/09

Author

Emmett McDougall

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So Chaukati. It's, um, rural...like really rural. After our glorious jaunt through the the terraced equivalent of backyards and across the bridge that the Temple of Doom used for its iconic final scene and up certainly centuries old stone steps, we contoured around some barren wheat-worn terraces to the village of Chaukati. We arrived at Mahn Bahadur's pad to a host of villagers of every age. We sat on the porch and ate coconut crunchies (a decidedly delicous biscuit) while our wide-eyed hosts watched without blinking. All the while, two small children of no more than four years old stood behind me taking turns softly touching my odd yellow hair. In retrospect this introductory experience was a very apt summation of things to come. The majority of the villagers there, at least for the first few days, were bamboozled by us.

Everything we did, regardless of how mundane it might have been, became exotic. Eating, drinking, speaking and even sleeping were fascinating to them. On more than one occasion would I wake up to my little brother just staring at me. Its such an interesting picture to consider: A Caucasion American suburbanite rubbing sleep from his eyes and rolling over on his down sleeping bag that is lying loosely on top of a pad of stacked blankets under a thatched roof speckled with tools stored in the straw only to see a three and a half foot Nepali boy from the lowest caste standing bluntly in the middle of the small hut matching blurry eyes with speechless brown ones that show no knowledge of his hands hanging at his side slowly rolling part of his ripped green sweatpants in his cut and infected hands that have by far the most callousses of anyone in the room. Bizarre stuff. especially when you try to say Namaste and the boy breaks his endless stare and shrinks quickly out of the hut.

This little boy's name is Sujan and in the coming days he proved he was considerably more extraverted than my first meeting with him would indicate. By the end of week one he was waking me up when he saw fit with a soft touch on the arm and a "Benji, Benji Utnus". By the end Sujan, and all of the villagers were past the "I'm to bewildered to speak phase" and had moved into the "malaai dhuka laagyo" (I'm sad) phase when we were leaving. I know that my feelings can almost exactly mirror theirs. By the end I was genuinly sad to be leaving such amazing people. Maybe some day i'll go back if onloy to cross that awesome bridge.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2009

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Put the Chiya on, I’ve got stories

Ben Parker,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2009

Description

So Chaukati. It’s, um, rural…like really rural. After our glorious jaunt through the the terraced equivalent of backyards and across the bridge that the Temple of Doom used for its iconic final scene and up certainly centuries old stone steps, we contoured around some barren wheat-worn terraces to the village of Chaukati. We arrived at […]

Posted On

04/12/09

Author

Ben Parker

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    [post_date] => 2009-04-12 00:00:00
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We will be at Kopan monastery from today (April 12) to April 22 for an introductory course in Tibetan Buddhism. The monastery is perched on a hill overlooking the Kathmandu valley and is also home to over 300 monks. It is a unique opportunity to take a course in Buddhism within a monastic setting and also a time for reflection and contemplation. Everyone in the course keeps silent from the morning through lunch (except for questions is class) and some of us have chosen to maintain silence throughout the rest of the day. We will have more to post on April 22 just before we leave for Dolpo for our trek.


Here is a list of the course schedule:
6 am Morning tea
6:30 am Morning Meditation
7:30 am Breakfast
9 am Teachings and Meditation
11:30 Lunch
2-3 pm Discussion Groups
3:30 Teaching
5 pm Tea
6 pm Guided Meditation
7 pm Dinner
8 pm Guided Meditation/question and answer


For more information please visit Kopan’s website at http://www.kopanmonastery.com

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2009

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Kopan Monastery

Instructor Team,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2009

Description

We will be at Kopan monastery from today (April 12) to April 22 for an introductory course in Tibetan Buddhism. The monastery is perched on a hill overlooking the Kathmandu valley and is also home to over 300 monks. It is a unique opportunity to take a course in Buddhism within a monastic setting and […]

Posted On

04/12/09

Author

Instructor Team

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