Monday, October 20, 2014

What the universe gives you, part 2

I've been to Shangri-la and I need to go back.

Sometimes people ask writers/artists "where do you get your ideas?" In my opinion, if you can't see the constant blizzard of ideas around you then you aren't cut out for art. But some places are more conducive to ideas than others, to be honest. It would be easy to say that Bhutan is an interesting place because it's beautiful. It's more complicated than that, though.

I had no explanation at first as to why I got choked up in the airplane and shed tears as we flew out of Paro. The beds were miserably hard, I went to every meal ravenously hungry, and it was easily the most physically draining vacation of my life. I should've been eager to leave.


Well, for the moment I will just post some photos for their visual inspirational value. Why this trip was important to me has a lot of factors, of course, several of which are more personal that I want to get into on this blog. I'll try to talk a little about the people and the culture in a later post.

Lots of clouds? Yes. The average day in Bhutan is "partly cloudy with scattered afternoon showers and rainbows." Yes, rainbows are pretty much a daily sight in Bhutan; it makes the place even more magical.

Monday, October 13, 2014

What the universe gives you, part 1

I like to say that the universe will give you what you need for your art. By which I mean, look at what the universe has brought you and say: this is what I need for my art. The challenge is to figure out how it fits in.

I went on my trip to Bhutan and Nepal looking for these things. Needless to say, ideas and inspiration came in a blizzard.

Bhutan is so beautiful that it defies reality simply by existing. More on that later.

Kathmandu, Nepal, isn't the idyllic little town it used to be, though. Nepal suffered a long civil war in the 90s/00s, and thousands of refugees piled into the city. It feels a lot like an Indian city now: over-crowded, smelling of rotten trash, beggars on every corner.

I saw some things that I thought might be of interest to my fellow writers, though. Let me be the universe that's giving you what you need, for a moment. Take a look at the cremation platforms on the banks of the Bagmati River.

Hindus cremate their dead, usually within a few hours of death. They believe that this frees the soul to re-enter the reincarnation cycle, so it's important to them.

The body's wrapped in a shroud, carried around the pyre three times clockwise by the bearers, and laid down. River water is poured in the mouth. I'm sure that various prayers are said -- I was across the river, so I couldn't hear.

Our tour guide said that no death certificate is issued, but they do keep track. Suspicious deaths get a full investigation before the body is cremated.

The smell? Mostly charcoal, because it takes a lot of wood to burn a body. There's a slight hint of meat, but it's far less than at your average barbecue.

Only those of the untouchable caste can oversee cremations. Castes are built into the Hindu world-view and touch every aspect of life -- the platforms in these photos were for ordinary people. There were platforms for higher caste folks just upriver.

When the pyre has burned down, the platform is cleared straight into the river. 

Our tour guide said that when he was a boy, this river was crystal clear. It's only since the population explosion that it's become filthy. Dumping cremated remains didn't have much impact on the water quality.

On a different note, I also saw bowls made from teak leaves for sale in a local market. They're held together by little bamboo pins, so they are 100% biodegradable and renewable.

Pretty clever, I think.

Seen anything unusual lately?
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