on the road past Thrumsing La
Bhutan’s wild mountain spirits

by Don Messerschmidt

“many, many foggies” says my driver, grinning
as we enter soup-thick cloud along the bluff below the pass called Thrumsing La
Dochen has that way of speaking English, laughingly
so jovially therapeutic
he sets the tone for what’s an otherwise long rough mountain ride across Bhutan
up-down-around the twisting road
sometimes dull and foggy
but in clear sun the view is bold
with naked cliffs streaked white by mountain freshets
tumbling sheer from secret groves above
where jade green moss, grey lichen and long strands of mist
lay still, whispering if you listen
with startling clarity from nature’s pure primeval soul

surely kindly ghosts inhabit this ancient sacred land
and sometimes, while traversing east across the royal road, each turn,
each vista is ablaze with rhododendron scarlet, pink, yellow, mauve,
and ivory magnolia,
and birds on iridescent wing that flit and fidget across the broad carpet
of shockingly bright spring blossoms
their radiant colors and resonant songs pierce the green dark forest

and sometimes the sky comes down
to touch the earth and pastures, high up
where yak graze and wild boar uproot the fields in bright daylight
where leopard and rare tiger roam stealthily at dusk
where snow lays close in woodland nullahs long into May
where fir and larch and hemlock stand tall and sharp against a cobalt sky
where blood pheasant, red panda and muntjac
feed passively, unseen, unheard in dense thickets
where prayer flags silently mark and bless one’s passage in the dark
while mountain breezes waft brusquely, unchecked to bend the tree tops
and dark-clouded storms roil up to dare a blood red sunset
it seems so far
this wild untrammeled land
so far from din of hectic world and troubled age

and when along the road past Thrumsing La great banks of cloud obscure it all
then wild mountain spirits cling tightly to the cliff’s bare face
Dochen’s “foggies”

Pilgrimage to Muktinath on the Occasion of Janai Purnima.
Prologue (in the style of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales)

by Don Messerschmidt

When the sweet showers of August fall and shoot
down through the monsoon lands to pierce the root;
When also Vishnu God with his kind breath
exhales an air in mountain grove and heath;
When full the moon high flown in morning sky
sign of the boar is rising high;
Then Hindus long to go afar to shrines on pilgrimage,
clear mind and body press in austerity, self-denied, as tyagi dressed;
To sing kirtan, ‘Shri Krishna, Jai Narayan, Hail God!’
And seek the stranger strands and far-off saints to laud,
hallowed by Damodar Himal where chakra found,
rare fossil saligram in Kali’s earth abound.

And on and up to ancient Salagrama go
On yatra journey, so to feel and to know
The blissful mukti of the Lord;
Salvation there to give, for freeing all Mankind in sin who live.

Each year they’ve come, these full score thirty centuries past,
to sip the springs and bathe in icy waters fast,
to rise afresh and don anew their faith,
to stand in awe of Brahma’s three-fold wraith
of fire in earth and stone and water glow,
which only one who sees can truly know.

It happened in that season on the way near Kag, at Lonely Inn,
wherein I lay,
At night there came into that hostelry some three and twenty
in a company of Brahman folk
Happening then to call in fellowship,
And they were pilgrims all.

Their goal was Muktinath
ne’r short to fall nor fail to do;
Their quest, darshan, site-vision of the Lord,
Prasad to take,
The faith renew.

Terms in the order of their occurrence

Janai Purnima - a calendrical rite of Hindu caste reaffirmation
boar - an animal avatar of Lord Vishnu
tyagi - a pilgrim who renounces possessions and practices self-denial
kirtan - songs in praise of god
chakra - a wheel-shaped fossil form, worshipped as Lord Vishnu
saligram - an ammonite fossil, considered sacred by Hindus
Salagrama - an ancient name for Muktinath
Kali - the sacred Kali Gandaki River, named for Lord Krishna
yatra - a sacred pilgrimage
mukti - salvation
darshan - taking ceremonial ‘audience’ by visiting a deity in a temple
prasad - offering to a deity, which is then shared among the devotees and eaten

don-photo-img_2209_small-size-2Dr, Don Messerschmidt is an anthropologist, writer, and an international development consultant. He was born in Alaska, and graduated from the University of Alaska in 1963. Shortly thereafter he first went to Nepal as a Peace Corps Volunteer working in rural development. He then stayed on in Nepal, where he lived off and on for many of the last 50 years as a teacher, rural development consultant, researcher and writer. In 1973 he was awarded a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Oregon. He has taught in both American and Nepalese universities, and has worked on numerous international development projects as a social scientist - in community forestry, social impact assessment on hydropower projects, public health, and irrigation.

He is also the author of several books on Nepal, and many magazine articles, and in ‘retirement’ he leads treks and tours in the Himalayan states of Nepal and Bhutan. When not roaming the Himalayas he lives in Vancouver, Washington with his wife Kareen, and near their adult son and daughter.