Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What's your sign?

I am almost afraid to ask. What is a leprosy BIBING hall?

Could they mean a sort of dining hall, as in, "imbibing"?

Seen near Tapoban, upper Rishikesh, UP.

Vegging out

Where to eat, continued

Last week was remarkable in that I met two pure vegetarians who were not foreigners. (A foreign Buddhist or yoga person is more likely to be vegetarian than a local Hindu or Buddhist.)

Ravi is a Nepali by way of India (family of Marwari Jains), and Nikesh is an Indian Brahmin who owns a business in Nepal. Naturally, the subject came up: where do you eat?

Most places in town accomodate vegetarians well. But for the purist, there are very few dedicated vegetarian restaurants. In this case, dedicated means not even having meat products on premises. In the strictest sense ("Pure Veg" as they say in south India), it means not even using eggs.

Thamel's Israel-Middle Eastern restaurant, OR2K, is veg but uses lots of egg. Newari and other Nepali restaurants will make a veg set meal, but sometimes cook items in the same pan that's used to cook meat, resulting in ingestion of meat essences and flavours.

With branches in many parts of town (Putalisadak, New Road) and a main hall at Tripureshwor right by Bluebird, Angan is probably the best all-around pure veg restaurant in town. They cover a range of Indian cuisines from North to South to West (Gujarati dhokla!) to East (Bengali sandesh sweets) and have a large, airy, clean dining hall up and downstairs in Tripureshwor. The other locations are more cramped and have more limited selections. Their Rava Dosa Plain is exceptional, the sambar great. They are a branch of (I think) India's Bikanerwala.

Not surprisingly, the pure-veg restaurants in town are all (as far as I know) Indian-owned. My favourite is Trishna Mitai in Lazimpat, before Shangri La. They are Bengali-owned (telltale icon of Dakshineswar over the counter) but do feature good south Indian dishes such as Uttappam and Idly, as well as samosa-chat-chai. I especially like the grandmother who sits in a chair behind the corner and gives me a beautiful smile. She never fails to wear sari and a pure chandan hand-painted tilak.

Two more pure veg Indian shoppes are Dudh Sagar on Kantipath, just opposite Mandala Books (they do have idly, wada, dosa and uttappam!) and Bandar's, a Rajasthani-owned small diner off New Road by Pyukhan Marg. Bandar's may be the only place in town to try Rajasthani Thali.

One Thamel spot that guarantees they use no egg is Shree Lal's House of Vegetarian. Though they seem very sincere, the food I got (dal makhani) was mediocre.

Two more sources of veg food (don't know whether they use egg, though) are the Kopan Monastery canteen way up on Kopan hill, and the Rabsel guesthouse run by Shechen Monastery. In Thamel there's also the old standby Pilgrim's Bookstore Cafe - always shanti, always veg - and the Himalayan Buddhist Meditation Centre cafe which has now moved to Tridevi Marg near Kesar Mahal.

Related reading:

Monday, March 30, 2009

Punching Lamas

Nutshell synopsis:
It's a familiar formula that still never fails to jar and enrage: The Chinese as saviours of that which they have destroyed; protectors of that which they despise.

De-coding the cryptoganda

News from China

There's lots of "Panchen Lama" in the news this week, what with the Chinese government's Serf's Emancipation Day being forcibly observed in Tibet, and their "World Buddhist Forum" featuring their very own child star, the puppet Panchen Lama.

So, looks like it's time for my semi-annual Panchen Lama blog.

A Tale of Two Lamas
People often ask me: "Will the Panchen Lama be the next Dalai Lama?"

First of all, not really, as they're two separate offices. Once you've been recognized as a Panchen Lama, you cannot become a Dalai Lama and vice versa.

Second, depends on exactly to whom you're referring.

The PL usually referred to as the "real" one, Gedun Chokyi Nyima, at left, hasn't been seen since 1995.

The "PL" currently appearing at the Forum is a hand-picked Chinese stand-in, and he would become something like "a new Dalai Lama," if the Chinese government had their way.
A five-year-old boy was chosen by the Dalai Lama as successor to the 10th Panchen Lama in 1995, but he has disappeared from public view since his selection became known. China's critics ... called him the world's youngest political prisoner. (from the Boston Globe)
The Chinese puppet "Panchen Lama," known by Tibetan loyalists as "Panchen Zuma" or Fake Panchen, is being trotted out as the key guest at China's own "World Buddhist Forum."

Conspicious by their absence: all the world's most famous Buddhists, like His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, HH the Gyalwa Karmapa, and Vietnamese Rev. Thich Nhat Hanh, among others.

I wonder whether any of the participants in this "conference" disputed or boycotted the absence of HHDL - as Tutu, DeKlerk and many others are in the case of South Africa's failure to issue Him a visa for an international peace conference?

Of course, we all know it's not safe for the Dalai Lama to go to China. But it seems any real Buddhist leaders worth their mani mantras ought to boycott such a conference being held in China.

Like McCartney's post-Beatles re-education campaign to depict himself (rather than Lennon) as the real "artistic" one, the Chinese government continues to rewrite history and cast itself as a saviour and proponent of Buddhist culture and religion.

Note that many of these "news" stories are from the official Chinese press, such as People's Daily. I give you clips as they are delivered to me by Yahoo News Alerts (Keyword: Buddhist).

Experts: Protection of intangible Buddhist heritage in China significant
People's Daily Sun, 29 Mar 2009 23:13 PM PDT
Buddhist experts attending the World Buddhist Forum over the weekend called for enough attention to the protection and inheritance of the intangible Buddhist heritage. "Buddhist culture is an important part of the intangible cultural inheritage in China"....

What a nice statement. Too bad China was and is one of the prime destroyers of that intangible culture.

In a similar vein:

Chinese Buddhists urge international cooperation in scripture researches
China Economic Net
Sun, 29 Mar 2009 19:23 PM PDT
Buddhist experts attending the World Buddhist Forum here called for international cooperation in researching and protecting the Tripitaka, the encyclopedia of Buddhist culture.

And here are appearances by the stage-managed Chinese Panchen:

China's Panchen Lama criticizes "unscrupulous" foes
Boston Globe Fri, 27 Mar 2009 01:01 AM PDT
The young Tibetan anointed by China as its Buddhist figurehead for the region said Tibet faces assaults on stability from an "unscrupulous" individual, in what appeared to be a thinly veiled denunciation of the Dalai Lama.

Panchen Lama, businessmen weigh Buddhism's impact on business
China Economic Net

Sun, 29 Mar 2009 19:22 PM PDT
Singing, listening and taking notes, the 11th Panchen Lama, Bainqen Erdini Qoigyijabu, attended a forum Sunday here with businessmen and monks, where they discussed
Buddhist philosophies related to business.

I thought the Chinese kid's name was Gyancain Norbu...??

...and on the stories go...you can tell which news sources are China-approved and which are not by whether they specify "the China-backed Panchen." This Taiwanese paper carefully notes the irony of "officially atheist China turning to Buddhism":

China turns to Buddhism to calm Tibet, Taiwan tensions
Chinapost.com.tw Sat, 28 Mar 2009 18:18 PM PDT
WUXI, China -- The Beijing-backed Panchen Lama addressed an international Buddhist audience in English on Saturday, as officially atheist China turned to Buddhism as a balm for internal unrest and international tensions.

It's a familiar formula that still never fails to jar and enrage: The Chinese as saviours of that which they have destroyed; protectors of that which they despise.

Related reading: 

Himalayan Tragedy: The Story of Tibet's Panchen Lamas 

Party line

Indian media-watchers will have a familiar response to this headline:

12:07, March 29, 2009

When I saw this, I immediately said, "It HAS to be The Hindu."

And, so it was.

The democratic reform in China's Tibet Autonomous Region abolished the theocratic system, did away with feudal serfdom and slavery, emancipated about a million serfs, and laid the basis for the modern development of the region as a part of the Chinese socialist system, an Indian newspaper said Saturday.

The reform in 1959 brought forward China's project of freeing a million serfs, said a leading editorial published by The Hindu, one of India's major English newspapers, which echoed the celebration of Tibet's first Serfs Emancipation Day, an official annual holiday, and denounced the Dalai Lama's past persecution of the Tibetan people.

The Hindu, otherwise a well-regarded and venerable established paper, has an extremely pro-China and pro-Communist editor. I heard he gets free trips to China courtesy their government to keep printing anti-Dalai Lama crap like this. 

Related reading:  
India and Tibet; a history of the relations which have subsisted by Francis Younghusband

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Dry, dark and dirty

Round midnight

In a country now famous for having no electricity, how is it that "a short circuit" around midnight caused a serious fire at the Sri Bagalamukhi temple in Patan Sunday night (March 16), destroying much of the carved-wooden pagoda style temple?

""The temple uses too many lights, which can sometime lead to short-circuits,"" an officer at Nepal Electricity Authority's Pulchowk office said."

Minor detail: There's no f**king electricity.

Bagalamukhi, one of the 10 Tantric Wisdom goddesses, is depicted as standing atop a demon, beating him down while snatching his tongue out of his mouth to silence him.

This image is sometimes interpreted as an exhibition of stambhana, the power to stun or paralyze one’s enemy into silence. This is one of the boons for which Bagalamukhi’s devotees worship her.

(her mantra translates as):
...Oh Goddess, paralyze the speech and feet of all evil people. Pull their tongue, destroy their intellect.

Perhaps, the Devi's own comment on suppression of the free press here in Nepal.

Shortly thereafter, the unbearable six-month dry spell finally broke, first with a smattering of rain on Wednesday night. The next day brought nothing but tantalizing rumbles of thunder and dry cracks of lightning. Thursday night, the electricity (which had gone off at 12 midnight) suddenly came BACK on at 12 again, only for a moment...then switched back off.

It wasn't till Friday afternoon we found out that Father John K. Locke, Jesuit scholar and father of Newar Buddhist studies, had died at precisely that time; midnight on Thursday night.

On Friday night I got another unpleasant surprise, in the form of my first Nepali groping. This one was a drive-by - two young men on a motorbike decided to take advantage of their speed and anonymity by grabbing my right breast as they sped past. Such incidents are well known and much-discussed among Indian travellers. Nepal, land of the Buddha and Tantra, is becoming another place where women have to go into Purdah - even in the middle of the tourist zone.

We still hadn't gotten a proper rain till Saturday afternoon, when it finally soaked the thirsty ground thoroughly.

The traditional rain god of the Valley is Rato Matchhendranath ("red lord of the fishes"); his worship is mandatory to bring the much-needed rains. Now that Nepal is "secular," I guess we have to worship Rato Prachandranath. He's the new Red God. Rather than being pulled round in a chariot, he's driven round in a limousine.

Related reading: Chinnamasta: The Aweful (sic) Buddhist and Hindu Tantric Goddess. (book reviews): An article from: The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

And we're back!

सो मच फॉर थे शोर्तेस्त २-वीक ट्रिप एवर, व्हिच अमौंतेद तो तवो देस
Whoops, hit the wrong button. So much for the shortest 2-week business trip ever, which amounted to 2 days. Anyway I am now here to annoy the trolls on a regular basis again.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


As suggested, I have added the Following Widget, but seem to have deleted most everything else on the Sidebar.

It'll all get back to normal in a few weeks when I return from a trek to East Nepal. See you after March 22, and happy Spring Equinox, Holi, Passover and Easter.