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Thanka, but no thanka

Kathmandu, Nepal is a barrage of streets, characters and yak wool. Kristin and I have been here for six days after completing a 20 day trek through the Annapurna Himalayas, and a four day kayak clinic down the Seti River, where I capsized my green “Bliss Stick” kayak approximately once per hour. After spending three days being rescued from Class II rapids, we thought it a clever idea to retreat to dry land.

Kristin in the Annapurnas

Kristin in the mountains

At the Thorung La Pass

At the Thorung La Pass

In Thamel, the tourist-ghetto of Nepal, the Lonely Planet is king, and is traded as a commodity – at breakfast I had a man ask me if I had a Lonely Planet Nepal as if he was asking for a cigarette. I pulled my copy out of my bag, and handed it over, and proceeded to watch him for the next twenty minutes inhale the prescient reviews. After getting it back, my heart-rate returned to normal, a relatively benign case of LP withdrawal, much less severe than the anxiety-laced day when it was lost for 24 hours in our hotel.

Blog posting, I admit has been lapse during this time period, but I will say that when you’re trekking at 15 000 feet there is not much in the way of internet. My attempts to jerry-rig a yak-phone resulted in a mostly angry yak. I did end up bringing a yak scarf back from the mountains, which kept me warm in the sub-zero temperatures of the Thorung-La Pass. Wearing it, I created an instant bond with locals, who saw me either as a carnivorous hunter who killed for warmth, or a tourist with a piece of yak-garbage over his face.

Yak neck is treatable

Yak neck is treatable

Back in Kathmandu, Kristin and I have spent the last three days learning to paint Thanka, a type of Nepali painting which incorporates Buddhist deities such as the blue or white Tara, or the Wheel of Life, a segmented circle showing six regions of life. Depending on your karma, you’re either in the lower three segments, where you’re burning, freezing, or being tortured by animals, or the top three, where you’re having a grand time trying to gain enlightenment. The wheel is held by a demon that looks like a fanged ape, but all I could think of was spinning the entire thing to create a sound like a farm animal.

Kristin, being an artist with genuine talent, has taken to the painting style, and was given a string of mighty compliments by the owner of the studio. “This is very, very good. In only six months you will be a master.” He then turned to mine, and said, “This, not so good.” After readjusting my devastated ego, it became obvious that my Mandala was too avant-garde for the traditional and rigid techniques of Thanka; An underground Impressionistic Thanka movement is in the works, hereby christened as Davidism, not to be confused with Dada, Darwinism, or finger-painting..

Kristin hard at work

Kristin hard at work

My work of art

My work of art

I will say that after spending an entire day brushing hair-width strokes of varying shades of blue, I have a new appreciation for the paintings here. A well-done Thanka can take six months to produce, and after being constantly bombarded with Indian prints and Chinese imports, I’ve had to recalibrate my visual sense. From far away, the gold flecked paint and the brush strokes are barely visible, but much like the Himalayas themselves, the colors are best appreciated with an admiring and lingering eye.

Staying in Kathmandu for more Thanka practice, then off to a vipassana (10-day meditation) either in Kathmandu or Kolkatta.

253 comments to Thanka, but no thanka

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