A Meeting on a Trail
The date was April 10, 2012. The sun had barely risen but was already burning away the mist that had shrouded the village of Tsarang in the Kingdom of Mustang on the Tibetan Plateau in Nepal when I first arose that morning.
I was leading an Ambassadorial trek tothe ancient walled city of Lomanthang near the border with Tibet.
The plateau, which encompasses all ofTibet, and part of Nepal as well, presents a rugged and austerely beautifullandscape. Those who live on the Nepalportion of it are ethnically Tibetan and, in many ways, they preserve the heartof an ancient Tibetan culture that is disappearing in China.
We were there because we had funded a number of projects through the American Ambassador’sCultural Preservation Fund which were helping to restore monasteries andBuddhist Chortens —
smaller shrines that dotted theplateau.
We were bound that day for the ancient LoKeGhar Monastery – or the Ghar Ghompa– whichwas part of an legendary tale surrounding the plateau.
It is said that in the second half of the 8th century, the emperor of Tibet, TrisongDetsen, desired to bring Buddhism to the Tibetan Plateau but was countered bydemonic forces determined to deny him.
In desperation he calledon Padmasambhava,
a great tantricpractitioner whose name means, Lotus-born.
Padmasambhava, also knownas Guru Rinpoche, was said to have been incarnated as an 8-year-old child in alotus flower and he is venerated by adherents of Tibetan Buddhism as the secondbuddha.
Padmasambhava traveled tothe high plateau from India and, performing a sacred ritual dance, heconfronted and pacified the demons at Hepo Ri, a hill near the village of Samye. One particularly tenacious demon, however,refused to be pacified. It escaped thebattle and fled deep into the heart of Mustang, then known as the Kingdomof Lo.
Padmasambhava pursued thedemon and, in a momentous battle, ultimately destroyed it allowing Buddhism toat last firmly take root throughout the Himalayas.
In the battle, Padmasambhava scattered the demon’s limbs across the mountains of the Annapurna range and the cliffs surrounding the village of Ghemi were stained red with his blood,
while the longest mani wall in Nepal, made ofthousands upon thousands of stones inscribed with sacred mantras, follows thepath supposedly made by the demon’s intestines as they were dragged up themountainside.
The monastery of Lo Gekar,
is said to be builtdirectly over the spot where the demon’s heart is buried. Obviously, it was not to be missed.
So we set off that chillymorning as the wind whipped the prayer flags on the shrines we passed.
It was only a matter of a few miles from Tsarang to Lo KeGhar Ghompa but, when you’re hiking with a pack, at 12,000 feet that can still be a challenge.
As a result when I reached the village of Saukre, at the base of the hillleading to the Ghompa, I stopped with two colleagues to catch our collectivebreath, as we waited for the rest of the team to catch up. And there….sitting on a rock ….was a puppy.
Not an ordinary puppy,mind you. A puppy with blue eyes. Apuppy with the markings above his eyes that locals said made him a dog of foureyes, a sign of special wisdom and affinity.
A puppy with a dirty khata, or blessing scarf, tied around his neck and fixed to a piece of rebar pounded into the ground. A puppy who sat patiently. Watching. Waiting.
The puppy fixed me with hisblue eyes and said, “dhai” which means older brother in Nepali “comehere.” So of course I did. I sat next to the puppy who immediatelyclimbed on my lap.
He licked my hand then heput his paws on my shoulders, licked my cheek, and looked me in the eyes andsaid “Dhai, you don’t know this but I am your dog.” I paused, studied him, and I said“really?” He said, “Yes, really.”
I thought again and thensaid, “You may be right” and he responded, “I am.”
It was at this point thata young colleague of mine intervened – helpfully, I’m sure he thought. “Sir,” he said. “What are you doing? We’re at 12000 feet,” he reminded me. “You know the oxygen is thin. The dog isn’t really talking toyou….really..he isn’t.”
I suggested, gently, thathe should hush as he was interruptingmy conversation with the pup. Undeterred, however, this young man named Cain Harrelson,continued. He told me that the dog wouldget to be so big…look at his paws…he said imagine how much grooming he’llneed. AND, he added, knowing that I wassoon to be appointed as Ambassador in Uganda, “its HOT in Africa.”
Well, I put the puppydown. We did have to continue to themonastery, after all. And I even heldback when an older man from the village came by and picked the puppy up by thescruff of its neck and shook him ‘til he yelped. I wanted to say, “What are you doing to mydog?” I wanted to grab the man by thescruff of his neck and see how he liked it.
But, much to Cain’srelief (he was our Public Affairs officer) I refrained, knowing that any storystarting with the headline “Ambassador accosts man in village” was not going toend well.
So we continued to themonastery. It was pretty cool. And we ate a simple lunch there, gazing outat the ruggedly beautiful countryside.
But thoughts of thatblue-eyed pup in the village below still pulled at me.
As we descended from the hilltop,working our way back to Saukre, I pondered Cain’s various admonitions. The puppy might get big? I could use a big dog to provide the musclefor our pack waiting in Kathmandu which had recently gone from three smallerdogs to two with the loss of our eldest, a feisty and energetic Bichon.
The puppy might need grooming? Well…my wife Leija had shown she could handle that task – of course that was easy for me to say since she wasn’t there to correct me. She had had to give up the trek after only a few days due to altitude sickness brought on by a too-rapid ascent.
And it was too hot in Africa? Well….I had seen puppies like thisone…Tibetan Mastiffs…doing well in Kathmandu, and Kampala, Uganda was actuallymore temperate than Kathmandu. Thebottom line?
Cain was clearly a misguided youth and my far greater experience of the world would just have to guide me.
Now you need to understand that I’ve never brought home a stray before. Ever. OK…there was ONE time when I couldn’t let a stray pup languish alone when I was a young man, still living in Minnesota, but I got my sister and her husband to give that pup a home, so you can’t say I had a history of being a soft touch for puppy eyes. The fact that I was even still thinking of this stray on the side of a trail spoke of a powerful connection.
Why? I don’t know. It was just there.
I’ll confess, I did wonder what Leija might say. She is a warm and nurturing woman but she was still mourning the loss of our little Bichon, Gabby or, to grant her the much-deserved dignity of using her full name, Gabriella the Circus dog,
Gabby was named for “Gabs” — as Gaborone, the capital of Botswana where we were living at the time, was affectionally called by the expats. Gabby had been Leija’s baby and even I was pretty impressed with this very talented and active little dog who was fast as the wind, incredibly agile, and a prodigious leaper and puppy acrobat. She was a small dog but one you could play with and not break. I think Leija had visions of perhaps finding a new little white dog to fill the missing spot in the pack. The pup I had met, with his huge paws, hinting at his ultimate size and with his dust-colored coat a far cry from Gabby’s sparkling white, was just not meant to fit that bill — a thought I put from my mind and we continued down the hillsides.
Upon our return to Saukre we wereinvited by the village headman for tea and as we prepared to go to his home,there, again was the puppy. Stilllooking at me. Still waiting.
I asked if anyone could tell me about the puppy. It turns out that he had been found, a fewweeks before, by a young man from Saukre when he was visiting Tsarang, where wehad started the day. The puppy wasalone, emaciated, and nearly dead. Separated from his litter or abandoned…either way, the future didn’t lookgood for the pup which was perhaps two weeks old at the time.
The young man brought him home toSaukre. Feed him tsampa…the barleyporridge that is a staple in the mountains of Mustang, and now…three weekslater the pup was looking amazingly healthy. He was, it seemed, determined to live.
I didn’t even make a conscious choice. I merely asked if the puppy was for sale. People smiled and explained…”Excellency, here in Tibet the word for dog is Khyi…which is also the word for happiness. So, we consider dogs to be the source of happiness so we do not sell them we give them as gifts.”
“What a lovely, sentiment,” Isaid. But tell me…is it appropriate togive a gift in return? “
I was told that this was indeed good.
I asked, “what about the gift of rupees? ” It appeared that this was a most appropriate gift.
So digging into my pockets I found about 4000 rupees — approximately $38 – that was exchanged for the puppy who had watched the whole transaction with an expectant look on his face.
As we sat having tea, the pup nestled in my arms.
He looked at me and whispered beforefalling asleep, “I told you I was your dog, Dhai.” I answered, “you were right.” “I know” was the last thing he said beforedozing off.