Dream Crashing On The Way to Paradise

The plan was that I would arrive a day early in Chiang Mai and check into Sripoom House. Then, I would head over to my favourite restaurant that caters to westerners like me. There, I would pig out on delicious food that I could only dream of in India.

When I went south to Gudjarat and the ashram, I did not anticipate having to eat white rice, dahl, chapatis and overcooked veggies for the next three and a half months. I did import sea weed, vitamins, minerals and Super Green powder to supplement the Indian diet. It was not enough. (I now understand how much of an oasis the Poona ashram/commune/meditation resort was. We had the safest most varied diet in India. Even fresh salads that you could eat without fear of the usual tropical third world diseases that accompany such actions.) Even with the supplements and the Yang Cheng-Fu form, my body slowly lost it’s vitality. On top of that, I ran into a new to me Indian hazard. It’s called the loudspeaker.

When I first visited India in 1976, to own even a small radio was a luxury. In the early nineties, electronic goods, though more accessible, were still something special. Now, even a small mud and wattle shack has a satellite dish on the roof. Owning a sound system is common. The Narmada River is lined with ashrams and temples that all seem to have loudspeakers stuck at odd angles from their roofs. The various priests and sadhus think nothing of playing recordings of ‘devotional music’ and chanting at any time day or night. Two o’clock in the morning, there is a burst of very loud music for fifteen minutes. Or, maybe some chanting around that time that went on for an hour. The guy in the next village believed that everyone wants to hear ‘the name of god’ from 5:30 or 6:00 every morning at a volume so high that it sounded like he was outside my window. For nine years, my time of deep sleep had been from 5:30 in the morning. This was totally disrupted. Even when he slacked off a bit and turned down the volume, my body would be in stress while the music was playing. It was often beautiful music, it just was often too loud and at the wrong time of day. There was a nine day music festival that had the ‘music’ so loud that it was literally pounding on my body. Even the Indians in the ashram had trouble with it. For some reason, I was more sensitive to it and could not ‘just accept it’ as I was advised. The result was my never establishing a good sleep pattern once my old one was broken. And, of course, my body suffered from the tension.

So, why would I stay so long in such a place? A good question. The answer is a man named Baba Puranand Bharti. From my first meeting him at the ashram when he came for a brief visit, I knew that whatever discomfort I was going to suffer, it would be worth it to spend time with him. It was. To explain to my satisfaction would mean a very long dissertation that may not even make sense in the end. To be near Baba is to have the opportunity of experiencing a very deep state of bliss. During my time in his ashram, there were events and understandings of which I am very grateful. Much was an affirmation of my life’s trajectory and much was a deepening in my trust in existence. In addition, I made some very dear new friends and got to better know some already existing friends.

So, I stayed. And, had dreams of delicious meals that I would eat in Thailand.

My departure from India was through the Ahmedebad Airport. There was a four hour drive after lunch to arrive in the prescribed time. When I wheeled my cart past the army guards into the terminal building, I found myself at the end of long serpentine queue (line in ‘merican). It eventually ended at a single baggage scanner. It took half and hour to reach the scanner belt. Along the way, I had a feeling to avail myself of the services of the plastic wrap machine for my larger piece of luggage. As I stepped around the scanning machine to retrieve said bag, the man say’s “open your bag.” Those were not the words that I wanted to hear. I said, “what does she want to see?” (there was a woman in the driver’s seat.) He says again, “you have to open your bag.” I say in an exasperated tone, “what does she want to see?” To my amazement, the woman in the driver’s seat waves me through! So much for security.

I will skip the interminable waiting in the check-in queue and, then, the hour and a quarter late departure that I am sure was because of the inadequate number of check-in queues. Between the check-in and my gate, I bought a veggie burger. I had him microwave it to kill any life that might be lurking in it. Just filler for this hungry traveller.

There was a transit in Mumbai (Bombay) to a flight to Bangkok and, then, a short flight to Chiang Mai. I nibbled on three planes and in three airports. I slept maybe two hours. I got dropped at my guest house so tired that I was afraid I might not get as many meals in at my favourite restaurant as I was hoping.

I lay down on my bed waiting for sleep. Within the hour I was writhing in agony gulping in breaths. Then… Well I won’t go into the details of the experience of food poisoning. At some point during the day I had enough energy to yell out for help. No one heard me. When I eventually was able to make it to my room door, it was late at night. No one heard me. Some time in the early morning, I woke to find that I was over the hump and feeling better (very relative term here!).

In the morning, I extended my stay by four hours and paid extra for the damage. At two in the afternoon, I got a ride in a red truck out to Baan Hom Sumanphrai School of Thai Massage and Herbal Medicine. I arrived into the hands of the two most wonderful people. I was not a pretty sight.

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Tick Another One Off the List

Dear Friends,
The good news is that I found out that I can get to Rajpipla and back by shared Jeep or rickshaw for only 10 rupees (20 cents) each way. Sounded preferable to risking life and limb on the back of a motorcycle. I have used this new mode of transport several times now.

Below is a photo of a normal rickshaw. It differs from the shared rickshaws in that the shared rickshaws have an extension on the back with two facing benches that are big enough to hold two small Indians each. I lost track of how many Indians actually fit in them. This is the first new rickshaw that I have ever seen in India. It won’t look like this for long.

NewRicshaw

My first time to catch a shared rickshaw, I walked the ten minutes out to the one lane paved road and waited only about ten minutes before a rickshaw pulled up.

As far as I could see, the shared rickshaw that stopped for me this time was full to over flowing. However, the driver waved me around to the other side and pointed to a space on the seat next to him. Well, there was a stray sadhu on the other side, so, I figured it was a legitimate way to go. The ride into town is ten minutes on winding country road with assorted bumps and potholes and, then, about five minutes on a two lane main road. The one cheek that fit onto my portion of the seat did fine. The rest of me was suspended between the hand clutching the roof strut and my foot on the edge of the floor was less than happy. Being set down in town was something that caused me considerable joy.

When I had finished my shopping, I was headed to the place where you catch the shared jeeps when up pulls the afore mentioned rickshaw. The driver smiles at me and indicates the same piece of his bench. I shake my head in horror. He understands and scoots over to give me a full portion. It’s hot and I don’t want to wait, so, I accept. This was a much more pleasant experience for yours truly. However, the man on the other side of the driver did not seem so pleased. When we turned off the main road, we came upon some construction at the railway crossing. The driver stopped and went to see what was happening. Everyone piled out to stretch their legs. I was just beginning to loosen the long ones when the driver came hurrying back and jumped on his seat. It was time to go! I hopped on my side only to discover that the man on the other side had slyly taken a full portion in my absence and I was back to one cheek again. I made it home.

So, not being one to be dissuaded by one setback, I ventured forth the next time that I had to visit the tailor. I was fortunate enough to get a ride from one of our guest for the trip into town. This time, I passed by the rickshaws and got a ride in a shared jeep.

The Rule of the Road in India: If your vehicle will not move under it’s own power, then, you have too many people on/in it. Below is a “shared Jeep”. I have never had to ride hanging onto the outside. With this one, there wasn’t even room for that.

JammedJeep

Upon arriving at the place where you catch these vehicles, I was directed to the front seat and a young man slid forward to make room for me. There were only five of us sharing the driver’s bench seat. One time, I was the first passenger on the scene and got a the best seat. In the middle section on the driver’s side. You have to get in and out on the passenger side. I had people arrive when seeing me in my place give me a dirty look before turning away to take what they could get. Even little old ladies acted in this way!

Here’s a photo from the inside of a jeep when I was in the middle of the middle seat. The front seat has six people with a guy hanging off the left side. You can maybe see the arm of the guy sitting on the floor to the right of the driver with his arm wrapped around the steering column. The guy you see on the far left is actually sitting on the seat of a man that you can’t see. The bag of bread rolls belongs to the guy hanging off the side.

The view from the middle seat.

The view from the middle seat.

Yesterday, it was time to go pick up the clothes from the tailor that were supposed to have been ready three days earlier. I went one day after the due date to find that the fabric had been cut but not stitched. So, I had to return. I then realised that this was what had happened the previous time. What I should have done is go in two days before due date so that he can finish it for me on time. (I have since talked with other people about my experience with my tailor. I’m very fortunate. One friend had to wait one year for a shirt to be made!) When I flag down the shared taxi going into town I’m lucky and a 12 year old girl makes space in the middle seat for me. I only have the one leg hanging out with foot resting on the running board. We start up and thirty seconds later she leans across me to let loose a long stream of saliva onto the road. Thirty seconds later, the same. This continues all the way into town. I figured that she must have been practicing for a statewide contest as no one needs to spit that much. It was an uneventful ride otherwise.

So, my tailor had my Kurtas ready and I bought a few provisions, drank a coconut and headed up to the edge of town where the jeeps were waiting. I waited, and, waited, and, waited. Then, the group of people suddenly headed back down the line to a jeep that already was half full. By the time I reach the scene, there was only on space left and that was beside the driver with my knees under my chin, my legs twisted and my hip aching all in ten seconds. Plus, the gear shift was under my legs. This was dangerous territory! I got out. I looked around. I was in no mood to wait for I didn’t know how long to catch another jeep and maybe be in the same predicament. So…

The good news is:
I will never again climb up the back of a jeep onto the roof and settle into the roof rack on a quite comfortable extra bald spare tire with one foot braced against the back rail of the rack to keep from flying out the back whilst facing backwards then bending forward and holding the two side rails in a death grip in order to stop from flying forward. As we hurtled down the highway I asked the universe why there wasn’t a good traffic jam when you need one. Manoeuvring the country road I kept my head down not knowing whether some improvising Indian had strung an electric cable across the road in the last few minutes at just above car height.

We finally came to my stop. I managed to unclench my hands and, with every part of my body shaking, I clambered down to wobble around like a drunken sailor. I have no idea how I managed to retrieve ten rupees from my wallet for the driver. As I staggered down my dirt road, I said to myself, “I should have done this when I was in my thirties, so that, I would know better than to do it in my sixties”
——–
Kundan! You get in the house. Right now.

Yes, Mom.

My Resting Place

Most mornings and afternoons, I go for a walk beside the river. I take along a cotton lungi (sarong) draped over my shoulder and use it to sit on or as a wrap if it’s windy. The river here is very wide and shallow. There is a dam upstream that releases enough water to keep it flowing year round. During monsoon, the level of the river is 10 metres above what it is now. You can see the plastic bags stuck in the trees on the cliffs. Our side of the river is somewhat level grassy area for about 10 metres wide to the foot of the cliffs. The other side of the river is slowly sloping sand that extends maybe 30 metres.

In the morning and evening there is a lot of bird life. I have become a bit of a bird watcher. First it was the ducks on the other side. Then, the cormorants that dive for long periods underwater. Sometimes they swim against the current with just the tops of their heads showing. When it is late, many birds swoop, reflected in the water, as they feed on the insects. There are many smaller birds the size of a sparrow. Some have bright yellow breasts. Others are an iridescent green with a dusting of red on their wing tips that you see as they swoop from their perch and back again. I can get within a couple metres of many of them.

Often a fish will jump out of the water. Once in a while I will happen to see it. Sometimes there a very loud splashing sound and ripples that I believe is a large fish catching a smaller fish near the surface. The young men (teenagers really) who work on the construction site use the river for bathing in the late afternoon. The fun in their voices as they play is carried to me.

I often walk about a kilometre along the river to a ghat. It’s a large concrete platform with steps leading down to the river. A few of the village women still gather water or wash their clothes there though it is rare these days as most people have access to a well.There are two young brothers who put out and gather in fishing nets along the shore in their small boat. The younger one poles and the older sets or takes in the nets. They’re maybe six and eight years old. We Namaste to each other. They have lovely smiles. Yesterday, I passed them walking on the bank and one of them held up one finger and said, “One.” They went up to five and I congratulated them.

You will often find me still on the bank til dark as the colours of the sun on the water are so beautiful that I have a hard time heading back. The slow movement of the river. A few ripples. The stillness in the air. I can understand why this river has so many ashrams and temples along its shores. This evening, I did my tai chi form on a flat section and it was dark by the time I returned. Stillness and movement.

brothers

My Healing Journey

So, here I am, riding on the back of a motorcycle. Swami Siddarth is taking me from the ashram into Rajpipla to catch the bus to Vadodara. My pack is on my back. I’m wearing shorts, a t-shirt and thongs. No helmet but I am wearing my sunnies for protection. We are riding on Indian roads in Indian driving conditions. Some rose coloured glasses foreigners call the Indian way of driving “intuitive”. Me, I just count my imaginary rosary and chant, “I’ll never do this again, I’ll never do this again…”

Baba will be away from the ashram for a month, so, I decided to have a weeks Ayurvedic treatment in Vadodara. I had been considering going to one of two very good places in Kerala on my way out of India as I’ll be flying Air Asia out of Cochin. However, that would mean having to leave the ashram early and after my few days with Baba, I suspect that I won’t want to leave any earlier than I have to.

It’s 80 kms from Rajpipla to Vadodara and takes two hours. That’s a driving speed of 40 kms/hr. That gives you some idea of the condition of the highway much of the way. Traffic is not that heavy. I was driven out here in a car. The bus journey in is not my preferred mode of transport but that’s how the cookie has crumbled.

After fifteen minutes waiting, the empty bus arrived. As it began backing into it’s spot, still four metres away and moving, people began to jump on. I wanted an aisle seat close to the front, so, I joined the game. Not only were we jumping on a moving bus but we were jostling for position at the same time! We all survived and I got an aisle seat half way back on the two seat side of the bus. My backpack managed to fit above and I was set to go. As it turned out, the ride was ok. The seat was padded and I could just barely fit my knees behind the next seat, so, I wasn’t too sore by the time we reached Vadodara two hours later. A lady at the front of the bus read the address for the health centre that Anand had written in Hindi and Siddarth in Gujarati. I got down at a large round about, found a rickshaw and had him ring the clinic. The phone number was below the address. A little negotiation and we were on the way for 130 rupees. The bus only cost me 60 rupees. The location of the clinic was well outside the city ten years ago. Now, it is on the edge of the city. We turned at the sign for the Emu farm and we were there.

My first glimpse was of a two story building with a nice sized garden along one side. When I entered, I found myself in an open airy lounge area looking through to a small inner court garden. The doctor was phoned and after the hellos, I was shown to my room for a shower before my initial consultation.

Room nice. The bed was long enough for me. Most Indian beds are six feet long. Being six, two, I find myself sleeping diagonally a lot. The ashram has an extra long bed for me. I’m going to take it with me when I leave. Walking down the road with my bed strapped to my back!

Back to my clinic room. There was a TV! Soap and shampoo ordinary commercial brand, not herbal. Glad I brought my own shampoo. A bucket shower and fresh clothes and I was ready.

I knew from the website that this was a family business with the father, son and daughter all MDs. Only the father had an Ayurvedic degree. Their principle degrees were in western medicine. I wondered about that but was open to this complementary medicine thing. My interview was with the son. After a brief medical history, he explained a little about Ayurveda. The three elements that need to be in balance. If you have too much ‘pita’, then, this happens, etc. He, then, took out a sheet of questions that he asked me to determine which of the three I leaned towards. Just as we finished, the father showed up and began by saying that he had practiced in Indianapolis. A little chit-chat and some talk about the origins of Ayurveda and it’s relation to meditation. I was told that my first treatment would be at four that afternoon and I was on my way to lunch. Later, I realised that I never did find out what my diagnosis was. Am I ‘pita’ or bagette or what?

Lunch- Food same as ‘except less oil, ghee, sugar and salt’. Not what I was hoping for. Did have pawpaw with afternoon tea. Nutra sugar substitute! At four thirty, I went looking for the guy who gives the treatments. He rang the doctor on his mobile and I was told that I would just have Shirodhara that day. (The family lives in rooms on the top floor of the clinic, but, even though they are that close, the help always rang them on their mobile phones.)
So, first treatment- turns out that I was handed to a younger guy who did the actual treatment. The shirodhara was only ten minutes. (That’s the slow pouring of oil on your forehead. It is said to do all sorts of great things.) Fan too high. Not that exciting. Just starting to relax when it was over and I was getting a head rub. Found out that they don’t do the treatments with the hot ghee and bags of herbs. Very disappointed! Full treatment tomorrow at 7am. We’ll see how it goes. So far… not too impressed.

A little history: Four years ago, I had a series of treatments at an Ayuvedic hospital in Pondicherri. They were great. I was wearing this T strip of cloth around my special parts and stretched out on this wooden table with a trough around the inside edge and high sides. The practitioners dipped muslin bags of herbs in hot ghee (clarified butter) and pounded me all over. It was delicious. My muscles melted. Some of the sessions there were two men pounding me at the same time. The first two session were just one man. The third session another guy showed up. It turned out that he was the advanced practitioner. I mentioned a place on my spine, upper back, that was giving me trouble. (a couple times a year my spine would slip out of alignment and cause all the muscles of my chest to contract. Not a pleasant experience. I carry some muscle relaxant at all times to relieve the intense pain.) So, this new guy reaches around and feels beside my spine. He does this little motion that I hardly feel and I’m better. It was a year and a half before I had a recurrence. This is the kind of treatment that I am looking for.

After another shower and shampoo, it was dinner time. Returning to my room after my meal, which included drinking two tablespoons of liquid Ghee, I went to open my window. Well, I immediately closed said window as there was tremendous amounts of smoke from cooking fires waiting to enter. I had to resort to the air con until ten that night to have fresh air. As I sat there, over the sound of the air con, I heard some loud pounding. I traced it to the family’s apartments upstairs. The one other guest had mentioned renovations taking place for a visiting brother. The demolition continued until 11:30 that night.

Next morning, I was up and ready at seven o’clock. We began with the Shirodhara again. Again, only starting to relax when told to sit up for head rub. Then, right into a massage that was a brisk rubdown that lasted maybe twenty minutes. After that, take two herbal tablets and drink two glasses of water and into a steam cabinet for fifteen minutes. Another shower and shampoo and I was out the door. Oh,yeh, no little T strip of cloth. Ended with oil on my own boxer shorts.

Back in my room, I picked up my bags that I had packed that morning and headed out to the reception lounge. A cleaner was dispatched to find the doctor whom I told, “Your treatment does not include what I was wanting. The massage with the herbal bags and hot ghee.” (I know, I’m too nice.) To my delight, there was no objection to my leaving. No suggestions. We settled the bill at one treatment and a night’s lodging. The doctor even rang a rickshaw driver and instructed him to take me to the bus station and make sure I got on the correct bus.
I have to say that what these people are doing would probably be of help to a lot of people. How much? Is it Ayurveda? From my experience, only on the most basic level and I don’t foresee them going into any real depth in their training and experience.

I had the rickshaw driver stop for fresh coconut milk on the way to the station. I treated him to one as well. We were forty-five minutes early. I told him to leave. I would be fine. He insisted on waiting. After five minutes of fidgeting, he passed me off to an older couple who had arrived. I must tell you about this couple. As they approached, the man had this very strange walk. His legs were very stiff and he moved them mostly through an awkward rotation of his hips. I was wondering if this was a medical condition, some degenerative disease, or from some accident. Then, I saw his wife walking behind him. She had the exact same awkward gate! This was a real first for me. I could only imagine that over the years she had imitated his gate for some reason that was even weirder than the gait.

The bus arrived and I headed out, leaving the couple behind. The crowd was forming. There were passengers that needed to disembark this time, so, the boarding crowd was very large before the squeeze through the door began. I noticed that some people were pushing bags through the windows to cadge seats. Using my backpack as a battering ram, I surged forward cutting off a well padded matron. A late departing passenger had to make way for this determined foreigner at the door well. It was not a pretty scene. I was not embarrassed.

The bus left on time and took exactly two hours to reach Rajpipla. I got off at the entry to town and found a young man to loan me the use of him mobile phone. Anand had not received the email that I had sent him the night before. It took a few moments for him to understand that I was in Rajpipla and not Vadodara. He said that he would send Siddarth for me.

Twenty minutes later and I was sitting on the back of a motorcycle. My pack on my back. Wearing shorts, t-shirt and thongs, with my sunnies for protection and counting my imaginary beads…”I swear that I will never do this again, I swear that I will never do this again….”

The Himalayan Mountain Yatra 2012: Prologue

A few lifetimes ago, climbing mountains was my obsession. Any chance that I had, I was looking for a new mountain to climb or a new way to go up a mountain that I had climbed before. I would scamper up the rocks and ravines. Running along the ridges, I was so fast that I became renown in the region where my family had their home. My best friend, Tika, also loved to climb mountains but he enjoyed taking his time and stopping along the way to look at some interesting flower or formation or view. The only view that I was interested in was the view from the top. This difference was perhaps why we were such good friends. We both loved mountains and both had our own way on a mountain.

Tika and I came from families which were traders. In the summer our families would travel to far lands to trade in whatever was easy to transport and was profitable. This, of course, gave us many opportunities to climb new mountains. One summer, our fathers finally gave their permission for Tika and I to go off on our own to play the trader’s game. We had many summers of apprenticeship and were certain that we would easily come back with goods that would astound our families. With this in mind, we set off in a new direction. There was, of course, in the back of our minds the search for ever higher and more unusual mountains. Before we had travelled very far, we began to hear of a mountain in a Kingdom that was so far away that we were not sure if it was real or not. This mountain was not just very tall but was renown for being especially difficult to climb. The mountain was considered to be holy and one had to have the permission of the King to climb it. If you were to somehow get in his favour, he would watch from above as you climbed a smaller less difficult mountain nearby. He himself had climbed the mountain many times but had allowed almost no one else to do so. Being young men of some ambition, this was a story that wetted our appetites even more. Especially mine.

It took us most of the summer to reach the border of the Kingdom. We had done only a minimum of trading along the way as we were in a hurry and felt that we could make our profit on our return. As we crossed the pass that marked entry to the Kingdom, we saw what we knew immediately was the sacred mountain. It’s top was in the clouds. At it’s base, we could just make out the city that contained the palace of the King. In the first village we came to, we went into the local general store/ public house and were lucky enough to find a man from the city who was travelled enough that he could speak a dialect that we understood. (In the city, we were able to find many people who spoke the language common to all the courts in our known world.) When we asked him about the mountain, he told us that we were, indeed, fortunate as we had come at an opportune time to climb the mountain. The King, whose name was Sonal, did indeed enjoy climbing mountains. His joy was to take his family out to a lodge on a lake at the foot of the mountain where they would relax and he could scale the peak. It had been a lonely pursuit for years as his wife and first two daughters were very happy to admire the mountain from the lake but had no inclination to go higher than a horse could easily carry them. However, when the third daughter, Sureya, was barely able to walk, she was begging her father to take her with him. With time she was as skilled as he. There were those who, in private, whispered that she was even more so.

As it happened, the first two daughters had married and the queen was insistent that it was time for Sureya to do so as well. King Sonal doted on this daughter and it is easy to imagine that he would have been happy to have her by his side for all of his days. However, he also wanted her to be happy herself and had spoken to her of finding a suitable husband. As she was the third daughter, and the first two had made very advantageous mariages, it was easier for the King to convince his wife that the younger daughter could be more unrestricted in her choice of a husband. Little did the King’s wife expect what criteria would be announced by the King.

Sureya had made a condition that only her father could have understood. It was announced that there would be a contest for the honour to have an interview with the Princess and the chance of her hand. There would be a race to the peak of the sacred mountain. The first five to reach the top would have the opportunity to the interview. (They would also receive a small sack of gold coins for there skill.) Before the announcement had been made, the mountain had been completely surrounded by soldiers to ensure that no one had an advantage. Furthermore, the climbing would begin on the most difficult side of the mountain. There would first be an elimination round on a neighbouring mountain where the King and Sureya would be in a special lookout and observe the skill of the initial contestants. Only the most skilled twenty would go on to the final challenge.

Well, do you think I was excited or do you think I was excited? Being a brash young man who had an easy way with the lasses, it was not the daughter’s hand that excited me. It was the chance to not only climb the legendary mountain but to test my skill against the best in the land.

Tika and I made our way to the city. It was a splendid place. We had experienced many different towns and cities in our travels with our families and this was one of the most pleasant of them all. The structures were well built and the streets were wide and clean. There was a large park in the centre with a small lake and winding paths. The people seemed content and friendly. We had soon found lodging above a public house. The owner was a genial man who was happy to share many more details about the upcoming contest. There was an undercurrent of excitement amongst the people. Many young and not so young men had come to compete.

The next day we found our way to a building where a minor official of the court was taking applications. After an inspection to determine if I were fit enough for the contest, I was given a coloured sash and a number. There were so many contestants, that there were going to be several elimination races. The number was the number of the race and the sash was to make identification easy for the King and princess’s judging. With so many elimination races, it was possible that in the final race you would be competing against men whom you had not raced against before. The beginning races were a week off and, so, Tika and I went two days walk away to find a mountain for me to use as practice. Tika was, as I said before, of a different temperament than I and would act in a support role for me.

I am not one to boast and when I said earlier that I was exceeding quick at scaling mountains, I was being quite accurate. The three days of preliminary races soon arrived and as expected, I found myself in the top dozen candidates.

While I was focused on the racing, Tika, in addition to logistical support, had been making arrangements that would ensure that no one would interfere with me before the race. Tika was a very charming fellow in a relaxed way and he had found us lodging in a small apartment where he could prepare my meals and see that I was safe and comfortable. He had made friends with some of the local children and they had become his eyes and ears.

The day of the final race arrived and I finally found myself on the way through the cordon of soldiers to see the face of the mountain up close. It was a very different thing to see the mountain other than at a distance and the side chosen was indeed imposing. We only had about half an hour to stand and search for the best route upward. There were no speeches or ribbons cut. We were told to get READY…SET….GO! About half the racers headed for one location. I was not one of those. It was an obviously easy way to begin the journey upwards but I was more interested in a more difficult beginning that would lead me more quickly to a section that looked to me to offer more choices to continue. I knew from experience, one needed to have alternatives available along the way because you couldn’t foresee what was really ahead. My skill and speed helped me to maintain equal vertical progress through that first section and, then, my foresight, strength and skill soon had me out in front. I was told later, that after the half way point, there were only three of us in real contention. I was not aware of this. I was just focused on my own progress and moving with the flow of the mountain. This is something that I have not mentioned. As a mountain is born, it’s surface has certain patterns that are specific to it. If you can sense these patterns, you will find a flow that takes over your movement. In a way, you are guided by the mountain itself. Usually I was able to take a bit of extra time to discover that flow. I was fortunate in that though I under the pressure of the race, I soon found the flow on that magnificent mountain. I let go and danced up the mountain.

Yes, I was the first to the top. Only by a little. There were two others less than one body length behind me. As each of the climbers reached the top, he had his moment of triumph or disappointment and, then, looked around from his perch at the top and a broad smile spread across his face. We were all dedicated climbers and the place that we had attained was too special to let it pass in extraneous considerations. When the last person had arrived, we all looked around raised our arms and cheered. It was that kind of moment.

OK, so, I won the climb and was thus one of the five eligible to meet the daughter of the King. I was given the rest of the day to rest and prepare as best I could for the interview. I enjoyed that time. I ate well and the next morning bathed and donned some excellent clothes that Tika had picked up for me. I was going to make the best impression I could even though I had no real interest in marrying the princess. I had done what I had come for, had some gold in my purse (Tika had made a few good bets as well) and I was young and free. I was just going along out of curtesy and curiosity.

When I arrived at the palace, I was shown into a well furnished room where I waited with the other five. We were informed that we would have our interviews in reverse order of our reaching the summit of the mountain. I noticed that most of the others were showing some nerves. I was relaxed and content. We were told that we should not reveal what was discussed in our interviews until the chosen one was announced. So, when I was finally shown through the large doors, I had no idea of what direction the conversation would take.

A servant held the door for me to enter. The room that I entered was smaller than the others that I had passed through. There were some cushions a short way from a fine dark red curtain. Light came through a window on the opposite wall from the curtain. I was aware of something intangible about the place. A voice from behind the curtain floated out, “Welcome, Uina.”

Inside, I went still. My head turned toward the curtain and I slowly replied. The first questions were what you would expect with any friend and so I was able to answer even though I was actually listening to the voice rather than the words. There was a pause and, in a very direct manner, I was asked, “Would you give up climbing mountains if I were to ask you?” With this question I found myself in a way that I had never imagined. My answer was not one of logic and not one that I had ever imagined. “Climbing mountains is my greatest joy. I entered the race only for the chance to climb such a remarkable mountain. I came here only as a curtesy and out of curiosity. There was no desire on my part to become your husband. The question that you ask could never have brought forth any but a negative answer from me. However, since the moment I entered this room and heard your voice and felt your presence, my entire being can only say ‘yes’. ”

The curtain swung open and the most beautiful woman I had ever seen stepped out and was sitting before me. She took my hand and as she drew me towards her she breathed, ‘yes, yes, yes…’

As evening approached, we walked out through the garden to a pergola where she introduced me to her father.

The next day, Sureya and I climbed the mountain that had brought us together. She danced along beside me to the top.

Tika stayed for the wedding. Afterwards, he left on horseback with one of the King’s guards as an escort. He was on his way to tell our families of the news. By the time that he located them, they had to send word with the guard that with winter setting in, they would be waiting til spring to see us.

When my parents arrived, they were happy to find that they were to be grandparents as well. My mother stayed on til after the birth and, then, my father returned from his journeys and after a brief stay they were off again.

During the pregnancy and following the birth, my desire to climb move back in my mind. When our daughter, Sukriya, was a few months old, Sureya and I started up the mountain with Sukriya held in a sling in front of Sureya. Perhaps it was the joy of the three of us ascending this special mountain for the first time that made me so excited and bursting with energy. After a short while, Sureya said to me, “Go ahead. Take off. You wish to fly. Celebrate this occasion and fly.” She knew my heart and with her blessing, I sprang up the slope. I reached the top and looked down. Some clouds had blown in and I could not locate them, so, I started down. When I reached where I expected them to be, they were not there. I called out and heard Sureya’s voice. Following down, I found her huddled behind a large boulder. She pulled me too her, “A gust of wind came around the mountain and caught Sukriya’s sling like a sail. It caught me by surprise and I lost my balance enough that I stepped on a loose rock and fell. As I fell, I could only think of protecting Sukriya. I sprained my ankle and did something to my wrist. I’m so happy that you are back to care for us.”

I was in shock. The joy and excitement of the day vanished as the possibilities flooded into my mind. After checking that there were no other injuries, I said, “I swear that for ten lives I will always be the last one up the mountain.”

Only three lifetimes have passed since that vow. What to do?