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Excerpts from Michel Peissel's Zanskar: The Hidden Kingdom #


I stepped outside and again I was struck by the magnificent view: a full circle of peaks surrounded the flat sea of the central plain dotted with its villages, refuges in a world unfit for man. If ever there lay a valley cut off from the world, a hidden, secret land, it was Zanskar. I could hardly believe that only recently I had left a world which is polluted and over-populated. Everything in Zanskar I found near to perfection: nothing, so it seemed, was out of place or unnatural. ... There was nothing here to tarnish the harmony of nature in which man has his natural place blending with the earth...

Fleas in Heaven

Finally I retired to a nocturnal safari against the terrible fleas. Someone, alas, had forgotten to explain to them the deadly effects of DDT, for they completely ignored the floods of insecticide with which I had covered my body. Leeches in the lower, damp southern Himalayas and fleas in the north are responsible for the real hardships of Himalayan travel. My parasites and I awoke early the next day.

At last I lay down to what I thought was well-earned sleep only to appreciate I had overlooked the fleas for which Kargil is famous. As I sat scratching myself I thought of all those travellers who had passed sleepless nights at this ancient crossroads of caravans heading for Tibet, Afghanistan, China and Sinkiang.

I must admit I needed self-control not to kill the fleas I caught in the chapel. Instead, with traditional respect for life, I placed the offenders on the ground without squashing them, thus leaving them free to start a new career on someone else.

For the night I was offered a small room in a large house that seemed neat and reasonably clean. Little could I then foresee that this was to result in severe wounds, much frustration and eight full days of furious scratching. 'To bite a flea is hardly food for the stomach but how nourishing for the soul,' goes a Tibetan proverb. I had to agree as, forgetting all taboos about respecting life, and in spite of the difference in size and the Geneva convention, I killed all prisoners!


Usually it takes me a week to get rid of the habits of my rational Western self, to stop querying every fact and figure and searching for an explanation to every phenomenon. This period over, I began to believe in witches and ghosts, gods and demons, good and evil spirits and endless other characters that in the West I liked to consider imaginary—in the same manner that Lobsang would consider unreal and laugh at all the dreary statistics in which we believe, such as the height in feet of our tallest buildings, or the exact distance in miles between the earth and the moon, the facts and figures which mould our lives and command respect in our figure-mad world. But what do figures mean, or spirits, if one docs not believe in them? The answer is nothing, for it is Faith that counts. Often we would be at a loss to check many of the facts we believe in; we accept them with that same blind faith with which I now accepted the presence of demons and the miracle of the [imprint in rock of a] footprint [said to be Padma Sambhava's].

/misc | Apr 19, 2018

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