Tibetan Abode

Dharamshala, India. October 2020

Tibetan Abode

Clouds of heavenly dew! Tears of joy! Buckets of fortune! Oxcarts of delight! Sacks of godliness! Treefulls of merry monkeys fill my uplifted heart! And meager metaphors fill my attempted introduction, but no language can come close to describing the blessed fortune I’ve been granted by the world.

I’ve reached the goal. Dharamshala, or specifically Mcleod Ganj, home to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile. Countless monasteries of monks and nun who have graciously been given a new homeland by India after having risked their lives to escape Chinese prosecution.

Dharamshala has been the intended destination of my 4-year walk since day 1. It literally means school of Dharma, school of spirituality. So the next phase in my practice, after the longest walk, will be the longest sitting: learning to settle myself down, to challenge this nomadic spirit for the time being and stay put until my knowledge of Tibetan language, culture, and Dharma is sufficient to have a clear and comprehensive view on this wonderful path they call Mahayana.

Mahayana can be translated as the big boat. The idea is to build a ship large enough to take any being who wishes for happiness across the oceans of suffering. And actually, all beings wish for happiness. It’s gonna be a pretty big boat. As big as the hearts of the sages who conjured such beautiful intentions. I think it’s cool.

The Goal

Dear world that I love. World undergoing a remarkable period of change.

My arrival into India, into a new chapter of my existence, was synchronized with the world’s arrival into a new era. Can I be grateful enough for how these 4 years aligned? 14’000 km, 18 countries, and every step of the way seemed planned by the gods, every border crossing, every offroad, every space to set camp, every gift and human encounter. Every moment of raw aloneness, of endlessly vast spaces that have reset my mind and brought me experiences I hadn’t even dared to dream of.

May I spend the rest of my existence in thankfulness. My path to the Indian Himalayas is soon to be complete, where I can dedicate my time to serving, learning and supporting the practices that lead to a better life and a peaceful earth.

namaste

Waggah border, Pakistan-India. February 2020

Namaste

The border crossing was overwhelming. I fell into pieces at the wonder of actually being here. That line I had been dreaming of for 4 years, and always seemed to be more of a dream than anything else. Mother India… I hardly ever believed I would get there! But the world aligned for me. And did I really do anything? Let’s hear it for the world!

Pakistan – Peace through Islam

Pakistan

Peace through Islam

It’s been 5 months and it’s been a lifetime. I am home. Every Pakistani dwelling is my dwelling, every man my brother, every kid running the streets my son, my daughter, my friend, but also my host. Yes, this culture has no age for hospitality. In no other country have I been been offered food by a 10-year old saying “it’s on me, brother!”

But it was also a thrill, an unforgettable quest to cross the forbidden areas where I am told religious conflict lurks, areas controlled by the army and long closed to tourism. To my surprise I was given the greatest of honors and my mission for peace was revered by the authorities: they did everything to make my walk possible, providing men to escort me for a whole 18 days until I had crossed Chillas, Kohistan, and the entire region of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Which, I might add, was of ethereal natural beauty.

It also meant 18 days of constant hospitality: being lodged, fed, and taken care of in every way, given a bed in police stations during the night and being invited to meals throughout the day. Now that being complete as well as my crossing of Pakistan, here I am in the city of Lahore, just kilometers away from the Indian border. India, the destination of this 4-year walk: my mission is on the brink of being fulfilled.

Paradistan

Northern Pakistan, December 2019

Paradistan

I didn’t know anything about Northern Pakistan. I didn’t know anything about anything Pakistan, really. And without actually going there, the misinformation many people get is some conservative Taliban-ridden country landlocked between Afghani terrorism and nuclear war threats with India. Luckily enough, I don’t dig that kind of news, so I stepped in with an open heart and open arms, ready to experience this thrilling new land first-hand.

In my arms came nothing less than paradise. The scenery, the people, the religion, the vibration in the air… every facet – paradise. I made my way from China through Khunjerab Pass – the highest international border crossing in the world – down to Hunza Valley, a place renowned for its peace-loving Ismaelis, so caring they wouldn’t hurt an ant, I swear! I fell in love with Hunza and stayed 2 months in one village – that’s as long as my visa would let me. Yes, the bureaucratic clock is ticking and I’m counting my precious days in this blessed land, how long can I settle down and how long do I need to walk the remainder of my way to India. So that led me to the current city of Gilgit, which I’ll have to leave quite soon as well.

So 3 months it’s been, a hundred villages, a thousand gleaming faces and even more cups of chai… yet it’s still paradise. Having camped all over the place, climbed all kinds of mountains, met people from every social class, background, and religious group, I now confirm with fervent conviction: the people are good! Nothing but good! Masha’allah!

The China less heard of

Xinjiang Province

is one of the most censored regions in the world. Very little information comes out. This is China out of China, it is Muslim, it is Tajik-speaking, and it’s the most remote part of this giant civilization.

It is in fact so remote that in recent years the central government has radically decided to make it more… central. What’s exactly going on here is hard to imagine for our western minds – apart from those of us who might have lived in USSR. Or occupied Tibet, or North Korea… but on top of that, technology is now at its peak, giving a whole new scope to the level of surveillance.

Travelling at foot’s pace means I saw a lot, I learnt a lot, more than what I could possibly have hoped for… I lived a lot of crazy stories and had an awesome time. And for me the lesson was deep: to face every situation, no matter how complex, with all-encompassing love and clear vision, which is China’s own ancient philosophy of the Tao.

On top of my parents towards whom I will always owe endless gratitude, I am a child of Tao. Tao brought me up, it made me who I am. It made me tolerant and peaceful, it gave me the gift of love towards all beings. It is thanks to Tao that I made it through such a place as Xinjiang province with open arms, an open heart, and the thrill of adventure – I loved every bit!

First steps in Western China

Xinjiang Province, China. September 2019

First steps in Western China

I’ve always loved China. Since my youngest years I had a special connection with this country and its culture. But this time I have to say, I saw another side. Quite a darker side, that we usually only hear about distantly in the news. Before stepping into Xinjiang Province, I had an idea what was going on, and so I took the firm resolution: no matter what happens, I will express love and love only towards the authorities and towards everyone I meet. This will transform what could have been a one-month unbearable struggle into a valuable spiritual practice.

And I passed! I still love the country in every way. I personally had a great time hiding from the police, sneaking behind security cameras and setting camp with no headlamp at midnight in ditches, eyeing police patrols from a distance. I had my healthy does of adrenaline! But I did go through the most oppressed society I’ve ever seen. What can I do, apart from bringing love? Adding a bit of light to the darkness and trust to the trustless. And hope. Because there is hope. A society based on a majority of unhappy people is bound to collapse, because no matter how glittery the top of the pyramid is, its base is flimsy. It’s just a matter of time, it will all fall down.

So in the meantime, let’s enjoy these 3000m high camels, let’s wonder how the hell did they get here, lets bathe with yaks and breathe heavenly air in turquoise lakes surrounded by pristine white sand dunes, lets drink free soybean milk and eat bagfuls of fruit – because the locals, to be honest, are so amazingly kind-hearted that they invite you even with the risk of getting caught by the police. Yes, it’s illegal, by the way.

Anyway I cannot describe the grandness of nature that no man can alter. Societies will come and go, but this will always be. Be blessed. So thank you for reading, and may you be as grand as the grandness of nature.

kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan

This country embodies freedom. Never have I felt so unhindered to live however I choose. Instead of banning nomadism and making people live by law in properties with addresses, the state promotes it! They make it their national pride. Locals keep living how they always have, free as the wind, settling where they settle, the world as their backyard. And visitors can get a taste of what it feels like to be nomad.

I love this country.

uzbekistan sleepless nights

Andijan, Uzbekistan. July 2019

Uzbekistan

crazy heat and sleepless nights

The world is evolving in many a positive way! When I was making my plans one year ago, I decided to go around Uzbekistan because its visa rules and border policies made it too complicated for me. But as I make my way down through Kyrgyzstan, good news arrives from fellow travelers. Uzbekistan is undergoing a serious liberalization and its borders are now open to foreigners, visa-free! Not only this allowed me to go through instead of the long way around, but I could discover some of its people and culture which I highly regard.

In fact, the people were so generous it was embarrassing. I hadn’t even finished crossing the border and the first Uzbek man I meet asks me “Do you have any money?” I answer hesitantly “yeah, a bit…” “I mean, Uzbek money! Here is your first bill, as a welcome gift!”

And that was just a drop in the ocean of the immeasurable kindness I encountered there. And yet, my little bit through Uzbekistan was one of the most difficult. This was the hottest region of my trip, which, thanks to my ingenious planning, I happened to be crossing at the hottest time of the year. It was hot. The mid-afternoon sun almost had me pass out and I couldn’t even consider going further. But I had to do my distance because the Chinese visa date is near, and missing it is not an option. So here was my plan: walk all night, walk half the day, and find a cool shady area in the afternoon to fit a bit of sleep into my life.

The only problem was, a “cool area in the shade” was a long shot, and reality turned out a bit less cool and shady then my silly ideas. In the end, for 4 days I hardly slept, and would summon all my inner strength just to take the next step without closing my eyes and falling down. Once in a while, I would pass out on a rock at 3am and wake up an hour later, clumsily hurrying back onto the road with a yawn. Half of my time was thus spent in states of semi-delirium, ranging from relentless laughter to visual distortions to losing balance and nearly getting hit by traffic.

Does all this sound negative? It was not! It was the peak of the adventure, the climax, the ultimate challenge of mind and will-power. And it was fun. Plus, I would otherwise never have figured out that sleeping on a rock was more comfortable than a bed. Nobody told me! I blame the bed manufacturers. Anyway, this greatly simplified my life and where I define my comfort zone.

A Nomad Amongst Nomads

Too Ashu, Kyrgyzstan. July 2019

A Nomad Amongst Nomads

I can’t describe how free it feels, back on the road, back in my element. Somewhat familiar yet thrilling and new: crossing Kyrgyzstan, making my first steps up the Himalayas. It is scattered with yurts, wild horses, and shepherds leading a nomadic lifestyle since thousands of years, who will give you anything they own if you just happen to walk by. It also means camping at 3200m in a storm, and waking up to the sound of horses joyfully neighing good morning.

Life is full of divine beauty and intense challenges. Definitely worth living! I rate 5 stars.