Tibet Archaeology

and all things Tibetan

Flight of the Khyung

January 2008

John Vincent Bellezza

Happy New Year!
Another month and year has rolled by. May 2008 bring much happiness to the lives of my readers and great success to all their good endeavors! While I attempt to issue this newsletter at the beginning of each month, that is not always possible given my travel schedule and work demands. It appears as though I have 200 or 300 regular readers and those that occasionally access my site. I thank all those who peruse Flight of the Khyung and hope that you find things of special interest in it. As you know, I strive to present a mix of personal information, exploration updates and analyses of pressing issues confronting Himalayan peoples and regions. If you have specific suggestions on how this newsletter can be improved, particular matters that demand my attention or any other input, please do not hesitate to contact me at jbellezza@hotmail.com

Adventurous Dreams, Adventurous Lives
A book entitled Adventurous Dreams, Adventurous Lives by Jason Schoonover was recently published (Rocky Mountain Books). It contains autobiographical accounts of what are billed as the 120 greatest living explorers. While the stories of many world famous explorers such as Buzz Aldrin, the Leakeys, Robert Ballard, George Bass, etc. grace the pages of this book, there are also write-ups of lesser known but fascinating characters all the same. I am pleased to report that I have made the grade. You will find me in a chapter of the book entitled Himalayan cha cha. Adventurous Dreams, Adventurous Lives is a great book for youth because it contains much inspirational material by individuals who beat the odds stacked against them. Not only did many of the explorers have to face the furies of nature, they had to best obstacles put in their way by society. Those who dared to march to a different drumbeat than the mainstream rhythm went on to distinguish themselves and find favor with society at large. Moral of the story: get out there and fulfill your dreams!

It is interesting to note that nearly all of the 120 explorers in Adventurous Dreams, Adventurous Lives come from Western countries. I suppose societies in many other parts of the world are not as tolerant of those who break out of the societal mold. Social non-conformity is largely a commodity of the West. The individualism and independence of thought nurtured by Western societies encourage exploration and the pursuance of dreams. It might be argued that the West’s domination in the sciences and humanities over the last 500 years is in part due to it’s accommodation of those who pursued paths and ideas at variance with the social hulk. In this age of mass consumerism and imposed homogeneity, I would argue that we need explorers (of the outer and inner worlds) more than ever before.

Synopsis of My New Book
As part of my book contract with the Austrian Academy of Sciences, I was required to author a 20-line synopsis of the work. I include the synopsis here for your perusal:

Zhang Zhung
Foundations of Civilization in Tibet

A Historical and Ethnoarchaeological Study of the
Monuments, Rock Art, Texts and Oral Tradition of the Ancient Tibetan Upland

(X+832 pp., 384 illustrations, 46 maps)

Using archaeological, anthropological and philological methodologies, Zhang Zhung sets out formative elements in the development of civilization in Upper Tibet, the vast upland north and west of Lhasa. Part I of this major work comprehensively examines the monumental and esthetic traces of the Metal Age and early historic period in Upper Tibet. Based on a field survey project of twelve years duration, the morphological, constructional, mythological and cross-cultural traits of the region’s visible archaeological wealth are described in detail, laying the groundwork for the painstaking textual analyses that follows. In Part II of the book, annotated translations of numerous excerpts from Bon and Buddhist texts present the traditional view of Tibet’s ancient past. These native literary accounts of the early cultural, religious, political complexion of the Plateau are in turn systematically compared to the archaeological record, revealing significant areas of agreement. Zhang Zhung pioneers the application of empirical evidence to independently gauge the historicity and significance of Tibetan Bon sources. Part III is devoted to the study of the archaic funerary heritage of Tibet, a highly edifying undertaking as regards the cultural evolution of the Plateau. New perspectives on the identity and contributions of the Tibetan ethnos are obtained by subjecting Dunhuang and Bon textual materials to rigorous archaeological and ethnographic interpretation. Significant effort is devoted to plumbing the historical depth of Tibetan funerary literature and its affinities to north Inner Asian mythology and practices of the first millennium BCE and the first three-quarters of the first millennium CE. Critically edited transliterations of the Tibetan works, tables of all archaeological sites surveyed, bibliographies, and extensive indexes complement the main text.

From the Pages of My Journals
I randomly opened Volume 13 and set my eyes on the April 29, 1990 entry. It concerns the Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India:

I left a note and my address for Stefano. They were not up when I left early this morning. It was cool enough to walk with my woolen vest on. South of Kullu city is Gandhinagar and Shastrinagar. Urban blight has spread to these communities also. Concrete houses and shops have sprung up like mushrooms. The Maruti [van] revolution makes walking on the roads hazardous if one is not cautious. Buses and trucks also ply the main road between Kullu and Mandi with [much] regularity. Beyond the Kullu city spread cement structures are springing up, but not quite in the same numbers. Kullu seems to be a major tourist target for the 1990s. Ecologically, Kullu will be hurt, ‘but progress must go on’. The entire valley floor between Aut and Manali is being built up. Indians from all over the north are flocking here in ever greater numbers. If Kashmir remains closed Kullu will be swamped by tourism. Economically, the affluent will benefit, while the landless laboring class can only expect their lot to worsen in most cases. To see the ‘Valley of the Gods’ turned into the valley of greed is a sad sight indeed.

In Mallan I had a glass of milk. In Shamshe a moving truck brushed against my pack as I was looking into a restaurant. In Bhuntar (home of Kullu airport) I asked directions from a policeman. A couple kilometers further on, I stopped and washed clothes at a roadside spring. Along the way I saw a sweeper shoveling refuse, human waste filling a side stream, trucks and buses barreling down the road; and positive [things]: peaks and forests, little children playing, men and women drinking tea, etc., etc. The poojari (priest) I asked directions from was a happy old soul. In Bajaura, the renowned elder baba was not at his temple, although a couple of his chelas (disciples) welcomed me. I met S. B. Thakur, SDM (Sub-Divisional Magistrate) at Kullu, and Chet Ram Sharma, pardhan (headman) of the Bhuntar panchayat. These two men waxed [enthusiastically] on spiritual topics for an hour with me. They both seem like very fine people. They invited me to look them up when I pass this way again in a week or two. The babas prepared lunch for us. The Shiva temple is incomplete at Babaji’s residence, but the lingam is in place. The lingam extends several feet into the base of the temple. It was found buried some distance from here and transported by tractor. A nice morning – a balance between company and solitude.

After lunch I visited the ancient Bajaura Shiva temple built in the classical [shikara] style. It is called Visheshwar Mahadev. The Jamuna and Ganga goddesses carved into the entranceway are well executed, as is the rest of the mandir. On the walls in the cardinal directions are niches with Ganesh and Hanuman, Vishnu and the eight-limbed Durga, respectively. In the garbha (sanctum) are plaques of Vishnu and Trijugi Devata, in addition to the lingam. Next, I visited the Hateshwar Durga temple – nothing special except for the old sculptures of Nanda the bull. Actually, the atmosphere was quite nice. It must have been the solitude. A harijan boy invited me to sit with him on his verandah. His mother and sister soon came to have a look. A nice family. I am now back at Babaji ashram. I wanted to write while my clothes are drying. Change, change – may it bring more peace and justice into the world. I like meeting people such as the shepherd this morning who speaks English. He seems a very good man. H prefers shepherding to other work. He says it helps him remain healthy and happy. My own sentiments exactly! I will look him up when I get to his part of the valley. I could have rode the bus but never would have my day been this rewarding.

I left Babaji’s attendants after eating cooling cucumbers with them. It was the hottest part of the day, but the breeze and clouds helped keep the temperature down. I walked to the river and waited for the trolley to return. For two rupees a man on either side of the Beas pulls the trolley car across the cables. This was probably my longest cable crossing. Being three cables strong security was not a problem, however, the car was very greasy so it was hard to stay clean. My car swayed its way across the Beas and within a few minutes I was on the east bank. I could see the temple I wanted to visit from Bajaura. It took me three hours of hiking to reach it. I climbed up a couple thousand feet through small homesteads. After much sweating and puffing I made it to the ridge-top settlement of Diyar. I drank a liter of milk and walked to the temple, Trijugi Narayan (‘Lord of the Three Ages’). The local poojari gave me a few local chapatis which I ate with an omelet. Then a certain Mr. Sharma brought me more bread and cooked veges. Good people. I slept under a giant Mehona tree.

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