John Vincent Bellezza
Yes, the Flight of the Khyung is poised to take us across another tract of shifting time and space, over the vast expanse of human experience that only the horned eagle of Tibet can traverse! Like the heroine Tsenggi Baga in an Old Tibetan narrative of the imperial period grasp the wings and tail feathers of a great celestial bird and be carried off to a distant and joyous realm.
A Very Early Monsoon
The monsoon has come very early this year to the Great Western Himalaya. Pre-monsoon showers began in the middle of April, a highly unusual occurrence. The actual monsoon broke in the beginning of June, one month ahead of schedule in this particular region. Moisture originating in the Bay of Bengal, which usually does not reach west of the Great Eastern Himalaya, infiltrated the entire range. Now the sky is thick with clouds, the air heavy with humidity, and the ground damp and dank. The rains that bring life to many millions in northern India and Pakistan are falling. Rejoice, and reach for your umbrellas!
Ecolands: Ecological Zones of Consensus
In the current state of world affairs, countries are divided into sovereign states, each with its own particular form of government. There are also many supranational organizations of a military, economic, vocational and charitable nature. Of course, the august UN is the premier global administrative organization. These international institutions serve national and transnational interests with varying degrees of efficiency. It is also generally agreed upon that there is much room for improvement regarding the ways in which we keep house in our global community. With this in mind, I would like to call for a new type of cooperative arrangement between sovereign nations, one based on the natural ecological complexion of the planet.
All countries or parts of countries that share the same set of natural habitats and geographic features should consider allying themselves under an umbrella organization, in order to better respond to the common environmental, cultural and economic challenges. These associations could be as large or as small as the participants require, and through a consensual process they may develop their own mutually advantageous agendas. These ecological zones of consensus or ecolands, as I prefer to call them, should form a mosaic across the entire planet, drawing together people who share the same ecosystem in peaceful and productive activities.
I envision ecolands such as the Saharan Fraternity, the North European Plains Coalition, the Punjab Club, the Circumpolar Confederation, the West Pacific Temperate Forest Partnership, the Sonora and Chihuahua Desert Forum, the Polynesian Islands Congress, the Levant League, the Amazonas Association, the Congo Basin Band, the Gobi Group, or the Himalayan Alliance being formed (as well as many other groupings, some of which may be much smaller in geographic scope). Such organizations would not compete with the political dispensation or jurisdiction of sovereign states, but would rather respond to trans-border issues in close consultation with their respective central governments. As contiguous mountain ranges, deserts, plains, basins, littoral strips, and rainforests face similar environmental problems and often host interrelated ethnic and tribal entities, a holistic approach to problem solving is especially helpful. A dawning recognition of this fact by governments and the public-at-large should be used to encourage the founding and maintenance of ecolands associations across each and every ecosystem of our planet.
Fortunately, nation-states are increasingly realizing that an integrated international approach to tackling common problems is demanded, if their individual interests are to be properly safeguarded in the long-term. The ecolands proposal is designed to get right to the heart of the matter by joining those people who reside in the same type of natural environment to one another in the pursuit of common goals. It goes without saying that repressive governments and all those who hold fast to traditional concepts of national sovereignty will be deeply suspicious of such a global trend and will fiercely resist it. Yet, ironically, these opponents may eventually find other foreign policy options even less appealing. Global events and processes in the 21st century, even in the best-case scenario, will move at terrific speed, and each country must be prepared to use the forces thus generated to its advantage. It is therefore within a realpolitik mode of thinking that the idea of ecological consensus building might prove most persuasive. In any event, whatever direction international institutions take in the 21st century, we must all find ways to successfully cope with human-induced climate change, loss of biodiversity, dwindling freshwater reserves, depleted energy sources, etc.; massive challenges that require ecological-based transnational solutions.
The key to making the ecolands cooperative framework functional is an abidance in the principle of absolute inclusion; a legally and popularly recognized right of those who share a common terrestrial/marine space, whatever their respective political, religious or cultural affiliations, to join together in mutually beneficial ways in order to solve parallel problems. Individual countries, even those parts they may fall outside a particular ecolands’ remit, are liable to be rewarded through better relations with their neighbors and the better functioning of their domestic constituencies. The weaving of an ecolands fabric could prove highly influential and may significantly contribute towards global peace and stability (I am brimming with political, diplomatic and organizational ideas on how this might work). Nonetheless, the modalities incumbent in realizing such a universal cooperative network are highly complex and the way ahead fraught with political obstacles. Innovative solutions, the best minds, adequate financial resources, and considerable good will on the part of all people are essential factors. Furthermore, it is difficult to see how tensions related to irredentism can be tackled in any other way…
From My Tibet Journals
I shall furnish a few vignettes from my first exploration of the north shore of Nam Tsho (Celestial Lake) in 1987. This material is taken from Volume 7 of my journal archive. Although this wonderful journey proved quite testing, the formative experiences I had along the way whet my appetite for more Upper Tibetan adventures. I wanted to see and learn as much as possible, and over the next 21 years that is precisely what I have been doing. On this particular trek, after many weeks of walking, I finally ended up at Sakya Gonpa in Tsang:
At the crack of dawn my comrades were up and packing. I wished them well as they set out. I was up quite late last night listening to the radio and savoring the company so I went back to bed after the shepherds departed. I must have slept for another hour. The shepherds left a stash of dung and I used it to boil milk for my tsampa. I walked steadily so that within several hours I had rounded the north side of the lake. Two young men on horseback overtook me and offered to carry my gear on their horses. I was pleased to be relieved of my burden. Dawa and Nyima merely did this as a favor…
…At times today I was treated to a sweeping 70-mile panorama of the Nyenchen Thanglha range to the south. The terrain on the north side of Nam Tsho is quite different from the terrain on the south side of the lake. The south shore consisted of peneplains that abutted the mountains and ran down to the lake. This shoreline is even and without major headlands or prominences save for the bird sanctuary. The north side of Nam Tsho thus far is rock and rugged. Headlands thrust out into the lake, creating coves and bays. Granite boulders are strewn over the landscape. The hills and dales bordering the north side of the lake pickup the full exposure of the sun. This accounts for why there was no snow on this side of the lake last month, while the side (south shore) we were walking along was inundated with snow in places. Evidently, there aren’t any large peaks on the north side of Nam Tsho. The sun is down now. I will have dinner soon and then off to bed. I can see why the natives of Nam Tsho sing its praises. Surely it is the ‘Lake of the Sky’.
…I stopped to rest and eat lunch near a young nomad tending his flock. This friendly and helpful fellow informed me that I would have to leave the road and bend to the south before crossing a pass over another headland. I am thankful for his advice because without it I could well have found myself proceeding in the wrong direction. I trudged across an approximately five-mile wide plain. On the far side I found the nomadic encampment of Ala, just as the young shepherd had said. I approached the first tent. At it I met a good family headed by a 40 year old who said I could erect my tent in the proximity. This I have done. It is still several hours before dark but this is just as well because I intend to take it easy for the remainder of the day. Along the edge of the lake and in the coves the ice has melted. These open areas of water attract a variety of water fowl…
…The man of the camp says I could make Jador Gonpa tomorrow. I am not sure I will but I certainly plan on trying. My pack is lighter than five days ago but still very heavy. At least I won’t run out of food supplies very easily. As I saw last night certain sheep of the flock are selected for an extra ration of food. These sheep are handfed green fodder…
…These past few days have given me an intimate look into the way of life of the Chang Thang shepherds. I have seen how the newborn kids are kept in the tent with the family. I have also seen that when the kids get a little older they are kept in a special covered pen. The she goats provide milk for the young before and after going to pasture for the day. It is amusing watching the shepherds shoo away mischievous animals…
…Below the pass and on a stream course was settlement of five homes. The settlement was slightly out of my way but seeing that it was the largest inhabitation I had yet encountered, I decided to pay a visit. In addition to the single story adobe houses there were several tents. I was invited into one of these by a middle-aged woman. This particular tent was built on a permanent masonry base. The walls below the tent canopy have shelves and niches in them. It was as if the 20th century was no different than 1000 or 2000 years ago. The lady offered me tea and tsampa. An elderly man came to visit while I was eating. This lucid-looking 70-year old seemed to be the quintessential grandfather, what with his kind countenance. The man and lady inquired if I knew when the Jador lama and Tokya lama would return. I replied that I did not… I left the village of Kunglung feeling that this was about as far as one could get from modern society. Indeed, it is a very remote village…
…From Kunglung I had to traverse another small pass to the lakeshore. For several hours I would be hiking alongside the lake. The lakeside trail seemed well trodden but, today, like yesterday, I would not meet any travelers. The terrain on this stretch of the lake is very rough. Cliffs drop almost into the lake leaving a rocky embankment to walk on at most. At two places I had to scramble over ledges using both my hands and feet. The lakeside escarpments are full of small caves. Rabbits and waterfowl abound. The hike through this stark land was enchanting. However, I worried a little about overshooting Jador Gonpa. The rocky lakeshore was broken up by bays and plains that would form behind it. After walking around the third bay of the day, I decided to go inland slightly to avoid the rugged coastline and possibly more scrambles. I followed a broad valley which closely paralleled the lake to its high point. This is where I met the shepherd boy Dhundrup. Dhundrup said he would show me the way to Jador Gonpa…