Have you ever been overwhelmed by a place? Been engulfed by its combined beauty, history, and overall spirit? Perhaps it was the natural wonders: beauty, light, or tranquility, or maybe even its beautiful harshness. Whatever it was, it overloaded the senses and filled the body. Hiking through the heart of Tibetan Buddhism in the Nepal Central Himalayas’ Nar Phu Valley and Upper Mustang regions was that place for me. It was magical to walk near the Tibetan-Nepal border along ancient trails blazed centuries ago by traders traveling this north-south route long before it was a tourist destination or even part of Nepal, and even before Tibetan Buddhism emerged.
Surrounded by ancient Buddhist architecture and traditions, my wife, Meredith, and I were constantly reminded of where we were and who we are. We often saw chortens, prayer (or mani) walls and mani rocks, robe-clad monks twisting prayer beads and chanting, and prayer flags blowing in the persistent breeze, as a majority of the population continue to practice Tibetan Buddhism and speak the Tibetan language.
The title, Mantras, Mandalas, and Meditation, was selected not only because it’s catchy, but because it was the ready-made theme of our hike. With each trail, pass, village, and person we met, we were reminded of the philosophical meaning and significance of Tibetan Buddhism. The recurring presence – a Mantra in itself – of these important spiritual and cultural symbols mentally and spiritually reminded me of the impermanence of existence and made me contemplate what this experience is about, especially after trekking up and down through the stark and desolate landscape of Mustang. How many times a day did I say, “this too shall pass”?