Looking for Faith, and Watching Your Back

Tuesday I went to four Buddhist monasteries. They were amazing, of course, each fantastic in a different way. I wasn’t prepared to go inside buildings and find a 57 foot high, seated, gold Buddha staring at me with eyes so cool and calm… do they really know things I don’t know? Can they help me with my patience, compassion and tolerance? What I see is that so much art has been made in this religion, for all of the stories and characters, so much time has been devoted to beauty and the preservation of a religion so peaceful and non-aggressive. In every room with a statue, rupees bills and dollar bills are stuck into bouquets of flowers, no one around, no one touching them. Fresh fruit is left, boxes of candy and packages of chips. Could you do that in NYC? Outdoors, the white, wedding cake-shaped “stupas” they build of stone and clay here are devotions to the departed. They have prayers inside of them, and gems underneath them at the bottom…where no one can see them, or admire them, or sell them. Interesting.

I went on a trip to Pangong Lake yesterday, leaving at six in the morning to catch the morning light. The driver did not speak English, so when I said, “Two hours to lake?” He nodded…try four. And they were on the most hair raising roads I’ve ever been on. India does not have many guard rails on the mountain roads and the drop is severe. Yellow road signs replete with malapropisms dotted the roads’ shoulders. The pavement is barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass and there are no yellow lines to guide you. There must be patience and cooperation or there will be a disaster. My driver was cool as a cucumber, but as we climbed upwards my palms began to sweat and I could not look at the landscape which was shrinking below me. What was I going to do? I told myself, he has driven this hundreds of times, if there is going to be an accident I can’t control it. If I can just relax, maybe I can enjoy the ride… so I did. I looked at the rocks. And It was like looking at the landscapes on different planets, every color of rock made a rainbow of mountains, all huge, one after the other, with spectacular views. In the distance there were snow caps. We stopped for tea twice at a roadside stand. After four hours of switchbacks and driving through streams of water crossing the road, there it was, Pangong Lake, with water the color of turquoise, and clear. Gorgeous. On the way back I saw wild horses, marmots and pashmina sheep. A butterfly flew in the car window… and we were at about 17,000 feet!!!

I had to get a permit to go because the borders of the lake are shared with China, which keeps changing its mind about where those borders are. There is a big military presence everywhere. I asked why. A young monk told me, “If they weren’t here, China would just march across the border, and we’d belong to them.” On the way back I saw wild horses, marmots and pashmina sheep.

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About psullivan66

Patricia Sullivan is a New York City based photographer whose portraits and personal projects have appeared in New York Magazine, on HBO's "Bored to Death," TimeOutNY and other magazines. Born in Chicago, Illinois, Sullivan is drawn to the people "with broad shoulders" whose belief in just working hard and doing the right thing are keeping this whole planet together. Besides rodeo, she has photographed cops on motorcycles (in their off hours) and her mother, "the toughest woman I know."
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