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  • Salden was the monk who worked in the office of Namgyal Monastery back then. As far as I could tell he was the receptionist and gopher for the whole place. It didn't look like a job I would want to have. I mean, I get that it was a monastery ... and there's that whole service and humility thing. But, don't forget, monks are just people too!

    The others were mean to him. My Tibetan was never good enough to know what they were saying. But you don't have to know a language to know when someone's being just a little meaner than they have to.

    I liked Salden a lot. The best part of being at the bottom of the chain is that you sometimes get to be a little more honest. I'm not sure that that's full consolation for the pokes and jests and sideways put-downs, but it's something.

    One day, Salden asked me if I wanted to go up into the mountains. I had been spending my days around the monastery and in town eating donuts with chai and making friends with artisans and beggars. So the mountain seemed like a good idea. A change! Maybe a way to really see where I was.

    We walked up the hill from the monastery. Past a leper with no feet. Through town. Around the bends. Past the monkeys. Small shops and shanty shacks scattered about. Past more monkeys. Towards the waterfalls at Bhagsu Naag. Past a donkey carrying bricks. We walked by and away from all that. Salden in his robes and me in my jeans and t-shirt.

    It's funny how even the slow pace of a mountain town can be the hustle and bustle you leave behind. The quiet gets even quieter. And simpler.

    When we were well up and away on just a trace of a trail leading to colder air and snowfields Salden stopped for a moment. He adjusted his robes ... a little ... and then actually changed his clothes completely. This is long enough ago that I don't remember where he carried the robes for the rest of the hike ... it was a backpack or shoulder bag ... but I do remember thinking that he was the first Tibetan monk I'd ever seen in blue jeans. (And the last, still, in fact.)

    So we continued our hike, now making even better time. I don't remember our conversations, but we talked about everything. Tibetan things. American things. Buddhist things. Music things. Movie things. All of that. Just two young guys mostly alone in the foothills of Northern India's Himalayas.

    We hiked up to 11 or 12 thousand feet that day. There was more mountain above us, but we were happy to stop somewhere just along the way. Salden lit a bundle of incense and chanted and we sat a while at the prayer flags while some sleek birds dove and played on the wind over our heads. I remember hearing the slight whistling of their feathers as they flew past.

    The only other people we saw up that way were two Indian guys in a crooked aluminum lean-to with a pot of chai. I think maybe they would have sold us some if we had wanted, but we didn't ask and kept on our way back down toward the monastery. I still can't figure out what they were doing all the way up there, with so much chai and nobody else around. I suppose if you want to spend your days relaxing around a pot of tea, there are much worse places ...
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