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Sunday, 1 April 2012

The Last King of Shambhala Preview

The below is a preview of my new book 'The Last King of Shambhala', available on all good online book stores including Amazon Kindle.

“At the centre of your being, you have the answer. You know who you are, and you know what you want.”

- Lao Tzu

It’s a peculiar thing, having no memory.

Not knowing your name or who you are. Not knowing what you were doing mere minutes ago. Not even having one hazy, distant memory of a life before.

It’s as if you were born again, seeing the world for the very first time. At least, that’s how I felt when the two Nepalese herdsmen unearthed me.

I remember hearing spiked shoes cutting the ice, muffled voices, the shovels slicing through layers of snow, and finally my limp body being pulled through a hole a little wider than my head.

As far as I am concerned, that was my second birth.

They carried me down the mountain to their village, and looked for somewhere to accommodate me while I recovered. The herdsmen’s sister, Amisha, put me up in her home.

I was to stay for at least three weeks, insisted Amisha, using a calendar to communicate this to me. Three weeks turned into a few months, which turned into a year.

Amisha nursed me back to health and helped me get back on my feet – literally. And as she did, I became one of her family.

I learnt to communicate with Amisha’s family: charades at first, then single words, then stumbling sentences, and finally I could speak Nepalese fluently. (In fact, at the speed I picked it up, I wondered whether I had had a basic grasp of it in my ‘previous life’.)

I ate with them, cooked with them, worked in their shop, celebrated birthdays with them, and joined in their customs. I also helped Amisha as best as I could with the jobs her husband used to do before he passed away, five years ago.

Naturally I got a lot of attention from the local villagers when I went to the markets with Amisha. Each day I’d be accosted by another villager; what was I doing up in the mountains, who was I, where did I come from? The explanation became routine, and I learnt to recite an acceptable story without much thought.

“All I remember,” I would say, “was the feeling of finally letting go as the snowstorm tackled me to the ground and disabled my body. The last memory I had was staring blankly at the snow covering my body, and waiting for a tunnel with a bright light at the end to appear.”

At that moment, death didn’t frighten me. Not the way it does now. It was more a curiosity.

Will my life rush before my eyes? Will I understand life, the universe and creation in a jolt of enlightenment? Will I be greeted by an angel or a man with a white beard?

Or will dead family members or close friends greet me?

Will the people who greet me be people I like, people I don’t like, or merely a handful of random folk who crossed my path in life, who have some sort of cosmic obligation to give me the keys to the pearly gates?

And importantly, will I know that I am dead? That’s assuming, of course, that there is some kind of afterlife. If there wasn’t, I guess my wondering could have ceased forever more.

But death didn’t happen. Two quick-thinking herdsmen defied the Grim Reaper, though not before he took the part that made me who I am – or who I was. My past was wiped from my conscious recollection.

And although at first I enjoyed the freedom of a life without years of baggage, a part of me challenged my spirit’s gleeful, aimless meanderings. In the recesses of my mind, questions about my past began creeping in, until finally my dominant thought was: Who am I, and what am I doing here?

It was then that Amisha took me aside. We had been celebrating the New Year, and I’d estimate it was an hour or so after the midnight firecrackers had been dragged through the streets to every kid’s delight and every cautious mother’s fright.

We sat down at the square table squished in the corner of the dirt floor kitchen. She held my hands and smiled at me in the same way she smiled at her own children.

“Damon,” said Amisha, her eyebrows rising and her smile fading.

Damon was the name a villager had given me, in reference to an actor called Matt Damon who, I’m told, once portrayed a character found in the ocean with amnesia. Most of the villagers did not see movies often, but after it had been explained to them, this quickly became what I was affectionately known as.

“Damon,” she repeated, “there is something I want to reveal to you. Something none of the other villagers know. A secret kept within our family’s bloodline.”

I did not know what to say. It came as an honour, but also, a surprise. This very unassuming family did not look like they kept a secret, and it seemed curious they would reveal it to me, despite the close relationships I had fostered with Amisha, her two herdsmen brothers and her children.

“The secrecy keeps it alive and intact,” whispered Amisha, producing a tattered scroll. “It keeps it from getting into the wrong hands, so that when someone comes along with the right hands, they can hold it. In the wrong hands the secret would fall through their fingers like sand, and be gone forever.”

“Why are you telling me this?” I asked, not quite understanding her vague right and wrong hand explanation.

“Because you are the one our family has been waiting for. Your hands are the right hands. I needed to be very sure you were indeed the one my family waited for before I made the decision to reveal this to you. So do not take my words lightly when I say you are the one, for it is the result of much mental deliberation.” Well, those weren’t her exact words. I’m translating and paraphrasing.

She then handed me the scroll. It was very brittle, so I opened it with care and flattened it out on the table. It read: Vibhishana. And below this word – which meant nothing to me – was a map.

“This is the real name of what people call the Yeti or Meh-Teh.” She paused for a beat to let me take in what she had just said. “A sacred name we have kept in the family but not spoken.

“If you trek to the ‘Temple of the Blessed’ hidden deep in the forest,” she said, pointing to a spot on the map, “and call his real name three times,” she held up three fingers, “he will come to you, and show you to the gates of Shambhala. You call him, and you wait.”

I sat in silence. After spending so much time with Amisha’s family I had learned quickly to just accept their superstitions and go along with them, but this wasn’t the usual crazy talk.

This was something more ‘out there’ than refraining from whistling in the home, or throwing three rocks ahead of you before making a journey, or celebrating when a crow builds a nest on your roof because you have now been blessed with good luck.

Actually, thinking about it now, I had learnt that last one – about the crow bringing good luck – the morning before Amisha revealed her secret to me. We had noticed the bristly nest built into the corner of her rooftop, with a pair of black eyes and a sharp beak turned towards us inquisitively. Amisha had thrown her hands up in joy, and explained the superstition to me. In hindsight, that might explain why she decided it was the right time to confide in me.

I had so many questions, but didn’t know which one to start with. “Why do I need to see this Vibhishana?” I murmured.

“Because he is going to take you to Shambhala. In Shambhala, you will be given the Akashic Records, and you will discover who you are. Who I already know you to be. Only then, may you return, should you wish to.”

Her left eye twitched. After spending much time by her side, I knew this meant she was hiding her emotions. What emotions, I do not know.

(I had also learnt from one of Amisha’s equally superstitious brothers that when a woman’s left eye twitched, you could expect good luck. I found myself getting a lot of good luck from Amisha these days.)

After all Amisha had done for me, and because of the loving bond that had grown between us, I found it impossible to refuse her. I knew that, though heartbreaking, it would be less difficult to say farewell to her and her kin – the only family I had ever known – than to refuse such an earnest request.

I packed a satchel, and left three days later. To avoid questioning, I left before sunrise and told no one outside my adopted family of my departure.

It took two days, sleeping on trains and buses, before I arrived at a remote village on the edge of the forest. Then, another two days crossing wild rivers, trekking through endless stretches of waist-high grass, and up and down mountainous ranges, before I arrived at the temple.

At one point, towards the end of the second day, I found myself lost in thick forest. Two crows flew overhead and I imagined Amisha’s voice in my head:

The great Garuda, King of the Birds, and Yama, Lord of the Afterlife, have sent them to guide you through the jungle thicket to the temple.

After spending so much time with Amisha and her children, it was strange how these beliefs and superstitions infiltrated my mind, even at a subconscious level. I do not remember hearing about Garuda or Yama, and perhaps they were the result of a highly active imagination, but I decided to follow the birds anyway. It was as good as any other direction, I justified to my sceptical self.

After following the birds for perhaps half an hour, I caught a glimpse of the temple. It was hidden by an overgrowth of vines, practically invisible if you did not know what you were looking for. I entered the temple through a hole in the side, negotiating spider webs and clouds of dust that rolled like ocean waves at my feet.

Inside, the walls were covered in a magnificent crumbling mosaic that seemed to depict many stories.

The temple was silent, but in my head I swore I could hear monks chanting a deep mantra accompanied by windpipes, chimes and the whistle of bronze cylindrical tubes twirling. I was soon to discover that the temple was bustling with monks, albeit on a different vibrational dimension. So, though I didn’t realise it at the time, what I heard so clearly in my head was not my whimsical imagination, rather, a result of extra-sensory perception.

I emptied the contents of my satchel on to the cracked marble floor, and my quivering hands flattened out the scroll. I unconsciously began picking at the bristles on my chin.

“Vibhishana,” I called. My voice bounced off the walls. I called his name twice more, as Amisha had instructed. And then I waited, sitting cross-legged, for it seemed the most appropriate thing to do in a temple.

Time moved slowly. And by that, I am not meaning my perception of time, but actual time. It appeared that inside the temple I was in a curious time dilation field that ran at a much slower rate than the outside world. There was no rational explanation for this phenomenon, and so I had no choice but to accept something mystical might be taking place.

I first noticed this when I looked out the window in search of the approaching Yeti. The trees did not sway lazily with the wind, but rather pulsed at the rate of my heart. And comparatively, movements inside the temple appeared to float like movements in a dream.

I decided to calculate the time difference while waiting for the Yeti. I estimated that as two hours passed on the fob watch Amisha had given me for my ‘birthday’ (the anniversary of when I was found in the snow), the mid-morning sun had crossed the sky, set, and made way for the rising moon.

And so, although it felt like only four hours had passed before the Yeti… Vibhishana… arrived, I surmised that it had taken him a little under a day of travelling to get to the temple.

Vibhishana, the figure from all the Yeti stories and sightings, arrived just as my head began nodding off to sleep. I had heard footsteps in the temple and my eyes snapped open. I instantly became very alert.

A cool breeze whistled through the temple, disturbing the dust clinging to the walls. I sat silently.

A tall figure approached me, and the closer he got, the clearer his features became. Finally, he sat down, cross-legged, before me.

He was humanoid, though clearly not human. He had hairy cream skin stretched across a thickset, muscle-bound body. The hair on his head and square jaw was particularly long and thick. He had a snout like a cat, and eyes that projected wisdom, peace and contentment.

Despite his animalistic appearance, his mannerisms were very human-like, and he was adorned with gold jewellery and dressed in garments of intricately patterned silk.

The being began making noises. A measured sequence of grunts, whistles, whimpers and clicks, that seemed to have an order to it that suggested a language, alas, one that I could not understand.

“Namaste,” I said, placing the palms of my hands together and bowing my head.

The being mimicked my gesture and continued his attempt to communicate.

As I focused on these sounds however, they began to form words I could understand. “So you have finally returned,” I eventually heard him say, much to my amazement.

Continue reading?  Click here for part two. (The above is a preview of my new book 'The Last King of Shambhala', available on all good online book stores including Amazon Kindle.)

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