Kama Sutra Pillow

Kama Sutra Pillow

There is not much excuse for this, except that I was stuck in Kathmandu airport waiting for a flight which was hideously delayed, and was looking round the one shop at the gate for something on which to spend my otherwise useless remaining rupees.

So here, from Mountain Magic, is a handcrafted kama sutra pillow, packaged with suitably racy illustration, and guaranteed to ‘pep up your love life’.

Stop laughing.

This contains ‘an aphrodisiac blend of 16 specially prepared herbs which have been potentized by Tibetan monks to stimulate and arouse both male and female energies’.

We’ll pass over the whole bit about the monks, which just sounds wrong, and look at the herbs involved. Here’s a selection of them and how they are supposed to help.

Juniper: purifies and summons divine energies.

Sandalwood: transmutes sexual energies and strengthens nerves.

Cardamon: awakens the inner fire, arousing clarity and joy.

Black pepper: stimulates the senses.

Black mustard seed: stirs heat through the body’s channels.

The instructions say to knead the pillow softly to awaken the aromas, then tuck it among your bed pillows so you can inhale the scent whilst sleeping.

It’s a small pillow, barely 12 x 15 cm, and neatly enclosed in a brocade pillow case with some suitably Tibetan symbols worked in. It even smells quite nice, in a vaguely medicinal way. If it has any noticeable effect, I shall consider letting you know….

Singing Bowl Therapy

There’s something very mystical about a singing bowl. It’s not just the fabulous sound (especially  when echoing round a Tibetan temple…) but also the vibrations that give you the chills.

Legend has it that the bowls can be used in secret rituals, with master lamas able to achieve out of body experiences through the power of their sound.

So it only surprises me that I haven’t noticed the existence of singing bowl therapy before, and that it hasn’t yet taken the Western world of alternative medicine by storm.

Singing bowls are also known as healing bowls, and have been used for more than 4,000 years in the Himalayan region. You can cook with them, make offerings in them, play them like musical instruments, and – most commonly – sound them at crucial points in Buddhist ceremonies.

They should be made using an alloy of seven metals, each of which represents one of the celestial bodies: gold for the sun, silver for the moon, mercury for the planet Mercury, tin for Jupiter, copper for Venus, iron for Mars and lead for Saturn. Any decorative inlay or engraving is a bonus.

Mind you, as a master craftsman has to hammer out each of these bowls by hand, and you need a reasonably large one for it to be any use, adding all these different metals into the mix means you wind up with something that is pretty expensive. The cheapest I could see at any of the shops around the Bodnath stupa cost US$140.

Using the bowls as therapy is a fascinating idea. Music definitely affects the mood and perhaps also the nervous system and body chemistry as practitioners suggest. Here, the vibrations of the bowl are supposed to stimulate the body to recreate its own harmonic frequency, and to help the brain produce the alpha waves it needs for deep relaxation. The sound affects not only the person who hears it, but also apparently clears the surrounding atmosphere of negative energy.

Trying it out was quite an experience. When the bowl is actually touching your body as it is struck, the vibrations go right through you, and whilst I did not enjoy this too much when the bowl was upside down on my head, it felt very good when it was placed on my aching back. Even when the bowl is simply held a few centimetres away then tipped back and forth or moved in a circle round you, the sound and frequency change in a startling way.

This was just a taster, as the nearby clinic for a proper treatment was fully booked. That, however, would have involved more than an hour of therapy, with up to seven bowls being used, some containing water. Prices start at around US$25, which is expensive for Nepal but ridiculously cheap when compared with a lot of alternative medical treatments in the West.

Regular singing bowl therapy is supposed to promote the energy balance, reduce stress, improve creativity and imagination, and generally harmonise body, spirit and soul to give a more positive self-image, all of which sound very tempting. I was sorry not to have been able to try this properly, and it will definitely be on my list the next time I am back.


Yak Milk Tea

Category : Food

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Rumour has is that yak milk is slightly pink in colour, but having seen a great deal of it recently, including yak milk cheese, butter and yoghurt, I have to say I did not find this to be the case. But pink or not, yak milk is certainly distinctive, with a sweet-sour taste (and smell) that is unmistakeable.

Along with yak meat, this is a staple part of the Tibetan diet, especially out in the countryside where little else is available. The cheese is dried into hard cubes to preserve it, the butter is stirred into tea for its all-important calorie content, and it is a precious offering to the monasteries where it is used as lamp oil or moulded into intricate decorations.

How to bring this home to share the flavour with family and friends? There is yak milk candy, available in ‘chocolate’ buttons or made into tooth-destroyingly hard ‘cookies’. And there is tea.

If you order tea in a Tibetan tea house, it is likely to come with salt stirred in, but you can also buy sachets of 3-in-1, that is with powdered milk and sugar ready mixed with the tea. You just add boiling water and stir…

I take tea black, so anything with milk and sugar is really not my thing, but having choked down any number of cups out of politeness whilst travelling across Tibet, I did make an effort to appreciate this. But it comes out as a pale beige colour, reminding me of Horlicks, which is enough to put anyone off in the first place. I confess I was not able to drink this, but as I know someone who likes 3-in-1 very much, the rest of the box has gone to a very good home.

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Yak Jerky

Category : Food

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Eating well is a bit of a problem in Tibet. Even in the cities – which in practise means just Lhasa and Shigatse – you either have to look hard or be ordering something recognisable in a smart hotel to end up with a meal memorable for the right reasons.

Out in the wilds, where if there is electricity it is only available for a couple of hours a day, refrigeration isn’t an option, cooking is done over yak dung fires, and a lot depends on bringing a large kettle to the boil. If you haven’t brought your own supplies, you will find the menu is restricted to noodle soup and egg fried rice. Every day, at every meal.

It isn’t reasonable to complain… life above 3,500m is hard, not much grows and both crops and livestock have to be very sturdy to survive. Gourmet local treats are not in evidence, and yak meat turns up in pretty nearly everything whether you have ordered it or not.

It mainly comes in 2 forms, either dried into small hard cubes, or sealed into foil pouches with enough liquid to retain a bit of softness. Either way is perfect for bringing home to share the experience with family and friends, even if they do end up feeding it to their boyfriend’s dog instead (daughter #1!).

To be honest, a bit of yak is not that bad. It looks like beef but tastes more like goat, especially the dried version which is fairly gamey. The wetter variety is a lot easier to chew but comes apart in unappealing fibres. Eating it fresh is obviously better, although you usually run the gauntlet of the yak meat stall just outside and that can be enough to put anyone off (see below…)

I am sad to confess that the nicest yak meat I tasted on my most recent trip to Tibet was the yak burger with all the trimmings at the Shangri-La Hotel in Lhasa, the night before we flew home. Hopefully I won’t have to eat any more for the foreseeable future.

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