How I Was Picked Up With No Pants On Hiking Through the Kingdom of the Daughters.
Now, I must write why I was in the Kingdom of the Daughters to begin with and what exactly that is.
When I write the Kingdom of the Daughters I am referring to quite possibly the last remnant of a matriarchal society on this baffling, wide-hipped Earth we call Mother, but is in fact, revolving around a staunched-shouldered Father prototype. But not in this society tucked away below the mountains of Southwest China. The women rule the roost, here; they govern the family, and they own all the property. The tribe is called the Mosuo and they live at the foothills of the Himalayas in Yunnan and Sichuan Province in the Southwestern corner of China. Why I had never heard of these people until I had come to China, I do not know. But it is an anthropologist's dalliance. The kind of thing you read in a copy of National Geographic Explorer waiting at the dentist's office and as you slip off to sleep on Novocaine strange visions come to your head and you wake with a filling and a crown and you think that such rumors of a matriarchal society were all a dream induced by the hypnotic 80's music playing as well as the Novocaine. But chomping at your new bit, the story is absolutely true...
However, perhaps, these people's most notable claim to a good camp, fireside story for jaw-dropped, adolescent Boy Scouts, is that traditionally, they do not have a system of marriage in their society. 'Walking marriages' is the term they use. And it is where a woman can choose whomever they sleep with for the night. These rumors fills one's hormonal vision with ever constant stars glancing down and twinkling down upon as lovers flit from bed to bed. A society of free love and amorous exchanges among friends and acquaintances as well as other villagers. Now, of course, this sounds just like a Western college. But imagine this being practiced by 70 year old elders. And you get the idea of what this could be.
The men are rumored to walk about without a care in the world, except to make themselves gallant and attractive, with their famous cowboy hats, so they'll be invited into a lady's home where they will climb in through the window, and pay homage to ladyhood in the best way men believe they know how to do. And when the dawn arrives and breaks its light through the wooden slits in the wall, they up and dash out the window again out into the glorious, rooster-cheered morning.
Of course, this is the ideal. But the reality is a bit different.
So why did I want to go there? No, not to be so naughty and to join in their rumored wool-blanketed trysts. But of course, I guess I would have a difficult turning down...some sweet, rosy-faced village girl drawing a circle on my hand. (Their way of selecting a mate for the night). I cannot lie and say that I do not like to explore a culture through and through. But I went because the idea sounded so fantastical and original that I had to go there for I see myself as a seeker of the fantastical and the sublime hidden in little pockets of this highly conventional globe. . And it was also something not too far away. Only a few days journey by bus or train. I went because when I was younger I wanted to be an anthropologist, because I have a heightened sense of curiosity for such matters, because I always, fool that I am, believe that there is some magical, mystical corner of the world that will entirely transform the way I see the world. And I went because I like the adventure of finding such places, and I also like a good story to tell.
But I will also admit that my mind has undergone a vast overhaul in regards to love. And that I was once, when in the era of our youth when our dreams are gold,...but I was a sickly romantic believing that the stars deem who will end up with whom, and the two souls should should flit together entwined as moths in rapture before a magnficent bulb that no one understands. But now, the shards of this romantic ideal lay in pieces on the ballroom floor where the heels of deceit and realism waltz to a random, luckless music, and I see this lost dream of two hearts melded into one heart as a impossible fantasy. No, perhaps, love can spread around and be not directed towards one person. So how would a society run on such a principle? I turned towards the Mosuo, a tribe of people who from time immemorial maybe held a different understanding. I knew that a short visit wouldn't answer anything, but my curiosity propelled me towards the foothills of the Himalayas in Yunnan one bright day in late January with confusion and questions locked with but pounding with an itch for romance and adventure as usual.
But Yunnan province is festering with tourists, mostly Chinese who feel more comfortable getting their exotic doses in their country rather than venturing out. But this, of course, doesn't diminish the exoticness for the tribes that live in Yunnan province, bring just as much flare as any far-off destination. But what this does, it makes the old cities of Lijiang and Dali thriving with tourism, as well as Lugu Lake, where the Mosuo reside.
These people live surrounding a lovely, blue lake called Lugu. This lake is their spiritual center as well as this particular mountain that rises up overlooking the lake like a mistress enchanted by her own reflection. And I refer to this mountain as a mistress, rightfully so, for the locals believe it to be a goddess. -A mountain goddess that is either the physical embodiment of the mountain itself or is a purely spiritual being that lives in the mountain. Probably both. But her name was Gemu, and we will get back to her.
And there was rumored to be a temple to this Goddess nestled somewhere behind this mountain and I definitely desired to see this perhaps just as much as any of the swinging marital shenanigans.
Now onto the very subject of this madcap story and why I was without my pants and how I was picked up in my boxer briefs on that fateful day.
The sky was a daring blue, and for those of you who glance up into the naked sky and feel the spectacular dash of a bright day, the blueness awakes some deep-seated desire to go on adventures and such was that day. The birds sing of adventure, and the wind rustling through the leaves speak of it as well, but on such days the sky is so fabulously blue, where you must put one foot in front of the other to go down some unexpected path to God knows where.
So I found myself in a touristy town on the bank of the lake wondering if this was all that was in store for me, hostels and inns owned by Han Chinese, not Mosuo. All the vans packed with tourists from all the many provinces of this vast, great nation. All of them snapping photos with their Ipads with also strange tales of unchained affections whispering about their ears. And to be honest, I wanted to leave it all, the fire dance I saw the night before was a spectacular concoction of fun and frolic, but it lacked the vitality and authenticity that I longed for, when you stop to pause and consider that it was only put on for us wandering spectators.
So slinging my backpack off at an inn where I'd gotten a room, I began to climb, up and up, following the road as it zig-zagged away behind the mountains. I could see the famous little island that has all the shacks on it that is on any calendar involving Yunnan province for that quaint, little hamlet was where I was staying. But I kid you not, all those little huts in that postcardish picture are expensive hotels designing to part a Chinese tourist from his/her RMB.
And I was following this road around trying to get further and further from that postcard setting while tour vans would dart by. But a serious problem arose and every step I could feel it. The inside of my thighs were burning. No, not in the symbolic fashion. The inside seam of my jeans were scraping against the inside of my legs, what felt like it was scorching its way to the bone. A dilemma formed between my legs. Again, not THAT kind of dilemma. I wanted to hike. My heart was “Come on. Let's get over this hill. Just over this hill.” But my poor legs screamed, “No! Stop! I will have no skin left!” So I thought to negotiate between the two of them. “The next time I round a bend away from civilization into sweet Nature, I will take my pants off.” my mind said. And I was content with this plan.
And perhaps because my legs were in such pain, and I kept seeing vehicle after vehicle on this winding road with tourists piled in the seats of them, my eyes caught a glimpse of the smallest of what we would call deer paths back home in Alabama, that winded up far above the paved road and rose above the hill into the forest. “That shall be my path” I resolved. And trod up the steep hillside tracking my way through the wilderness even to the point of looking out for footprints so that I could see where the trail was. I climbed higher and higher as the lake plummeted below grew more and more majestic in its dazzling blueness. The great mountain and goddess Gemu sat to my right watching my antics calm and serene like an angel of solitude. My heart and breath shook but my legs still hurt.
When I reached the summit of the hill, the wind was heavy and the sunbeams of the day even heavier. But across the horizon on the other side stood little huts, -A village. A true Mosuo village. And off behind that where the haze of the horizon melted into the unknown, towered mountains that rapt the scene in solemn grandeur.
Alongside this vision of delight, knocked my beggarly pain of my legs. And so I paid homage to this dazzling display of sunlight and mountain sublimity, by taking my pants on off on the trail. No, I was not naked. Nope, I was not so bold OR weird. Besides, it was only the lower part of the seam of my pants that was rubbing and chaffing my skin. So I stood ontop of the hill in my boxer shorts the wind rustling about the tops of trees and my now, relieved and cooled-down thighs.
You must understand that only a few days previously, I had hiked much of Tiger Leaping Gorge, which is an impressive ravine in the area, that is recommended as one of the top hiking spots in China, not to mention, the world. Where picturesque mountains collide and the Yangtze River foaming below and a few rice terraces perched on the slopes of these mountains, the very start of the Himalayas. I had worn two pairs of pants on this excursion. A pair of jeans to keep warm, and a pair of slacks underneath the jeans to augment the early chaffing. And now, up around Lake Lugu, I had no pants on. And my legs felt remarkable cold but yet free. I took the pants off where the outlying village seemed to dump some of their trash. There I was stepping among the rubbish, desirous of making it to the hamlet and exploring it. I had to walk across a field before I got to the first house.
So somewhere, about the time I could hear the farm chickens squawking, I had put my pants back on, realizing how strange it would be not only being some random blond foreigner emerging out of the woods, but one with no pants on as well. That would be the talk of the town. My white thighs blinding everybody as I hiked across the field, so I eventually slipped my pants back on.
Walking about the village, I got a lot of stares. But I soon realized that I had not departed from the tourist scene on the other side of the hill. For there was a guesthouse or two, that were actually occupied. I began to look for a place to have lunch. I even got some food from one of these. A Han Chinese man, I think some kind of tour guide leader, was rude to me. Saying and barking at me that I should be on the other side of the hill where all the tourists were; I told him the same thing. What right does he have to be back here as well? He's not a local. I just wanted to refill my water bottle and get something to eat.
One of the locals at this guesthouse gave me a snack and told me that I didn't have to pay. I felt like a beggar. And soon as I had eaten, I left this little hamlet wanting to keeping hiking even further back behind the mountain. So I continued on.
Finding another little footpath, and hiking over another little wooded hill, I finally got what I wanted....a scene of an imposing solitude. I felt like I had left the tourist vans behind. And so, of course, I slipped my pants off again for the pain was intensifying all during my exploration of the 1st village.
And as I sauntered over this next hill, what I saw before me was like something out of a fantasy novel. A large mansion stretched itself out in utter serenity, a small lake was before it. It looked to be a house that was from another time and place. But I couldn't really tell. A fairy tale or an age dreamed about but almost forgotten. I felt like Bilbo walking out of the wilderness approaching Beorn's house. It appeared to be all alone with the Gemu Mountain towering above it.
I had the fanciful urge to knock on the massive doors of this mysterious mansion sitting in one of the most mysterious regions in the world, in yes, nothing but my boxer briefs. I am sure that the owner would be some eccentric millionaire with a brooding past, and the two of us would hit it off well together. But no one seemed home, and even in strange lands such as these, knocking on the doors of strangers without one's pants on, is probably not polite manners, and could very well start some type of conflict.
So I skirted the shore of the lake taking the scenery all in. Still Gemu Mountain eclipsed us all, myself, the smaller lake, the out-of-place mansion, forest, all. There was this dirt road stretched behind and beyond the mansion, I first saw a motorcycle and then a car zip down it. Civilization. So I decided to slip my pants back on.
“Where is that temple? I know that is back here somewhere.” my mind wandered, I had all afternoon to find it, but I didn't want to be stuck out here at night, but I had this desire to make it to this obscure temple of the dignified mountain goddess.
I followed the dusty road around, another even smaller lake. A small house next to it, eventually the road swerved around til there was no one about. Again the pain in my legs, and again I dropped my pants and slung them over my shoulder as I walked. I came upon a dazzling scene, the road hugged the very side of the massive goddess mountain, and the I could see for miles around. This is the Mosuo that few foreigners see. A few villages were scattered in a vast plain, the smoke from their hearths curling up into the beyond where the distant mountains blended into the skies.
But a problem arose. I couldn't find my hotel key. In every pocket of my pants, my cash, my bank card, my camera, etc...I could find. But not my hotel card key. It was a minor blip. It could've been worse. It could have been one of the more important things. But I had paid a deposit for the key, and now the possibility lay in the fact that this card could have slipped out when I was taking my pants off and back on again and again. So maybe retracing my steps to find where those exact places were, was the best option.
I turned around and was heading back in the direction I had come hoping that I had just left the key card in my hotel room, when an awkward situation arose. It was near the strange mansion, a jeep was driving, a trail of dust in its wake, I was walking and of course, with no pants on. What to do? What else could I do? Just pretend like everything was normal and maybe walk a little ways from the road.
But the vehicle slowed down
Here, I had to make a decision and I seized on the one that pointed towards my heart's desire, adventure and intrigue....
I spoke, “ I am looking for the Temple of Gemu.”
“Get in.” she said, “I can take you there.”
And I got in carrying my trousers, my pale white legs in the passenger seat.
And that's how I ended up being picked up with no pants on hiking in the Kingdom of the Daughters. What happened from there and the rest I shall detail later...stay tuned....