In April 2013, I went to Nepal on a 'healing exchange’ with Acupuncturists Without Borders. We went for several reasons, one of which was to train Nepali Acupuncture Society members in our community style of acupuncture, which includes a 5 point protocol for each ear to treat trauma and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).The protocol is called “NADA” (National Acupuncture Detox Association). During our time there the Nepali acupuncturists said it was not a matter of “if » but “when » they were to get a really big earthquake. They were right, of course, and my hope is, that after the earthquake this past April, our protocols have been useful.
One of the highlights of our journey was a pilgrimage, via horseback, to a remote area of Nepal, near Tibet, called Upper Mustang, formerly known as the Kingdom of Lo, which was an ancient trade route between Nepal, Tibet (and India for salt amongst other things). Our destination, Lo Manthang (the walled capital of Lo), was the site of a well-known Buddhist festival called the Tiji Festival, also known as “The Chasing of the Demons”. Tiji Festival is a spring renewal festival that celebrates the triumph of good over evil. What follows here are my reflections of the fascinating journey and the remarkable people and animals that brought us there.
The Journey Begins
Our journey to Lo began with us arriving by a small propeller plane to a village called Jomso
m, high in the Annapurna mountain range. We were met by 25 ‘horses' colorfully decorated with beautiful ‘saddles’ made of woven carpet and colorful ribbons braided into their manes and tails. I was surprised to see 25 ponies looking at me, but I was assured that these ‘horses’ were well able for what we were to experience. We were paired up with our steeds and headed out in a long line of 17 acupuncturists, Thomas Kelly and his wife, Carroll Dunham (both were our guides, interpreters and friends), 40 sherpa, 5 horsemen, 35 pack mules and horses. The trip to Lo followed Kali Gandaki River, which forms the deepest ravine in the world. Several times having to cross the river on horseback with some of the rockiest terrain I have ever seen! And the horses marched on, often nose to tail.
As we traveled the sound of horse hooves the tinkling of the bells around their necks started to sound like a mantra. We would hear that sound for 6 days, winding up through villages, treating locals to NADA, stopping along the way for lunch or to camp by a river for the night. The horses very much stayed together, and occasionally, when we were stopped somewhere and not paying attention, one would start to meander towards the trail and the others would slowly follow, with a sharp-eyed sherpa running around to the front to stop them and shoo them back. Sometimes they would hobble the lead wanderer and everyone else would stay put
I gained a great deal of respect for these horses. The footing was beyond anything I had seen in America, sometimes huge rocks rounded by the riverbed, sometimes sharp shards of rock, often steep grades climbing up the side of mountains. These animals were the toughest horses I had ever met! They were small but mighty, carrying us, our gear, cooking supplies, food, and luggage.
At night the horses were usually put in a stone enclosure if there was one, or again hobbled. There was little grass as this area was high desert. They got grain twice a day with a feed bag to ensure that all got their allotted amount and of course waterSome of the horses were shod in front only and many were not shod at all as rocks could easily get stuck in the shoes. Their
feet were tough and often misshapen. Their coats rough and dirty, yet they were beautifully decorated with matching carpeted saddle pad and saddle and ribbons The occasional horse would get a rubdown from their owner at the end of the day, but often they were untacked and let go to mingle with their friends. These were work horses, they did their job and were not a little bit used to treats or any of the niceties that the horses I know are used to. When we left Jomsom I had bought some dried apples and along the trail tried to share some with several of the horses. None of them had any idea I was trying to feed them and not one of them wanted apple!
The People Get to Work
Knowing that I was a therapist for horses, many of the other acupuncturists I traveled with were anxious to see how I work on the horses, so when we arrived at Lo Manthang, the local Amchi (Doctor of Tibetan medicine) offered his horse for my demonstration. As I had mentioned before, these horses were workhorses and not pets, so when I went to approach this horse he was very unsure as to what I was going to do with him. I’m sure he didn't expect massage and a loving touch as he looked at me with caution, ears twitching forward and back.
I gently ran my hands over his body to let him know I would be working those areas and that I was no threat; also I was trying to see if there were any places he was particularly sensitive to or cautious of. He moved away from me several times, head held high and giving me a wary eye with an occasional snort, but as I continued working on him asking him to turn his head to me as I worked his shoulders and neck he began to relax, his eyes softened and he dropped his head. At this point I knew I had him and continued the demo going over his whole body looking for sore places and massaging them. He allowed me to pick up his feet and stretch his legs as his head dropped further down. At the end of my assessment and massage I chose my points and gently inserted several acupuncture needles into specific points to balance the areas that I had found while working on him. He closed his eyes in the warm sun and rested a hind leg as he settled into a slumber. When his treatment was over he nuzzled me as I walked by him. The veil of trust had been lifted.
Many of the horses I met while in Nepal were from Mongolian heritage. Their lives were intermingled with the lives of the people who lived in Mustang. They were commodities, linking their owners with a higher social status. They had been used for centuries for travel and trade, commerce and farming and were seen as synonymous with power, strength and insight. Our trip to Nepal with NADA was one of the most rewarding and eye-opening experiences of my life. I hope one day to return to visit these remarkable people and their animals.
To find out more about horses and their relationship to Nepal and her people please read: Horses Like Lightning: A Story of Passage Through the Himalayas by Sienna Craig.
Linda Umla is a licensed acupuncturist, licensed massage therapist, and energy worker (polarity practitioner). She has worked in the horse industry for nearly 40 years, and her clients include Olympic athletes and members of both FEI and USEF disciplines. As a volunteer with Acupuncturists Without Borders, Ms. Umla trains acupuncturists around the country and travels worldwide to aid in the Healing Exchange. Her goal is to help those in need of relief, balance, and support in their lives. She can be reached at Umlatherapy@aol.com
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