The East Himalayas
I had the good fortune to visit Nepal and Bhutan during 3-10 September 2005. The weather was balmy, the people were friendly (especially the souvenir hawkers!), and the scenery was incredibly colorful and often breathtaking. I was part of a delegation organized by the Thai Foreign Ministry for a project called "Getting to Know the New BIMSTEC Members" (BIMSTEC, of course, stands for the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation). My traveling companions included leading luminaries of the Thai artistic, cultural and creative communities, such as National Artist in Literature Naovarat Pongpaiboon, water color painter Suchart Vongthong, writer-photographer Teeraparb Lohitkun, photojournalist Duangdao Suwannarangsi, archaelogist Smitthi Siribhadra, classical dance guru Supachai Chansuwan, musicologist Anant Narkkong, Bangkok Post columnist Sanitsuda Ekachai, comparative religion expert Tavivat Puntarigvivat and journalism professor Anucha Thirakanont.
I think we were all sufficiently inspired by what we saw during the trip to produce works in the areas where we were most proficient. Ajarn Naovarat wrote poems, Ajarn Suchart painted, our photojournalists snapped away. The works were all used for seminars, one in each country, where we shared with our hosts some of Thailand's cultural ways and also our impressions of their beautiful countries.
Now, when it came time to present Ajarn Naovarat's poems, we needed some way to convey to our foreign hosts at least what was being said in the poems, to show them at least that it was not a Thai version of Jabberwocky. So it fell to me to do the translation. My first effort was so well-received by the other members of the delegation (who were probably relieved that the job didn't fall to them!), that I was also asked to translate the other poems he wrote on the trip. So, for your delectation, here are some of the translations (the originals will be published along with the translations in a book due out later this year).
Intricate patterns graven in wooden frames,
Carved images of Rama and Lakshman, protectors of their times,
With Sita in her radiant beauty
And Hanuman the brave and cunning warrior.
I contemplate the images and patterns around the courtyard,
The graceful swan-like stupas and wooden pavilions
In layered tiers tapering skyward
Where resides the holy kumari
Reside the gods, resides spirituality, resides the heart,
Resides faith in every place,
As well as truth, beauty and virtue,
Their holiness a sacred blessing to our lives.
The wooden roofs synonymous with Katmandu,
Carved with elaborate and inventive designs
As if conjured by the gods themselves,
Paragons of the resplendent and divine as the heart of the city.
(Translation of a Thai poem composed by Naovarat Pongpaiboon, 3 September 2005)
Flowing, meandering, cutting through craggy cliffs
Is the Paro river’s coursing vein,
Nurturing this land of mountain and forest,
Feeding farms and orchards in the sloping terrain.
Pockets of farmhouses line the trail,
Their carved windows beneath high awnings,
Nestled amid myriad layers of misty mountains
That seem to beckon and invite exploring.
On flows the stream over pebbles and rocks,
Rushing rapids bursting, gushing forth,
As though waters pouring from the heavens,
Foaming, frothing from the sky down to earth.
This land beyond the skies of Himabana Forest,
This endless expanse of the universe,
This land of peace and calm eternal
Is Bhutan, the mountain paradise.
(Translation of a Thai poem composed by Naovarat Pongpaiboon, 5 September 2005)