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Monk Chants

Recorded on August 20, 1995, at the Rinchenpung Monastery. Symbolically Vajrayogini’s naval, the gompa houses a statue of Rang Rig Gyapo - the king of self-awareness and the wrathful emanation of Padmasambhava. The monk chants are an invocation to this meditation deity to protect all sentient beings from the consequences of their own misguided behavior.

103 gillenwaterThe “Paradise” of Beyul Pemako (The Hidden Land of the Blossoming Lotus) 

It can be heaven or it can be hell…

Either way, be prepared to lose 25 pounds and be under constant siege of blood sucking leeches.

Well, the countdown is on…. I leave on January 2nd to escape to my generously donated beach cottage on Whidbey Island to begin my book. Over the last few months I have been busy gathering notes, digitizing slides and phone conversations, and reading the wealth of information that has been written on the “Hidden Lands of the Blossoming Lotus” and its exploration since our trips in 1994, 1995 & 1997. In fact, the “Gillenwater Brothers” and our expeditions are discussed in each of the nine subsequent books listed below.

I find it interesting that each book has its own agenda and many times, self-serving claims. I’m starting to understand that this is the nature of exploration and its concomitant rewards. And it is the grasping nature of the human mind - a flaw endlessly addressed in the Tibetan Buddhist teachings. What an odd paradox for this most sacred landscape!

On the other hand, on our journeys we weren’t seeking fame or financial gain or a place to conquer. We had only one agenda. As one of the most spiritual and last unexplored places on the planet, our expeditions were motivated by a life-long interest in Tibetan Buddhism and a lust for the adventure and magic of the natural world. And I believe it was traveling with this intention that compelled the “Hidden Lands” to uniquely reveal themselves to us.

After 20 years it’s our turn to tell our story.

And what a story it is!


Earth’s Mystical Grand Canyons
Richard D. Fisher – 1995

The Last River: The Tragic Race for Shangri-la
Todd Balf – 2000

Courting the Diamond Sow: A Whitewater Expedition on Tibet’s Forbidden River
Wickliffe W. Walker – 2000

Frank Kingdon Ward’s Riddle of The Tsangpo Gorges: Retracing the Epic Journey of 1924-25
Edited by Kenneth Cox – 2001

The Siege of Shangri~La: The Quest for Tibet’s Legendary Hidden Paradise
Michael McRae – 2002

Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet's Tsangpo River
Peter Heller – 2004

The Heart of the World: A Journey to Tibet's Lost Paradise
Ian Baker – 2006

Last Seen in Lhasa: The story of an extraordinary friendship in modern Tibet
Claire Scobie – 2006

Tibet Wild: A Naturalist’s Journeys to the Roof of the World
George B. Schaller – 2012

In addition to many articles, the following books and films provide updated information on the area.

Namche Barwa Grand Canyon: Revealing the Secrets of a Green Canyon
Sichuan Fine Arts Publishing House – 1998

Secrets of the Tsangpo Gorge - A National Geographic Special for National Geographic TV
(Film) Bryan Harvey, Producer – 1999

Into the Tsangpo Gorge: The epic first descent of the Everest of rivers…
(Film) Outside Television – 2002

The Yarlung Tsangpo Great Canyon: The Last Secret World
Zhang Jimin - 2006

Water: Asia's New Battleground
Brahma Chellaney – 2013


107 gillenwater

"Spirit reveals itself to those with a higher purpose."

Oh how I would love to be an atheist!

But I can’t.

My life experiences dictate an ever-present energy that can be harnessed – a divine guidance of coincidence if you will. As a lifelong student of Tibetan meditation master, Chögyam Trungpa* (I am not a Buddhist), and a lover of the outdoors, I learned that there is a natural strength or force that can be intentionally invoked. Trungpa referred to this as the “Dralas”. (Drala in Tibetan quite literally means Dra = enemy, la = above. So Drala means above the enemy or beyond aggression, beyond obstacle.)

*On our 1995 expedition, Troy, Todd and I followed Trungpa’s arduous 1959 escape route from Tibet to India over the Doshung-La Pass.

According to Trungpa, Drala is a quality of “vividness” where our phenomenal world actually comes alive to speak to us. This is the “living” quality of the natural world.

Drala is non-dualistic. It will not appear when we operate under the delusion of a separate self. We experience it only when we realize that we do not exist independently – that we are living beings in a living and interdependent world.

The practice of meditation draws Drala into our lives. Service to others invites Drala into our lives. Courage attracts Drala into our lives. (Hence the idea of a Rancho Feliz “Guardian Warrior” http://www.ranchofeliz.com/.) Any activity we undertake that subordinates the individual ego to the good of the communal ego invokes Drala into our personal situations.

As part of my meditation training, many years ago I attended a Shambhala Naming Ceremony in Boulder, Colorado. The ceremony was conducted by Chögyam Trungpa’s eldest son and current lineage holder Sawang Ösel Rangdröl Mukpo (Trungpa died in 1987). Not knowing me, and amongst the hundred or so other participants, the Shambhala name he bestowed upon me was “Drala Warrior”. I found this strangely interesting. As defined:

Drala: The ever present quality of “magic” in all things. Energy beyond dualism (aggression). The unconditional wisdom and power of the natural world.
Warrior: One who, in every moment, is brave, fearless and without deception in generating warmth and compassion for others. One who, through personal discipline, has attained freedom of not being afraid of who he is.

This is a tall order – one I work on daily.

This calling upon the “magic” of the natural world will be a recurring theme in my book. And let me start with this example. As you may know, I was looking for a solitary place, a long way away, in a cold climate, on a beach, where I could stay for four months and concentrate exclusively on chronicling my Tibet adventures. Four days ago a friend emailed me that he and his wife had a beach house on an island, in a cold climate, on the ocean and they would appreciate my housesitting it for four months. I leave on January 2, 2017.

Drala truly is the “Commander of Coincidence”.


Post Note: I’m a left-brained guy – a real pragmatist. I recoil at the philosophical platitudes so bantered around these days: “Just live in the moment, Everything is energy”, blah, blah, blah and so on ad nauseam. Yet what you will read on this Blog and in my book actually happened. These were our experiences – backed by photographs, journal entries and recordings. I can’t begin to explain them other than in the context of the Dralas I describe above. Though grounded in Buddhism, the lessons I learned and will convey in my book are not esoteric gobbledygook. They are practical realities that can be implemented in our own lives to help each of us on our individual journeys.

Lastly: If you enjoy this Blog please share it.

“Gil…. You have to write a book!”

I have been told this countless times.

“Oh I will…. Someday when I have time.”

Over the years this has been my patent response.

Having recently returned from a 1,200-mile bicycle ride across Namibia and South Africa (where I spent 8 – 9 hours a day pedaling), I had plenty of time to think.

I came to the conclusion that writing a book is like extended travel, if you wait until you have enough time and enough money it will never happen.

So here I go.


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