JOURNEY INTO TIBET with Robert Thurman

For the twentieth anniversary of our trip to Mt. Kailash, I’ve gone through the film and added subtitles — trimmed some of the longer scenes, and tried to let the audience experience directly what it was like to take a trip to Geographic Expeditions, go to Lhasa and travel with Robert Thurman across Tibet. (For more info: THUS.ORG)

This film exists because I was making a Bollywood movie in Mumbai (My Bollywood Bride) when I got a email from Robert Thurman inviting me to join their trip around Tibet and Mt Kailash. I left the hot sound stages of Juhi and found myself in Katmandu, then in Lhasa.

From there we visit the Jokhang temple, take a trip to Sera, Drepung and the Nechung Monasteries, then to Samye monastery, then off to Shigatse and Tashi Lumpo monastery, then to Gyantse and the Kumbum… from there it’s a trip to Darchen, and then to a kora around Mt. Kailash, a visit with a saddhu Bikash Giri who lives in a cave overlooking Lake Manasarovar.

This is two hours of a four week trip, funded by Geographic Expeditions out of San Francisco, and created for Menla, Tibet House in NYC. Robert Thurman is a former Tibetan Buddhist monk who became a professor at Columbia University, is the emeritus chair of the Jey Tsong Khapa studies at Columbia, and its the best person to travel to any Buddhist shrines in Asia to hear the history of the place.

For this 20th anniversary I focused on listening to every word that I could translate, and some that I may have erred in translating. But I can tell you that watching this film, which takes us deep into the heart of Tibet, has an overall affect on the viewer that is mind bending.

For those who are interested in the subject, Tibet House in NY is the place to donate any money or to find further information.
I can’t thank Nena and Robert Thurman enough for allowing me to bring a camera on this trip — there are more clips online of Robert giving meditations in Tibet — you can find them on this page, or searching for them online.

We decided to offer this film for free to the audience — mainly because of how difficult it is for people to travel to Tibet, how difficult it is to go there, or travel in this fashion. For some this will be too esoteric, because Robert knows the names and identities of all the statues that we see — but I don’t think one needs to know who they are in order to experience a benefit from seeing them. Artists created these over the past thousand years, and in the case of the Jokhang a statue that was begun or created in the lifetime of Buddha, and has been destroyed and rebuilt over the centuries. It still is an object of great veneration.

There’s something pure about Tibet that can never be diluted, never be taken away — for centuries it was a place where people used a philosophy of the mind to study the mind, to examine the nature of reality. While Tibet continues to struggle, this is not a film that talks about the country’s current struggles. There are many others who can discuss that.
In one instance, I was filming Robert in Shigatse, and he goes into be blessed by a monk who puts a large stick on his back, and one of those monks came up and whispered in my ear “Thank you for not forgetting us.”

That is why I made this film — and why it is free to the public to view. So we remember these people, the country that they are from, the history and monasteries that were built to honor a profound philosophy of insight into the human condition, where people have fought and died for their right to speak freely about their philosophy.

That’s something that’s worth showing to the planet. If one only watches and listens, there will be a benefit.

In terms of my own story it was on Mt. Kailash, at the North Face where Robert told us “if you make a wish here it will come true.” I planned to ask for money, but out of my mouth came “I want a son.” I had no connection to the sentence. Then two years later, I asked my son if he knew me “from before.” He said “Yes” and I asked from where?” and he said “Tibet.”

Later, he picked up Robert Thurman’s book “Circling the Sacred Mountain” when he was 4, showed it to his mom and said “this is the important book.” He opened it up to a photo of the spot where I made the wish and said “This is where I found daddy.” (He couldn’t read or write at the time.)

Mt. Kailash is a sacred place for four major religions — the Buddhists, the Jain, the Hindus and the Bon all consider it the “center of the universe.” So here’s a way to visit this sacred mountain, without risking one’s life. I offer this gift to the planet, courtesy of my friend Robert Thurman, from Sanjay Saxena who helped lead the tour, Brent Olson, from Josh Davidow who edited the film, (later made his own films with Robert in Nepal) from all those tour operators from Geographic Expeditions who allowed me to film in return for a copy of the footage for promotional material.

To all the people we met in Tibet who opened their hearts to us. Thanks. Taishe Delek. (apologies for typos in the subtitles — “lightning beings” should be “enlightened beings” “sorry” should be “worry” etc will fix for the next edition)


Searching for Amelia Earhart's Plane

Amelia Earhart’s plane

If I had a nickel for every Tom Dick and Harriet who trooped out a blurry, fuzzy photo that shows absolutely not her Electra, I’d be… well, what’s the point?

If somehow someone shoved her plane off Aslito airfield where it was taken by the Japanese who arrested her… if they somehow shoved that in 1944 into the ocean — that would be news.

However, over a dozen US Marines saw her plane, guarded her plane, found her briefcase, found her grave (a partial grave, her body had been moved, they only found an arm and a ribcage). I’ve been to Saipan where 200 eyewitnesses report seeing her, washing her clothes, tending to her wounds, seeing her incarcerated, the dozen GI’s who found the Electra in a hangar, her briefcase, passport, the GI’s who watched as the plane was doused with gas and burned — on the field.

I even have a copy of a coded message asking “what’s that big fire on the runway?” the day it was torched. It’s silly, and after knowing where the heck she is buried, and where the plane is buried, funny. If people want to hear eyewitness reports, they can.

If someone wants to sponsor a trip to dig up the frame (that doesn’t change over time) I can help them, if someone wants to take a trip to Saipan and dig up the rest of her bones — where I’ve been told multiple times where they are — we can.

In the meantime, read about another fella who got sucked into the “she’s buried at sea” rubric — completely disregarding the human eyewitnesses — the “islanders” they cannot believe who saw her land the Electra on Mili atoll, who saw her arrested, taken to Majuro, then Jaluit then Garapan, who tended to her wounds, who have reported these things on camera — not sure why people convince themselves of something that isn’t supported by the reports, is it mysogyny? Misanthropy? Xenophobia? No clue.

But here we go — yet another fella who will produce zero evidence.

Let’s recap shall we?

This is what the data, the research and the eyewitness reports show. (After 35 years of research, interviews and footage).

1. She didn’t make Howland so she turned to land at Gardner Island. She was already 200 Miles NW of Howland when she turned — which was an error she had done in Dakkar and Burbank. She was off course, and her straight line took her to another island.

2. She went straight for Mili Atoll and was able to land the Electra on its then mile long exposed atoll. (Now mostly covered in water).

3. EYEWITNESSES saw her land. Dick Spink, who makes boats, has traveled extensively in the region -interviewed the family of two fishermen who saw the plane land. They fished in that region daily, they saw the plane land on their atoll.

4. She lost her brake assembly as it landed. Pieces of it were retrieved by Dick Spink, taken to an NTSB investigator Jim Hayton (Seattle) who confirmed “beyond a shadow of doubt” that it came from her plane. He happens to have the identical Electra brake assembly — only used on her plane.

5. The Japanese came to the atoll and arrested her. The arrest was witnessed by islanders including the “Queen of Mili atoll” who was later interviewed by an Australian author who wrote a book in the 1980’s. Others interviewed her, heard the same story.

6. Amelia and Fred (badly wounded) were taken first to Majuro. A stevedore who later worked on Majuro with US Navy Andrew Bryce — (pictured on this page) told him that he helped the Japanese drag her plane across Mili to the lagoon, then put it on a Japanese barge. The tools used to drag it (small rail cars) were found by Dick Spink and others in a recent trip to the island.

6. She and the plane and Fred were put aboard the Kyoshu, taken to Jaluit. In Jaluit she and the plane were seen by local islanders, included a young boy who later became a congressman in those islands. Bilimon Amaron was a local medic who was ordered to tend to Amelia and Fred’s wounds. His testimony is on camera (filmed by Mike Harris) and other researchers in the 80’s. Mike and I interviewed his business partner who knew Bilimon well over decades of their working together 10 years ago. He vouches for his testimony, as he puts it “Honest beyond reproach, we all knew that if said he had done that, he had. It wasn’t a secret.”

7. She and Fred were flown by seaplane to Saipan. The plane was taken to Saipan by ship. The Electra was stored on Aslito field where dozens of local people saw it, both in its hangar and out of it. I’ve interviewed or collected interviews with 12 US Marines who saw it while they were fighting the battle for Saipan.

8. Fred was reportedly executed for “being the spy.” They had two aerial Fairchild cameras on board, placed there while the plane was refurbished by the US Navy in Burbank. (The Navy mechanic who installed them is on record). Fred was executed early on for “being the spy” — and Amelia kept as a “bargaining chip” they never used.

9. Saipan was part of the Japanese nation since 1914. They considered Saipan “homeland” and their Naval headquarters was based there. There was also a prison, one of 19 in the Japanese records from 1930’s to the end of the war. I’ve been to the library in Tokyo where they have all the known volumes of names and dates from all of their prisons and prisoners. Detailed, well kept records. When asked why the only volume missing was from Saipan, the librarian told me “these are the volumes that were returned from the US after the war.” Only one was missing; the prison in Saipan.

10. Mike Harris and I filmed interviews with 5 US veterans who were on Saipan or knew about her presence there. One found her briefcase and passport in a safe. Another saw the same briefcase, and was the one who decoded the message “We have found Earhart’s plane on Aslito airfield” in July of 44.

(Why people pretend like they don’t know what they’re talking about, when they repeat the same exact story is beyond me. In Saipan, there were 200 islanders who reported seeing her there, in a recent trip there, fifteen new eyewitnesses came forward.)

11. New eyewitnesses include a man whose mother tended to her in the hospital, who warned him not to tell anyone as the Japanese executed “spies.” Two 80 year olds who both saw her paraded around the island on the back of the truck. There were three Americans on the truck. (Fred had already been executed.) The other two were US pilots who were shot down prior to the US landing on Saipan, who were doing reconnaissance. Both of those pilots were executed, one shot, the other beheaded (and was the source of other reports of AE being shot or beheaded, as islanders knew about Americans who that happened to.) Those two pilots were part of an official military inquest after the war — their bodies were recovered to see if they had been the victims of torture (they were not.)

12. Amelia died of dysentery not long after being seen by these two islanders. (Both spoke of the same day, how she had been parked in front of their school for half an hour, neither had spoken about it until I interviewed them). As one man said “I was 12 years old. She was the first “caucasian” women I had ever seen, and she was wearing men’s clothing, her hands tied behind her back. It’s not something you would ever forget.” That was in May of 1944. (7 years after she arrived in Saipan).

13. She died of dysentery. Her body was buried along with Noonan’s. Later, two GI’s Hansen and Burke reported to CBS correspondent in the 1960’s that they were ordered to dig them up. Later in an interview in the 1970’s (Chicago Tribune, UPI) they said “they had only found an arm and a partial ribcage.”

14. Her body was moved, reportedly by the islanders who had cared for her, who didn’t feel she got a proper Christian burial. That’s why Hansen and Burke only found an arm and a partial ribcage.

15. The rest of her is still on Saipan. I have a pretty good idea of that location based on a number of factors; the Electra was burned (witnessed by multiple GI’s) and buried at the end of the runway (along with all the other crashed planes and detritus from the war). The end of the runway still exists. (The new airport was built in another direction)

However, the NTSB investigator tells me that the steel structure of her plane would be intact, and as it was a unique size, and could be identified by proper ground penetrating radar.

That’s what happened.

Why it hasn’t been told, is beyond my ability to comprehend. It wasn’t that hard to find or figure out — and I am a filmmaker who has spent years looking at a number of other unusual topics. I’ve written and or directed 8 theatrical features, and have worked on others. I worked on the film “Amelia” as a historian (digital media curator of all the footage, books, and details of her life) as well as a reference in the Diane Keaton version.

At some point, because of the vitriol involved with the people who are most adamant about their search for her, I put together a documentary with the footage I’d shot, and let the concept go.

Yes, I know that if I went to Saipan I’d know where to find the plane, and I have a pretty good idea of where she’s buried — a place no one has looked before.

But that would require an Herculean effort. This guy spent 11 million looking for her in a place she never was. I’m sorry to report it, but frankly, am posting this because it’s tiresome to repeat the same story. It hasn’t changed.

One day I will write my own book about my journey to this knowledge — because I’m not interested in proving anything to anyone. Some people cling to their beliefs because it is what keeps them on the planet. In my case, I appreciate the arguments, but having had numerous conversations with Amelia about her journey — with the help of mediums who work with law enforcement agencies nationwide, so I know how effective they can be — her story has never been told.

People focus on the wrong things.

She landed the plane. Amazing achievement.

She was the first POW of a war that didn’t begin for another 4 years.

She was asked to take spy cameras aboard her plane and chafed at the idea. “Imagine me being a spy?” is a comment overheard, much debated, but part of the record of her story. Indeed. Imagine.

Even so, it was Fred who was executed for being the spy — because he was the man. AE survived another 7 years in a difficult place to be in. But she exists today on the flipside, is available to anyone who really wants to know what happened.

She’s funny, witty, and still has much to teach people on the planet. That’s not my opinion, theory or belief — it’s just what the footage, numerous interviews show.

And that didn’t cost 11 million to report.

She deserves a proper credit in history as to who she really was. It’s about time someone really told her story.


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