Tibet Pilgrimmage: part 2
Life on the road was a combination of extreme discomfort and priceless moments with the landscape and the nomadic people we encountered along the way. Each night we stopped near very remote small settlements and the curious locals would always come to see who was passing through their area. A few times Clark made balloon animals and hats for some nomads while Ann and our colleague gave free acupuncture treatments.
After 5 uncomfortable days of travel on the Tibetan plateu, we finally arrived at mount Kailash in western Tibet. The mountain is a massive monolith, surrounded by barren valleys. We arrived at the base of the mountain in beautiful weather. Our plan was to rest one night in Darchen, the small town near the mountain’s base. It would allow our guide to hire a couple of sherpas and get the proper supplies. Unfortunately, our friend became very ill with a gastrointestinal problem so we were forced to postpone our trek until he felt better. After a couple of nights and some antibiotics, he was well enough to hike. He was still very weak so our pace was slow. The trek is above the tree line so there are no plants or animals. There is an eerie silence that permeates the landscape. The stillness allows you to be with your thoughts without a lot of outside disturbances.
The air was very thin, and we all felt the need to focus on our breathing as we walked. The hike itself is relatively flat, but the combination of altitude and rocky, uneven terrain makes the hike challenging. We rested the first night in a small shack on the north face of the mountain. This place offered unbelievable views of the sacred mountain.
Day two of the trek had us a little concerned. This was when we got to summit the highest point of the trek, the Dolma-la pass. Walking up this portion of the hike was a time of great exertion. Ann was very focused and serious and was not too impressed with my joking mood.
There were stories of many pilgrims dying at this portion of the hike due to the altitude and weather. Luckily, for us the weather was perfect that day with blue skies as far as the eye could see. We summited the pass and conquered our fears.
That night we stayed in an even smaller hut. It was very cold and windy and hunkering down early was the only thing to do. The next day we hiked a much more leisurely stretch dropping in altitude into another sunny day.
We spent the next night next to lake Manasarovar which is the headwaters of the Indus river. It is also near the headwaters of several of Asia’s other major rivers including a tributary of the sacred Ganges. This is one of the highest fresh water lakes in the world and is a brilliant deep blue color.
After this, we had an even more difficult trip back to Llasa that included multiple breakdowns and sketchy roadside repairs. One night we stayed in a a local house where we shared space with bleeding carcasses that were hanging from the rafters to cure. Not your average bed and breakfast! Eventually we made it back to “civilization” with a much deeper appreciation for all of the comforts that we are privileged to enjoy.
The pilgrimage around Mt. Kailash was a once in a lifetime experience. Ann and I look back and laugh that this 16 days in very uncomfortable conditions was a part of our honeymoon. We learned more about each other during our time in Tibet than some people do in a decade of marriage. We feel so fortunate to have experienced the magic of this mountain and the generosity and warmth of the Tibetan people. In a place of great hardship, the warmth and kindness of the people is the only thing that people can count on to survive. We are forever grateful to the mountain and the Tibetan people for the lessons they so warmly shared with us.