Sunday, December 14, 2014

Tibet on my mind

   Road to Lake Manasorova - Kailash in background                                                                          photo credit Anilkumar

*Warning : lots of words and pictures, grab a cuppa or a glass of wine to sustain you. 

Back in August I traveled to Kathmandu to begin a pilgrimage to Mt Kailash, a great mass of black rock soaring to over 6,000 metres (22,000ft) out of the plateau of the remote western - most part of Tibet and to meet up with the other 11 members of the group, under the guidance of Sol, a yoga teacher from Sydney, who had already made this pilgrimage twice before. 
From top left clockwise :  Western face of Mt Kailash; our pack yaks; cheerful and warm kitchen in guesthouse; Lake Manasarovar;  prayer flags;  pilgrims on the road

I first heard of Mt Kailash after a friend made the pilgrimage, with the same Sol I went with, and I felt drawn to the mountain, not knowing why, or even where it was exactly!  I decided then I wanted to make my own pilgrimage "one day".........that day was 7 years later! I had no idea when I set out from Australia back in August what I was letting myself in for.  It was a demanding and challenging adventure, not just physically, but emotionally as well.  

After a couple of days in Kathmandu, making sure we had enough warm and wet weather clothing.....Tibet's weather can be quite unpredictable and we enjoyed everything from sunny days warm enough to bathe in an icy mountain lake, to sleet and snow and freezing cold.........we flew to Lhasa, where we stayed for 5 days to allow time to acclimatise to the higher altitude.  I didn't suffer with altitude sickness, but any physical exertion was difficult, even sitting up in bed!  Lhasa is a beautiful busy city, a wonderful mix of the old and the new.  I'll do a post just on Lhasa another time.

We set off from Lhasa, initially excited to be on our way at last.  As well as "the 12", we had our Tibetan bus driver and his wife.....a wonderful couple who made everything so much easier, their names were complicated and hard to pronounce, harder to remember, so we called them Mr and Mrs Driver, since this was delivered with smiles and the same were returned, it seems they didn't mind.....our beautiful Tibetan guide Pema, who went above and beyond to make sure we were all warm, safe, had regular toilet stops, he cooked for us and fed us, translated, told wonderful stories of Tibet's Buddhist history and terrible jokes and endlessly answered all our questions and concerns.  As well as these three, it was required we be escorted by a Chinese policeman, so Mr Ten joined us.  He was a very young man, had lived in Tibet ...... or the Tibet Autonomous region of China as the Chinese call it.....since he was a child. We were warned not to talk of the Dalai Lama, or make any criticisms of China, and no political conversations.  While we were nervous and wary around him to start.....and remained so when it came to what we said.....he was a very charming and helpful young man, and seemed to enjoy his time with us.  He often carried my pack for me.....I was the "old lady" of the group.....and was always nearby with a helping hand, or hot sweet tea.

A toilet stop along the way......not much privacy, no shame, no modesty....a good way to get to know your travelling companions! 

The landscape changed dramatically after we left the bustling busy city of Lhasa. The views along the way of the Himalayas shining in the distance took our breath away, we all tumbled out of the bus in excitement of that first view of those snowcapped monoliths. Outside the bus, prayer flags flapped madly, sending their prayers and blessings out to the world. They were strung in deep lines on every mountain pass, along bridges and edges of streams and lakes and even on communication towers and solar panels. 

These colourful stalls selling jewellery, prayer beads and little statues of interestingly, Indian dieties.... were at every mountain pass and scenic spot we stopped many fake amber bracelets does a girl need?

We took 6 days to get to Darchen,  the "gateway to Kailash" and where we'd begin our trek, all designed to give our bodies the best chance of coping with the high altitude we were heading to. Three days were spent at Lake Manasarovar,  also to rest and acclimatise.  We were able to enjoy steaming hot mineral water baths here, an absolute luxury!  And we bathed in the icy cold, but clear and clean sacred waters of the lake.  This was a magical time at the lake, walking along the water's edge at sunrise and dusk in cold clean air.......not too close to the army camp, please, you'll get shot!....or sitting in the cosy kitchen while the stove, fueled by sheep dung, pumped out welcome heat and we would be served hot, sweet tea and enjoy watching the locals who wandered in for the same...tea and warmth.

From there to Darchen, only a couple of hours away, and wonderful glimpses of Kailash as she played hide and seek with us, in the clouds and behind other mountains.  We stayed another couple of days here, getting used to the higher altitude, then off on our pilgrimage.  The pilgrimage involves a circular trek .....a kora....around the base of the mountain at 6,200 metres high, and a total distance around of 52 kms.  This is done in two parts.......from the town of Darchen we walked to Drirapuk Monastery, (pronounced Derapuk)  where we had lodgings in one of the guest houses. This was a distance of 22 kms, and because of the high altitude and difficulty breathing, took me just over 8 hours. The walk ended at the the pilgrim's village, high above the Drirapuk Monastery, and accessed by crossing a small bridge over the meadow waters from the snowy peak of the mountain.  A very welcome sight!

Off in the distance, Drirapuk Monastery, foreground is the pilgrim's village. Our rooms were in the white building on the far right. At the end of the building at the right was my favourite place to sit and commune with the Mountain. 

We had a few days in Drirapuk, again to rest and acclimatise, then the second stage of the pilgrimage takes you up through the Dolmala Pass, the beginning of a 3 day trek back to Darchen.   Although the conditions here were far from bathrooms, one very unclean and unpleasant toilet.......a shared 'pit' space with no doors or privacy.... we never did work out the etiquette in these open space toilets....did you briefly greet other users, keep your eyes down, chat away unconcernedly....4 of us sharing a very small room, and by day 2, very cold, I found these days spent under the mountain the most joyful, peaceful and satisfying of the whole trip.  A Taoist poem says it all for me..." We never grow tired of each other, the mountain and I".


This picture gives a wonderful 'bird's eye view' of the route taken on the kora.  When I see it like this, I feel pretty pleased I managed to walk halfway...that's pretty rough and high terrain out there.

I  didn't complete the full kora, for a number of reasons, mostly to do with my own physical and emotional well being, completing the first stage really knocked me around, but also as time went on I realised I was there for other reasons than to "trek".  I have no regrets about this, and as the snow and sleet whirled in and the and the temperature dropped rapidly the night before leaving for the Pass, I was even more thankful I wasn't going.  Once you leave Drirupuk Monastery, tucked under the mountain, and head up through the pass and walk around behind Kailash to the south and east, it can no no longer be seen........and I was there to see and be with that mountain!  Legend says if you complete the kora all lifetimes of karma are wiped out......I feel fine about this too, having walked half the kora, perhaps I have only half the karma to work out.  

Pilgrims heading up to the Pass.....they carried far less than we did, and had no hiking boots, no gortex jackets or heavy duty down sleeping bags!

Despite the lack of bathrooms.........showers were unheard of......awful or non-existent toilets......, and scarcity of electricity.......I loved Tibet and was sad to leave........the people, the wide wide blue skies, meadows marching away into the distance, gradually becoming mountains, snow covered and majestic, and pastureland dotted with yaks, sheep and yurts.....all with a twin cab ute and a motor bike parked outside.... there was such a sense of peace and timelessness to that wide open plateau that goes on and on forever.  I felt very much at home there and could be lost for hours in the ever changing a well-made quilt, there was always something interesting or intriguing or unexpected to see or wonder at, gentle meadows, deep gorges and clear, running streams and rivers to rest my eyes on.   These words and pictures barely scratch the surface, so plenty more to share in posts to come.

So, what have I been up to since I came home ? ........

Languishing :  in my bed, very ill and barely able to move with dengue fever, caught in India and originally misdiagnosed as flu .........better now thankyou. 

Taming :  the jungle my garden turned into while I was away and languishing (see above)

Harvesting : and eating in salads, cooking sauces, making
ratatouille, sharing around ..... all the self-sewn cherry tomatoes that had taken over the garden.....all ripped out now as they were ripening too quickly for me to pick them all and turning into a smelly squishy mess. Even the chooks wouldn't eat them!

Sorting : and filing a million photos from the trip.....aaah!

Planting : my summer garden - zucchinis, cucumbers, lettuce, silver beet, herbs and some flowers - gerberas, celosia, petunias and zinnias.  More to do.  We've had plenty of rain lately with really
warm days, which means I can almost see those tiny seedlings growing. 

Loving : being home again with my animals, my home and garden, and reconnecting with friends and my neighbourhood.  Home is good.

Sewing : a couple of baby quilts, the pink one and the doll donated to a special visitor to the Footpath Library, the other  for a special new arrival (see below);  a 'batty' prayer flag for a friend who recently retired and now volunteers with a bat rescue group; 5 dozen little stockings filled with sweets for Knitting for Brisbane's Needy to give out at Christmas ( my small contribution was part of a larger call for help....over 3,000 were required by various charities, these little gifts might be the only gift for many people);  secret santa gifts I can't show yet, for this Santa Sack Swap.  They're on their way to New Zealand.

Welcoming : this little one into the new great-granddaughter Memphis, little daughter of my grandson Jack.  What a blessing to have a new generation beginning.  I haven't met her yet, she's in the USA, but I'm hoping one day Jack will bring his ladies to visit.

Memphis, around 4 weeks old here
That's all for now, until next time..............


  1. A beautiful post Nanette - and how busy have you been. Your trip sounds wonderful - although probably not for me but for you it sounds as if it was just what was needed!! How special is little Memphis - a great granddaughter - and how wonderful for you (my mum has 8 great grandchildren and just adores them!!). returning home is always a great feeling no matter how much catching up you have to do - it is our sanctuary isn't it!!

    1. Think it might be a while before I have 8 great grandchildren, hope so anyway. Thanks for visiting, I'll reply more to your email.

  2. ok...have read through once and i hardly breathed. I have so many
    WONDERS about it all...i will have to read again in the morning and
    then sit with it and then i will ask questions that i am hoping you don't
    mind, but if you do you can just make a little noise and i will know.
    HOW LUCKY you are to have have gone there....i think i would give almost Anything for that...
    THANK YOU SO MUCH for this Telling, i can see it took so much work to get this far...Thank you, Thank you and Love....

    1. Ask away Grace, there's much I didn't say only because there's so much to say. Love back

  3. What wonderful photos you have to help you remember this sensational trip. I hope you're fully recovered now; it looks as if you're having fun with the work of hands and garden, not to mention your newest family member!

    1. So many photos Kate, hard to know what to with them all. I'm slowly working through them, deleting any not worth having. There's always the work of hands to be done, you would know this too and it's usually fun :0

  4. What an amazing trip that must have been. Never matter that you didn't make the full pilgrimage, I doubt Buddha would ever mistrust the truth in your journey and I imagine it was a life enriching experience.
    I was lucky enough to spend 6 wks and 8 wks on detachment in Hong Kong years back when I was in the RAF. I was aircrew on VC10s and we flew from Kathmandu to HKG, with 2 days off in each place.
    I was totally enthralled by the Nepalese peoples and although I couldn't understand the mentality of folks who climbed mountains and froze off their toes and noses lol having seen the Himalayas for myself, looking like faceted diamonds - I too became awe struck by them.
    Although I never much cared for the poor Kumari Princesses story I must admit but that's judging her life by my western view of life I guess!


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