Tibet Travelogue, Part 2

Sunday, June 11, 2000 • Shigatse to Lhatse

I was exhausted after Satsang last night, but when I laid down, figures were racing around in my head. I couldn’t breathe. I sat up to breathe easier and then felt light-headed. Then I felt cold. I kept trying to force the air out to get a better breath. Parvati slept so well. I was scared. Could I really do this?

Being at morning Satsang was good—also reading that these mild nuisance symptoms should disappear in two to four days. Hang on. 

Rice soup and Tibetan bread for breakfast. On the road at 9:00am. Felt better already. Rested in the car. Soft, colored mountains all around. Curious children flock around the cars when we stop. We arrived in Lhatse, a sad town seeming to consist of one main road, lined with non-descript two-story buildings housing non-descript shops. Very dirty children crane their necks to watch us through the windows of the restaurant where we have lunch. 

We are to be joined here by our truck of provisions—food, tents, gasoline—and sherpas, a cook and translator. There was no sign of them, however—it could be truck problems or mountain road problems. The plan was to camp 30km past town tonight. We’ve taken simple rooms in a guest house to wait—and took the opportunity to do an asana class.

We must stay on schedule for our Friday start of the Kailas Parikrama to coincide auspiciously with the full moon.

On our return from dinner, we found the truck had arrived! Lobsang, the translator, looked like a movie star in his black jeans, big red Adidas jacket, orange towel around his neck…and a big smile.

Tuesday, June 13 • Lhatse onward

Up at 5:30am. Sherpas brought pans of warm water just outside our tents for washing. The moon was gone. At Satsang, everyone bundled up. Porridge and toast for breakfast. Another long day of driving begins. The color scheme changed a bit—pinky peach and soft green. We are determined as a group to drink more and stop whenever necessary. Electrolytes were passed all around! 

The roads were better today, except for some first-class ditches. The valley was wider, went down and climbed again. We stopped frequently. Lunch break at 1:30pm just past Saga. Chapati, hot veggies, cheese…delicious. We presented yatra t-shirts to the sherpas, cook and driver of the truck. (We wonder which is the Chinese spy?) Rocky hillside—greens, purple, rust… so beautiful. Flocks of sheep scamper by. Dark yaks dot periodic hillsides. Several small groups lead a few dogs and heavily-laden donkeys. The children are more shy when we stop. We tried to keep windows open for air, but the dust won out every time.

We made camp on another grassy field by a stream—through groups of yaks. I thoroughly enjoyed washing clothes by the stream. Also washed my hair with the solar shower—no different than dumping pots of water on my head, but it was fun to try. I don’t think we’ll be having full showers—there are no trees to hang the solar unit from! We had a light dinner of tea and cream of tomato soup, with canned pears for dessert. Arati. Bed before 10!

Wednesday, June 14

Another nice wash before 6:00am Satsang. Rice porridge with meusli on top for breakfast! Tiri/Tsering, our driver, keeps the car meticulously clean—inside and out. We trust him implicitly. Jai to Tiri. He is always checking the tires and underneath the car. We have become the lead car. Whether it’s an earned position or not, at least we get less dust. 

We are seeing less of the Tibetan compounds with yak dung decorations lining the tops of the walls. Little magenta orchid/petunia flowers grow right out of the sandy soil.

Roads were bad—deep ruts, very sandy—sometimes not even a road. We got through carefully— passing two stuck trucks. Then our provisions truck blew a tire and one of our cars got stuck But Tiri got him right out with a tow line. Green prickly grasses changed to golden grasses in wider valleys—being so high, the mountains seem shorter. We passed a few odd, very smooth golden sand dunes, which look surreal against the snowy mountains behind.

The snowy Nepali mountain range to the south stayed with us all afternoon. For lunch at the Yak Hotel in Paryang, the sherpas served baked beans and curry paratha. They offered us Tang to drink.

Long drive. Many tough spots. Had to stop at a couple of check points today. Young Chinese officials filled out paperwork and let us pass each time.

Took a walk around, waiting for the truck this morning. Perfect silence. So many different animal tracks leading to the small water supply. Felt alone and connected.

Much singing, chanting and storytelling in the car.

We forded quite a river to get to a good place to camp.

Using the neti pot never felt so good.

Walked up a small hill with Parvati and Kailas. Pile of beautifully-carved mani stones and view of S-curving river. Canned cherries for dessert with fresh local sheep yogurt.

Thursday, June 15

Up at the usual 5:30am. Rice porridge and fried sheep cheese after Satsang. Played with the local children while the sherpas finished packing the tents, burying the garbage and loading the truck. Another tiring, ambitious day driving. Finally stopped around 2:00pm for lunch in a thick grassy field, cut by streams. Sheep lined up in the distance, either being fed or milked. A protective yak with her baby shared the field.

A passing car brought the message that our truck was broken down. But just as we were going to raid the snack bag, our truck with its big cloud of dust came into view! Gray clouds had blown over and many of us were sitting in the cars. Sherpas served us thick chapatis, cheese and chickpeas in the cars. They came by the windows offering seconds. Nothing phases them!

No too long after, the holy Lake Manasarovar came into view, a blue slice in the distance. It is the highest freshwater lake in the world. We continued on and “Om Tryambakam”-ed for the truck to make it through the ditches. Mount Kailas came into view! We stopped by a mound of prayer flags, faced the mountain and chanted many Om Tryambakams. Lots of pristine snow on the visible south face. Neighboring mountains look distinctly like the Potala Palace in Lhasa!

Thunder rumbled as gray clouds dropped rain on surrounding mountains.

Drove to the lake for an auspicious dip. Men and women separated and walked far into the lake. Not as cold as we had feared! 

Proceeded to Kailas. Seemed like we were trying to make up time, but there were so many ditches, steep bits and rushing streams. We couldn’t take our eyes off the mountain as we drove past Darchen and around toward the west side. We joined a field of pilgrims camping. It was cold. 

The supply truck arrived sooner than we dared expect. It had been slowed by the terrain. Carrying fuel for the entire journey, it’s ancient tank had sprung a leak too…

Light rain began to fall. Mount Kailas was swallowed in clouds. Before the sherpas presented the noodle soup dinner, a thin rainbow shone overhead and the round moon peeked over the mountaintop! I was feeling a bit light-headed in the food tent.

I could have taken a photo every fifteen minutes as the clouds changed around Mount Kailas’s distinctive shape. (It’s peeking up slightly to the left of center in the photo.)

Tibet Travelogue, Part 3

Friday, June 16, 2000 • Near Darchen, 15,000 foot elevation

Tempe got back at midnight and hadn’t been able to secure yaks because of all the people in town for the Peace Pole Raising Ceremony (part of the ancient monthlong Saga Dawa Festival). We got a rest day! Mount Kailas was elusive all day. We hurried through breakfast to go see the pole raised at 10:00am, but it didn’t happen until 1:00pm! We circled the festival three times and stood back to take in the scene. At least 1,000 people were celebrating the birth, death and enlightenment of the Buddha. Huge amounts of sage burned. Bunches of large incense were carried by many. Vendors had theirs wares out on blankets—jewelry, antiques, prayer flags, shirts, shoes… Women worked the crowd with their bags of goodies to sell and were quite persistent. So many horns and drums and monks. Kailas and I watched while Tempe and a driver handed out shoes to anyone asking for money around the pole parikrama route!

We took time to organize the food and clothes needed for the Kailas parikrama. The grayness on Kailas led Lobsang to think it might be snowing at the high pass! Carol offered a solar shower—not really warm. Two sherpas got in on the action. What a scene just to wash my hair! One to hold the bag of water up, one to pump and one to hold the hose up… voila!

At 4:00pm, Swami Vasishtananda performed a Rudra Homa. Many Tibetans gathered around—even Chinese police. We offered ghee to the fire out of individual brass dishes 108 times. An auspicious spatter of rain finished the homa. 

The sherpas never cease to amaze us—pizza and vegetable momos for dinner! (That one pizza served the 15 of us comfortably.)

Rains came.

Yaks have been arranged from 40km away for the morning. They’ll leave at 5:00am and arrive by 9:30am. We’ve been informed they’re not strong and we should pack lightly!

Saturday, June 17

Up and ready to begin the parikrama. We had planned to leave at 9:00am, but were advised to wait for the yaks to arrive. Two women managed 13 yaks! Lobsang and Bemba were pointing out the differences between the yaks and the different Tibetan names for “with horns”, “half white face”, “white spot on face”, etc. We left our bags to be loaded onto the yaks and began walking. Kailas was to lead and set an easy pace. People were anxious and pushing to go faster. We stopped very often to let everyone catch up.

Walking in the valley between two craggy brown mountains, I began to feel the energy flow. Water streamed off the mountains in tall waterfalls regularly on both sides. The “river” happily flowed away from the mountains. Would have loved to stop and soak it in! Such uplifting energy. Lobsang told me to put a jacket on. We weren’t moving fast enough to overheat. Just a few minutes after I did, a light rain began to fall. Very soon, we stopped under the tarp of a “tea shop” where our sherpas served lunch. The rain fell harder outside. I felt claustrophobic, but forced myself to eat. Pee behind rocks up the field and we were off again. Sadasiva looked pale and a yak was arranged for him.

More dramatic mountains and the slow pace made the trip manageable.

Camp was beautiful. The closest we get to Mount Kailas—the north face. Mountains in all directions.

I had to eat my dinner outside in the cold. Inside I would have struggled with the one serving. Outside, I could have eaten two more platefuls.

A few of us headed up the hill, hoping for a more expansive view of Mount Kailas. After some huffing and puffing in the altitude, we found more tents and a long walk among boulders to a snowy field. A trudge through that snow would take you to the glacier up against Mount Kailas! No time or energy!

Tibetans processed through our camp making a kora around the stupa. Some greeted us with big smiles and “Tashidelly.” Others were lost in devotion. As night fell, Mount Kailas—perfectly clear—gleamed. One group stood in front of some of our tents, staring up at the mountain forever. They pointed to every detail. So sweet.

Up several times in the night. Jai to the beautiful mountain.

Sunday, June 18 • Drölma La Pass

Cold Satsang. Preparations for our big day: the 18,500-foot Drölma La Pass (5636 m)! Sadasiva stayed back to wait for the yaks to be loaded—they would all catch up. We set off at a slow pace, looking ahead, wanting a view of what we had to conquer. A steady stream of people in the distance showed the way. We crossed a wide stream, jumping boulders and wood planks. Up we climbed, steadily, one foot in front of the other. People passed us every time we stopped and greeting us brightly. The path curved steadily uphill. As we climbed, I felt like my stomach would explode and my throat became sore. Stop. Go. Stop. Go. Don’t sit down. Don’t lose the momentum. A stupa with a grand array of prayer flags came into view. I took a few pictures, but the effort was great. Sent out some prayers. Conserved energy. Passed through the charnel grounds. Clothing was strewn everywhere. I left a piece of my Dad’s shirt. Rest in peace.

The sherpa’s were waiting with lunch on the boulders at the top. Eat? Guess it was a good idea. We fastened the prayers flag we’d prepared into one long chain and affixed them to the fluttering mass already there. Sherpas called us to leave then, as the wind was picking up, threatening a change of weather. Tempe went back to find Sadasiva and bring lunch. We continued without them. Across a snowy lake. Above an icy green sacred lake—Lake Yokmo Tso, Lake of Compassion, one of the highest lakes in the world (5608 m). We curved up, down and around. Mount Kailas hadn’t been in sight since morning. We were ready to sit when we got to the east side of the mountain. There seemed a perfect place for camping—but no sign of our sherpas who’d gone ahead.

Kailas got out his trusty binoculars and found our tents in the distance. We took off hastily toward camp, which was much farther than it had seemed. I was exhausted on arrival. Once the blue tents were set up and claimed, we had tea, then dinner. It was only after dinner that Sadasiva and Tempe arrived. 

My back ached from carrying the backpack all day. Didn’t sleep well. Parvati and I rubbed peppermint foot lotion on each others’ feet and had a gargle party.

Tibet Travelogue, Part 4

Monday, June 19, 2000

We need to return the yaks today. We walked just shy of Darchen. There are surprisingly few sore muscles among the group. We get no view of Kailas as we walk to the east of it. Rocks are much more varied here than over the high pass. With head down out of the sun, I can’t stop picking up the green ones, pink ones, streaked ones. Lobsang explains that they will bring protection from fire, earthquake, etc. He collects a pocketful, too.

There are many stupas along the route. We decide to build a lingham and hang our official Sivananda Millennium Peace Mission flag. We wonder how long it will remain… 

Lunch was in a field in front of Milarepa’s Cave. We agree we should come back on a karma yoga trip to clean up the garbage. Parvati and Vishwakarma buy Cokes somewhere. Sellers tell them just to throw the empty cans outside!

Though I was tired, I decided to join those climbing up to the Cave of Miracles—a small, not-terribly-well-kept structure. It was small and dingy inside, with once-colorful banners and small butter lamps.

What a welcome sight to see the cars and drivers at camp! Back aching, I sat down to rest. The ground was a bit gravelly. Wondered where the tents would go, as only the kitchen tent seemed to be up… but, down a steep hill on a grassy strip of ground, right by the rushing river, stood the nine blue tents, plus food tent! So welcoming!

Tuesday, June 20

We load our bags on the truck this morning and begin the final leg of the parikrama. No Mount Kailas in sight. The terrain was basically flat with some gullies to wind down into and up out of. I try not to collect more rocks.

We’re given ten minutes to shop as we pass through the makeshift town of Darchen. We recognize the women vendors under the flapping, striped plastic tarps from the Saga Dawa festival. When we don’t make enough purchases in their shops, they follow us with their bags of wares. “Looky, looky.” As long as one person is slightly interested, they will not give up.

Finally, the Saga Dawa pole came into view. One very boggy field to cross and we’d made it! We had completed the 52 km (32 mile) parikrama route. (Fit local Tibetan people can make Kailash Kora in a single day in 15 hours.)

Lobsang produced a simple lunch from his pack which we ate right there. Then, happy to be reunited with our drivers, we headed to the holy Lake Manasarovar. Camp was already set up near Chiu Gompa Monastery and adjacent hot springs.

tWednesday, June 21

After breakfast and a trip to the monastery, we packed up and set off for a better lakeside camping spot. We took walks and most people took advantage of the afternoon sun to do laundry. It fluttered everywhere.

I taught the 4:00pm yoga class. What a privilege to teach in this spot! Mount Kailas cleared in the distance, so we faced that direction for sun salutations. Not everyone felt up to doing pranayama and we took long relaxations between poses. It was still hard to catch my breath, despite having been at altitude for two weeks already. Three graceful ibis strolled by and then flew away.

After Satsang, we emerged from the tent to an amazing sky. On Peking time, it gets dark late. The snowy mountains at the south end of the lake were perfectly clear. There were strips of glowing clouds in the western sky. Mount Kailas was obscured by gray clouds. In the north, big angry clouds were blowing away, shadows deeply darkening the mountains below. And to the east, the sandy mountains were topped by a luminous pink sky!

When I got up just after midnight to answer the call of Nature, I wanted to wake everyone up—the stars were amazing, a thick layer absolutely filling the sky…

Thursday, June 22

What a luxury to stay in the same place for another day! Lobsang and Tenpa were concerned we’d have trouble at the border and recommended we leave a day early. Five of us had flights to catch from Kathmandu on the 27th.

We did yoga at 8:00am and 4:00pm. The wind blew me over in headstand! I did my last batch of laundry. So nice to wash it in a stream. The sun and wind dried it quickly.

We all walked down to the lake, where Swami Vasishtananda made our final offerings. We collected water, pebbles and sand to distribute to all the Sivananda Ashrams and Centers.

Friday, June 23

On the road again—retracing our steps for maybe 8 hours. Yak skulls and jaws were strewn here and there. We camped outside Prayang, just past a checkpoint.

Saturday, June 24

This was the coldest morning yet—with frost and ice. Another full driving day. We passed familiar gravel fields of magenta flowers. At one point, a large herd of sheep decided to charge across the “road” in front of our car! “Om Mani Padme Hum” seemed to be floating in the air. We camped just outside Saga. There was not much flowing water. Swami Vasishtananda was singing, “No bath today” to the tune of Namosthute. The local Tibetans were very curious about us and had no qualms about sitting near and staring into our tents.

Sunday, June 25

We took a car ferry at Saga, then headed south to Nyalam, then further south on the secondary road to Nepal. We climbed and climbed toward magnificent snowy mountains. Hard to drink it all in. We had our last picnic lunch on the blue tarp. The road climbed some more before beginning to descend, winding its way back to… trees! We saw trees! And agriculture and villages. Life! It was bittersweet to be back in civilization, but I slept through the night for the first time in weeks.

Monday, June 26

We head for the border, following the powerful river. Waterfalls cascaded on both sides from high up in the mountains. A spectacular sight. We drove right through a torrent of waterfall! The road got muddier and rougher, and then… we were stopped. Road construction! The road was impassable. Before we knew what was happening, eight porters were hired to carry the luggage from our four cars. (That’s about four heavy pieces per person.) Our bags were grabbed and we ran after them! I didn’t take my eyes off my bag. Such chaos. Down precarious stone steps, dirty steep slopes… down, down, down… My legs were shaking, knees wobbling. We rested just shy of the Chinese immigration in Zhangmu and waited for the others. We pass through with no problem, ride in an open back truck, then walked across Friendship Bridge to have our Nepali visas stamped. Then a bus drove us down through small towns, more waterfalls. Terraced mountains brought us to more traffic and… a paved road.

Back to Kathmandu. Back to Los Angeles.

I am forever blessed and humbled by the Holy Mountain.

Om Namah Sivaya.