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.

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