A little background : Mt Kailash, or Gan Rinpoch, may arguably be the most sacred mountain in the world (Mt Sinai is the only other one even close). The Mountain holds a divine place in Buddhists, Hindus, Jains and Bön-Po religions. Every summer thousands and thousands of devout pilgrims, from across South and East Asia, make the difficult journey to this remote spot to walk the kora around the mountain. It is said that Buddha left an active mandala here, and the sacred vibe or energy around this mountain is so strong it is almost visible. In this blog entry I am simply putting my daily journal entries during our trip to, around, and from Kailash. For a more detailed description of sacred Kailash and the kora route, take a look at this excellent essay: http://www.passages.org.uk/essays/kailas/index.html
Now, back up a few days -
Journal entry 10/21 : After breakfast at Cafe Nomad, we were picked up at 8:30 by our driver and started the 4 day drive west. We drove past several beautiful monastery/temples. It seems that every little village has a monastery! Into Shigatze for lunch. This city has a huge monastery/temple. After lunch we drove to Lhatse, jumbled town, but we found a hotel and were told it was "very clean" compared to what lies ahead. The drive was on the new paved road, but very slow because of all the police checkpoints. We ate at a Tibetan restaurant and met some Austrians. Shared a bottle of wine. It's cold.
This morning we started the Mt Kailash kora. A freezing morning in the guesthouse after a night of many shivers and little sleep. We walked through town to the 108 prayer wheels. My glove-covered hand spun each wheel as the sacred walking meditation began (clockwise). We walked along the dry path as the sun got warmer, stopping at the first 'prostration point'.
Om mani padme hum. Prayer flags and carved stones framed our first view of Kailashi. The pure white of the glaciers beaming over the dark sheer rocks.
As we continued up the long valley along the West side of the mountain we passed endless carved stones and prayer flags. The peak came in and out of view, with each new view point marked by prayers flying in the icy wind. Holding my 108 prayer beads, I chanted my prayers to Kailashi. I preyed for the enlightenment of all beings, in particular my friends and family, and for the dissolution of my bad karma from this life and past ones. Tomorrow I will repeat all these. After lunch, we came to a big rock face that marks the Northwest ridge of the mountain. Here the trail gets closest to the rock massif. We dropped our packs and walked up to the wall. I did the prostration motions I saw in Lhasa on the side of the mountain, three times. I preyed for enlightenment of all beings and for dissolution of my bad karma. I touched both hands to the wall.
We passed a monastery, or gompa, high on the opposite hillside, the Chuku Gompa. The area around it was scattered with caves. These are the super charged places. I would love to visit them, but I'm getting tired. Someday I come back, maybe. I filled up our water bottles under the big walls. I took photos of mountains, icefalls, birds, deer, yaks. I meditated. I walked. We finally made it to the Dira Phuk Gompa... and to our guest house. Both are basking in the unreal view of the North face of Kailash. So steep and sharp and powerful. The monastery has many chortens (stupas) outside and prayer flags, all facing the mountain. It is funny; the monks like to come down to the guest house because it is run by two young women. They sit in the kitchen/dining/lounging room and drink yak butter tea and eat tortillas (well, I'm sure they have a Tibetan name) and flirt with the women. We fixed dinner and sat in that room too, because it is the only room with heat or light, and enjoyed watching the drama.
Suddenly there was some commotion outside. I walked out to see two herds of Yaks, loaded up with bags and blankets, being driven by men yelping and haa-ing. The yaks had blankets over their backs and the men wore traditional cloths and red traditional boots. Two of the Yakmen came into the warm guest house room. They were dirty and shy. They had some warm butter tea and asked if they could stay here for the night. They pitched their tents and herded the Yaks together for sleeping. When inside our room getting ready for bed, I remembered I must plant my seed today. So, I went out into the icy wind in my long underwear to scratch a hole in Kailash dirt and bury my paper, moonrise.
Journal entry 10/26 : The morning has been very cold. Very cold across the river and very cold up the valley to the Northwest of Kailash. I tried to get connected and do some prayers, but the intense cold kept me focused on just walking. When we emerged over a knoll we entered the sunshine! Finally! We stopped to make tea. I have heard that during the 'summer season' there are tents and stands selling tea and snacks to pilgrims along the kora. We are walking unusually late in the year, so we have to deal with the cold, but also get to have the trail unmarred by enterprising folk... or even other hikers, only a few other pilgrims the whole kora! After tea and some food we continued up to the pass summit (5600 m). I left my hat, and past life, for Kailash to hold on to and bless, then made an offering of water, rice, and incense. When I walked away, I didn't look back.
As I walked back toward Rod, a dog who had come with some other pilgrims (who were doing the 50km kora in one day!), was still lying there, and started to whine. It then got up and hobbled down the rocks. It's back right leg was in really bad shape. It must have post-holed through the snow to the rocks below and twisted or pinned its ankle. The ankle was completely broken and only attached by skin. The pour boy was hobbling on the stump of leg and bleeding down the pass. His people were way ahead, not waiting. Later they stopped and tied a rag around the wound, but the dog had to negotiate slippery ice and big rocks for ~20km back to the town... and then what? With its leg/paw flopping every step... it was very upsetting. We tried to give it some meat to eat when we caught up with it, but it wouldn’t eat. We tried to give it some water later, but it wouldn’t drink, only ate snow. Its people were so far ahead now, and it was slowing down and loosing blood. I watched it walking near us for several hours incase it collapsed, but when we crossed the river, we lost sight of it, and never saw it again. Sitting here tonight I think it is probably collapsed and freezing somewhere behind us. Poor dog. Suffering and trying to stay with its people. My new life from Kailash, with my regrets left behind, began with the saddest suffering sweet loyal dog who probably never made it. Suffering. So, second day of Kailash kora was emotional. Kailash gave me a teaching. This dog suffering through it's kora, and I couldn’t do anything to help, and I have to forgive myself for it. Not hold regrets about the dog, I have to accept its suffering and be thankful to it for bringing out my love. It challenged me the whole way down into a new life.
Now I am sitting in bed after dinner and hot Tang. We walked into the Zutrul Phuk monastery at 6:00 and the friendly monk brought us hot water. Our room is 5 cots around a low table. A dirt floor, and dirt walls with cracks in them, one window, and wood beams on the ceiling. The beams have small wood slats connecting them, then grass matting on top of that. Above that is more dirt so the roof is a dirt floor that can be walked on. There are similar rooms on both sides of ours, and a temple up the steps to the left of the courtyard that our door opens to. The monk played a drum as the sun went down. I hope the dog made it back to town. Full moon on a windy night.
Journal entry 10/27 : The last day of the kora, we slept in and felt comfortable in our mud room at the monastery. The monk let me inside the temple part; so many paintings of individual lamas on hanging fabrics, "thangkas". And there was a cave in the back. I turned the prayer wheels and put a white scarf in the cave for the dog. Then we packed up and started the last section of trail. Rod began to get the cold I had a few days ago, so we walked slowly. Many carved rocks with paintings, and stone slabs with carved prayers piled up on walls.
The wind was gusting down the valley as we turned right for the last stretch to town. I put my bandana over my face to block the dust. When we got into town, it was striking how dirty it is. How much the Chinese "communist" government is neglecting this place or trying to eradicate its people is astonishing. No running water, no electricity (well, the Chinese police building has electricity, but it is the only building in the area, everyone else has either a generator or nothing), plastic garbage everywhere... I walked to the 108 prayer wheels where we started and spun each one with a prayer.
After washing up in the bowl in our room, I went to get lunch to bring back to Rod in bed. I saw the Corsican woman we met at the monastery last night. She is a bit crazy, but cool... a 50 year old woman hitchhiking through Tibet alone, and climbing high elevation mountains for a year in Pakistan, Tibet, and Nepal. Right on!
My first Kailash kora is finished. I'm not buzzing, but I do feel different somehow. I feel more peaceful. Who knows, maybe I will see how this effects me as I pay attention over time. It was certainly a powerful journey around a very powerful mountain.
Journal entry 10/28 : We left Darchen before dawn and drove in the cold until sunrise (8:45 sunrise - we are so far west but China refuses to do the time zone thing) and to lunch in Paryang. I had to stop a Chinese man who was throwing rocks at a cornered dog! We continued on in the hot afternoon sun to the town of Saga. The car overheated once, and the dust was terrible, but the ride beautiful. We got to listen to two new tapes! (Our driver only played one tape the whole ride to Darchen... over and over) In Saga we went to an internet cafe, then to dinner (with a bottle of wine!). The coveted electric blanket was so hot all night, and Rod was sick and kicking a lot.
Journal entry 10/29 : We left Saga early with the intention of making it to Shigatse tonight. Rod slept in the backseat most of the morning. Had lunch in an unknown town. I asked where the bathroom was and they said, "behind that building", I went there, no toilet or pit. Just go wherever... I peed by a cow. Trouble at one check point, and several stops to let the overheating Land Cruiser cool down made us late. We stopped in Lhatse for the night.
Journal entry 10/30 : Drove to Shigatse and I toured the Tashilhunpo Monastery, home of the Panchen Lama (at least traditionally- now he is kidnapped and held in Beijing). So cool! Rod stayed in the restaurant and the driver washed the car... Yes! Less dust! We then drove back to Lhasa, arriving after dark. Good to be back, took a hot shower! The Kailash trip ended, very good. We got some dinner and felt like old hats in Lhasa, knew people, knew where things are, etc. After dinner we walked the kora around the Jokhang Temple, then climbed to bed.
Many more photos - to see, click the photos link at the top right of the page, and go to the Kailash set!