After jumping through the various hoops required by the chinese
government, joining a "tour group" and acquiring the necessary permits,
we flew from chengdu to llhasa. the flight over the himalayas was
amazing. most of tibet is a giant plateau at about 4000 meters. it is
mostly dry and barren, but surprisingly colorful. what really makes it
beautiful is the massive size and scale of everything; huge open valleys
with broad rivers flowing through their center, massive rolling hills
with giant rocks jutting out in all directions and some of the most
dramatic mountains in the world. more than a painting, i saw tibet as a
giant earthen sculpture, everything to such a mighty scale that nothing
seemed overtaken by another.
added to all this natural beauty was a people unmatched in my travels.
to say that religion was is an intrical part of their lives would be a
unforgivable understatement. pilgrims will travel for years,
prostrating themselves on the ground every step of the way, to make it
to one of tibet's many sacred monasteries or temples. these sacred
places are continually surrounded by devout pilgrims spinning prayer
wheels, manipulating prayer beads and reciting various Buddhist mantras.
to watch these acts of devotion is absolutely mind boggling and humbled
me to incredible depths.
most of my time in llhasa was spent visiting the potala and various other
temples in the area. each time i was around the tibetans i was
incredibly impressed. unfortunately, along with the devotion, you could
also sense the deep repression imposed upon them, their religion and
their country, by the chinese. I had the opportunity to read "freedom in
exile" the autobiography of the current dali lama and as much as his
life is admirable, his depiction of the repression, torture and
numerous unthinkable acts performed by the chinese in their "liberation
of tibet" made me sick to my stomach. thinking of these acts make it
difficult to write about my time spent traveling in tibet.
due to chinese restrictions and high costs i wasn't able to do any
trekking in tibet. I did do some hikes in the hills surrounding lahsa
which were wonderful. one hike in particular took us to some peaks
which were draped with colorful prayer flags. the flags were
out between the 200 or so feet between two peaks and created an
incredible feeling flapping in the breeze, soaring upwards as it
increased in strength. sitting underneath them in the sun, i had to
grab on to the rocks as i felt i would be carried away as they took off
upwards with a fresh breeze.
a group of ten of us rented two jeeps to take us to the border of tibet
and nepal, passing numerous monasteries and everest base camp along the
way. the towns we passed through tended to be small and dominated by
the monasteries. prayer flags, stupas and various temples dotted the
hills and mountains surrounding the villages. We stayed in small guest
houses and ate what was available, usually rice and eggs or some
the road was rough and dusty, and we, as well as all our bags, were
covered in dust at the end of each day. i was pretty well
out even before we started the 8 day trip, so i spent most of my time
exploring the towns and nearby hills. the smaller towns had less
chinese influence, although in most spots they tried to make us stay in
the chinese run, "approved", guest houses. we were stubborn, so usually
ended up staying somewhere with more of a local flavor.
the highlight of the trip was visiting everest base camp. is rests at
about 5400 meters, 17000 or so feet, with a spectacular head on view of
everest. the base camp itself is higher than any north american
mountain and then everest itself blasts up another 3500 hundred meters.
mt. everst is 29,028 feet high.....a big, big, rock. as luck had it, we
were up there for the full moon. it rose rather late, but it was still
crazy to see it lit up at night.
the following day we started climbing up toward some of the glaciers at
the base of the mountain. needless to say at 5400 meters the lack of
oxygen could really get to you. throw in a wind that blows the snot
right out of your nose if you stand sideways, and your in for some great
hiking. as it turned out, i climbed for 12 hours that day. The views
along the way were amazing and the scale of everything was awe
inspiring. as the hours rolled on, the mountain kept on beckoning me.
even though i could barely walk or breathe i kept on pushing on. i
finally made my self turn around and head back. where i had ventured
there was literally no path so i had to find my way along steep slopes
covered in alternating huge rocks and small loose rock fragments.
coming down, i would follow what i believed to be a good route, but
would inevitably find my self to low and would have to climb up sleep
and slippery faces until i reached a new ledge and could find a more
suitable route. each one of these climbs was a killer,. I would
littlerally climb on all fours and collapse about every 20 feet. i was
chomping on peanut butter to try to keep up my energy, but had little
water left to wash it down.....sticky.
i managed to get back to the lower area which had a well marked path.
then i just put it in go mode and kept on walking. my body was
absolutely dead. i felt like i had just played a weekend full of
ultimate and still had one more game to go. i almost made it back by
dark.......the truck searching for me picked me up about a mile from
camp. some food and water brought me back. I always knew i would make
it back, but honestly wasn't sure how at times. i likely made it up
around 20,000 feet and really felt like everest and i shared an
incredible day together. I would love to go there again and spend more
time taking in all she has to offer.
after a couple of small towns we arrived at the border. we spent one
night in what was the perfect representation of a border town; dirty,
dusty, full of action and craziness. that night the room next to us had
a all night party including singing, laughing, fighting, crying, and all
the other things that go a long with a spontaneous alcohol enhanced
celebration of life. quite the way to end my travels through china and
tibet. the party seemed to epitomize all the joy and hope for the
future as well as the pain and uncertainty that makes up the current
situation in china and tibet.
crossing the border the next day was in the most part a relief and a
release. it was time to move on and to experience something totally
new. our arrival in katmandu, with its hundreds of shops, hotels and
restaurants was such a contrast to the starkness of tibet, that i spent
the next couple of days reading, eating and just letting everything