Mount Kailas & Lake Mansarovar in Tibet
We had changed the program of the trip and first walked the Mount Kailash kora to be able to join the Sagadawa festival in Tarboche and afterwards we would go to Lake Mansarovar. Our Tibetan guide gave us the choice between camping at the festival area or stay in the guesthouse and go to the festival area in Tarboche the next morning. Since most of us found the night during the Mount Kailash kora extremely cold (minus 15 degrees in a tent), almost everyone chose for the last. Unfortunately the guide had forgotten to verify whether there still were rooms available in the guest house and only found out all rooms in Darchen were fully booked, so we had no choice but to prepare us for another very cold night in the tents.
In Tarboche stands a flag pole which is brought down every year during the Sagadawa festival, decorated with a lot of new prayer flags and then being put in upright position again. During the Sagadawa festival (during full moon in May) the birth, the enlightment and the death of the buddha are commemorated. For this event a lot of Tibetan pilgrims come to Tarboche.
The gathered pilgrims try to pull the flag pole exactly straight up. When they are succesfull the coming year will be prosperous. If the flag pole leans over a little bit it will be a bad year.
This year the Chinese authorities made it more difficult for Tibetans to come to Tarboche. The authorities had declared a ban to travel as a driver’s mate or in the back of a truck (the main means of transport for Tibetans) to Tarboche. For such an important festival it was therefore pretty quiet. Nevertheless there were sufficient people to have a good impression of the festival. First the flag pole was blessed by a group of a lamas who take place on a hillock nearby to bless people and some of their belongings which they brought over there. For a couple Nepali friends we also had some white scarves (katas) being blessed. The decoration of the flag pole with new prayer flags and efforts to pull the flag pole straight up just using manpower took several hours. All that time Tibetan pilgrims were encircling the pole.
In between Arno paid a visit to the sky burial place of 84 Mahasiddhas (sort of enlightened people) above Tarboche. In Tibet it is a good practice to cut the deceased’s body into pieces and to feed the vultures. On this sky burial site a monk with a gorgeous voice was chanting mantras. Surrounded by many traditional and modern dressed Tibetans, who were lying on the ground (presumably to symbolize the death), the monk performed his prayers. On this beautiful quiet and high spot, with beautiful views of the Himalayas it was a very impressive “show” and many were listening breathlessly. Nobody said anything, nobody took pictures, but everyone was fully into the beauty of the moment.
Meanwhile it was snowing and the people still hadn’t managed to put the flagpole upright. Just when we (being almost frozen) to go, four large groups of Tibetans made move to pull the flagpole straight up. One support pole falling on a rope prevented them from succeeding at once. A few minutes later, the second attempt was succesful. And coincidence or not, just then it stopped snowing, the sun broke through and changed the melting snow in a very mysterious fog. A great spectacle.
After this impressive festival, we drove to the Lake Manasovar. Once there, we had to wait for the truck before being able to set up the camp. We asked if the jeeps could bring us to the hot springs in the neighborhood first, because after one week without washing that seemed very nice. Arriving at the hot springs we had to wait over half hour in the wind, cold and snow before we could go inside. Once inside, it turned out that the Chinese had channeled the hot water to little taps just below knee height. Each small bathroom with a very dirty floor and shoulder height partitions provided just a little bit of hot water. The five bathrooms were constructed inside a concrete building with a glass roof with many broken windows that let the cold wind and snow coming in. Yet it was nice to wash your cold and dirty body with a little hot water. Afterwards we went back to the lake, where the Nepalese staff had set up the camp under the Chiu Gompa (monastery Chiu). The cold and wind, together with large dust clouds forced us to stay inside the dining tent. After dinner the wind lay down and we could enjoy the full moon rising above the Lake Manasarovar.
The next morning it was quite clear and we had a lovely view over the deep blue lake, on the Himalayas and Mount Kailash.
Legend has it that Lake Manasarovar is created from the brains of the Hindu god Brahma. So, especially for Hindus a dip in the lake is of great religious importance. Near our camp a large group of Indians was engaged in their religious swim in the lake, which edges were covered with ice. While chanting “Om Namah Shivaha” they took a bath one by one. Curious for a first hand experience how such a bath feels like, Arno also took a dip. Pretty chilly (understatement), but at least good to wash away the layer of dust that had formed overnight. Afterwards we climbed a nearby mountain, where we had a magnificent 360 degree views of the surrounding area, with besides Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar, among other things, Lake Raksas Tal, the sacred mountain Gurla Mandhata and several Himalayan peaks in Nepal and India.
After lunch it was time to shelter from wind, cold and dust which took their biggest proportions on the last night before the return journey.
On 25 May (the day our first nephew Niels was born, which we would hear only 4 days later) we left time for the journey back to Kathmandu which would take four more days.
After about 1.5 hours, the French healer indicated to Arno in the car that the energy in him was going through a lot and that something was going to happen to someone in the group. Less than fifteen minutes later the 2nd jeep with Susanne and the Swiss, among others, stopped. Susanne walked to the 3rd jeep with a slight panic (the first jeep with a guide was nowhere to be seen). It turned out that the Swiss had had a seizure of epilepsy. He had now hit his head hard against the roof of the jeep and bit his tongue, so that the saliva that was dripping from his mouth was colored red. That didn’t look very good.
The Frenchman immediately got into the car with him and started a kind of healing session, in which the pain should flow away through his body. This resulted in a howl of the Frenchman, but soon the attack of the Swiss stopped and everything seemed to be relatively easy. However, half an hour after lunch, the Swiss had another attack. Now the others began to worry more. When an epileptic seizure is severe, admission to hospital may be necessary. That would mean that the fastest way would be back to Darchen and hoping that we could arrange a helicopter there. When driving on, Kathmandu was another 3.5 days driving and every minute that we drove on, took us further away from the helicopter. Of course no one could properly assess the situation, because no one had experience with the attacks of the Swiss and he himself was too much of the world to be able to communicate normally. A tricky situation. Since there was no communication possible between the jeeps and the first jeep was already very far ahead, there was little else to do but to bump on towards Paryang. According to the Irish girl, trauma is usually the cause of epileptic seizures in the “patients” who come to them for healing.
The Swiss, who had been suffering from seizures for 20 years, was in any case very happy that the healer was with him and wanted to sleep in his room that evening as well. We had now decided to take a guesthouse and not sleep in a tent again to limit the stress of his (and our bodies). During the meal, a third attack occurred and was nipped in the bud by the French healer. At the end of the trip, the fairly level-headed Swiss started to seriously consider swapping his next trek in the Himalayas for a visit to the Ashram of Sai Baba in India.
The next morning it went a lot better with the Swiss and in the next 2 days we bumped and bounced through the beautiful landscape back to Nyalam, with a view of beautiful mountains, frozen rivers, eagles, Pikas (very large rabbits), Kyangs and Owa’s (sort of gazelle-like beasts). It was already clear that it was a lot warmer, especially during the day, because the amount of ice in the rivers was considerably less than a day or 10 earlier.
Saturday, May 28, we left Nyalam on time in the morning to get to the customs in Zhangmu in time to avoid the worst of the crowds and not have to wait a few more hours like on the outward journey.
Just outside Nyalam we dived into the beautiful gorge of the Bhote Kosi river. A deep gorge in the Himalayas and thus one of the most important connections between Tibet and Nepal. The landscape soon changed from dry, cold and bare, to warm, damp and green and overgrown. We had driven this road twice before, but it remains beautiful and this road is perhaps the most beautiful road we have ever traveled.
After yesterday’s two flat tires, a new surprise awaited us during the last kilometers in Zhangmu. In the hidden street of this border town, the truck and the first 2 land rovers braked for the stationary traffic, where we were in the second car. Suddenly we heard a loud bang and we were shaken up and our car hit the first car. With a sore back we got out of the car to see what exactly had happened. It turned out that the brakes of Land Rover No. 3 had suddenly failed. The shock was good for our traveling companions in the last car. Not only did they have to watch with sorrow how their car would ram the jeep with their traveling companions in front of them, they also thought back to the past 2 hours in which they had driven this car along many deep ravines. Arno, who the day before had driven in the same car over a few high mountain passes of more than 5000 meters, followed by steep descents along deep abysses, scratched his head. Well, luckily everything went well again. However, the car was unable to continue and blocked the already congested road even further. We walked on to the border, where we had to wait a long time for the Tibetan drivers and guide to take care of everything. Just before the customs officers’ lunch break, they finally showed up, so we didn’t have to wait an extra hour. You cannot imagine that the border between the Netherlands and Germany closes for an hour in the afternoon because the customs officers have a lunch break.
Back in Nepal we continued the beautiful road along the Bhote Kosi. In Nepal, we were treated to an Abir shower near Dhulikel by a ritual of Nepalese. She sprayed passing vehicles with water with red Abir powder. Since not everyone had their windows closed in time, some were full of the red colored water. According to the guide, it would be a kind of rain dance. Lately it has been quite hot and dry in Kathmandu and the farmers are craving water. The water supply has fallen to approximately half the water requirement. It has not been so hot and dry in Kathmandu in more than ten years and there is a good chance that a new heat record will be recorded in the coming days.
Late in the afternoon we were back in busy, hot, familiar Kathmandu. Also pleasant. And wonderful to finally be able to wash really and well again after we had not seen a bath or shower for 2 weeks and thus conclude a wonderful adventure. At night in Kathmandu it was unimaginably hot, even without clothes and with a fan on it was still hot. What a huge contrast to the cold in Tibet.
The next day it was a big reunion in the streets of Kathmandu. On the street we met all our travel companions once or more, almost all the volunteers from Cross borders and a number of other acquaintances who we had not seen for a few weeks. Cozy, back in Kathmandu!
Less good news: one of the Dutch boys in Kathmandu has been arrested on Sunday for breaking up with his Nepalese girlfriend. She was a bit of a freak who accused him of all kinds of things, but he had a lot to explain to the police before they let him go and started to question her accusations. He was still a little dazed at night. In the prison where he was allowed to stay for a few hours, he was in one cell with Nepalese, who clearly had traces of abuse.
Saturday afternoon we leave for Amsterdam. The coming days we will arrange the last things here, give some more computer lessons, say goodbye to the children, etc. Sunday morning, June 5, we will be back in the Netherlands.