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 lie 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 birth day of our first nephew Niels, 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 sitting in the car with Arno said that he felt strong energy inside telling hime something would happen to someone in the group. Less than fifteen minutes later, the second jeep including Susanne and the Swiss, stopped. Susanne slightly panicky run to the third Jeep (while to first jeep with our guide was nowhere to be seen). It appeared that the Swiss had got an attack of epilepsy. He had badly hit his head against the roof of the jeep and bitten his tongue, so that the saliva dripping out of his mouth was red. That didn’t look very well.
The Frenchman immediately stepped into his car and began a kind of healing session, during 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 relatively alright. However, half hour after lunch the Swiss got a new attack. Now the others began to worry. When a seizure is severe, hospitalization may be necessary. That would mean that the fastest way would be going back to Darchen and hoping that we would be able to arrange a helicopter to come. Driving further towards Kathmandu would last another 3.5 days and every minute that we rode, we would be further away from the helicopter. Of course no one could fully judge the situation, because nobody had experience with the attacks of the Swiss and he was too much of the world to communicate normally. A difficult situation. Since there was no communication between the these two jeeps and the first jeep already very far ahead, there was little choice but to continue plodding the direction of Paryang. According to the Irish girl traumas usually are the cause of epileptic seizures of the “patients” who come to them for a healing.
The Swiss, who had suffered from seizures for 20 years, was certainly very happy the healer was with him that night and wanted him to sleep in his room. We had already decided to take a guest house and not stay in a tent to limit the stress of his (and our) bodies. When diner came a third attack by the French healer was nipped in the bud. The Swiss who seemed to be very down to earth at the begin of the journey now started to seriously consider to swap his next trek into the Himalayas for a visit to the ashram of Sai Baba in India.
The next morning the Swiss was already feeling a bit better and in the following two days we bumped through the superb landscape to Nyalam, having splendid views on the mountainss, frozen rivers, eagles, Pikas (very large rabbits), Kyangs and Owa’s (type of gazelle animals). It was clearly visible that the temparature had risen considerably in past 10 days cause the quantity of ice in the rivers was much less than 10 days earlier.
This time the crossing of the Brahmaputra river went much smoother and in stead of waiting for hours this time it took less the 15 minutes to get on the “ferry”.
Saturday May 28 we left Nyalam on time to be early at the customs in Zhangmu so with should not have to wait a couple hours again just like on the outward journey.
Just outside Nyalam we “dove” into we the beautiful gorge of the Bhote Kosi river. A deep gap in Himalaya mountains and one of the most important connections between Tibet and Nepal. Soon the landscape changed from dry, cold and empty, to warm, wet and green. We had driven this road already 2 times, but it stays amazing and it might be the most beautiful road which we have ever taken.
After the two flat tyres of yesterday, during the last kilometres in Zhangmu a new surprise waited for us. In the busy streets of this bordertown our truck and the first 2 landrovers slowed down for a traffic jam (we were sitting in the second landrover). Suddenly we heard a loud slap and we were shaken and our car collided against the first car. With a painful back we stepped from the car to look what had exactly happened. It appeared that the brakes of third landrover had refused to work. Our travel companions we frightened pretty much. Not only they had to sit and watch their jeep colliding against the next landrover with their travel companions, they also thought of the past 2 hours and the ride along many deep ravines. Arno had been sitting in the same car the day before when we crossed mountain passes of more than 5000 meters followed by a steep down hill ride along deep ravines. Luckily nothing really serious had happened. However the car couldn’t drive no longer further and the road was blocked even worse.
We walked further down to the border crossing, where we had wait a long time before the Tibetans drivers and guide had settled everyting.
Just in time for the lunch break of the customs they showed up, so we did not need to wait an extra hour. You cannot imagine the border between the Netherlands and Germany would close for one hour at noon because the employees go out for a lunch break.
Back in Nepal we continued our way along the beautiful Bhote Kosi. Near Dhulikel we were treated with a shower of abir by a ritual of Nepalese people. They sprayed passing vehicles with water and red Abir powder. Since not everyone had his window closed in time, some of our travel companions were filled with red colored water. According to the guide this was some kind of rain dance: the last couple of weeks had been very hot and dry in Kathmandu and the farmers were craving for water. The water supply had dropped to about half of the water needed. It hasn’t been this hot and dry in Kathmandu for ten years and chances are high that in the coming days a new heat record will be measured.
Late in the afternoon we were back in the crowded, hot and familiar Kathmandu. Totally different but it was great to be back. And after not being able to have a (decent) shower for two weeks had seen, we were happy to finally have a proper bath and close this wonderful adventure.
Overnight Kathmandu was incredibly hot, even without clothes and with a fan it was still hot. What a huge contrast to the cold in Tibet.
The next day was a great reunion in the streets of Kathmandu: in the streets of Kathmandu we met all our traveling companions one or several times, almost all Cross Borders volunteers and some other acquaintances that we had not seen a couple of weeks. Great to be back.
Not so nice to hear was the fact of a Dutch acquaintance being arrested in Kathmandu last Sunday because he had broken up with his Nepali girlfriend. She was a bit of a freak and accused him of many things, so he had a lot to explain to the police before they let him go and began to doubt her accusations. At night he walked around still a bit dazed. In the prison, he was put in a cell together with some Nepalese, who clearly had substantial evidence of abuse.
Saturday we leave for Amsterdam. In the coming days we will arrange the last things over here, provide some computer lessons, say goodbye to the children, etc. On Sunday June 5th we will be back in The Netherlands.