Tibet 2014 - Paryang to Chui full

Paryang, 8 September.

I wake at 2am thinking it’s time to get up. Guy dreams about work, Bev wakes up thinking about training, it must be Monday. A dark morning. I have a scattered meditation but settle on gratitude and the joy of being here in these circumstances. It’s a delightful place, we sit for breakfast with the warmth of the yak dung stove. Mother is blessing the water and praying at the shrine in the corner of the room, her daughter is simultaneously feeding the fire, brushing her teeth, combing her hair and dusting the family photos. A wild haired man wakes from his sleep on the bench by the shrine. Delightful place, warm and cosy, we take photos of the mother and daughter before we leave.


We need provisions and stop in the old town centre, a poor, dusty and dirty place; the pool tables have been covered for the night. Life looks hard here but there are the undoubted joys of the Bearded Fruit Store. We’re on the road again, heading west. To our left are the snow topped mountains of Dolpo in Nepal. Another long flat plain, cloud behind, sun ahead. Good grassland for the flocks of sheep. One flock runs across the road, from a distance it seems like liquid until we get closer and the flock splits two. Half a dozen 4x4’s have stopped by a lake and spilt out a crowd of Chinese tourists. With these good roads and the access of the Bejing to Lhasa train, Tibet must be a great place for the Chinese to visit.


The mountains of the Indian Himalaya, the Nanda Devi range, come into view on our left; to the north and our right are the softer contours of Tibetan mountains. A roadside statue of a Chinese policeman, arm raised in an authority, signals the approach of Ali, Manosarovar, Kailash district and we join other vehicles to have our passports checked. At the police checkpoints, records are noted of the vehicle’s arrival times and their drivers and passengers. Although you can’t be sure if the details are correlated, it seems that the Tibetans have learnt to police themselves. There are many ways they could transgress the rules and lose their work permits and our drivers are careful to obey the speed limits.


We lunch early at a pit stop where a man finds a green cloth to cover a fresh yak’s head that’s lying on the ground. The crew tuck into yak meat. Leathery faced men and women in layers of aprons, one jangling with dozens of bells, climb onto a variety of motorbikes, tractors and vans. A luxury coach swishes by.


The road climbs to the 5250m Maryul La. Maryul is a Tibetan word for Mother. Sun, cool wind, prayer flags, discarded clothing and chu, mouse rabbits, familiar to us in Ladakh but the first we’ve seen in Tibet. More police statues by the roadside, their faces spray painted in different colours, white, red, black - subtle acts of subversion. I climb a low ridge above our lunch stop by the road side. Mankaji has made excellent veg pasties and Chinese waffle crackers, I pretend thev’ve made me speak Chinese which seems to amuse the crew. We’re still getting to know each other and humour is universal, especially at the expense of the Chinese. A lone Chinese woman in a smart blue anorak and rucksac walks by, trying to thumb a lift. A double coned red mountain is ahead of us, we slowly pass it by. Huge articulated trucks are speeding past, taking advantage of the new road. Roads bring change, five years ago lorries like this would have been a fantasy here.


Lake Manosarovar comes into view, a wonderful blue with a snow capped backdrop of Girla Mandhata. And then Kailash. Our first view, white behind grey lesser mountains. Like everyone, we stop and stare. A physical reaction, goose pimples down my spine; this is really it, Mt Kailash. There are roadside stalls selling rocks and two huge modern visitor centres which seem totally incongruous, mass tourism is coming. Kailash views keep getting better as we continue west along the north of the lake until we turn onto a track towards Chiu gompa, our stop for the night.


There are new guest houses filled with Indian tourists on pilgrimage to Lake Manosarovar but we settle on a rundown place on the beach called the Lung Pa. A grim cold ground floor room with a gale howling through the gaps round the window frame. Cardboard packing to the rescue. Guy has a better lake view room upstairs, next to the dining room which has a sheep dung stove. The outside toilets are a real test - a long bunker with broken low concrete partitions separating the drop holes, always occupied by squatting Chinese soldiers on their iPhones. Very disconcerting.


Chiu gompa is up a hill behind the guest house. A relatively sophisticated toilet arrangement has a metal chair, with the seat missing, perched over the drop hole and surrounded by a low wall with 360 degree views. Behind the toilet is a small plateau with a wonderful cluster of stupas and prayer flags - and stunning views. Kailash emerges in the distance, briefly through the clouds. We follow a group of nomads on the kora around the hilltop and arrive back at the entrance to the prayer hall. It’s being repainted which means it’s being renovated; being renovated means that it’s empty, though the main attraction, a sandalwood statue of Padmasambhava, is in place - but completely wrapped in plastic sheeting. It’s said that this is where Padmasambhava spent his last seven nights on earth. But it’s also said that his body rested in Bhutan, some fair distance away. The plastic wrapping does not deter the nomads from paying homage - which is as it should be.


The new paints are bright, synthetic colours but the detailing is good. There’s a jolly atmosphere, the head painter is singing. One of the nomads wants his photo taken as his family look on, he’s irrepressible, high fiving and laughing before getting back into their minibus and moving on. During the night we take our camera and tripod to the beach, there’s a full moon over Manosarovar.


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NEXT: CHUI TO THOLING


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