Not to be confused with TINTIN IN TIBET our own Glenn came in from the wilds of Tibet to recount his latest adventure. After his medical mishap in March whilst trekking in Nepal the great fear was that history was going to repeat itself. Luckily such nasty doubts were completely unfounded and his body performed as desired. However IT problems on the night frustrated the best laid plans and we had to make do with the lap top and use the mouse instead of the pointer. Sorry folks, the IT problems caused the story to get a bit garbled along the way.
Tibet is undoubtedly a land many of us have heard lots about but most know very little of. Most of us know it as the home of the Dalai Lama, a place where monks chant endlessly and yak butter tea is drunk by the bucket load. Just two years ago the capital Lhasa saw shooting, riots, and widespread arson. The Tibetan people are ethnically different from the Han Chinese with a vastly different written language, culture and religion. Arriving by air into Lhasa altitude 3600m leaves one gasping for breath caused by both the thin air and the kaleidoscope of vast numbers of people dressed as if they had just stepped out of a story book. Many carried prayer beads, swirled prayer wands and muttered prayers as they walked along the streets. Lhasa is also home to many Mandarin speaking Chinese plus Islamic peoples who have drifted in there over the centuries. The temples were a seething mass of humanity all intent on doing homage to their favourite deity and adding their own butter to the yak butter candles that flicker endlessly in the dim light filling the air with pungent smells. The floors are often slippery with the butter that has dripped onto them over the years.
The world heritage protected Potala Palace dominates the skyline above the city. Revered pictures of the thirteenth Dalai Lama and earlier ones are proudly displayed but the 14th (the current one) is ominously absent. It is a serious offence to even own a picture of him. After the requisite two days acclimatisation in Lhasa it was off to Ganden Monastery the start of the four day trek. A quick solo climb to visit the sky burial site above the monastery convinced me the need to avoid dying whilst there. Having your dead body pecked by the circling vultures would not be a nice way to go.
Next morning at first light we loaded our gear onto the two shaggy yaks and we were off. Despite countless training climbs up Barnicoat above Marsden Valley the thin air soon sucks all energy from your body. The yak man pushed on ahead and had the camp all ready as I staggered in for the night. All the choice special food that had been asked for had been honourably supplied. However who would think to tell people in China to bring rice though. Despite this my team of two Tibetans lovingly looked after me. Early next morning we headed up the trail. Reaching the pass of Shuga-la 5250m by lunch time tested ones determination to the full. My yak man tried to tempt me to use a horse for the last 100m but gritting my teeth I taught him some new words. The track carried on down a narrow path to a massive valley across a river and up another steep track to our camp site below the next pass. After staggering into the camp site late in the afternoon all I could do was breath heavily and eat and drink trying to recover. The wind and gentle snow did nothing to enhance the scenery. Whilst summiting Chitu-La 5210m the next day it was hard to walk upright but the narrow boulder strewn track soon plunged down the other side to where the air tasted better. Some amazingly primitive nomads invited the three of us in for yak butter tea. I have never tasted a better drink sitting around their open fire in a roofless moth eaten tent. That night the four little groups of trekkers celebrated the last night on the trail around a bomb fire and swapped stories about our adventures in the remote Tibetan mountains. Day four soon sped by as we all strode out to the road end from where we were transported by a 4x4 down the narrow trail to the Samye Monastery. This is yet another ancient monastery that was smashed by the Red Guards and is still being rebuilt with money from Beijing. The guides all recount how in days gone by Monks and Nuns swarmed over the site but today few remain. Next day it took almost all day to motor back to Lhasa over some difficult sand swept roads.
So it was mission accomplished, a few new words of Tibetan learnt, and a whole new appreciation of a land and people who once resided in story books but has now been moved to one’s heart.