Asia | China | Tibet – Through the Roof – part 2
Once again not only the weeks but also the miles have flown by and while we are currently preparing ourselves for the final dive into the warm but chaotic plains of India our tale is still lingering somewhere on the Tibetan Plateau
Incense, urine, and a number of lesser players were caught in fierce competition, vying for a nasal pole position. My eyes were of little help as they were tangled in heaps of yak butter, wool, prayer flags and wild nomads. And the crowded alleys had long since overwhelmed my sense of touch as I squeezed through the wool-clad masses. My ears had first drawn me into the circus but now they had also found too many sources for their attention. Wool was being bartered for meat, cheese for eggs, money for turquoise, prayers for nirvana, and in my case, sanity for salvation. I switched to automatic pilot, eased back on the throttle, and was carried through the scene by the clockwise motion of the pilgrims circuit.
Enveloped in a sea of yak hide, braided hair and spinning prayer wheels, I was escorted inside the 6th century Jokhang Temple, the heart and soul of the Tibetan people. Though it was no less crowded than the streets surrounding it, the sanctity was immediately noticeable. Hushed tones carried mantras through the smoky and dimly lit inner passageways and I followed. The prayer wheels that lined the outer walls were blurred in constant motion as an endless wave of leathery hands spun their worn handles. Prayers to the Earth, prayers to the sky, prayers to the jewel of the lotus flower, it was a celebration of life, creation, and of death. Unlike the struggle for political freedom that silently persisted outside, inside the sacred walls it was the spiritual freedom that was sought. Freedom from the eternal Wheel of Samsara, the merciless cycle of suffering and rebirth, it was with this sole intention that the pilgrims made their devoted circumambulations, caught deeply in one of the most intense expressions of faith that can be found on Earth.
I spent many hours walking in circles with the nomads and pilgrims, listening to the mystical drone of their prayers and feeling their unwavering belief engulf me like a viscous nectar; the milky smoke rising from the incense, the incessant revolutions of the prayer wheels, the clockwise motion of life spiraling around me, rising above the city, above the Chinese oppression, beyond desire and necessity – the riches of a people that hold little more than their own sustenance, if that, but yet are many realities removed from the materialism and physical frontiers of this life. It is a place where one can travel much further than any passport could ever dare; miles and miles across a spiritual landscape, a language of the heart, the words of the sages, where the wind is music and the sky becomes scripture, timeless in the sea of time, motionless in an ever-changing universe, but still swirling and rising, caught in a cyclone, a spinning top across the cosmos, through galaxies and constellations…and then I stepped outside surprised to find myself again on terra firma, Chinese terra firma to be exact, but even that was tolerable for I had just seen the ultimate border and it was one that their soldiers will never be able to violate.
From Lhasa we crossed the Brahmaputra River and rode through the labyrinth of mountains and across the vast ochre expanses towards Nepal. The views of Everest and the other giants in the region remained hidden in the churning milk of the sky but it was clear that we were nearing the greatest range of mountains in the world. We reached the Lalung La, the 5150 meter pass that geographically and spiritually separates the high plateau from the Himalayas and the plains of the Ganges so far below. The wind was incredibly strong and snow was dancing in frantic swirls. The prayer flags were snapping in the gales and it seemed as if the whole world was lying just below us. Just below the intensity of the heavens there is a land where cows and rats and monkeys are gods, where bodies are burned and their ashes float along sacred waters to join the sea. The intensity of faith finds another expression, where the human soul and the divine are manifested in more than one billion different stories and tales, the struggles for life, the joy, the misery, the ongoing human saga with another face, another expression…and it was all right there just below us; The Indian Sub-continent.
We descended through a never-ending series of hairpin turns, deep chasms, cascading waterfalls and an increasingly lush and green landscape. We spanned the distance from winter to summer in about 4 1/2 vertical kilometers. We had passed through the Roof of the World and broken through the icy barriers that enclose it and as we spilled out onto the rolling and green foothills of the Himalayas China couldn’t have been further away…and that in itself was most comforting. Namaste Nepal ! What treasures do you hold for us this time around ?