Tuesday, 9 December 2008
I got talking to the owners and told them my very loose traveling ideas and that I wanted to walk as much as possible, all the way to Zongdian (Shangri-La) if possible which was about 120 km, the next village along was Haba village and they said that there was a trail to walk there but hard to find the way, I pleaded with them to draw a map and get me on the right way, great they agreed and set about drawing me a map. Excited about the prospect of following local trails away from the normal tourist routes I waited patiently for its completion. I watched and waited, they scratched their heads, debated together, drew bits, rubbed bits out, after nearly 1 hour finally they showed me their hard efforts.....I held this valuable bit of information in my hand and starred at it to see if it made sense, in the end there was not too much to get confused about and I struggled not to laugh, OK they really tried hard I even think they enjoyed the challenge, they produced very well a map and I could see they had thought about it really hard, they drew four big triangles, a snake chasing a tiger that was running away from spears that some demi God had sent raining down from heaven, I was not sure if this was some sort of historical map handed down from ancestors or if they were just trying to challenge me at my own game...... OK and then their explanation was even more abstract, they pointed at the triangles, space invaders and spiders and said that after two big mountains go left........he pointed at the second big triangle.....long pause........I thought he was going to start clearing his throat so I moved away a little........was he thinking?.........no way! that was it!...........yes and? I was waiting for something else, where`s the village? How far? What`s the snake got to do with anything? My God I love it.........I kept it as a souvineer, completely useless as a map, but it will remain a great source of amusement until the end of my days, so with that I decided to hire the woman from the guest house as a guide and kept the map....just in case?
The woman agreed to guide me but first we had to attend a wedding, then she would be free of family matters, great why not this will be interesting.
We got up early, ate Tibetan steamed bread and drank Tibetan tea....I have come across this before so I already knew what to expect and since then I have actually grown to be able to swallow it and since then gradually grown to enjoy it, its tea, they put a little in a big wooden tube, hot water, Yak butter, salt then mash it around with a big plunger that fits inside. I think I like the whole process of it all more than the actual drinking of it, its like a little morning ritual, the preparation, the waiting, the gurgling, slurping sound as it mixed with the plunger, a little cannabis went into this mix for some reason, why not a little twist, then we all sat around the clay oven warming ourselves and hugging our tea. I look at their smiling faces watching the steam from our cups engulf our smiles, what peaceful people, I met them yesterday but instantly feel so relaxed and myself around them, curious, interesting, happy to just sit and not have to say anything. The tea slid down like Dukhams Multigrade, leaving a trail of rich yak residue lining the entire inside of my mouth, throat, larynx then a sharp hit from the salt ping....kind of wakes you up with a sort of slap round the face and sets you up for the day, if you can get this down you so early on in the morning then you can handle anything else that the day has to offer, my internal organs lined fed and ready to go.
We set off behind the guest house up a steep local trail, she pointed to some small distant dwellings high up on the mountain side, maybe 40 minutes she said. Indeed we arrived 40 minutes later but sweating now from the climb and the sun that had appeared above the eastern rocky horizon. The mornings and evenings were bitterly dry and cold, freezing, but as soon as the sun appeared it changed dramatically climbing quickly to 30 degrees.
We arrived at a house where many Tibetan faces, all dressed up in their best traditional clothes, dazzling under the crystal clear bright sunlight, smiling and very attentive to my presence but not over the top to make it uncomfortable. I am introduced to the bride and groom then settle down amongst the crowd, scanning the variety of characters, the old, the young, women, children all have their own story and place amongst them all, much laughter amongst them all very relaxed.
I unpack my camera discretely not wanting to be intrusive and start to capture these faces, I love the old folk here so rich their faces all crinkled and marked but each line tells a story like the rings of the tree, a time, a place, religion their faith, shining eyes that reach into your soul, yes I can see you too my eyes meet another, we peer into each other for some sort of exchange and I feel good.
The food arrives, tables everywhere full, keep coming back with more, I avoid drinking and refuse anything alcoholic looking, enjoying the clarity of the moment, then someone comes up to fill my cup, a teapot, aaah good....... tea, a clear liquid comes out, oh...... water! why not. Thirsty from the salty food I downed it all in one go, maybe half a pint, I felt the cold liquid try to evaporate as it left my cup and entered the warm cavity of my mouth, it gushed down my throat removing the lining of Tibetan tea like paint stripper to finally re-condense in my stomach, which then ignited and sent an eruption of fire out through every orifice it could find, I still had a mouthful of the stuff that I could not quite swallow. Looking around I could see no option, eyes bulging now, streaming with tears and purple faced, much to the amusement of my hosts I held my nose and swallowed again......bang! for a split second I was not sure if I was going to throw up or die right there on the spot, for the next five minutes my heart was beating through my chest my temples pounding and I could feel the blood pumping around my body slowly getting saturated with alcohol, then it all became quite pleasant, Hmmmmm very nice, very relaxed now, smiling giggling laughing, for the rest of the day I wandered around in a dream enjoying the sensation of being, relaxed, happy and........ completely drunk, along with most of the other men by now who had also been downing this fire water. At some stage I kind of woke up and was inside someoneâ€™s house talking with and old guy, well he was babbling away in Tibetan, I was picking up bits and pieces asking what this is? Whatâ€™s that? They seemed to enjoy telling me everything in their strange tongue, I was not sure how many hours or days I had been doing this, but eventually I was retrieved by the geust house owner and told it was time to go back down....oh yeah, thatâ€™s it I remember now we have to go back down. I could not understand it, it was so difficult to walk, and down, very, very steep bloody hell I am flying woooooosh... down, so far down there, weeeeeeeee, whoooops, she grabbed me from behind again and told me to be careful, but she had a good grip, I trusted her, she was a strong Tibetan woman, I felt safe.
A great day and the evening was filled with much talking laughing and dancing back at the guest house, they put on some Tibetan music, they love to sing and dance these people, I was still feeling very light headed and happy so suggested that they could put on their traditional costumes and we could have a dance, so they dressed up and I dressed up in their dresses and danced, laughed and joked all night. Later after finally finding my bed I lay there for a moment thinking of the past few days, weeks and events, no, I did not think I was going to be doing this today, the first to many of these thoughts no doubt?
Then I woke but wished I had not, I felt like a military parade, parts of me kept falling out, my brain, my eyes, my mouth, euuuugh what happened, ''you idiot you got drunk again'' the guardian angel scolded.......I warned you not to do it, just like before just like last timeâ€¦..I often have these debates with myself makes me feel a part of a relationship and reminds me what I am not missing, yeah, yeah stop nagging I know it. High octane breath, volatile fumes of fermented rice was going to be the theme to the rest of the day, along with a slightly semi-detached feeling of body and mind. Not even the Tibetan tea managed to disguise this taste, I belched and burped alcohol fumes all day as we set out along the trail to Haba village.
The crisp morning air and elevated scenery took my mind off things for a while as we climbed high up over a pass to the north, through trees and wilderness, yes I was grateful for the guide today there was no way I would have found the way in this condition and the trail was non existent in places. Towards the top I saw a distant peak covered in snow at the summit, it looked impressive, beautiful against the clear blue sky, I enquired as to what mountain it was, she told me Haba snow mountain, she said she had climbed it, ah ha tell me more about it I asked her, my interest stimulated. She said it was a hard climb but nothing too technical providing weather is good, 5400 meters, a little big for a first climb maybe. I had never been so high before and was quickly going through all the pros and cons in my mind but already I knew I wanted to investigate and to try it.
6 hours later we arrived in Haba. I paid her for her trouble, and hoped to see them again. It had been a long day considering the way I felt, my soul still traumatized from the wedding. I found a good guest house and make enquiries about the mountain, the owner had climbed it many times and was obviously a little put out when I said I wanted to climb it alone, I think she was hoping for a little business setting me up with guides, yaks, porters. Eventually after spending enough time there and feeding enough she gave away a few directions and information, giving in to the fact that I was obviously going to try to climb it, for safety reasons it was wise for her to tell me all she could, she stood outside with me and pointed to a patch of ground high up with no trees, â€œthereâ€ she pointed â€œyou have to get to thereâ€ and with a snake like motion of her hand with broken English I gathered it was sort of up and over the ridge then round and follow the tree line up, I did not dare to ask for a map this time, Hmmm seems straight forward enough.
It was a full moon that night, I was restless going over everything in my mind, was I conditioned enough? Did I have all the information I needed? What equipment should I take? in the end I decided I was not conditioned enough really the highest I had ever climbed was early this year in the Pyrenees with a good friend of mine that had been crossing the entire range following the HRP, we walked maybe three weeks together and climbed the three highest peaks, making my record of 3400 meters, so although relatively fit and healthy the altitude was going to be a problem, anyway it would be interesting to try, if it got too hard or dangerous then just let it go, it would be a good conditioning walk anyway. I decided to do it.
I got up to go to the toilet which was outside. The air was cold and crisp, it had been gradually getting colder each day as I made my way further north and the elevation now was 2300 meters. The sky was perfectly clear with millions of stars. I gazed transfixed to it all...the full moon that illuminated the snowy peak of the mountain was taunting me, look how beautiful I am and peaceful and how close it seems, yes it did look tantalizingly close and beautiful. Suddenly a shooting star streaked across the entire skyline seemingly at just the right moment just to super enhance what was already too speechless to think about, it made me forget what it was I nearly thought about, so I let it go like a dream that you feel was so beautiful but not allowed to remember in waking life.....what an amazing world this is......I took it all as a good omen for tomorrow, I was filled with awe, wonder and confidence, even if I donâ€™t get to the top it will still be beautiful.