The next day we set off together and walked along beautiful trails following a deep gorge up into forest and beyond to mountain Tibetan villages, snow covered peaks and glaciers lining the horizon, I completely switched off from my objectives and just enjoyed the here and now of it all, the simple life, the Tibetan homes that we visited and ate in. Imagine doing this in the west just walking into someoneâ€™s property and asking if we can come in and eat, they would have us arrested or shoot us....!
The first place we came across was an old Tibetan house/farm very basic, mules, chickens, goats. A lively bubbly young Tibetan came to greet us, smiling and quickly showing us to a room which we could sleep in practically a part of the barn with a few beds and things that they stored in there, it felt very peaceful here, simple uncomplicated where you could just be yourself, no passing of time to be aware of.
The bubbly young woman was called Chorma, and the name to a beautiful Tibetan song that I heard last week after the Tibetian wedding, great memories already. I felt it reflected her inner beauty. She was not particularly beautifull, but radiant. A real beauty that lasts far longer than the tricks of the flesh I will never forget her something so pure, clean and happy. She had hardened features and skin that had been weather from the outdoor life and conditions here, but she shone from within there were no clutter in her mind or her heart, just completely happy with what, who why and when, at times like these the only frustration is not to be able to communicate as she spoke or understood no English, just Tibetan and Chinese. We stayed that night, danced to Tibetan music, I taught them how to play some card games the Chinese seemed to enjoy this competitiveness and Chorma quickly picked it up, she laughed all night long, not caring who won or lost but amused by the playing of it.
We decided to stay here for Christmas, wow was it Christmas eve already, I did not even think about it, I talked with my Chinese friends and we thought it would be a good thing if some of us went to the nearest market and bought some fresh supplies back to cook a good Christmas meal for everyone, as they were in short supply here. The nearest market was a 6 hour walk and a 2 hour taxi ride, we arranged for a taxi to meet us on the nearest accessible part of the road. It would be a nice surprise for Chorma and so I set off with one of the others.
It was a long walk back up the side of the steep valley from the lower altitude of the river where Chormas village was and a dusty ride into town from there. We got our supplies, kilos of fresh vegetables and set off to make the journey back, but we struggled to find a taxi driver who was prepared to take us down what was a pretty gnarly, rough dirt road to where we could walk back from. We eventually found one but by the way he had stopped a little later to wash his car, I thought then no way is he going to take us down that track we came up, he is too precious with his car, sure enough we turned off from the main road and started to descend down the narrow steep track, he hesitated, slowly advanced, stopped, muttered something, got out, removed a few rocks from ahead that were bothering him! painfully slow, this continued for 20 minutes, he eventually stopped and told us he was not going any further, I was a little agitated as was my friend this meant an extra 2 hours walk down a steep valley with kilos of shopping, he knew where we wanted to go at the beginning and had agreed now he wanted to ditch us and he wanted paying. It was getting late now with little time left to argue with the sun now very low in the sky and no light with us. My Chinese friend argued for a while both parties now trying not to lose face, eventually we agreed to pay him but he was to show us a short cut and made him lead the way. We followed him through someoneâ€™s house then out into the back to find a steep trail, we made him walk all the way down with us not sure if this short cut was indeed short, but fair enough we arrived at where we were picked up but lost a lot of time and light now fading so we marched as fast as we could, sweat dripping from my forehead, we both were silent as we both knew it would not be good stumbling about on the side of this ravine in the dark, as the trail was very narrow and at times we were hard up against the rock face edging along where parts of the trail had eroded and fallen, there was no room for error and nothing to hold on to, just a long way down to the raging river below, just a normal days walk for the locals here who we often saw herding their goats and yaks along this way. We hurried along as fast as possible, but darkness surely engulfed us, and were reduced to creeping along, now everything changed, the shadows of the night and tricks of the mind questioned where we were, how far was the bridge that we crossed over the river? no way to see ahead, quickly losing track of time and distance but the night was clear and again I stopped and stared up into the heavens at the trillions of stars and for a moment was lost amongst them, the feeling was so peaceful, not lost, not concerned. I had a feeling of being exactly where I wanted to be you can never be lost with all this around you.
My friend behind was struggling, nervous, I could hear him stumbling and muttering, not being able to see, I reassured him to take it easy it was dark now anyway so no point in rushing. I realized then I was carrying my camera which self illuminated for a few seconds if I pressed the shutter to focus, enough to catch a glimpse of the way ahead, with this we followed snippets of the trail like parts of a video tape that had been erased making up the bits in between with our imagination and slowly we descended. The trail flattened and opened out but then became difficult to find the way as nothing to orientate with and many trails branching out in all directions. I had a vague idea where I felt we should go but in this situation I was even starting to doubt my own optimism, just then we noticed a light shining opposite, someone waving a torch, we followed this bright star, which turned out to be Chorma who had been concerned with our late arrival, she had come out as a beacon to guide us through this dark hour and many hours it had been. I was wet all over with sweat maybe 14 hours we had been traveling today but soon happily to be re united and back at the nativity scene to celebrate the festivities together. Her light guided us in the right direction and we soon found the trail again which led us over the rope bridge to the village on the other side. The village of mud house and flat roofs, they did look like something from Bethlehem with a slight Chinese twist, so we did arrive at the stables as we did not wish to be in a noisy inn, but no new born baby here. We ate our modest meal of vegetables, chilli and Tibetian bread, danced, laughed and went to bed. I will miss being around these people. I was starting to forget or to let go of my desires to get to Lhasa, maybe let it go and just see where things take me, as it was here and now I was more than happy to wonder around these valleys, mountains and villages for the rest of my timeâ€¦..but just one thing that keeps nagging at me all because of all those people that said I cannot go you will not make it, makes me want to do it more, I pull back and my thoughts returned to the forbidden road to Lhasa, well China will have to be another place to have to return to.
I started to take notice of the sky, I took it for granted because for weeks now it had been cloudless, but now each day I saw more and more big cumulus boiling up far in the distance towards the north, I had become slightly complacent and got used to walking under a clear blue sky, but winter storms must surely be well overdue, there was no news that snow had fallen yet I really must get going now whilst things are so favorable.