Sunday, 14 December 2008

take me to Shangrilla

I slept well that night, short but deep sleep. I find this that the more you push yourself the less you seem to need sleep, my body felt alive, tingling all over with the stimulation of exercise. I was ready to hit the road to Shangrilla. I set off towards the next village, Bashotai a 30 km hike. I had no choice but to follow the road and no money now even for the bus as I had missed the chance to change foreign currency and my last money I gave to the guide for his help. Did not matter, money had no bearing on the way I felt. I was still on a high from the achievement yesterday so settled down to a steady days hike, ready to face whatever came my way. I stopped just short of the next village, my legs were complaining they did not want to go any further, so I agreed they had done very well the last day or so and made camp on a hill amongst what looked like a grave yard, but there was running water and a great view of the valley to the east, the sun will be up early from this point and warm everything up in the morning. That night I made a fire, cooked and enjoyed my solitude amongst the dead and felt so alive.

I had a disturbed sleep not due to any discontented spirits but I still had the remains of the chest infection that I picked up whilst in Bangkok, big lumps of that place kept coming up, coughing and hacking most of the night. I guess I have been spoilt from the clean air of southern France.

Next day I followed the road, climbing 700 meters of tarmac, looking for any chance to cheat the twists and turns. I managed to find a few trails that cut through the switch backs. It dropped down again the other side then again another big climb maybe another 1000 meters, I was fading fast, this place was hard.
It was just midday and I wanted to stop, I was hungry, tired and felt the need to just lie down and sleep. Just at that point I saw a group of Chinese working off the side of the road cutting trees, our eyes met and they waved, signaling me to come over and eat. I hesitated just long enough to make a few calculations and decisions battling with what my body wanted to do and my objective, the stomach finally got the majority of the vote as always, but I was relieved to have the excuse and the opportunity to stop and re-cooperate. I gave my quick introductions enough to tell them I was tired, hungry and on my way walking to Shangri-La. They smiled, gave me tea, Tibetan tea, this time the butter and the richness of it was very welcome I could feel my body absorbing and processing all the fats and salt, ahhhhhhh the warmth of the fire also, hot liquid to drink then eating Tibetan bread and soup, broth made from vegetables and yak meat, pretty old by the texture and smell of it and mainly just fat and gristle, but even this was a rich needed meal compared to the rations I had been eating consisting of muesli or noodles. I looked around at them they had no more interest to know anything else just very content with my presence, nothing else to say but to enjoy the moment, sharing the food and the fire it left me feeling warm, cheeks glowing and the drone of their incoherent chattering started to become distant and echoey, my eyelids started to close, I did not fight it and laid down listening to the crackling of the fire. I felt as though I was completely wrapped in cotton wool. The voices got more distant and unimportant, a moment seemed to pass, then I spoke something which made me jump out of a deep crevasse that I had fallen into, a deep part of the subconscious and slipped away, just a few seconds but so, so far away, the jolt back to waking reality was a shock, I jumped my heart missed a beat, then as I regained stability to where, who, why, when I let go again .......just ten minutes or so but a deep place I had gone, I love this sort of fatigue, sleep that we used to do as a child in the back of the car driving home from a long summers day out our minds so free of clutter, so open, so free, so innocent we sleep well at these times.
I heard myself snoring and woke up to catch the end of the last gargling noise I was making, then I looked around at my friends who were smiling, I nodded and laughed. How comfortable I thought.

My energy restored I thanked them and got going again, feeling great again. 2.30 pm now and I was thinking I would not be able to make up the lost ground, with nearly 57km to go I was hoping to finish today to leave about 35 km for the next day, which meant now having to do 22 km in 3 hours before it got dark and cold. No matter I felt good I was re-energized and settled down to enjoy the walk. I managed to find some good short cuts which must have saved a lot of time because I finally came to rest, just after a big climb at 3900 meters, this left just 34km left for tomorrow, to arrive in Shangri-La. Perfect day.

It was a very cold night - 12 inside the tent everything was frozen, my boots, my socks were solid it was like trying to put your foot inside a brick. Water had frozen so there was no breakfast just a quick launch from out of my sleeping bag and quickly packed away to start walking and warm up.

It felt it hard again today I think because of too much walking on tarmac, with little in the way of variety, just long twisting roads with thick forest on both sides. I had also refused an invitation to eat, a little old man signaled me to come back to his Tibetan farm house and rest and eat, but my mind was too focused on reaching Shangri-La today and felt I did not want to get stuck there, looking back I wished I had, why do I feel I am such a rush I should cherish these incidental moments.
I plodded on and on an endless horizon of hot tarmac, time went slow but my legs felt like they were walking twice the distance until finally the last 4km they just stopped, I argued with them intensely and I think I heard them say ''I don’t care if its only 4 more centimeters we are not moving'' and so they didn’t.
Nothing to do, my legs had gone. I rested for half an hour and was really hard to get going again after that, but finally I arrived at 5.30pm to a heavy, dirty, grey, dusty uninspiring place, my body did not care, my mind was occupied by other thoughts but somewhere I was hoping there was more to this place than what I was seeing, this was the legendary Shangri La, it has to represent the name somewhere, surely?
I needed to find a bank, if I had any hope of a room to sleep tonight. I had been saving my last 20 Yuan which might get me a bad room if I haggled and looked desperate enough. I managed to find a bank but it had just closed, so it looks like I have to find that dingy room somewhere.
I was tired and hoped to come across something quick and easy as all I wanted to do now was to rest a little and take the weight off my shoulders. I stopped a friendly looking Chinese man, with a few hand signs I tried to ask where a cheap room would be, he grinned from ear to ear put his hand on my shoulder like he had found an old friend, '' Ahhh I am an Indian my friend''…… this confused me straight away as he was obviously Chinese '' also I am a Christian and take it on as my spiritual duty to find you a good cheap room'' ok I thought what am I getting myself into here I thought, so after explaining he used to live in India but his home land was China and then explaining to him where, why, when, who I was, that I was very tired and needed a cheap place to stay as I only had 20 Yuan left, he promptly marched me off around the corner into a building that looked like the dole office in West Bromwich next to the re habilitation center for under aged single parent heroin addicts, then practically demanded a room for me, the woman shook her head at first and looked at me with a blank look, OK I was a bit dirty, unshaven and certainly did not smell too good, but good enough for this place I was sure of it. My Christian saviour, with holy conviction on his side, raised the tempo a bit with her and a small arms of verbal conflict seemed to exchange, he won, the agitated woman then silently led me up the grey concrete steps to my room, the whole ambience was depressing, grey, cold, broken, draughty, someone coughed and it echoed the way echoes do in depressed high rise flats, reverberated and bounced around the corridors, old men smelling of strong tobacco and yesterdays alcohol, a baby cried, someone threw up and a chill ran through my spine. I was too tired to be bothered about it, but amused myself with the extremity of it all, my half glazed room overlooked a busy junction outside where big trucks screeched to a halt blazing their horns. I did have a TV and an electric blanket that only one strand worked, I was impressed! Maybe that was what the argument was about earlier and she was trying to charge extra!
Did I dare to use the toilets? Later I dared to investigate, it was not hard to decide which direction they were. I just knew it, I could feel thier presence just around the corner, first the acidic smell followed by the drip, dripping of faulty plumbing then I saw a row of cubicles their doors dropped to one side in a depressing broken un -maintained way, not shutting properly on purpose, proudly exposing its masterpiece of human waste, there was no snow mountain here I can tell you, but quite a few brown ones, in each cubicle there was a pyramid of human waste....a brown mountain and a trickle of residue that was overflowing over the bowl and making its way, creeping along the floor looking for something to infest......I ran away.

I went back to my room. I could feel particles of the toilet area all over me in my nostrils, my skin, my mouth, arrrrrrrgh. I started to undress so as to feel a little cleaner, my clothes were a mess, I removed my boots and nearly threw up with the smell, my socks were highly toxic, sticky and aggressive with me with the hardships of the road, I threw them in the corner of the room next to the door for protection against the living or the dead, no one, nothing would be able to get past them. OK maybe I have neglected a little bit of personal hygiene with myself over the last week or so. I heard one of the cubicles make a remark to that thought, it coughed, spat and threw up a sticky brown lump resembling a statement which translated something like ''get this anagram.....the pot kettle black calling ‘‘OK I get it, well priority for tomorrow after the bank we find a better place to stay and get on top of the hygiene situation and away from this one.

I slept surprisingly well maybe due to all the toxicity in the air and remarkably did not have any bad rashes or purple traces signifying blood poisoning. With luck and health still on my side I got out of there very quickly. I had a whole new day to explore, all day, no rush.
I found the bank and feeling financially re plenished I headed out into the plethora of stalls, stands, shacks and shops, buzzing with early morning feeding activity, noodles, pots and pans of this and that, which I never really got to grips with it all, I like to try most things and did but still don’t know what they were, things being steamed, fried, rolled, grilled, things that you not supposed to eat just there for decoration or pointing at mainly. Its all very interesting, I love the variety the creativity such care and attention with taste and sensations to match, Asian food for me is the best.
I find a small local place and sit down, they bombard me with Chinese straight away. I say I am hungry and I point to all the Chinese characters painted in big red letters on the wall, maybe this was the license for the shop or a prayer, they not understand, I shrug then I see two others eating a big bowl of noodles full of vegetables and things...not sure but it looked good, I point to them and say I have that.

After walking a few km I soon realized that I had entered in from the wrong part of town, the grey broken part, now this was more like it suddenly I was in the old part which was beautiful old traditional buildings, temples and guest houses. I booked into one making sure they had hot water and went about cleaning everything.
It was another Liajang, but smaller, cute version, there were still very few tourists very quiet here this time of the year, I could imagine this place would be heaving normally , lots of places to stay and to eat and shop, maybe I saw ten westerners all day. One of those was French lad who was in the same dormitory as myself, I spoke interested with what part of France he was from and we exchanged our stories so far, he had been traveling from Laos, hitch hiking with a less is more kind of style but carrying around a big accordion, which transformed any room with lack of ambience right back to the resistance, viva la France, very amusing. We were both heading to Dequin which was 200 km away to the north and the last outpost before the forbidden land.....Tibet, I explained I wanted to try and get a bus ride from there to Lhasa and I was hoping he might have some advice, tricks and ideas for that but he had no advice for that other than playing a neat little jitty on that squeeze box doing a little gig and yeah, go for it! I liked his attitude so with that in mind we decided to hitch together tomorrow.
I have a good talk with my new friend about travelling and life in general, and with all these people I meet no matter who or where they come from they all say the same, it gets harder and harder to return to the west. I felt the same the last three years I have been traveling each time I return I see more and more that is wrong and not good for us, we have too much of everything and it does us no good, we get complacent, bored, distracted and lost. I meet eyes with many people here, poor, desperate, struggling, hungry, but they have life in their eyes, they have lived, they have love and still have time for you, still have time to smile. I see the eyes of the west they are cold, grey and discriminating, to busy, too much clutter, too much stress, technology was supposed to make things easier more efficient, it didn’t it just accelerated everything so that we buy twice as much, work twice as hard to pay for things that cost twice as much to pay for all the technology and resources it consumes.

They are playing catch up also here, they see us tourists, they see our gadgets and designer clothes, we are walking wallets to them, they want the things we have but they are dancing in the shadows of our mistakes, I wish there were a place where east meets west, to take the best out of both worlds we would find balance then, no where is perfect, I understand that is the nature of life, it all works on opposites, constantly trying to find the balance. In a fuel injected engine there exists an electronic flow meter, it measures air flow. It is a tube that sits in line of the air intake system and has a fine wire running through the middle, called a hot wire system, because an electric current is passed through the wire which creates a certain temperature just like an electric fire, so the more air that flows through the air intake as the car accelerates the cooler the wire becomes, more electricity is then needed to heat up the wire to get it back to its base temperature, the difference in current needed to achieve this can then be used to calculate the amount of air that is flowing down into the engine this in turn is used to maintain correct air fuel ratio, all this is controlled by the black box, the cars brain, computer, but the principle of balance is the same. The more you use the more you have to put back and visa versa, this basic principle of balance is our biggest mistake ecologically, politically, socially and financially. Like motor mechanics if the engine is out of balance it will not function well and eventually break.
So many problems are caused by desire, greed fuelled by egotistical desires to better our neighbours and colleagues there are many great words from Gandhi that I have recently become aware, a hero for me with a less is more, truly peacefull philosophy that achieved impossible things with so little except faith and belief in the truth, the truth that came from his heart. ''The only devils running around in this world are the ones in our own hearts, what you think you become, even as a tree has a single trunk, but many branches and leaves''
We set off together down a dusty hot road, the sun starts to get strong at this time just after midday now and a little late for me to be starting off, but the relaxed attitude of the French, long petite dejuener, prompted a late start.
At first we had many vans stop but all taxi touts trying to get some business and another old couple stopped then sped off when we tried to get in, I never got to the bottom of that! eventually a big 4by4 stopped a fat, well to do Chinese man stopped we tried to explain where we wanted to go, there was a lot of confusion hand signals trying to make sure he was not trying to get money out of us and just take us as far as you can, confused he eventually signaled us to get in, great nice big comfy ride, he tried once more to ask things of us and was not very forthcoming with our directions to Dequin, he seemed to be saying its a long way, this we know, a few times he did the money thing with his fingers, I said, ''mee ho'' no have. He carried on but I could feel tension starting to build up here, he got a call on his cell and seemed a little more agitated afterwards and again he turned to us and tried to ask something. I was sure he was wanting money, ok he was getting agitated now. I said stop, we walk no problem, he promptly stopped and let us out. I did not like the vibrations and was glad to be out anyway I felt like walking for a while and to take time to take in the surroundings, which now were starting to become very dramatic a skyscraper of towering mountains and deep river cutting through rock, I tried to follow the road with my eyes, the craziest road I have ever seen just snaking through impossible landscape trying to make its way north through this maze of rugged obstacles.
I was just about to pick up my backpack when another car came to a halt where we were, it looked like he was stopping to give us a lift, this was incredible, did not even try. ''Nee how, chee chu Dequin''...hello I go Dequin, yes, he nodded and smiled a middle aged chiness man, friendly relaxed eyes, we got in and the way was good for the rest of the day, incredible 7 hours and took us all the way to Dequin. A hard road but very dramatic, over some high passes and remote areas that I could never have imagined.
We arrived in Dequin, dark, late all very hungry so found a place and ate together, then the accordion came out and along with a few cups of wine, I used this word very loosely to describe a red liquid that should be applied not drunk. The music transformed and bought everyone together I must admit this thing transforms any situation, we all laughed, danced and spent quality time together, total strangers from just a few days ago yet these moments are priceless.
The next morning I talked with the Frenchy about what his plans were, had he come all this way just to turn back again? I offered for him to join me on my quest to Lhasa, the uncertainty and sketchiness of it all certainly tempted him, he confessed so we discussed it a little further over a bowl of noodles then all was set. I had convinced him it would be a good idea to climb the mountain just up ahead that was blocking my vision to the north, from there I was sure there would be a good view and from up there and then I would know where to go. Then we could probably drop down on to a road that I hoped would be there on other side and start hitching from that point on. He agreed, wow I thought he really is crazy! Hungry for adventure we set off through a side road then a track then a trail that led towards the northern hemisphere, the huge lump of forest covered rock ahead loomed above us, the trail became steep and water that had been running down from above had formed large areas of glass like ice, and no way to go around, it soon became clear that my friend here was in no way prepared to follow where I was prepared or stupid enough to go, his Doc.Martins boots that were worn smooth had no traction at all, his jacket was too cold, his hands cold, no equipment at all except a very amusing accordion....! I could hear him sliding around down below, slipping and cursing, snapping of branches....”putain du merd”.....I heard him curse again, this time I reached down to pass him one of my walking poles to aid a little more traction but his gangly legs were busy skating and dancing all over like a frantic giraffe, OK I said I think we take this as a little exercise and the walk was good but there is no way we are going to get over this pass, you're going to break your accordion!. With this he agreed and decided it better to turn back.
We parted company later that day and wished him well on his travels, but I admired his optimism and ‘have a go attitude’
Later that day for my curiosity I went to the bus station just to see if I could get a bus ticket to Lhasa…… confidently I went up to the counter and said: ''nee chee Lhasa shee shee''….. “I go Lhasa...thank you”......grinning wildly and waving a handful of Yuan......''Mee ho''! bargaining there at all just a straight no. I asked for a few closer destinations just inside the border of Tibet, same reply, no, no and no. Hmmmmm OK walking it will be then. I figured if I could hitch to one of the next towns inside of Tibet maybe it would be easier from there to get a bus ride, well I have come too far not to try.

I started off heading out of town it was getting a bit late now to be hitching but I decided to give it a go. Many big trucks carrying rock and earth, kicking up plumes of dry dust from the unfinished road, sun in my eyes it all started to feel a bit oppressive. I tried to find a quiet place in my mind and settle down into a steady walk, maybe half an hour I walked when I managed to stop a white van, great my first lift, looking forward to get a little further away from these trucks. As it came to a halt I immediately noticed it was completely crammed full with Chinese..... girls, wow, no way.......... I open the door to much giggling and smiling, some of them could speak a little English so I told them I wanted to go to Lhasa they said they were only going as far as the temple, just 12km away, every bit helps I say. I could not really see how it was possible for me to get in anyway, it was just so full of girls…… maybe I was dreaming? I should refuse I thought, it’s a trap, just thank them and continue on my way, maybe if I am quick they will not drain my life force……. no what am I thinking, I want to see the end of this movie…… I shrug my shoulders, remove my back and squeeze myself into places where it was not possible and for the next few km we chatted and giggled and I sighed, waiting to wake up........within a few minutes of conversation I had been convinced to stay and had been invited to join them on a little trekking around the local mountain villages and sight seeing. Why not I was in no hurry now a few days here could be interesting besides I was getting into these random opportunities more than my goal.

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