Sunday 10 January 2010

Inspired by tales of Shangri-la, Roland Alford arrived in Tibet, bought two horses  and proceeded to ride to Lhasa.  Equipped with a recorded message from the Dalai Lama, to enable him to get accommodation and help from Tibetans, he succeeded.  Roland will be launching the programme of the Bath District Tibet Support group with his tales of adventures captured in images and recordings. 
On  WEDNESDAY  17th  FEBRUARY  at  7:30pm

(1st building on the left when travelling from Melksham to Corsham on B3353)

Entry charge (includes Tibetan nibbles) £2.50 - children free
Enquiries - 01249 712856 or 715152

Tibet journey by Jean Savage

It was September 2009 and I had first visited Tibet in 2005, but still had other ideas. What followed was a great journey for myself - and a stone.

Western Nepal was more accessible after being under Maoist control and I wanted to walk into Tibet by the ancient Salt Route through Humla. Over six days we gained height from Simikot following the Humla Karnali River sharing the route with Nepalis carrying salt and Chinese goods south from the Tibet border and rice and vegetables north to Tibet. There was a constant stream of yaks, goats, and sheep. Apart from modern goods (televisions), we could have been walking in a time warp. Lots of the faces were definitely Tibetan. After crossing our last high pass, the Nara Langa 4581m we dropped down the yak route to the Tibetan border fence and the salt trading post of Sher. After a wait into the following day we eventually walked into Tibet to be checked out by the Chinese army. After several checkpoints we were on our way to salt crusted Lake Manasarovar - the holiest Lake in Asia, the 'unconquerable lake' in Tibetan, revered by Hindu and Buddhist alike and guarded by the great mass of Gurla Mandhata 7694m to the south. This provided our first sight of Mount Kailash, Kang Rimpoche, 6741m, unmistakably the Soul Mountain according to the Bonpo religion. Here the stone appeared. It was lying on the lake shore along with many others. The following day, acclimatising before going higher, our group walked up the ridge, carrying the stone to the Chui Gompa which was restored after the Cultural Revolution. We found the ‘guardian’ of the Gompa mending his motor bike, a popular occupation in 21st century Tibet.

Next day on to Darchen - but delays to the start of the Kailash circuit meant that the stone would have an extra journey. We managed to get transport to Tirthapuri, 2 hours North west of Darchen on the Sutlej River. The monastery and Kora were near the hot springs. There were several Tibetans but no other Westerners. We walked the Kora round the Guru Rimpoche site that was founded in the 8th century by the Bonpo sect. Here, the smiling guardian opened the gompa for us and our Nepali leader lit butter lamps. The Monks had left in 1957 locking the monastery and fleeing over the border to India. Without the delay in Darchen we would have missed this gem with its original scripts which fortunately escaped the Cultural Revolution.

The following day, with the stone in my rucksack, we started to walk the Kailash outer Kora. This is the abode of Lord Shiva and the source of four great rivers of Asia; the Ganges, Indus, Tsangpo and Sutlej. We proceeded to Tarboche moving clockwise according to Buddhist custom under the west face of Kailash and the sky burial site. Over three nights and four days we would complete the kora back to Darchen. Our first camp was near the restored Chuku Gompa. From here - up the gorge and higher to Diraphuk with some doubts over the arrival of our yaks, we eventually camped near the North Face. The next day over the Drolma La 5630m was the physical and spiritual high point. We met more and more pilgrims, dodging yaks and ponies, passing sky burial sites and memorials. The effects of altitude did not undermine such an experience. We had a rough long descent to our last kora camp. the following day we had only to complete the way back to Darchen down a sunny valley where we saw chubby, blond marmots sunning themselves on rocks. Our next camp was on Lake Manasarovar where the stone now resides on the opposite shore to where it started, next to the bar headed geese on the lake .. until someone else takes it on a journey.

As we crossed the last high pass on the way back to Nepal, two rare black necked cranes flew over us heading south for the winter. They will be back next spring .