19 April 2003
TRAVELS WITH MY CAMERA /ANU MALHOTRA
THE ROAD TO NIRVANA
THE SPECTACULAR Tibetan landscape began unfolding before us, as we left Lhasa. I was totally exhilarated at the prospect of a five-day drive, about 1,200km, across the highlands of West Tibet. Sixteen of us were packed into five land cruisers, and headed towards the two most remote and legendary travel destinations in the world – Lake Mansarover and Mt. Kailash.
The Tibetan plateau widened and the rapture began as we drove through expanses of golden green plains, earthy mountains of amazing shapes and colours and several passes, honoured by colourful prayer flags, flapping sacred wishes across this stark land. The view from the top revealed unending vistas fringed by purple blue mountains and textured by the shadows of fluffy clouds with the snow peaks of the Himalayan ranges beyond. The vastness of the scale was awe inspiring and I could feel my spirits expand and soar.
Picturesque villages, skirted by rows of golden prayer wheels passed by, and we arrived at Shigatse, Tibet’s second largest town, where we spent the night, our last in a hotel. The 15th
century Tashilhunpo monastery here, was one of the few monasteries in Tibet that survived the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, where in the Chinese targeted Buddhism and destroyed most monasteries.
On our second evening, we were camping in tents pitched in the shadow of great mountains. Our tents were cozy and it was amusing to hear “couple conversations” –“You are hogging all the space!” “Your shoes are stinking!” You just sat in my glasses!”….Meanwhile, the toilet tent with Swiss portable loo was the big attraction! Dinner was an elaborate affair served in the dinning tent – noodle soup, rice, dal, vegetables and even desert. We were all feeling the thrill of adventure – in a world of open spaces, frosty stars and silent nights.
We drove past the Tsangpo, the Bhramaputra river, lazily winding its way through this high altitude desert and groups of Tibetan nomads, Drogpas (people of the high pastures) with their yak and sheep. The Drogpa wander in small groups of a few families. The summer months are spent grazing their livestock on these highlands, with constant movement for fresh pastures.
Saga is the last town, with a few shops and telephones, which we all availed of to call home. We set up camp close by for our third night beneath starry skies. Daytime and nighttime temperatures fluctuate greatly here- you bake in the sun and freeze at night. Layering is important and I was wearing three layers of everything from socks pants, tops and headgear!!
The drive was rough and dusty and the altitude had been increasing steadily, from 12,000 feet in Lhasa, to about 15,000 feet now, and about 18,000 feet at passes, but ever-changing spectacular scenery kept us enthralled. The crystalline light made everything shine with intense clarity. Fat jackrabbits and marmots scurried from the bush and huge ravens with red peaks hopped around. From a distance, we sighted a couple of Kiang, wild ass, that galloped off as we came close.
After a night’s stop at Paryang, we began the last day of our journey towards Mansarover. We passed blue Dong Feng Trucks loaded to the hilt, with Tibetans from Kham, also making their way to Mt. Kailash, en route
Mansarover. The women were colourfully dressed and fantastic hats of fox skin or lamb’s wool, trimmed with gold brocade made them immensely photogenic.
We are all feeling completely worn out from our bone rattling and dusty drive, that day. Suddenly, our drive halted on top of a ridge and pointed ahead. “Mapham Yum Tso”, the precious lake, a lake created in the mind, the manas,
of Brahama – Lake Mansarovar. The sheer beauty of this natural wonder took my breath away and instantly energised me.
This magical lake shimmered, gleamed and changed colours and moods constantly. Snow-capped mountains surrounded it and in the distance, lay the ranges surrounding Mt. Kailash Hindus regard Mt. Kailash the spiritual centre of the universe and the abode of Lord Shiva. For over a 1000 years, pilgrims have journeyed here to pay homage to this sacred mountain and lake, circumambulating them in an ancient ritual of devotion. The four great rivers of the Indian sub-continent – the Indus, the Karnali (a tributary of the Ganges), the Brahmaputra and the Sutlej originate here.
Next morning, Lake Mansarovar glittering in the early morning sun, surrounded by hazy mountains, greeted me – it was magnificent! We collected on the bank, in front of the lodge, for our sacred dip in the lake to “erase the sins of a hundred lifetimes.” I walked into the lake to, yelping within, frozen inside-out, but I was determined to submerge myself completely. This was a complete shock to the system, but some where within, a spark ignited and spread warmth radiating through body, mind and soul.
TRAVEL TIPS YOU CAN’T DO WITHOUT
- Plan your itinerary through a reliable travel agency, who will organize everything for you –from Chinese visas and permits, airline tickets, vehicles, lodging and camping. Our trip was organized by Eco Adventures.
- Spring, early summer (April -July) and late autumn (September –October) is the best times to be in Tibet.
- You must be cleared to travel and trek in Tibet by your doctor. Take your personal medicines supplies with you. Our group was put on a course of Diamox (250 mg), to prevent altitude sickness.