I flew into Lhasa alone from Kathmandu, Nepal. I was 2 days early to meet the nine other women I would be traveling overland in Tibet. The flights from Kathmandu to Lhasa go every 3 days and they were all traveling from the US through China. Better early than late and I would have extra time to acclimatize. I had been traveling across the pacific through New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, and Nepal. This traveling thing was old hat by now, or so I thought. I stepped off the plane and immediately felt the effects of the air at almost 12,000 ft. My breath was short and my head felt light, not to mention the near black-out experience I had when I insisted I carry my pack up the 4 flights of stairs to my room. “I’m training for the hike, I’ll be fine” was not what I believed when I got to the fourth floor.
We would travel by three-land cruisers west to Mt. Kailash, the holiest mountain in Asia. It is said to be the spiritual center of the planet. People that practice Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism all come to this mountain to pay respect, pray, and perform a pilgrimage or Kora by traveling around it, moving in a clockwise direction. Some make the three day journey by foot as we would do. Some complete the circle by horse, some by yak back, and some by prostrating on hands and knees taking only three steps in between each prostration. It takes these prostrating people around one month to complete the circle.
When my travel companions arrived, we bonded quickly in the 2 days of their acclimatization period. We came from all over the US. and each of us wore the same uniform: comfortable cotton-less pants, a poly pro shirt, sunscreen coated thick to avoid the extreme exposure we faced even just going outside for a minute, as well as face masks to keep out the dust we would surly encounter on our 800 mile drive to the start of the hike.
|On the trek|
We stopped frequently to rest and alleviate the sores endured from the non-existent, bumpy roads. We visited monasteries, nunneries and homes. Each felt like a painted storybook. Every ounce of effort used to make these sometimes-massive places of worship was done with the most selfless effort of practicing Buddhism. The bright colors of the thanka paintings and the smell of thick yak butter candles would almost leave us when we would stop for another dose of beauty and compassion in the form of spiritual architecture.
This theme traveled with us around Mt. Kailash and back to Lhasa. Everywhere we went we were greeted with compassion and smiles. Even during the hardest part of the trek, at nearly 19,000 ft., the ringing of the yak bells behind us and the incredible energy of the sherpa pushed us to keep going. We weren’t there to conquer the mountain. We were circling it to pay it respect as you would when circling something important in a book. We circled Mt. Kailash to make it stand out and remember it.
The effect of this journey was one that I am still understanding 6 months after returning home. What was my spiritual agenda on this pilgrimage? I am still learning about it, but it so far includes dust, a yak train and nine amazing wild women friends and mentors.
I took this trip with a company called Wild Women Workshops, based out side of Yosemite, California. They run trips that incorporate yoga and creative writing into the outdoors. You can find them at .