Wild Women Take on Tibet – Lhasa/Tibet/China

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.

Lhasa View
Lhasa View
I acclimatized for those two days, barely having the strength to leave the hotel, but pushed it anyway because my book was finished, and Chinese TV left me the only options of commercials or Communist China News (the only English channel). I wandered the streets, weaving in and out of Las Vegas-style lights advertising makeup and supermarkets, with a mixture and extreme contrast of traditional brightly painted window frames and the Jokan monastery. The Jokan monastery was surrounded by a market carrying everything from monk’s robes to yak butter bricks and prayer flags. My senses were filled and it was just the beginning. Later that day I would meet the rest of my crew, comprised of nine amazing women aged 23 to 60.

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.

Group Shot
Group Shot
We were going to circle it as the Tibetan people do and create our own pilgrimage over the 18,600 foot pass, Dolma La. Each one of us had our own spiritual agendas, although I wasn’t really aware of mine at the time.

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
On the trek
Not only did we encounter this dust, we grew to live in it. Filling every pore and crevasse of our bodies, the dust came to resemble all that we brought with us. Our fears, our self-awareness, and our futures were riding with us the whole way and we spoke of them throughout our journey. We vowed to leave the feelings we weren’t too fond of at Shiva-la, a spiritual stopping point on the journey around Mt, Kailash. Some left a lock of hair. Others left a piece of clothing. This symbol of leaving something behind represented laying something to rest; a death of those things we don’t want to have with us any more.

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 .

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