Travel Log – Tibet
My lifetime aspiration – holy pilgrimage to Mt.Kailash and Lake Manasarovar was not possible without travel to Tibet.
Mt.Kailash being in the Himalayan region embracing mighty Mt.Everest and other prominent summits all around, the journey to God Shiva’s abode Mt.Kailash and Lake Manasarovar involves Tibet. This nation is in the foothills of Himalayan range.
Tibet, a plateau situated nearly 4500 metres or 14,800 ft above sea level demands acclimatization to high altitude. Anyone not an inhabitant of the mountainous plains require considerable adjustment to cope with conspicuous oxygen depletion compared to that on sea level. The physiological conditions alter to temperature variation and higher altitude.
Upon my arrival in Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet, the trip from the airport to the city was an hour bus ride that displayed the smooth roadways with no potholes or cracked bitumen, well designed arch tunnels, bridges overlooking Brahmaputra river presenting a scenic treat to all visitors capturing their attention to infrastructure that are maintained up to a certain altitude on the way to Mt.Kailash.
The bus approached the city and I noticed street cleaners in their gear comparable to space suit were combing the streets with one particular employee in green vest halted traffic on main thoroughfare to pick up a small piece of paper on the road. The curb sides were kept clean and free from trash and common litter.
The general appearance of the major cities viz. Lhasa and the commercial city Shigatse while China prefers to refer as Xigaze is fairly good. However, barring big international hotels, the basic requirement i.e. public toilets in restaurants and on the way to Mt.Kailash is squatting types with no toilet rolls or water. The other alternative for pilgrims and trekkers is open defecation as one ascends to higher heights of the Himalaya.
The sanitary conditions in and around Mt.Kailash rest house and guest house is extremely poor due to lack of proper public toilets with pit holes allocated as the suitable option provided one can survive the suffocating stench to the extent of ejecting the gut out of one’s system.
This problem is attributed not only to ignoring the essential restroom facilities but also sky burials compounding the situation.
Sky burial known among zoroastrians is actually practiced here along the way among nomads and rural Tibetans that includes offering the corpse to scavenger birds like vultures in particular and hawks as well as other variety preying on dead species. The ritual is extended to pilgrims and trekkers in their unfortunate deaths during the challenging arduous pilgrimage or trek in this region.
The pristine amazing marvelous Mt.Kailash and the paradise Lake Manasarovar is breathtaking and the experience could be far more exhilarating upon authorities and care takers of the premise in Lake Manasarovar and Mt. Kailash were to recognize the health and environment hazards in the absence of clean public toilets that are posing serious threat to inhabitants and visitors not to mention the issue being the downside neglecting fundamental public convenience.
There is no doubt the revenue from tourism whether related to Hindu and Buddhists holy pilgrimage to Mt.Kailash or trek expeditions from world over benefit China and local Tibetan population especially in the remote rural parts where the villagers desperately depend on pilgrims to hire their ponies, yaks during the holy trip.
The income earned in the pilgrimage months i.e. April to late September is the only opportunity for them and they are expected to live on these earnings in the remaining six months when the passage is blocked with heavy snowfalls and ice caps covering the peaks all around.
The other factor is the trail for circumambulation aka Parikrama or Kora has no asphalt and as a result present tough tracks with coarse, rough sharp edged rocks on the ground exacerbating the 54 Kilometers hike to Dolma-la-Pass or Dolmala, the highest mountain pass in the world at 5,630 metres or 18,470 feet above sea level undeniably no picnic.
On the top of it, the descend is yet another extraordinary trial on human physical, mental and spiritual psyche. The descend involves stepping downward with many moving rocks that seems affixed to the surface of the mountain but turning out to be otherwise. Above all, one has to be constantly mindful of oxygen level in that altitude and individual’s energy reflecting physical stamina that are critical for survival let alone completing the trip successfully on the whole.
In my case after reaching Dolmala or Dolma-la-Pass at 18,470 feet or 5.630 metres high, the assistant assigned to me as my guide misled me on what he considered a short cut to reach a landmark on the trail that turned out to be the most dangerous and deadly climb down due to direct descend from 18,470 feet leaving both of us literally on a cliff hanger with no possibility to backtrack above. We were forced to tread downward on moving shaking rocks consuming over five hours to reach the point with another seven hours trekking left to arrive at the rest house.
The sun already set by that time and I had no option but to race with time amid clouds gathering on the sky precipitating into drizzle. The changeover in guides with an experienced staff leading me subsequent to that life and death predicament to cover the remaining trek certainly improved the situation though just the two of us had to trek in nightfall as it was already past eight p.m. local time in Mt.Kailash. Those who were expecting me to return to the rest house were wondering about my safe arrival and the Sherpa had told them that it might be late night around 11.30 p.m. if we are able to make it given the unpredictable conditions on the trail.
Fortunately, the senior staff as my guide and myself using the head lamp and flash light on the way, we were able to beat the time and reached way earlier close to 8.30 p.m. than anticipated time which was three hours later.
The entire episode for me was a miracle and could not have yielded my safe return without God’s grace and benevolence. In overcoming these constraints throughout the three days trek entirely by foot when the above incident on the commonly dreaded second day proved deadliest uplifting my spirit to reach destination. Notwithstanding the distance and time significantly stretched from that misguided detour against the norm imposing the test on my will and commitment ultimately prevailing in the completion of my holy pilgrimage.
As for Tibet and Tibetan population – Tibet is officially declared China’s province and accordingly established full control over entire Tibet and Himalayan range not excluding Mt.Kailash and Lake Manasarovar requiring pilgrims and trekkers on expeditions to Mt. Kailash and Mt. Everest respectively to obtain visa from China.
Tibet might be referred to as an autonomous region under China. The reality is the militarization of cities whether Lhasa hosting heavy military installations in Lhasa International airport alerting passengers on board prior to landing on strict prohibition on photographing China’s government buildings, personnel and military presence in Tibet or the second largest city and commercial center Shigatse patrolled by Chinese military troops and other Tibetan urban as well as rural landscape encompassing extensive Himalayan peaks falling exclusively under China’s jurisdiction and policy beckons international awareness and focus.
China’s occupation of Tibet and surrounding Himalayas is indeed a matter of concern with enormous restrictions on Tibetans and tourists alike. The peaceful and pious native Tibetans are living in extreme fear understandably with no hope of freedom since China’s illegal invasion lasting over six decades until now.
The oppression is not limited to China’s overarching political authority in Tibet, the economic revenues and the so-called autonomous province financial budget is also directly under China’s power.
China’s investment in Tibet’s infrastructure development targeting latter’s natural resources in the mountains and plains is one aspect and the other being gross neglect of Tibetan people subject to acute economic plight with them desperately relying on pilgrims and tourists to their land. The Tibetans’ economic status is in dire straits as they struggle to exist under harsh repressive political and economic circumstances with no respite to their visibly sad state.
To make matters worse, the overwhelming Tibetans i.e. nearly 98% are denied passports barring them travel to neighboring countries or farther away overseas. They are actually prisoners in their homeland with no means to escape or confront the deteriorating living standards under China’s rule.
Tibetans’ rich ancient culture, language and civilization has been aggressively wiped and made irrelevant with compulsory introduction of China’s language and customs promoted in settlements of Chinese citizens from mainland China in Tibet similar to Israeli settlement activities in occupied Palestine by Israel.
China’s treatment of foreign travelers to Tibet is equally regrettable. Travelers to Tibet in need of China visa are refused entry if their profession is journalism, writers and priests from any religion although China has banned Indian pilgrims from India to Mt. Kailash and Lake Manasarovar since September this year.
Tourists visiting Tibet are forbidden to show any generosity to local Tibetans in offering them cash or other donations like clothes and any useful items as such kindness regarded by Chinese authorities as strengthening native Tibetans to rise against foreign power viz. China.
Last but not the least, most big and small hotels not sparing many international ones only accept Chinese citizens from mainland China as guests declining other nationals traveling to Tibet.
This condition among hotels besides inhospitable and unhygienic sanitary pollution and contamination along the way in the rest and guest houses to deter pilgrims to Mt.Kailash and Lake Manasarovar are unable to stop those worshipping the sacred nature or Hindu and Buddhist devotees thronging to have a glimpse of magnificent Mt.Kailash and spectacular Lake Manasarovar – the holy heavenly abode on earth of God Shiva.
Tibet and Tibetans deserve to be free and independent not as an autonomous province of any foreign power rather sovereign individual nation with self-governance and determination to political rights and territorial integrity.
The global citizens enjoying any form of freedom anywhere and being the consumer base for goods and services from China enabling China as the emerging economic power prompting territorial expansions and annexations need to come forward and lend support to Tibet’s independence from China.
China’s illegitimate rule and occupation of Tibet must cease.
Author & Presenter PadminiArhant.com