It’s true. The Himalayas are beautiful from any where. Whether you are up in the air seeing just the peaks far far away, like I did on one trip from Kolkata to Delhi, India. Or when you soar high & fly around on a paid flight to get a wide lens view of the mountains, from the Nepal side. The Himalayas are a sight to behold. I though was adamant that my experience of these magnificent mountains had to be almost like a rendezvous between lovers. In privacy and hypnotizing. Tibet did that and more.
ROAD TO THE HIMALAYAS FROM THE TIBET SIDE
When I first started my travels over 15 years ago, I remember the excitement of getting to the destination. I also distinctly recall being miserly on every thing. The airline comfort, stay & even food. But with a few more solo jaunts I realized the foolishness of my travel pursuits. Being a budget traveler fit me just fine. But I didn’t have to be that all the time. So I decided to spend my moments savoring the after taste of the journey instead and fall in love with the experience I wanted to have. It was the aura I hoped to come back with.
When the invitation came from Tibet, I felt a surge of the very same emotions.
The beautiful, spiritual & supremely overwhelming Himalayas had many roads. For some reason unknown to me, I wanted to be on the road less traveled. There was enough noise about the many military checkpoints and the reality of very few foreigners heading towards the South of Tibet. But the pictures in my head wouldn’t stop & I felt this trip would be different. An inner journey of sort.
I felt I wouldn’t be jostled around too much. Would find cleaner, perhaps even eco friendly living.
I hoped I’d find privacy when I wanted to meditate with silence and sense the divinity.
I knew it would be even more magical if I took the road with many stopovers.
The stories of the land had already made me want to feel the energy. A leap of faith did the rest. Here are a bunch of pictures that led up to the mountains. Do scroll down and enjoy the beauty with my little notes on the joy of seeing the Himalayas bit by bit.
(I was unfit & unprepared when I was told that I had to climb over 400 steps to reach the Potala Palace, Lhasa. But the coolest thing was that I was in Tibet. Things just happen here. This is where my journey began. The once upon a time home/centre of knowledge of the Dalai Lama, was well preserved and full of fascinating stories)
(Getting ready to meet the divine energy of the Himalayas needs preparation. Just kidding. It felt fabulous though when I got to stay at a reconstructed home of a Lama. He gave away his home, but gave all story collectors the beautiful experience of staying like a Lama. Do stop over for atleast a couple of nights at the Shambhala Palace when you make it to Lhasa)
(A window of chants to the surreal countryside! As I headed South, at one point we left much of the habitation behind and let the peaceful, utterly silent and gentle breeze lead the way. Just the fluttering of the prayer flags was enough invitation)
(Beautiful isn’t it. Every turn tells you what paradise can be, if you are ready for it)
(A lion oops! a Tibetan Mastiff that sat through tons of pictures taken by eager passersby. Lost in the undulating countryside and rows of these mountain surprises, I felt it could’ve been set free. It was meant to be free)
(My first glimpse of unending blue, simply blew my mind. I remember just staring at the Yamdrok Lake for many minutes. Can there be a color so deep and faultless? It seemed like celestial experiences came in shades, all of them intense)
(Karo-La Glacier is a short and pretty stop over as you drive towards the South. It appears suddenly as you turn and you can’t miss the small area dedicated to prayer. It was time to thank the forces of nature for bringing me this far unscathed…and utterly captivated)
(As the road took a turn once again, the Yamdrok Lake took on another hue to weave an unforgettable tale. You need to be here to pause and be overwhelmed. No picture can do justice to the poetry of its stillness)
(She is from Amdo, one of the 3 areas of Tibet Autonomous Region. I was told women there totally love to dress up and adorn themselves in stones and jewellery. What a beauty no!)
(Every meal was sumptuous and that is much coming from a vegetarian. Didn’t think Tibet could whip up so many veggie treats that too in the interiors.
But of course when you are invited by the land, the door of possibilities just opens up doesn’t it?! I thought I’d have to skip at least one meal every day, but I had a feast instead)
(This is when it truly hit me that the divine is all around you in Tibet. A sunset where there is no visible sun, where the colors light up the sky made me totally aware that I was just an atom. I dropped to my knees to express gratitude for the magical delight)
(As we got closer to the mountains this was the stop over for the night. At Old Tingri. Didn’t see enough of it. But I remember this place as the tiniest room that I’ve ever stayed in. It had a makeshift bed & wash basin in case one wanted to clean up at sunrise.
I just slipped into my sleeping bag feeling good that I chose a place run by a local Tibetan instead of a plush hotel. There are no bathrooms, but discomfort is part of the narrative isn’t it when you travel to write experience diaries!!)
(Here is where the Himalayas revealed itself. At about 8100 metres (26,600 ft) Cho Oyu is the 6th highest mountain & on the border with Nepal. On a landscape of rock, sand and gravel with an occasional green patch, the mountains cloaked in layers of puffy clouds played hide and seek, but gave me my 1st view of the glory to come)
(Finally my 1st ever glimpse of the mightiest, Mt. Everest. As one drives towards it, the feeling that it’s right around the corner simply grows larger. Such a stunning sight. It is formidable and enveloping, all at once. Sigh! Wish I could see this again)
(This is the closest one can get to Mt. Everest from the Tibet side. You can head on further to the Base Camp if you have the permits, but that is scribbled for the next time. Almost 19 km to the North of Mt Everest and at a height of 17,000 ft, these tents managed by the local Tibetan people can accommodate almost 10-15 people per tent.
The tents are kept warm with fire created with yak dung (not smelly at all) and the only unpleasantness one has to learn to deal with is managing the mornings at the squat pits)
(Pretty and filled with trinkets these tents are mostly managed by the local Tibetans who stay here and welcome travelers from April till November after which it gets freezing cold. They have to head back then as it is impossible to live here during the winters. And a special mention. They are terrific hosts who cook up delicious veg meals too.
My tent had Chinese tourists who came closer to midnight. They make up bulk of the visitors to EBC most of the year)
(While a I can be seen here with an utterly heady grin, the night got me to stay wide eyed for a while, in shock. Yes you got me right. In the middle of the night, shuffling sounds woke me up. I was told later that there were troops who came in to check the tents, since the mountains were on the borders. Their stealth took me by surprise, but all was forgotten when the wee hours filled up my senses)
(This is where I sat to start my meditation for just a while, as the peace and quiet enveloped me. Aah! bliss)
(In the ‘shavasan’ (lying flat on the back, completely stress free) pose, all I could see were the prettiest color flags raining down their prayers and chants, for being one with the earth)
(My craziest evening yet in all my travels started at about 7.00 PM. From bright and sunny, the weather changed in an instant to rain showers that seemed relentless and heavy. I almost expected flooding in the tents, but what else do you expect a city girl to think!! I thought this was it, but the magical moment was yet to come.
Just as the rain stopped after almost 2 hours, in less than a few minutes it started snowing. The tent looks flimsy and one least excepts the heat inside the tent to take care of the impending cold. But it was super cozy and surprisingly pleasant. The topography changed in the night and by the time I woke up at 5.00 AM the next morning to see the rising sun, the land had changed again)
(Here is a snappy capture of the return journey where the colors start to reveal new shades. Yellows and even purples painted a new canvas. This was another route back to Lhasa and it was amazingly pretty too)
(Perhaps a well off farmer’s house. I didn’t quite gather who it belonged to, but was told that most people in the countryside are well-to-do and own large homes. But they aren’t allowed to display their Tibetan flags and ethnicity openly)
(A Buddha image engraved into the mountain and standing at 32 ft was my last stop over. Legend says it dates back several centuries and for me the colors and unusual placement of the image stole my thoughts for a while, till we reached Lhasa)
Well that’s it. I hope you too are seduced enough to want to take the road to the Himalayas from the Tibet side. The many tales of a land beyond, the mystical Shangri-La; the people and their hospitality, the quiet restfulness in their faith, all added to the texture of my travel there. As they say, an immersive journey makes every moment of the destination seem utterly worth it. And well when it’s time to go to Tibet, you will know. See you there.
There are a bunch of posts on this gracious and gorgeous land in the Destination Tales – Tibet section of this blog. Written with love and all practical considerations, it should help you plan your route map and experiences with ease.
And before you head out do read Seven Years in Tibet, an autobiographical book by Heinrich Harrer