Diary of Trip to Mt. Kailash,
by Tom Riddle
@Tom Riddle, 2005,
slightly modified after my 2007 and 2015 trip
Don't forget, there is also a movie about my 2015 trip.
Before we begin let me tell you my life story in one paragraph and then something about walking.
I was born in a small town in the middle of the USA early in the second half of the 20th century. Nothing happened for 17 years. Then, late in the 1960s the war in Vietnam and LSD caused American society to think deeply about the direction it was going. At the same time Indian yogis, Tibetan Rimpoches, and Japanese Zen masters started teaching in the US. I saw some examples of yoga in magazines and liked it. I read interviews with meditation masters. Gosh, I thought, why didn’t anyone ever tell me that before? Shortly after I finished university I treated myself to Lama Govinda’s book about Tibet, The Way of the White Clouds. Later I visited India where I studied yoga and meditation. In other parts of Asia I spent about a year in silent, intensive meditation retreat. Time passed and as my life passed the half century mark I realized that there was only one thing that I always wanted to do that I hadn’t done: visit Tibet. In 2003 I was in a meditation retreat in India when I meet a Swiss man who made his living leading groups of tourists into Tibet (where only groups, not individuals, are allowed). I felt a connection to Roger and decided to go. (For more on Roger Pfister, click here.)
In Tibet I practiced a style of walking called mindfullness of walking that I learned while on yatra, or pilgrimage. If you are curious to learn more about it, read the next paragraph.
Pay attention to your walking. Do you begin with your right or left foot? What part of your foot touches the ground first? How does your weight shift from foot to foot? Feel your body moving—where are your hips? arms? hands? If you can, hold your hands in front of your body just below your naval so that your shoulders are down and back just the way they are during sitting meditation. You can note mentally, "right foot, left foot" if it helps keep your mind on what you're doing. When the mind wanders, bring it back to the walking. If you feel like it you can ask yourself, "Who is walking?" "Where is the person walking?" "What is the mind doing now?" Through the course of the day all kinds of moods and energy levels will come and go—just bring your mind back to the present. If you get tired and start to wonder, "how much further" just note, "mind wandering just like always." Be good to yourself.
Once you get used to practicing mindfullness of walking, jabbering like a canary while your walking doesn't have much appeal. Mindfullness of walking helps keep you in the present and gives you more energy.
In Tibet I always tried to get my fellow hikers psyched up for walking in silence. Some of them were afaid of what they would see if they just watched the mind; others don't have any concentration. Never mind, I told them, one step at at time. Our guide, long-time Buddhist meditator, Roger, also tried to get people into the mood for silence. He has walked aound Mt Kailash more than 50 times. He knows how to walk.
Most Tibetan pilgims know how to walk as well. Many of them walk and chant, "Om mani padme hum." That translates roughly as "Homage to the jewel in the lotus." Chanting it helps keep the mind focused on the present and, depending on whom you believe, can lead to full enlightenment.
May 15, 2005- Arrival in Katmandu
I make sure that the electricity is off as I leave my Bangkok apartment at 7:30 in the morning. Roger wrote that I should bring one large bag and a day pack. My big bag slings clumsily over my shoulder and my day pack is on my back as I walk up Bangkok’s Sukumvit Soi 11 to the main road where I catch the bus to the airport. At 10:30 Thai airways takes off for Katmandu, Nepal.
As I sit down in my aisle seat a Nepalese woman moves my seat belt out of the way so that I can sit down easier. She is extremely friendly, a nonstop talker, and a Christian missionary who has just been to Japan. Among other things she tells me that now Nepal is in a very bad way thanks to the Maoist rebels who are killing many people. Because of them, she says, tourists have stopped coming to Nepal.
The taxi driver who takes me in to town confirms what the missionary has just told me. “Now, yes, many less tourists,” he says.
Click any picture to enlarge.
Katmandu is at least, if not more, run down and dirty as it was seven years a when I taught a desktop publishing here. Recently I read somewhere that there is not half a meter of properly paved road in all of Katmandu. The main road from the airport into town is a combination of dirt, huge potholes, and general confusion.
My taxi driver also tells me that these days, thanks to the refugees from the countryside who have fled the Maoists, the city is now much more crowded. I notice that these days there are many more women wearing jeans and a T-shirt. Cool.
He drops me off at the Hama Hotel. Here the difference between a regular room and a deluxe room is $.50. I take a chance and get the deluxe room which means that my room has a balcony. In addition to the balcony, there is a TV with 70 channels, many of which are Indian music video channels and the usual multi-national channels. These days Indian music videos are way oversexed, but that’s cool too. The hotel is almost empty.
With nothing to do, I walk down to Durbar Square, the spiritual heart of Katmandu. It hasn’t changed.
May 29, two weeks later
Let me summarize the last 14 days.
Leaving Nepal meant driving for five hours over intensely farmed steep hills until we came to the Kodari and the Friendship Bridge. Tourist vehicles can’t travel between Nepal and China, so we had to change vehicles on
the other side of customs. Fortunately there were many people there who were only to happy to carry our equipment—packs, tents, a stove, natural gas, and lots of food on their backs, up a couple thousand meters and over the bridge to the waiting vehicles. It looked like a scene of utter chaos, but, as usual in Asia, I was looking at it with Western eyes. In reality, everything was fine. Nothing was lost or damaged and soon the trucks were loaded and we started up the hills of Tibet in four land rovers with one supply truck.
After an hour of frightening hair-pin curves, we were above the tree line. Then snow appeared on the distant mountains. After another hour the mountains weren’t so distant and we were in Nyalam, a settlement of 5,000 or so people, who farm, do Chinese government jobs, run little shops, or cater to tourists and Chinese soldiers.
We stayed for three nights to give our lungs a chance to breathe air that was 60% as dense as the air in Katmandu. Roger’s eyes turned blood red. I didn’t exactly have a constant nose bleed, but every time I blew my nose, blood came out. One of my eyes swelled up. One lady in our group of 16 was hospitalized. I could sleep, sort of, but I had the strangest dreams of my life. For one entire night, in my dream, I was in a town trying to find my way out, but every time I tried to read the street signs, someone would re-arrange the letters. Another time I was being taken to meet the Dalai Lama in a large house, but every time I would enter a room, he would just be leaving. I tried drinking a beer before bed to help me sleep, but it made me feel like I was choking. One of the four Sherpa men who are helping us with the cooking, set-up, and translation, told me that two years ago he had to make a rushed trip to Kailash. His body was so shocked by the thin air that he started vomiting and couldn’t move.
Every day I was able to sit in meditation an hour in the evening and another hour in the morning. Someone told me that sitting in the thin air would be bliss, but it seemed about the same to me.
After Nyalam we visited temples in Sakya and Gyantse, saw a temple festival, and spent three full days traveling across Western Tibet towards Mt Kailash. Often I thought, while looking at the vast plains and mountains, “So this is what Mars must be like.”
Hotels varied from unbelievable to pretty good—one night I had an electric blanket. In the more traditional hotels there is no running water. Instead, there is a flask of hot water, possibly a bucket of water, and usually a basin to wash one’s hands and face in. The toilet is the really unbelievable part—it tends to be a room with holes in the floor that one squats over. There may or may not be small partitions between the holes. In most of the hotels we’ve stayed in no one speaks English, which may help explain why we are traveling with a translator, Sonam, who speaks Chinese, Tibetan, and English.
One of the hotels we stayed in was managed and staffed only by Tibetan women. At least one of them spoke English very well. I checked the hotel out a bit — there was no running water and the men’s toilet consisted of the usual holes in the floor in a room above someone’s field. I felt like a wash so I asked the housekeeper if there was a shower. The town had a population of about 10,000. Apparently no one had ever asked her that before. She said that she would ask around. She came back a few minutes later and said that no, there was not a public shower. "So what do you do?" I asked her.
“Maybe it's different in Lhasa or in Gyantse, but here the Tibetan people just bathe once a year— in the summer."
"I see" I said. "And what about the girls who work in the karaoke bar?"
Karaoke bar means brothel.
"The same," she said, wondering how anyone could be dumb enough to think that their situation could possibly be any different from hers.
I’ve liked everyone I’ve met—our drivers, hotel staff, monks, and children. Thechildren see foreigners and, if they don’t have anything else to do, they often come closer for a better look. Sometimes they ask for a pen or a piece of candy. Often they are just curious. No one ever told them not to talk to strangers. Many Tibetans are very conscious of the huge financial gap between themselves and the visitors. To help narrow that gap they may not be shy to ask for money.
The worst thing that I can say about the people around here is that most of the men smoke.
Gradually, although, I’m still not sleeping well, I’ve gotten used to the thin air. Roger’s eyes have cleared up, my eyes are back to normal and, even though blood still comes out my nose, I feel fine even if once in a while I wonder if I can get enough oxygen into my lungs to keep breathing.
May 29: Arrival at Mt. Kailash
After driving all day, finally at 4 p.m. we came to a pass, saw thousands of prayer flags and there in the distance was Mount Kailash—white, with a blue sky behind it. After so many days— what a relief to finally see the mountain. We all got out and walked around the pole that the prayer flags hung from. Overcome with happiness I did what the Tibetans do— bowed down and stretched out until, with arms straight above me, I was fully prostrate on the ground. As is the custom, I prostrated three times to the holy mountain. Pilgrims have been coming here for at least the last 2000 years—I was catching the spirit.
Gosh, in the days before land rovers, this must have been an incredibly difficult journey. The present goverment only opened Tibet to tourism in the mid-1980s. In those days there still were no bridges over many of the rivers.
It was another 12 km to the place were all pilgrims begin their walk around Mount Kailash--the village of Darchen where we stayed in what Roger says is the best hotel in town.
I wanted a shower. Fortunately someone has just opened the town's first hot shower. It works like this--you go in and tell her you want a shower. She puts you in a little room and turns on the water. If the water isn't hot enough you yell out, "Too cold." If it's too hot you yell out, "Too hot." It works pretty well.
I felt wonderful.
Everyone is ready to begin. We met some travelers on the way here who didn’t make it all the way around the mountain—they turned back at the pass. Rumor has it that eight people have died while trying to go around the mountain this year. Roger, however, says not to worry. Unscrupulous Indian tour operators fill up their tours with retired people, and then rush them to the mountain. Once there, a few of the old people always die. It’s also true, Roger says, that it’s easy for guides and yak herders to say that snow is blocking the path—if the tour ends early they get the same amount of money. But, sometimes, snow does indeed block the pass. Roger is confident, however, that by this time of year the pass will be open.
May 30: Day One: The Kora, or walk around the sacred mountain, begins
I woke up once in the night to walk down one flights of stairs and out the door to pee. The sky was clear. But this morning the sky was overcast and snowing. That however, didn’t stop the yak master and his assistant who came here with the yaks that will carry our tents, food and gear around the mountain.
Three horsemen have also come—three members of our group feel that they are too old to walk around the mountain—they’re going by horse.
Finally at 10 o'clock with just a day pack and the liter of water I, along with the other people in this group, started walking.
The path was much cleaner than I thought it would be—possibly thanks to the cleaning that a local school, sponsored by an international NGO, gives to the route every year. It is like walking through a park. The scenery was fantastic—snow on the distant peaks, myriads of rock formations, a river, and some kind of ecstatic presence. Now I know why I've come here. All is good.
The sun never shines and by late afternoon the wind picks up and it gets cloudier. At three o’clock we come to a tent—inside a Tibetan family is selling tea and noodles. How nice. I drink hot butter tea. Leaving the tent, it is snowing and even colder. I walk with Roger—he points out rock formations that the Tibetans have formed legends around—the tear of a saint, the hair of Shiva, stuff like that. He couldn’t be happier to be back at the sacred mountain. He says that the mountain is healing him.
After an hour, as dusk comes, it is clear that about half of our group has pushed on ahead and missed the bridge that Roger told them to take over the river. Roger tells one of the Sherpas to catch them and bring them back. The Sherpa, Wanduc, to my amazement, runs like a gazelle through the thin air, up the hill and out of sight to find them. By the time he does they can see across the river to the monastery where they know we will camp. By this time I can see the monastery in the distance as well. The wind is fierce and bitingly cold. I sit down to rest and shelter myself from the wind beside a large rock. I take out my binoculars and watch the drama unfold—the group has decided that rather than come back to the bridge, they will bolder-hop across the river. It is frightening as anything to watch them jump across the rushing river that has snow on both banks, but, with the exception of one person who slips off a rock and drops one foot into the freezing river, they don’t have any accidents.
Eventually I get up and walk the rest of the way to the campsite. Three Sherpas have ignored the wind and cold, set up the tents, and prepare dinner. Later one of them says that he thinks he can only do this two more years—he is 46 and feels that he’s getting too old for this stuff. Another tells me that he thinks constantly about quitting the guide business. He has two children and a house in Katmandu—there must be easier ways to make a living than putting up tents in blizzards.
As we have dinner who should show up but, Tashi, the driver with an albatross’s sense of direction. Carrying only his sleeping bag, he joins us for a cup of tea and then moves on to sleep in the monastery. What a guy. (We don’t see him again—he finishes his kora the next day.)
May 31 DAY TWO: Meeting Shiva on Mount Kailash.
Near Death at the Foot of the Mountain in 2015
I woke up early on the second day of the kora and, with the sun not yet on Mount Kailash, I decided that I would walk down from the guesthouse, where my group was staying, to the edge of the river below and shave. It was below freezing, but because I'm from snow country in the American midwest I was confident that I'd be fine. And I was -- I took off my jacket, rolled up my sleeves, splashed freezing river water on my face, and successfully shaved. However, after I finished shaving I could put my jacket back on, but my hands were too cold to allow me to fasten it closed. I didn't see that as a problem — I could quickly scramble up the hill to the guest house where my group was staying and get warm again. That would have been easy to do in the American midwest, but in the thin air and because I was cold already, I quickly depleted all the oxygen in my body and just as I stepped inside the guest house, hypothermia caught up with me, I saw stars, and fainted. I was lucky though because one of the people in my group had taken a mountain rescue course. He put my feet up, covered me with a blanket, told me to stay calm, and a few minutes later I was as good as new. The mountain rescue guy told me that if I had fainted outside, I'd be a ghost, not to mention a piece of ice.
So friends, there is a moral there: respect the elements and respect the mountain. If you don't, you could pay with your life.
Roger decided that we would stay here for another day. That meant we were free to do nothing, walk around the monastery, or walk up straight up the mountain. Four other people and I chose the later. This meant hopping across the icy river, climbing up the hill, and walking onto the glacier that seems to flow out of Mount Kailash. In a few places the glacier was creepy—we were walking on snow but we could hear water rushing beneath us. After more than an hour the glacier ended and we started climbing the moraine. Finally we came to a crest in the moraine where there was a small forest of columns of rocks, like tiny pyramids, piled up on top of each other. We had reached the place where pilgrims stopped walking and started meditating and worshiping the sacred mountain. No one has ever climbed to the top of the mountain—this was as far as most people go. The group then dispersed—exploring the moraine or going back.
I took off my parka, wrapped it around a rock, sat down and pondered the mountain. Were the clouds moving up or down the mountain? Maybe they weren’t moving at
all. But then a few minutes later I would realize that they were, indeed moving, but very slowly. This went on for over an hour. At one point, as the clouds were almost gone, the trident of Shiva himself, who supposedly lives in the mountain, seemed to be coming straight out of the top of the mountain. And then finally the mountain was surrounded by amazingly blue skies. To one side, within shouting distance, two of the people who had hiked up with me, were as hypnotized as I was by the mountain. Then suddenly after sitting for so long, for no reason, all three of us stood up and rejoiced at what a spectacular treat the mountain had just given us. We felt absolutely ecstatic—a holy mountain had just granted our wishes. We had been blessed.
We walked back down the mountain together. The Sherpas had saved us some lunch. We all felt like Superman.
In the late afternoon I walked up the hill to the small monastery built into the hillside above our campsite. Inside I found a tiny meditation cave filled with the candles of devotees and nothing else. I sat for an hour in the wonderful silence—thinking about the saints and yogis who must have shared the cave with me in eons past. God, what a day.
Leaving the cave, I explored the rest of the monastery. In the kitchen some people were drinking tea. I asked them if I could see the lama. Sure. The lama was studying scriptures in his small room when I bowed in front of him and handed him a scarf or kata of which is the Tibetan way of greeting a lama. He responded by giving me his blessing—he pressed his forehead into mine and recited a mantra. He was a wonderfully sincere man. I felt very comfortable beside him.
Nothing in the monastery was heated so it felt chilly, stepping outside though the freezing wind ripped straight through my clothes.
Sleeping in the Monastery, 2007
My tent mate snores like a train, a train that kept me up most of our first night on the trail. Tonight, now that we are camping just below the monastery that regally faces Mt Kailash, Roger suggests that I sleep in the monastery. Good idea. Then Roger informs me about an amazing thing has recently happened there—they have stopped eating meat. It seems that the leader of the monstary's branch of Tibetan Buddhism, the Kagyu, the twenty-something Karmapa XVII has declared that his followers should stop eating meat. What makes this so amazing is the fact that most Tibetans, including all of our drivers, consider a meal without meat not a real meal.
After dinner I make my way through the dark with my flashlight to the monastery and I'm taken to the guests' dormitory. It's not bad — eight beds placed around a room with a large window on one side that faces Kailash. I choose the bed with the best view of the montain and sit in meditation for an hour. When I finish it is ten o'clock. Just then twenty or so pilgrims, including a baby, suddenly arrive. They must have left Dharshan after noon. The dormitory and the floor of the room outside the domitory quickly fills up with men and women who instantly fall asleep. But I can't sleep and seem to lay awake all night. At first light I get up to leave—the Tibetan pilgrims have already gone.
I walk down to breakfast.
A woman in my group has a friend in the other group of Westerns that has shared this wonderful spot with us. That woman went to sleep last night and never woke up.
Death, has let us know, once again, that he can come any time. One of the Tibetan masters has written, "Everything is insecure, changes, and has no essence. As all things are momentary, impermanent and will disintegrate, you should ponder in your heart how you will soon die."
I, and everyone else, ponders death this morning.
Roger says that this is a very special place to die. He has told his business partners that if he dies at Kailash he wants a sky burial—dragged to a high and out-of-the-way place and hacked into small pieces for the vultures.
Tomorrow will be the roughest day—we’re going over the pass. Roger is determined and confident we will make it.
June 1 DAY THREE: The Pass
Maybe it was the power of the mountain, maybe was meeting the lama, maybe it was excitement at attempting the pass, whatever was, I didn't sleep well at all. I woke up in the night and sat in meditation for an hour and then went back to sleep only to wake up again and sit for another hour. By then it was just getting light and time for one of the Sherpas to bring tea to the five tents that make up our campsite. The Sherpa, Wanduc, has the most cheerful voice you can imagine to say. "Good morning, tea time. Can I open the door?" He then served us black tea with ginger. He's spoiling everyone but it certainly was nice in the freezing morning air.
By 8:30 the campsite had been completely packed up and we were all on the trail again. Up and up. For some reason, today the yak herders stayed with us.
At one point we came to what looked like a garbage dump. I later learned that the trash had a special meaning. It meant that people were symbolically leaving their old life behind before being spiritually reborn. To do that they abandoned some clothing. How could, they reasoned, be re-born if they didn’t let go? But what a mess.
Finally our gradual ascent turned into a steep climb—we were beginning the final ascent up to the pass. The yak herders took the lead and soon disappeared into the snowy distance leaving behind plenty of black yak dung and occasionally a deep hole in the snow where a yak’s foot had plunged through the snow.
Now it was steeper and the air was so thin that I could only take a few steps before I was breathing furiously, wondering if my heart was going to pound out of my chest before I could get enough air into my lungs to keep from passing out. A few meters below me there was a porter who was having the same problem. He however was carrying an extremely heavy load on his back—I was carrying just my day-pack.
Walking, stopping a while. Onward, and onward. It was extremely tiring. Fortunately, however, the sun was shining and the scenery was incredible with snow, mountains, and dramatic views everywhere, including, in a few places, straight down. This was not the time to lose one’s footing. Now where the hell, I think, is the top of this pass?
And then in the distance I see a tall pole with hundreds and thousands of prayer flags tied to it. Soon I’ve made it to the plateau-like top of the pass. The people in my group hug each other. A Tibetan woman who has just made it to the top gives sweets to her hiking partners and then she distributes them to us. They are homemade. Other people who have just made it to the top add their own prayer flags to the thousands of flags that are already there. It is a very emotional scene and at the same time there is gaiety. I mean, people are God-blessed happy and relieved. Tears stream down my cheeks.
But never mind those tears of joy. I finish most of the liter of water that I’ve carried with me, eat some snacks, and then feel that I should keep walking before I get too cold.
The decent begins with a frightening scene of snow, rocks, and mountains. Gradually though it changes to snow covered boulders. I'm not so surefooted so I walk carefully and slowly. Soon I step to the side of the narrow path to let a Tibetan woman who is racing down the mountain pass me. But she doesn't want to pass me—she wants me to lead so she can keep an eye on me. I scramble on ahead, but then she decides that she should lead, guide me, and carry my backpack. My backpack isn't a problem, but if she wants to lead the way, why not? I move faster to keep up with her. A few times she stops and takes my hand as we negotiate a particularly icy stretch of the trail. Gradually she senses that I am keeping up and so she begins moving dramatically faster as she steps, jumps, and leaps from one boulder to another. After while the ice turns to slush and then the slush turns to mud and the mud turns to packed earth and we move even faster. I want to stop to take a picture or rest but I know that she doesn’t want to break the pace so I keep jumping with her. Once I was in the jungle in the Philippines when some native hunters found me and guided me out of the forest—I was amazed at how quickly they moved. This woman moves just as quickly and I have to stay completely focused and concentrated to keep up with her—a wrong step and I've got a broken leg. After more than an hour she stops for just a minute to take off her coat. I do the same.
Eventually the decent ends in a broad river valley where we find another tea tent. I buy her a bowl of noodles and take her picture. Through a Sherpa translator I ask her what she's doing. She says that she's on her way to her village. She finishes the bowl of soup and hurries on her way. I don't see her again. What, I wonder, did I do right in a past lifetime to deserve meeting her?
For the rest of the afternoon I follow the river. For perhaps just an hour we see the eastern side of Mount Kailash and then it disappears. After five o'clock, when there is still plenty of light and yet when I’m really tired of walking, I come to the place where Sherpas and Roger and have decided to put up the tents. We are in a very beautiful valley.
June 2—DAY 4: WE WALK OUT OF THE VALLEY AND THE KORA ENDS
I wake up early in the morning and sit in the cold still air. For some reason the mind locks into a very soft and clear place in the banks of memory and feelings—the way the mind feels towards the end of a long meditation retreat. What a wonderful feeling to have nothing to do and nowhere to go, when just sitting and effortlessly watching the breathing is enough. Maybe this is why yogis go to the mountains.
Roger says that in this part of the kora often the thoughts are of the deep memories from one’s past. On the first day we passed through an archway that someone had built at the beginning of a valley—as we walked through Roger, filling in for a traditional lama, cut a lock of her everyone's hair. We were letting go. Later we passed the garbage dump / graveyard where people let go of more things. So this is all about death and rebirth, renunciation and starting again, acceptance and rebirth—whatever you want to call it.
By now everyone in the group is comfortable with everyone else. What a relief that we all like each other and that there is no pressure to walk as a group. Many of us, including me, like to walk alone so we do, knowing that something very special is ending.
The kora ends with a long walk out of the valley. We pass a cave where the Tibetan saint Milarepa practiced meditation, a monastery, and two Tibetans who are not Buddhists—they are Bon, the original animists of Tibet. The mountain is sacred to them as well, but they walk around it in the opposite direction from the Buddhists. They say the same thing that everyone else does, “Tashi Da-lay.” “Hello, may good luck be with you.”
The final stretch back to the dusty village of Darchen is a flat boring plain that trucks can drive on. Once a land rover stops and offers me a ride. I decline and continue walking on the dusty road and shortly see has the hand and foot prints of prostrators. Prostrators? Can it be? I had heard that some people virtually crawl around the mountain—prostrating all the way. Are they for real? Finally, with the village of Darchen in site, they appear: a man and a woman bowing down to the ground and, fully prostrate, stretching out their hands in front of them. Then they are standing up, noting the place where their hands have just touched the earth, taking two steps to that place, and then prostrating again. To put it crudely—they have become human inch worms who have wormed their way around the mountain. They are now longer human beings—they have risen above the human level. They are living saints.
Later one of the Sherpas tells me that he gave them 10 Chinese Yuan to share in their merit.
And so I have given you this story and these pictures that you may share in any merit that I have gained by walking around the holy mountain.
The rest of the trip, except for one stop, was non eventful. Two nights after we left Darchen we spent one night in a guesthouse on the shores of Lake Manasarovar. The lake and is supposedly one of the highest and largest freshwater lakes in the world. There's no boating or fishing on the lake because it's a holy place. Supposedly these days the Chinese hunt the game that surrounds the lake. When they first got there they were amazed at how tame the animals were—having never been hunted.
We stayed in a small guesthouse beside a monastery where the wind blows straight off the lake. Strangely for me, even though we were on the shoreline of a freshwater lake, there wasn’t a tree in sight—we were still far above the tree line. In the distance were immense mountains, including, like an old friend, Mount Kailash.
By the time we got there it was late afternoon and I was exhausted. I went for a freezing walk along the edge of the lake where I collected the same lucky stones that everyone else does. We had the usual dinner, toured the monastery, and then, finally, it was time for sleep. I was totally exhausted and cold. The warm sleeping bag felt wonderful, but I couldn’t sleep. Some idiot was burning God-awful homemade Tibetan incense just outside the door. What could be worse than that?
Finally I couldn’t stand it any longer, got out of bed, into the freezing air, and went outside to move or pour water on the incense. (Actually, it wasn’t that easy—the door did not have a latch so I had to move a huge rock that we had placed inside the door to keep it from blowing open.)
Outside the stars were close enough to touch and the Milky Way looked like the Los Vegas strip. But there wasn’t any incense out there—just a hint of the smoke from the yak dung-fired stoves in the monastery up the hill from the guesthouse. I went back to bed but I couldn't sleep. I sat up and meditated for an hour, tried to sleep again, and couldn’t, so I sat for another hour. At last the dawn broke.
By the light of day I learned that more than half of the group couldn't sleep either. Roger said that it was the power of the lake blowing right into us. Whatever it was, one night was enough. And yet I felt rested and renewed.
After three more days of driving we arrived back in Katmandu, which now didn’t seem nearly as rundown as it had three weeks ago. On the trip I had been dreaming of the hot shower and the carpeted floors of my hotel room where the TV gets 70 channels. But once I was there I found myself waking up early, very early, and sitting in absolute bliss. At night was just the same. I promised myself that I was going to ask the manager of the hotel if a high lama or a yogi had recently stayed in that room.