9/13/2007 to 9/16/2007 | Tibet

The journey west: to Kailash

I decided to play by the rules for my journey out to western Tibet and the sacred Mout Kailash, home to the Hindu gods, a pilgrimage destination for Hindus, Tibetan Buddhists, and tourists alike.  The Chinese government tries its best to make the pilgrimage to this most sacred of mountains as difficult as possible for western tourists, requiring that they wait ten days for permits which can only be obtained if going with an organized group thought a travel agent.  In addition, they mandate that you not only have a driver, but also a guide, taking up another seat in the vehicle, and most often providing little else in the way of usefulness.  Despite these annoyances, I decided it was better than the other option of hitching and taking buses illegally via the less scenic northern route and where there is no guarantee of reaching the mountain.  There were four of us in our group to Kailash, in addition to myself there was a Latvian girl named Santa, a German girl named Silka, and Marc, the Alaskan who I went on the Ganden to Samye trek with.  Both the girls were on extended year long trips, while Marc the oldest of the bunch, was on a two to three month trip to Tibet and Mongolia.  With six of us, including the guide and driver, in an old Toyota Landcruiser this meant someone had to have the misfortune of sitting in the back with the luggage.  Fortunately, after discovering the uselessness of our “guide,” this duty fell to him more often than not.  The first part of the trip was rehashing old ground for me, stopping at the monasteries of Gyantse, Shigatse, and Sakya.  These were all places I stopped at 8 years ago on the way to Mt. Everest.  It was interesting and somewhat sad to see how the places had changed nevertheless.  Especially the towns of Gyantse and Sakya, which on my first visit were almost completely Tibetan towns, with hardly a single Chinese building.  It’s amazing how Chinese city planners can uglify a quaint village in so little time by putting up hideously boxy white tile blue window monstrosities that completely clash with the local architecture.  In Shigatse, we were fortunate enough to catch a festival where the monks of the monastery where putting on a performance.

From Sakya our next destination was Saga.  Our driver informed us that we would have to wake up at 4:00 am to make it to a section of road that was under construction in order to pass before it was closed from 8:00 am until 8:00 pm.  Not wanting to lose a day, we obliged.  However we arrived at the road ten minutes to late.  After 10 more minutes of pleading by the driver and guide, as well as some attempted “chocolate diplomacy” by myself, i.e. offing some chocolate to the guys in charge of the gate, the Chinese guards let us through.  Unfortunate we were about to run into an obstacle no amount of chocolate or smooth talk could get us by.  That obstacle was the Chinese commander of the military check point just outside of Saga.   We arrived at the check point just outside of Saga at about 11:30 in the morning.  There was no reason to assume anything other than a check of the permit and our passports and we would be on our way.  But after an hour of waiting, it became clear that something was amiss.  It turned out that on our permit, which was in Chinese, and in the custody of the guide and driver the whole time, said we were supposed to enter Saga on a different road on the other side of the Brahmaptura River.  In one of the most incomprehensible, illogical, and asinine things I have encountered the commanding officer wanted us to go 18 hours around, back the same road (which we were not supposed to be on in the first place) and via the other road, when we were literally less than a mile away from Saga. Since the road doesn’t open until 8:00 pm we couldn’t even start on this detour for another eight and a half hours.  Granted the driver had made a mistake, whether intentional or not, I’m not sure (the way he went was shorter so maybe he was just trying to save some money), but the commanding officer was seemingly taking pleasure in punishing the foreign tourists for his mistake.  We sat at the checkpoint for six hours while the guide and the driver tried to make calls to get us through, to no avail.  Compared to the military state Tibetans have to deal with on a daily basis this was a minor inconvenience but it was infuriating to us nevertheless.  It’s no wonder almost any foreigner who visits Tibet comes away with a visceral hate for the Chinese government, it was true for me the first time I was here as I watched tanks roll though Lhasa on the Dali Lama’s birthday, and this incident did nothing to change my low opinion of the Chinese occupation.

The driver did not want to go the 18 hours around anymore than we did, and it turned out that our guide was from the same town as one of the soldiers who manned the check point.  The plan was to come back at 4:00 am during his shift and when the commanders were asleep.  We drove back to the nearest village and slept in a Tibetan family’s house until it was time for our attempted escape.  We arrived back at the check point at about 4:30 am but there was apparently an officer around so we had to lie in wait around the corner with the lights out until he finally left sometime after five.  At which point we approached the checkpoint and the gate was opened and we drove through to the other side, one big step closer to Kailash.   The drive from Saga to Hor Qu, the town where we stayed before starting the Kailash trek was uneventful and the road, or dirt track, was as bad as it was scenic.  Just before Hor Qu we caught our first glimpse of Mt. Kailash’s famous snow clad southern face peaking up over the brown mountains.  It was pretty exciting sight to see after such a long journey and the site of the first of many, many pictures I would take of Mt. Kailash.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>