Prostrating Pilgrims

At some indefinable point the riding got easier, or was it just that our lungs were adjusting to the reduced oxygen, our bone marrow kicking in and more haemoglobin pumping around our bodies? We'd been on the Tibetan Plateau almost a week, it was less effort to ride and we could admire our surroundings a bit more- there was less snow as well so more was visible. We rode past Mount Kailash, one of the holiest places in the world, its name in Tibetan looks like this གངས་རིན་པོ་ཆེ

and it's sacred to Buddhists and Hindus alike. There was more traffic around as pilgrims travel to this remote corner of Tibet to do their “kora” or pilgrimage around the mountain.  We stayed at nearby Lake Manasarovar where our neighbours in the homestay were an extended family from Calcutta – we may have thought it was cold, but to this family from tropical climates it was freezing beyond their wildest imaginations. They wandered around bundled up in layers of down clothing looking more like teletubbies than pilgrims on a sacred journey. Their interest and amazement in our journey was infectious and we found ourselves telling stories from our trip.

There was nowhere to eat that night so I ended up cooking for the whole group, Mr Wang the driver armed with his very sharp knife with Leon and Andy our guides alongside him were extremely helpful in assisting me with peeling and chopping but not impressed with western cuisine and made their own dinner. Attempting to cook on a yak dung fire was a challenge but helped along with a judicious splash of diesel (on the dung not in the food I hasten to add) the meal came out alright. A big pan of mashed potato with a Tibetan style Bolognaise sauce was dished up and soon disappeared.

Visits were made to the local monastery which was very picturesquely perched on a small hill overlooking the village- due to my cooking duties, I didn't have time to head up the hill and instead sampled the hot springs down the road which were blisteringly hot and a pleasure to soak in after the hard riding we'd been doing.

The next day we started to pass more pilgrims, this time Tibetan Buddhists stretching themselves full length along the sides of the road in a form of worship as they made their way to the next shrine. Their strength of belief and faith was awe-inspiring as they undertook these journeys, prostrating themselves with a step forward between each stretch some of them covering distances of hundreds of miles over weeks or even months. They were cheery and waved to us between stretching out on the frozen ground.