Saturday 9th – Monday 11th May, 2015
We set off on the kora in high spirits. This is what we came for. Three years ago Colin had a group of us organised to come out and complete this trek but visa restrictions saw us splitting into two groups with me heading off on the Nepalese Everest Base Camp trek instead. The EBC trek consisted of myself, my then partner Bob, Ralph (who is also on this trip with his wife, Carole) and Ralph’s brother in law, David. EBC was an amazing and eye opening experience for me and caused me to fall in love with Nepal.
Not long after Bob took his own life in February 2014 Colin told me that he was planning on trying for the Tibet trip again and kindly invited me along. I knew that Bob would have gone on the trip had he still been with us. This was my chance to see Tibet for him and take his adventurous spirit somewhere he never got to go.
During this trip we have all talked about Bob and laughed at shared memories of a man with a bombastic sense of humour and a desire to constantly push his own boundaries. I have also been able to talk, with joy, about the man I am in love with now. Someone who understands why I needed to do this trip. My past experience of living and losing Bob has shaped the person I am today. The future is with my new partner and I am excited to get back and share my life again.
It certainly felt like Bob was tracking us from somewhere as we started our trek.
Day one was a steady rise, past prayer flags, Om Mani Padme Hum stones and yak skulls (I also found a random yak foot and lower leg!). The skulls are often placed in amongst the prayer stones and inscribed with prayer themselves.
We made our way along a deep valley and through the site of the Saga Dawa festival. This is a yearly event, the highlight of which is the raising of a flagpole. If the flagpole stands upright once raised it will be a good year for the Tibetans. Rather reminiscent of Groundhog Day in America!
The wildlife in the mountains tend to be fairly unafraid due to the lack of hunting by humans. The journey to Darchen had bought us close ups of a wolf and some wild ass. Now we were able to get good pictures of the birds a large, marmot-like creatures named as mountain rats by our guide.
There was a long slog at the end of the day into our guesthouse accommodation. Colin and I pushed slightly ahead of Carole and Ralph and ended up exchanging pleasantries and energy sweets with a group of elderly Tibetan pilgrims.
Our guesthouse left a little to be desired, mainly due to the shouty young lady running it. During the night toilet options were; brave the semi-wild dogs by going out to the loo, cross your legs or use a pee bottle. We all made our own choices on that one!
The dawn view of Mount Kailash made up for the uncomfortable night. We had to set off fairly early as our guide was concerned about the snow softening in the afternoon.
Our guesthouse was at 4950m and we immediately headed uphill on snow and ice. The crux of the day was going up and over the Drolma La (La means Pass) at almost 5670m. The highest I had ever been before was EBC at approx 5385m so I knew this would be a tough test.
The path turned a corner to reveal the pass ahead. The slope was steep and long. I started out with Colin but he was stronger than I and steadily moved ahead. Carole and Ralph were behind with our guide. The porters and our driver (who was also pottering) skipped ahead or behind us with ease. Our driver told us that he had done the entire kora in one day before – quite a feat. However he had forgotten to bring sunglasses, a mistake which would probably have caused him snow blindness had Carole not had a spare to lend him.
I don’t know how long it took me to get up the pass, it certainly felt like hours. At points I had to fight the urge to sit down in the snow and rest. Nearer the top it was a case of ten small steps then stop to gasp for air, before pushing on. Most of the time I could see Colin, way up ahead and the others down below but several false summits saw me lose sight briefly.
Reaching the top bought about in me a mixture of relief and pride. Colin had arrived fourteen minutes before me and it was about fourteen minutes more before the rest of the party arrived.
We sat beneath flapping prayer flags, eating hard boiled eggs and apples, congratulating each there on making it. All the while Tibetan teenagers bounced around us, erecting new lines of prayer flags and singing. Our guide allowed us a short rest and photo shoot before reminding us about melting snow and the dangers of staying at high altitude too long.
The descent proved to be almost as difficult and strenuous as the ascent. We all ended up up to our knees or waists in snow on multiple occasions. We strung back out into our ascent pattern. Our porters helped me to cross a portion of frozen lake and then I was alone again. It was a peaceful and reflective part of the walk for me – surrounded by snow and mountains. I saw Colin ahead, stopping occasionally to check on my progress but eventually I moved atop a rocky slope with no one in sight ahead or behind. A sign to my right urged caution on danger of death so I followed footprints to my left. I soon realised this had been a mistake – ‘danger of death’ was the safe route!
I found I was on a steep and melting snow slope with no desire to attempt a climb back up. I followed the, now meagre, footprints off the snow and onto an, equally steep, rock and shale slope. It was time for a pep talk. ‘Right Cadi’ I told myself ‘you got yourself here and there is no point being scared. You’re on your own, get yourself down safely’. And I did. Zig-zagging, so as not to pick up speed, I spotted Colin sitting on a rock below. As I picked my way over the last patch of snow towards him relief and pride flashed up again.
We regrouped before heading off on another valley trek to our accommodation. Colin was still strong and broke ahead whilst I enjoyed a more relaxed pace with Carole and Ralph. Slightly delirious hilarity ensued when all three of us and our guide got stuck up to our waists in snow after eight hours of trekking.
That night Carole and I shared one bedroom whilst Ralph and Colin took another. Having lain awake for over an hour, trying to pretend I didn’t need the toilet, I was relieved to hear Carole get up at around 2.30 am. I asked if I we could go out to the toilet together. I think we were both glad of the company when one of the dogs sleeping in a skip awoke as we walked back. By the morning we had expended the ‘rustle in the darkness’ story to us having been attacked by a pack of wild dogs!
The final day of the kora started with us all breakfasting in the tea house tent. This tent was not only the social and eating area for the family who ran the guest accommodation, but also their sleeping quarters. As we ate, the granddaughter of the family – a charming girl, of around three years, who had delighted in greeting us with many ‘Tashi Deley’s’ the day before – was snuggling into bed with her granddad.
It was around a four hour trek back to Darchen, mostly downhill. The path was, at first, unremarkable but soon narrowed with slopes above and a small ravine below. I worried a little when a herd of yak appeared, over a brow, coming towards us. Yaks are big, tough beasts with long horns and a grumpy disposition. We moved up onto some rocks above the trail to let them pass. A young man, who had been picking his way along on his motorbike, had to switch off his engine and wait for them to flow around him.
A little further along we watched a shepherdess control her flock with an accurate use of a sling shot. Any stray sheep would hear a stone crack hard above, sending them jogging back to join the flock.
We arrived back to Darchen at lunchtime and celebrated with a delicious meal of noodles, fried aubergine, smoky black fungi and, of course, Lhasa beer!
All four of us were excited to have finally achieved the kora but none more so than Colin, who had dreamed the dream for many years. I felt I had pushed myself to honour Bob and believe I did him proud. Future adventures will be my own; shared with someone incredibly special, but I am glad to have achieved this one. The future is bright.
As we travel through the uniquely barren and yet beautiful scenery of Tibet I sometimes zone out and listen to my music. Occasionally a song comes on which sums up the moment. Here is one which I feel suits our trek: http://youtu.be/tn95pPlq6So