Fri 1st – Sun 3rd May, 2015
It is wonderful to get up into the mountains! On Friday we drive 8km north of Lhasa to Pha Bong Kha Hermitage, a 7th century meditation site. Our walk is to start upwards from here.
To the left of Pha Bong Kha is a sky burial site. Sky burial is the most common way of dispatching a body for Tibetans – the body is released to the air. The method is to reduce the body into very small pieces before signalling to the flocks of waiting vultures to come down and consume the remains.
This is clearly very different to anything I have experienced before and at first I found it a fairly shocking thought. However it makes perfect sense to that the circle of life continues. Sky burial is also very practical as the ground in Tibet is very hard and often frozen all winter.
As we begin our walk up the mountain and away from Pha Bong Kha we notice tens of vultures start to swirl around. From a distance we can see and hear a body being prepared for sky burial. It is a rare occurrence to have a glimpse of this ritual.
Our walk continues up into stunning scenery , much of it draped with colourful prayer flags. High in the hills we spot remote hermitage huts, used by monks for anything from 3 to 9 years of solo meditation.
Eileen has not joined the trek but Colin, Ralph, Carole, Dad and myself seem to cope well with the altitude; all moving at our own pace to keep our breath.
On arrival back to Lhasa we decide to congratulate ourselves with a Lhasa beer or two in a charming heritage bar, Yiu Sik Ping Hong Hotel, Carole and myself had spotted previously. Spirits are high!
The next morning I choose to skip the spinach and chilli breakfast and give myself a lie in before we pack up and head 130km northeast to Tidrom. Our plan is to stay at a nunnery there but on arrival we are greeted by a departing Australian lady who tells us the toilets and showers are the worst she has seen. “If you like faeces stay there” are her words. We are all fairly hardened travellers ourselves but a quick straw poll reveals that none of us ‘like faeces’.
Luckily we find rooms down the road at Terdom Tower Hotspring Shambhala Source Hotel (rolls off the tongue doesn’t it?!). The rooms are painted in vibrant, traditional colours and my bed even has yak hair dreadlocks surrounding it!
As we are now at 4300m we spend the rest of the day relaxing and acclimatising. Carole, Eileen and Colin all attempt to immerse themselves in the hot springs but none go higher than their knees. The heat is too intense – much to the amusement of the tough locals.
There are separate hot spring baths for men and women and most of the locals bathe naked. From our balcony view we notice that one of the male hotel workers is being very diligent at keeping an eye on the ladies bathing area through a gap in the divide. He must have been concerned for their safety!
For the first time on the trip I am totally out of touch on mobile phone and Internet. It is relaxing but hard when you are missing someone.
Today, Sunday, we took a trip to Drigung Monastery. Startlingly set on a cliff face this is a highly important monastery in Tibet.
As we arrive vultures soar low above our heads – Drigung is also a busy sky burial site. We spend a couple of hours strolling around the vast site, watching Monks praying and playing. Eventually a snowstorm descends upon us and the many sleeping dogs (there are vast numbers of dogs everywhere in Tibet).
As we are nearing the end of the walk I mention to our guide that I need to use the facilities (you need a strong stomach!). He takes me down to them and then – as we have to wait for the others – into the site tea house. This is a magical experience for me!
We enter a large dark room, crammed with benches and tables. Cooking fires with giant kettles and pans run down the centre of the smoky room. I sit down with our guide and drivers and am offered a paper cup of hot sweet tea, poured from a giant thermos. I look around the room – there are nuns and monks in their red robes, Tibetan nomads in traditional dress and some visiting Chinese. I am the only Western person in the room – it is an overwhelmingly lovely moment.
When the rest of the group arrive the Tibetan ladies I am sitting with share their barley cake with us all. The atmosphere is perfect.
As we leave the tea house we are quietly shown an open square where monks are performing a puja around a shrouded body before it is taken for sky burial.
Our astounding experience is topped off by chatting with friendly children in the villages on the way back.
On arrival back at the hotel Eileen and I decide to take it in turns to use the hot springs bath which Ralph and Carole have in their room. We would have used the stunning, rock covered wet room in our own room but someone seems to have forgotten to plumb a shower into it. I take full advantage of the steaming bath and take my clothes washing in with me – needs must when travelling!
Now we look forward to another relaxing evening watching the mountains as river before heading back to Lhasa tomorrow.
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