Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sunset on Shangri-la

With all the hype around China these days, I wanted to write a bit about Tibet. Eastern Tibet is a jewel on this planet, and due to government restrictions, remote location, and no real transport options, it remains a gem, fortunately and unfortunately, tucked away from most. Western Tibet is raw power and open space, a place that humbles you immediately. The east is the true Shangri-la, white energy, peace, and a heaven on earth. It is mountains and rivers, hidden forests and glades, yellow aspens, blue rivers, serene lakes, and undisturbed monasteries. The sun is warm, and the wildflowers sway in the delicious breeze. It is quiet, unraveled, and unknown. There is more untouched wilderness there than almost anywhere on the planet, with gorges so deep and inaccessible, no one even knows where they are or what lives there.

We scored a land rover from Lhasa that a travel company had to return to China proper at the end of the season. We spent a week getting back to the border, stopping along the way at some sites, some random villages, and it was like a dream. There are many country villages, farmers, herders, and nomads, living in the old way, and the whole place exudes serenity. Of course you have to get there, from Lhasa, you have to cross a big mountain range and some heavy plateau, but then you drop into the valleys, and through the time warp. The air is filled with juniper smoke, the thukpa is savory, and most locals are
smiling. The hamlets are set in jaw dropping scenery, with some of the most beautiful light I have ever seen. The air is quiet and remote, just standing outside and breathing makes you slow way down and tune in. If you want true adventure, there is endless exploring to do if you can swing it, but there is very little network or support. You could walk into those forests for months on end.

Along the highway, Chinese influence is spreading, but the valleys are deep and vast. Until you cross the Mekong and pass 6700m Meili mountain, you are in a forgotten world. Slowly, as the pavement improves, you are pulled out of the daydream and slapped back into reality. The border of modern China advances daily with the road, and military and construction vehicles plow the way. It is like a giant mechanized steamroller, overlaying the bucolic country with asphalt and steel. Entire towns are plowed under, and retrofitted with the “modern” look. To see the Tibetans, true nomads in woolens and beads, faces weathered by altitude, sun, and wide open space, standing lost in front of a mini-mart is a cruel juxtaposition that is hard to get your mind around.

Change is inevitable in the world, that is how life goes, but when it is un-natural and ahead of schedule, we lose things that we don’t understand. Evolution and growth are natural processes, with steps to be taken along the way, and we see what happens when we skip steps and rush ahead. Whenever we cheat to get to the finish line faster, we always have to go back, because, after all, finishing is not the ultimate goal. We are where we are, and if we don’t fully understand why we need something “better”, maybe we should slow down, and put one foot in front of the other. To walk and progress and actually feel each step, feel the ground under you, and be fully aware, that is the process. Tibet is a land steeped in the mystery and as it changes in the name of modernization, we obscure a major path in our spiritual evolution. Yet, mystery can only ever be
obscured and hidden, never lost or destroyed - that is what you understand when you look, listen and feel the depth in the nomad’s eyes.

No comments: