A Rest Area En route to Manasarovar, Day 8
Approximate Elevation: 4,550 m (14,925 ft)
As we left Paryang, the energy level in our group was high: come what may, at the end of day we would arrive at Lake Manasarovar! This stretch was not any different from what I have described earlier. Desolate, barren, overcast, and bad roads! Additionally, heavy rains had lashed the plateau over the last several days and the roads were pot-holed mush and the rest of the plateau appeared like a large swamp. Swollen streams crisscrossing the area had essentially ‘cut’ many roads making them impossible to traverse. On reaching such a gaping crevasse with fast running water, our convoy would backup, leave the road wherever possible, and find an area where the stream was shallow enough for us to cross over. During these maneuvers, some of our jeeps stalled in the water, and others towed them to higher land. Then I thanked our stars for being part of a larger convoy. Slowly we progressed onwards.
Along the drive we passed one of the first “Rest Areas.” It was a simple clearing by the road with 7-8 tents pitched in a circle. Some sold trinkets like tibetan prayer beads, bracelets and various prayer bells. Some tents provided a last opportunity to purchase additional warm weather supplies like wool socks and caps, for the much cooler temperatures around Kailash. And most served tibetan tea and local noodle dishes. The drivers particularly took this opportunity to enjoy their native brunch.
This was one such rest tent, “Three Brothers Teahouse.”
Inside one of the tents were an assortment of day beds and wooden benches covered with warm quilts. In the center a wood burning fire was contained within metal sheeting and kept the larger kettle at a boil. The heat also warmed the smaller kettle, and kept the yak milk warm in the largish aluminum flat bottomed vessel (toap). Radiant heat from the metal ducting kept the tent cozy, and the smoke escaped through the chimney on the far right.The young girl on the left was repairing some clothes strewn about her on one of the day beds. When we entered she put those aside and observed us with amusement. The slightly older owner lady scurried around; she carried a money belt wrapped around the front of her garb and patiently answered all our questions about her tent. Only a couple of us ordered Tibetan tea (a blend of yak butter, rock salt and hot brown water). The altitude sickness and associated weakness had dropped my inquisitiveness to a new low, and I stayed content taking pics. Was just not in the mood to try anything different!
Close-up of the girl. She was amused by the innumerable questions we asked. More like we’d point to some aspect/thing in the tent and fan our fingers up while raising our chin in the universal query “What?” or kya. She of course did not understand hindi or english and simply smiled. She did have a beautiful smile!
A Buddhist Shrine took the pride of place. Rows of tiny overturned copper and brass cups in the front are used to offer milk each morning. I had seen this in Nepal and in Nyalam. Hanging on the left is a broad, segmented silver belt with inlaid coral and decorations. This is a traditional Tibetan belt worn by women over their tunics. We did come across many women who wore such belts in an assortment of sizes and decorations. Very elaborate!
In case you wanted a head of a wild sheep, several such were for sale!
By this time of the yatra, I was a complete disaster (hate to confess it). The drive over rough roads was very uncomfortable and every bone in my body ached. And I was running a fever! Add to that the dry cough, nausea and headaches. My cousins provided me the Indian “Combiflan” tablets (a combination of paracetamol and ibuprofen; equivalent to a tylenol and advil combo!). And I found my eyesight was getting blurry and I could not even tell the time on my digital watch. Our team leader was a physician specializing in high altitude sickness and he explained that blurry eyesight was a common side effect of being at this elevation. Wonderful! I could barely breathe, eat and now was turning blind!
Most of the other members of our group also had some level of illness. Some were worse off. But overall, I think the other desi indians (unlike the yours truly, nri) fared slightly better than me. Most were likely accustomed to the bone jarring rides in the local buses or auto rickshaws. And the food was not much different from what they were used to. And their intestinal immunity was definitely more robust. Initially, even though I had felt confident in my ability to trek around Kailash, I simply underestimated the challenges of the road. Just getting to Manasarovar and Kailash took the best of my energies and drained me of physical and psychological resources. Silently, I started to wonder if I too would not be able to do the trek around Kailash! The organizers had already planned for a ‘un-able’ folks to stay at Manasarovar, while the rest of the group did the trek. So much for being a marathoner!
Understandably, I was in no mood to keep a cheery front! I simply went through the motions of socializing with the rest of the crowd. When we were not driving, I’d eat (rotis and honey, drink milk) and sleep. That’s it! The water for cooking and drinking was taken from the nearby stream. The sherpas would boil the water and add alum (Aluminum sulfate) to precipitate any organic materials – so even the water had the chemical taste and dark precipitate would collect at the bottom of my water bottle!
As the jeep rolled and pitched towards Manasarovar, I’d just rest my head on the window, close my eyes and try to nap. Every time we hit a bump, I did fly awake, rub my head, take in the scene around and drift off again. Once when I opened my eyes, I noticed a white goose on the side of the road. It had paused from its feeding in the nearby stream and observed our convoy. As our convoy rumbled, it took flight. I stared at it as it flew over a ridge, and … then I sat upright!
The entire drive in Tibet, over so many days, I had not seen a single bird. Here was a brilliant white one! Just one! And then I remembered something from one of the books on this yatra: Flocks of white swans, geese and other water birds made their home at Lake Manasarovar! I had seen the first one! In my fever and low oxygen induced delirium, that white goose seemed like a divine messenger! A lead scout, which was even now returning to the lake to inform its flock of our arrival. Lake Manasarovar was very close!
Click link below for the next post on the Kailash Manasarovar Travelogue:
Lake Manasarovar, Finally!
To start at the beginning of the Kaliash Manasarovar Travelogue, click link below:
Rendevous with Sagarmatha (Everest)