Sunday, June 3, 2012

Reaching the Mountain Top

1. Departure plans Day 2
This was probably the most difficult day of my life. Courage became soft as cauliflower. I cried and moaned and groaned because I knew I could not do what was being required. We started out early in a cold wind and begged for the sun to please peek through the cracks in the mountains to warm us up. I was sore from the previous days ride because I tend to pull my shoulders up when I'm riding. The line was thick of horses, hikers and yaks, like bumper to bumper. And the hard pull began immediately. The pass known as Dolmala is dangerous with rock and ice. But it's the challenge moment of the Kora. Take it slow. Take it one step at a time. Air is at a premium.

After about two hours uphill, my pony was huffing and puffing. I was adamant that he was too small to be hauling me through the maze of obstacles. I did have two angels on my side - Nima and Tashee. And if my pony bobbled, they grabbed my arms or legs. Well, the pony stumbled to his knees as he tried to climb over rocks. The pony puller didn't seem to be concerned. Luckily I had held on to his mane since riders had no reins. It was all in the lead shank. The pony got back to his feet as Nima and Tashee held my arms.

2. At top with the flags
I burst into tears, terrified, screaming how can this pony be used for this. Please look at his legs. Of course no one understood my English and I leap into Spanish when I get upset. Two other larger ponies also fell and lost their riders into the snow. I was furious that I could be put in such a precarious situation. No one really worried. It was part of the novel. You'll make it. Have faith. This is a good thing. I was just in tears and begged them to let me go home. Well, there really wasn't a way out, was there. So as we tread across more ice we finally reached the top of this devastating pass which was covered in thousands of prayer flags. I immediately dismounted furious at everyone. But we all had to dismount. Ponies could not go downhill carrying riders because it was too dangerous. Helllooo. But no one had warned me of this possibility and I was certainly not cheerleading the idea of having to walk down hill. I didn't have my sticks, because Jim had them and he was far behind.

3. At the top with the flags, Nema, pony guy
Then Nima reminded me about the flags which we had brought in his backpack. This wasn't about me but about the kids knowing their prayer flags would be flying. We unfolded them and held them out for a photo, then Nima climbed up higher to a rocky area best to hang the flags and immediately the wind gushed and those precious prayers of my granddaughter Caroline and her friends from St. Mary's School soared to the heavens and the eyes of God. At least that was accomplished. Love you, Caroline.

I sat on the rock, shaking like a samba dancer out of fear and shed tears again because it had been done. We were at the highest point, 18,100 feet of the Kora, the real accomplishment. I didn't feel good about it at all, knowing my pony was miserable and I cowardly. Plus the altitude was playing dice with my brain. It was time to get down.

4. Nema finding home for the flags
So with Nima's wife on one side and Tashee on the other, they literally carried me down the steep path - mostly snow and ice and then it turned into a dusty slide which is the scariest of all. It took about an hour of this intense decent. We walked across beds of ice and strange bridges held together by wire fencing. Down in the distant valley I could finally see the ponies - all of them - resting in peace. There wasn't any grass. Just dirt and rock. A stream did run through the "meadow", if you could call it that. And there were tents where pilgrims could set up lunch. Tashee asked if I wanted to eat inside a warm tent (which smells of smoke and yak dung being burned for fire) and I said No. Outside in the sun. The sun has healing properties and I needed healing. I ate a Snickers bar for energy. My stomach wasn't entertaining anything else.

5. Another holy lake
From this level, I boarded my pony again and our little group began the long afternoon part of the hike that follows a river from on high as if looking after it. It was painful for my joints and the dusty wind blinded eyes. This is why people wear masks. I pulled up my bandana and pulled down the hood on my jacket. A dust whirlwind passed through.Then I decided it might be less painful if I just got off the pony and walked. I got my sticks from Jim and tried to be brave. After about an hour we came around a large hill and I could see in the distance about 6 blue tents. I was told that was our destination - about two miles away. So I'd grit my teeth and cover that territory with its ups and downs not so severe as some. Then when we got there, I was told that was not our destination. No room. We would go on to Zuthrul Phug Gompa - another spit in the sand. Well, I climbed back on the pony for that portion. It had been a day of 9 hours of travel.

6. Comfy me worn out
We were blessed to have been given the very last room available. It had five beds in it the warm room made of yak dung and mud with a ceiling of sticks and thatched something. I was so exhausted that I just flopped down on the first bed under the window. Anything, I said. Immediately Nima and his wife spread out the duvet, the blankets and my Tibetan skirt and tucked me in. I was non functional. A few sips of water and I was out, but I could hear the activities. We had been given the last room available with conditions. It was where the beer and drinks were stored for the bar next door. Small bar more for the workers than the trekkers. That was OK with us. So many could not find sleeping quarters and had to either rise a tent in the cold or keep on trekking another 3 hours til they reached the end. I rose up a minute for a noodle dinner (noodles with a slice or two of Chinese cabbage mixed in a broth of Chinese vinegar and soy sauce.) Mind you, I sleep in all my clothes, only remove my shoes. Every hour or so Nima and his wife would re-tuck in the blankets to keep me warm until the light disappeared and the conversation ended for the night. They always make sure I had water. This I could get used to.

7. Coming down the pass.

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