Monday, July 25, 2011

To a Mountain in Tibet by Colin Thubron

To a Mountain in Tibet

"In the beginning Kailas was just rock—rock and stones. Without spirit. Then the gods came down with their entourages and settled there. They may not exactly live there now, but they have left their energy, and the place is full of spirits…"the myth behind Mt. Kailas
Now in his seventies, famed travel writer Colin Thubron left his wife and home in England and trekked to a holy mountain in Tibet from Nepal. It was a personal journey. From Nepal, where his father hunted bear and big cats eighty years before, Thubron headed to Kailas, or Gangs Rinpoche, the holy mountain, the “precious jewel of snow.”
”Early wanderers to the source of the four great Indian rivers—the Indus, the Ganges, the Sutlej, and the Brahmaputra—found to their wonder that each one rose near a cardinal point of Kailas.”
Kailas is a holy mountain for Buddhists and Hindu alike, and thousands of worshippers every year pilgrimage to Kailas to circumnavigate the base.

At 15,000 feet, the base of Kailas is 52 km long, and it sits next to the highest freshwater lake in the world, Manasarovar. Kailas is reflected in its waters: “To the Hindus…the lake is mystically wedded to the mountain, whose phallic dome is answered in the vagina of its dark waters.” Kailas has never been climbed. Perhaps it is true that “only a man entirely free from sin could climb Kailas.” Thubron’s journey to Kailas is spiritual as well. He meditates on his life, his recently deceased mother and long-dead sister as he walks, but he shares with us what he sees along the route, in case we don’t get the chance.

The journey begins as if “through a ruined English garden,” strewn with viburnum, jasmine and syringa, honeysuckle, dogwood and buddleia. Soon the track becomes “savage and precipitous,” and as he gets closer to Kailas, the road becomes positively alive with pilgrims dressed “in a motley of novelty and tradition,” often scattered in groups of two or three, who look "unquenchably happy". And closer yet:
The monks, who have been praying in a seated line for hours, advance in a consecrating procession. Led by the abbot of Gyangdrak monastery from a valley under Kailas, they move in shambling pomp, pumping horns and conch shells, clashing cymbals. Small and benign in his thin-rimmed spectacles, the abbot hold up sticks of smouldering incense, while behind him the saffron banners fall in tiers of folded silks, like softly collapsed pagodas. Behind these again the ten-foot horns, too heavy to be carried by one monk, move stentorously forward, their bell-flares attached by cords to the man in front. Other monks, shouldering big drums painted furiously with dragons, follow in a jostle of wizardish red hats, while a venerable elder brings up the rear, cradling a silver tray of utensils and a bottle of Pepsi-Cola.”
But finally the destination is reached, and a Buddhist monk shares his philosophy: “Only karma lasts. Merit and demerit. Nothing of the individual survives. From all that he loves, man must part.”

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