Honouring the Tibetan Sky Gods in the Mountains

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November 9th 2007
Published: November 9th 2007
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Sometimes, having a bad sense of direction is a good thing. This morning, Emily, Max, Luna and I left our hostel at 6 am, ready to catch the pilgrim’s bus at 6. 30 am to the remote Gamden Monastery in the mountains outside Lhasa. After an hour’s drive, we arrived at Gamden when it was still dark. As the monastery is at an altitude of about 4700 m and I hadn’t had breakfast, I felt a bit dizzy and out of breath. The pilgrims and tourists all hurried up the path to the monastery, but I decided to hang on a little bit and go slowly. When everyone was out of sight, I started my ascent in the dark, just as the sun appeared behind the mountains. It was really steep, and, huffing and puffing, I had to stop every few minutes. After about 45 minutes of arduous climbing, I thought, ‘that’s a long way up! Where on earth is this monastery?’ I couldn't see or hear any people. I turned and looked down the path beneath me. Another bus of pilgrims had arrived, and, as it was now light, I saw that they all walked a completely different path: they scurried up the mountain for a little while, and then turned right to the monastery, which I had left behind since several hundred meters! I realised I’d gone the wrong way - I’d climbed up a very high mountain instead!

And what a gift that was. As I was more than halfway up to the peak, I decided to continue to the top. I arrived there after another thirty minutes, and there I was, on top of this mountain, completely on my own with the rocks, enveloped by exquisite silence and awesome 360 degree views towards frozen rivers, snow-capped mountains, pink clouds, countless prayer flags and little stone pyramids in honour of the sky gods. I tied a white silk scarf around one of the pyramids as an offering and had breakfast in the snow while the sun warmed my face. I felt overwhelmed with emotion at the beauty and vastness of it all. I chanted a mantra to Tara, the Goddess of this land, She who is the sky, the earth, the rivers, the clouds, the sun, moon, stars, rocks, air and snow, and I could feel her presence all around me.

After I descended, I spent some time wandering through the ruins and many temples, and did another strenuous hike all around the monastery with a Tibetan family, up and down rocks and mountains, arriving back at the monastery completely shattered just in time to catch the bus back to Lhasa at 1 pm. The bus rides here are something of a challenge - today, the serpentine roads were accentuated by the cigarette smoke of the men in the bus, which caused some of the women to throw up violently. I now understand why most Tibetan and Chinese women wear face masks outside: it’s to protect themselves from the pollution and cigarette smoke. People smoke everywhere here: on trains, on buses, in restaurants. Somebody said that spending a day in Beijing is equivalent to smoking seventy cigarettes. When I arrived back in Lhasas this afternoon, I invested in a face mask myself!


9th November 2007

Wow - finding the path to the mountaintop by accident. Beautiful.
9th November 2007

Hi Tiz, Love reading about your wanderings and adventures. Be safe out there... your stories say so much about how humane the world and it's people actually are. I'm in a monastery too, but in Lyon. Eons away. Love SOMA
9th November 2007

Wow, it brings it all back! Try walking round the Barkhor at night, it's very atmospheric. Yeah get a mask or 2 or 3 -- it's not just pollution but dusty roads out of town can be a bit nasty to breath.
10th November 2007

Thanks all!
Hi there, I don't often get the time to respond to your comments and messages, but just to let you know that I really appreciate them - keep them coming! Much love, Tiziana xx

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