Atop Lepulekh Pass and over to Tibet
Trip Start Aug 19, 2006
21Trip End Sep 13, 2006
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The sky is overcast and rain seems imminent. We leave the camp at four in the morning, when it is still pitch dark and foggy. It is quite cold. A gust of wind sends shivers down to the bones. Heavily clad in woollens with monkey-caps on we look strange even to ourselves. Astride ponies we move by the river bank along the road which is not discernible. Any false step and one may tumble down straight into the abyss below. I cannot make out how far away the river bank is or who is in front and who is behind me
The valley opens up
After the steep slope for about a kilometre we are now on easy gradient. We trek these slopes for sometime to give respite to the ponies and also to stretch our stiff limbs. The pass is visible at the far end as we look up straight towards horizon in northerly direction. I find walking in this high altitude zone very pleasant, especially because of the easy gradient and good weather courtesy lady luck
Now we are only about 500 meters away from the pass. We stop and relax on these slopes amidst huge rocks and boulders sheltering the pretty flowers and await a signal from the Pass to proceed. Here we await the group returning from Tibet after the completion of their yatra. Only when they have crossed over to the Indian side are we permitted to cross over to Tibet.
Finally we are at the summit; Lepulekh pass at a height of 5339 meters or 17602 feet. We all earned this pleasure after seven days of trekking through the difficult terrain. Reaching such dizzy height had been a great challenge, yet a highly exhilarating experience. The Pass is the international divide between India and China. Tibet is only a small step away from the top of the pass. There are no border posts, no barriers, and no barbed wires; only a few Chinese and Indian police personnel. They too leave the scene as soon as no more required. At the pass we are met by a Chinese official who is responsible for our well-being in Tibet. There is no snow in or near about the Pass and yet there is a glare emanating from the dusty ground. Snow is visible only in hollows deep down. The high speed wind which we were warned of is absent so far. An occasional cold draught blows drawing out warmth from our heavy clothing
As we cross the Pass we enter Tibet and, suddenly, panoramic view of a magnificent, expansive landscape opens before us; the snow capped peaks of Gurla Mandhata ranges, all of them over 20,000 feet, occupy the centre stage with Gurla Mandhata (25350 ft.) towering over them all. Partially veiled by clouds they look hazy in the far horizon but they shine with brilliant radiance on sunny days. The multihued rocks of the hills add colour to the panorama. There is no greenery or tree growth to give respite to the eyes, only the stark naked rocky mountains stare at you. Except for couple of ravens cruising high in the sky, there is no bird or animal in sight. Absolute silence, apart for the murmur of the movement of the yatris, reigns supreme. Desolation is all pervading and intense. A whiff of wind howls in the ear and it becomes extremely cold at the Pass.
And this moment on the pass remains frozen in my memory.
Over to Tibet
We enthusiastically welcome the returning yatris and exchange experiences with them
I feel joy and anticipation on stepping into the territory of a new country: Tibet (also called Hundesh of Hurias), the dreamland of my childhood days where I believed God lived and where pilgrims from India went to meet Him. When I was young, I was told you had to have self belief if you wanted to meet God here. It is a glorious feeling to have fulfilled my dream, to breathe the air of this place and blissfully intoxicated by it. I look heavenwards and thank Him for His grace. These majestic mountains and valleys, the blue sky, tired and sore limbs are all witness to what faith is and what it means to me to be here in this land of gods and many myths...the holiest of all pilgrimages.
Here there is no man made temple to look for Him. He is every where in these cool, crisp and fragrant airs of the shining Mt. Kailash and serene lakes which belong to eternity. And I keep up my faith.
Long ago, Aryans are said to have entered Tibet through similar routes
Western Tibet is closest to India and the Indian heart. Here the Great Himalayas suddenly and steeply terminate and merge in the near table land of Tibet raised at an average elevation of 15000 feet above sea level. It feels like being on the roof of the world.
We enter Tibet through a very steep descent and walk in a narrow valley for about half a kilometre. The hills around have rocks in variegated hues of pastel green, saffron, purple, and black. There is snow in some pockets just below the mountain tops. The alpine vegetation similar to that found in Indian side is present all over the valley but is very sparse. At the end of the descent we arrive at a six meter wide motor road with smooth surface (yet to be painted), where two Toyota wagons are parked. We were very happy to see them but disappointed to learn that they are not meant for us. Here we were expected to meet the ponies but they are no where in sight. With heavy backpacks we trek along the motor road winding through the slopes for another half an hour and finally mules catch up with us. Here, we are over 1000 meters below the pass. Astride ponies our caravan moves on to cover a distance of about 5 km. At the end of the uncomfortable pony ride a bus awaits us. Shortly after, our luggage also reaches and is put in order in the bus. Bus is comfortable but already crowded with locales and some Chinese police personnel with two bags full of rare herb used for longevity found only in these areas. We move along a nameless stream rising in LipuLekh.
Finally we are in the plains of Tibet; the land of Holy Kailash and Mansarovar. With growing delight and intense curiosity we now wander about to explore it.