Atop Lepulekh Pass and over to Tibet

Trip Start Aug 19, 2006
Trip End Sep 13, 2006

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Flag of India  ,
Sunday, August 27, 2006

This is last leg of our trek on Indian Territory before we cross over to Tibet. It is most treacherous walk of about 7 km on a very steep ascent. Almost all of us prefer to negotiate this climb on pony-back so as to preserve our energy for the tough trek ahead and also to make the distance well before 9 am. The weather at pass is generally favourable up to 9 am. After this, high speed wind starts blowing and it becomes very difficult even to be near the pass.
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 blinking torches of the yatris moving in a column look as if a procession of glow-worms is moving in the starry dark night. Silence is deep, broken only by the steady sound of hooves, clinking of pony-bells, shouts of mule drivers, the crack of whips and their echo. Even the air is silent. We move on dreamily. At times, in the deep azure sky I can sight the stars blinking brightly and peeping from the openings between the clouds. With the approaching dawn the eastern gate of the heaven opens up for the chariot of the sun to pass through. Slowly darkness turns into grey and visibility improves. I can now interpret the shapes of the objects. The riders and pony moving in a row are discernible. As we pass through the narrow valley we sight the waking sky crimson with the glow in the passing patch of clouds over head. Everything now gradually comes to life as we move on steadily up and up in height. The air is cold but not sharp or icy cold to cut through the skin, as I thought it would be. Only the crisp cool air kisses the exposed cheek which gives me a pleasant feeling. The tiny flowers unfurl smilingly as if to wish us good-morning in a chorus as we reach the confluence of two streams whose gurgling wakes us up. Everything including bare hills now looks soft in the morning light. We cross the wooden bridge over the river we have been following thus far. From here we ascend along the left bank.
The valley opens up. Towering mountains are guarding us from all sides. They are dark brown with pinkish hue at places. As we move higher up we find every mountain, hill, crag or valley bottom in a chaotic state, as if a celestial party of gods and angels has just ended leaving every thing in disarray. Funnel shaped fine debris is stacked at their bases as they continuously shed their load as a result of weathering. The barren mountain cliffs have sharply serrated edges with huge rocks precariously balanced at the top. It looks as if in years to come all these mountains will crumple down and be reduced to a huge mass of debris to remain in situ and be rebuilt into a new hillock or it may gradually get washed down with glacial flow. We did not encounter any bhoj or birch tree; only alpine herbaceous vegetation rules the ground, most of it in bloom. The habitat of juniper seems to end at about 500 metres above the height of Navidhang. They are not to be seen anywhere on way in these naked slopes. We see some birds and crows gliding in the sky.
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. The air is rarefied. We feel it but it is not distressing. We breathe easy.
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. A Chinese guide meets us here. He is a smart young man and speaks both English and Hindi. David is his name. Dolma, a second guide also accompanies us. With them we enter Tibet and leave India behind.
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. They trekked river valleys of the Great Himalayan Mountain ranges, crossed over these difficult high altitude passes and roamed about it blissfully in wonderment. They discovered the strikingly beautiful Mt. Kailash and the sacred Mansarovar Lake from which flowed the great rivers. They were deeply influenced and overwhelmed by the beautiful and sublime surroundings and averred this land as the true abode of gods.
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.
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Rajorshi Sarkar on

This nab knows how to write a travel account . It seems to be expedition rather than yatra. Well done.

kailashi on

thanks. Yes, it is not less than a mountaineering expedition.

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