The Spirit of Tibet: Dalai Lama's Oracle Lake

Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Monday, August 7, 2006

Tibet and the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile are protected by a wrathful goddess, Palden Lhamo. Palden Lhamo, in human form, was the lover of the first Dalai Lama. As a goddess, she is known for her powers of prediction and carries a pair of dice with her as she rides her mule, symbolic of the Tibetan dice divination called mo.

She offered to attach her life spirt, called la to a lake high in the remotest mountains of Tibet. At that lake, the Dalai Lamas would look into the lake and predict their successor. The present Dalai Lama, was found thanks to the lake. Despite the early death of the 13th Dalai Lama, the regent of Tibet traveled to the lake, which told him to look in Amdo. Eventually, this led to the selection of His Holiness.

Thus the name of the lake (or tso): Lhamo La.

At noon, I was at Gyatsa, the gateway to the lake, high in the mountains to the north. Soon I was at a monastery shop with Tashi and Tanyur who offered me a drink of tea. Tanyur, the store owner, was playing a game of dice, played with shells and coins and plenty of yelling and hollering for good luck. Tashi acquired more good karma by finding me a ride north with a Korean group in a Landcruiser.

I sat, cramped in the back with their guide, Ruth from Lhasa, as we passed large granite mountains. Several hours later, we reached the parking area for the lake after paying the entrance fee, perhaps used to maintain the holiness of the lake. The remote lake was now fairly accessible, thanks to the road.

The pass with the view of the lake, however, is a deterrent, as it's knife ridge is at 17,500 feet. The pass is covered in prayer flags. Somewhere underneath the net of prayer flags is the Dalai Lama's throne, the place where he would predict his successor. I put up some prayer flags, with Ruth's help.

The small lake was nestled in a glacial valley surrounded by sharp mountains. It was shaped like a keyhole--a gateway, a portal. Within the keyhole, its surface was continually changing based on reflections, the sun, the wind, and the clouds.

"Shhh," was generally the only word heard, as a small group of people contemplated the lake. We all watched as the sun, wind, and clouds continually changed the look of the lake.

Oracles, however, have the ability to look beyond the lake's surface. After watching for a while, I figured that the oracles would not be looking at the lake's surface, but through it, to something beyond.

The best way to describe this is to equivilate oracles looking into the lake with The Matrix, whose director/producer combo, the Wachowski Brothers, were influenced by Asian schools of thought. In the final scene, Neo learns to see through the apparent reality of the Matrix and see its "essential nature" which was binary computer characters: "Ones" and "Zeroes." Similarly trained naljorpas would see magnificent mandalas when circumabulating mountains. They would see hidden worlds called beyul when entering caves. And they would likely see through the keyhole-shaped lake into another world, a world that would predict the next Dalai Lama.

From the pass at 17,500 feet, I looked down into the valley. The bottom of the knife's edge was hard to see because of the steepness. I wasn't sure how to get down, but slowly found a route from rock to rock with my food-laden backpack. Eventually, slowly, I reached the lake far in the valley below and found a grassy campsite away from the lake to the northeast and out of sight.

This would be my home for the next four days.

Camping at the lake was relaxing, and I never left its glacial valley. Every day, I would explore a little bit, take pictures, and walk a kora around the lake.

For the most part, I was the only one at the lake. Below me was a larger valley where nomad camps were established for the summer. I could see them from afar, small dots pursuing their yaks. Their yaks would also graze around the lake, high on the ridges.

On my first daily kora, late in the day, I unintentionally herded the yaks back towards their camp. Far behind me, a nomad was herding other yaks, as I was on the trail they wanted to take, so I continued on, driving the yaks as I went, checking my back to make sure I wasn't going to get gored.

Almost every night, at 5,000 meters, it snowed and I would awaken to a winter wonderland, only to watch it melt in the morning sun. In the afternoon, sleet storms would develop over the northern mountains. On my second kora, a storm approached. I could hear the sleet hitting the lake in the distance, then closer, then I was surrounded in sleet and gusting wind.

Mostly, however, the lake was silent, and I didn't talk to anyone for the entire time I stayed at the lake.

For dinner, I cooked near my tentsite, overlooking the nomad valley below.

Mushroom Cream Masala
Rehydrate mushrooms of all kinds
Rehydrate yak meat
Rehydrate diced potatoes
In a separate cup, mix hot water, yak butter, and milk powder.
After several hours, sautee garlic and ginger in peanut oil, then add rehydrated items to the pan.
Add garam masala spices.
When browned, add the cream mix and stir.

On the fourth day, I climbed the ridge back to the knife's edge. The trail, once again, was steep and I was breathing heavily, often climbing using my hands as well.

I looked back at the lake one last time, wondering how the next Dalai Lama would be chosen. The future is unclear, but perhaps the lake knows.

Returning to town, instead of taking a couple of hours, took two days. I found a ride on the back of a truck, but the truck broke down. After waiting in the dark, we made our way to a small town and stayed in a guesthouse. The next day, the entire gear system of the truck was taken apart; it was clear the repairs would take a while.

I began walking, with a stream by my side and plenty of food, I would be fine. After a few hours, however, a tractor full of people stopped. There was room for one more. The journey was bumpy and rainy. Soon we were at a crossroads, and I was hiking again for a couple of hours. A truck eventually stopped and, on the way, I helped them to unload wood at their customers' homes.

After a full day, I arrived at Gyatsa, where I slept in the vestibule to the monastery with monks, dogs, and roosters (no chickens allowed). In the morning, the monks, the military, and the roosters competed with their calls and chants. No winner was declared. The roosters fought in the courtyard as the two-legged monastery dog barked at them. The white rooster had lost most of its tailfeathers, probably during cockfights. Other more colorful roosters had all their tailfeathers, shaking them like Ray Charles.

Whenever an animal loses its color, it's typically because it's become domesticated and no longer needs its color for camouflage or for attracting a mate. Its as if it's lost its outer glow and its means of survival. The white rooster looked run-down, beat up, and decrepit.

I still needed to wait another day to get a ride back to Tsedang, however. So stayed in Gyatsa another day, finding a room at a guesthouse, cleaning, resting, eating fresh foods and popsicles. The next day, I found a ride and was in Tsedang by early afternoon and in Lhasa shortly thereafter.

Since then, I keep thinking about the lake and the Dalai Lama and the future of Tibet.

The lake, shaped like a keyhole, holds the key.
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