The road less travelled-Bewilderment

Despatch 04.06.10 – There’s always a feeling of stunned bewilderment arriving back in the modern world after a trip to the fringes like that I’ve now almost completed. Back in Kathmandu, I’ve just a couple of days to sort out gear and some admin, and I’ll be on the plane back home to Manchester. Having lived in a world of sand and wind and searing light, within a few kilometres of leaving Nyalam and heading south I was back in a world of moisture and greenery and swirling cloud. The Himalaya truly are remarkable. Were they not so high, the monsoon wouldn’t happen, and hundreds of million of people wouldn’t have the rains that feed them.

What did I learn? A lot, and much more than I anticipated. Having written about Tibetan issues for several years, to be back there and able to get off the beaten tourist track allowed me an insight into what’s happening there. China’s long effort to control and subdue Tibet isn’t over yet, despite a new campaign of subjugation. It’s pretty simple really. The Tibetans have spent tens of thousands of years adapting themselves to live in an extraordinary and tough environment. The Han Chinese, however, are changing the environment to suit themselves.

Both approaches have merit, although as a romantic I prefer the Tibetan point of view. It’s certainly kinder to the planet. It was a little disheartening to see the environmental changes and damage that China’s huge infrastructure projects are inflicting on Tibet. But it also means that the Chinese don’t fully engage with the land that they’ve acquired. The Tibetans still do, and will continue to do so, although climate change is having a real and obvious impact on their traditional way of life.

I have some new priceless memories. Being woken by the tone of a conch shell blown from the roof of the monastery in the last village we stayed in was wonderful. It seemed to me that in that noise was a quiet reassurance that not all of Tibet would disappear under the bulldozers. I was also amazed to see a practice I’d only read about, of sheep being tethered head to head in the old way and then milked, as they have been for centuries. Sven Hedin wrote about this and given he had camped nearby to where we watched a hundred years ago I felt rather blessed.

What I didn’t expect was to see so much wildlife. Sometimes it felt we were on a safari, observing herds of gazelle, or wild asses from the Landcruiser. We saw eagles and vultures, hares and foxes, and marvelled always how they managed to endure in such an environment.

As for the mountains, we didn’t even get to the bottom of the our intended objective. We saw it briefly through the clouds as we approached, too brief a glance even to get a photograph. I rather like this. Had we more time, we could have hired yaks and taken our gear round for a closer look But to leave our aims just a little ahead of us, and almost out of view, isn’t a bad philosophy. It gives us a reason to go back.

I’ll be doing a piece on the technology I used to send back my blog and on how Rohan’s clothing performed.

Ed Douglas

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