tibet, where mountains move faith

"In-Roads", Life Positive Magazine, 2004

The bus left early morning from our hotel in Kathmandu towards a weeklong tread through the holy land of Tibet, with a Thai group of ten (including three Thai monks). Mountain linings appeared in sight, looking almost like a bridge between heaven and earth. Gratitude, I knew what the word meant today. The land began absorbing my silent prayers. The fresh air teased my nostrils. I could feel my lungs quiver with the chill. In the silence, I heard my own breath as a whistle of the hill bird––loud and clear.

Our first unexpected halt after a day’s drive was at the border town of Zhangmu, due to the delay of procedure by the Chinese authorities that were now to get completed the next morning. The town is surprisingly unequipped to shelter a bunch of stranded tourists. A meal of over fried momos at the hotel restaurant was followed by a sleepless night at a smelly dormitory and sinking spirits. Nevertheless, the next morning saw me join the queue and pass through official procedures. Crossing the border held a special meaning for me. Only this time I got snubbed by a young Chinese soldier as I was trying to capture the Chinese symbols at the border into my camera.

We soon got loaded into a fresh bus this time with a Tibetan guide Norpu, who was to take us through Tibet. As rain slashed across the windowpane, strangely a sense of personal freedom was heralded as I entered a land that had surrendered its own. On our way to Tingri, Norpu sang Tibetan songs, told tales of Tibetan tradition, monasteries that have become ruins, jewels that were snatched away from the belly of the Buddhas, the cult of compassion and its multiple manifestations. He spoke about the colors red, white and black; and the hues of wisdom, compassion and power they contained. He spoke about the times before the year 1959, the tradition of the monks, and the gestures of the kings and their wives. As I was listening to Norpu’s intent voice reeking with a strange power entwined with pain, my eyes moved from the hardened lines softening his face to the hardened contours of the hills and their fluid linings, and wondered if that was Tibet all about—power and pain, strength and fluidity. I wondered when the color black would spread out from the dark mountains of Tibet, and exhibit control.

Night halt at Tingri was destined to be in an old creaking and cold wooden house, where a flask containing Tattopani was to slip out from my cold shivering hands the next morning. It crashed as I held it out over the balcony to wash my face. It was difficult to explain matters to the hotel staff who thought I broke the flask in the room, and then tried to bury evidence by throwing it out of the balcony! Language problem was soon to amplify, this incident was an indicator. After paying for the damages, swallowing a light breakfast and sharing a quick smoke with the driver of our bus, I joined the group in our journey towards the town of Shegatse (officially known as Xigazê located within the historical Tsang province of Tibet).

The journey was all about the numbing beauty of black mountains clad in white snow that spoke tales of battles won and lost, of might and tirelessness. Just mountains and more, this was a territory where both life and death appear one, where time loses meaning, and fear has no standing ground. A land where care for the world drops, and even for your own self, just a keen readiness remains. Our stay at Shegatse comprised of long conversations, short walks, buying of headgear and general acclimatization. After a two night halt here, as we began to move towards Lhasa (capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region), I felt a distinct lowering of spirit as I spotted Chinese symbols marking the streets, and innocent Tibetan faces with wait brimming through their patient eyes.

Tibet indeed is all about symbols and symbolism, beauty amidst bondage, an endless sport of pain with compassion. It’s about timeless monasteries whispering amidst ruins, and a gathering of Gods, whose watchful intent offers perpetual protection through their portraits. It is about statues of Padmasambhava and Buddha that are silent yet so ready to speak. It’s about the scent of the Buddha of Compassion, reflection of sky in scenic lakes, scattered villages, wandering nomads, prayer wheels, and prayers rolling along their side. It’s about hot Tattopani served seamlessly into your thirsting cup. It’s about the drift of Brahmaputra, and patterns that clouds make on dark hills.

Yes, Tibet is all about mountains, of as many a hue as there are faces in Tibet. Who could challenge the power they contain? One can only submit to one endless stretch of their unshakeable hope. Tibet is a land of dreams, where dreams are so real that the seeming reality looms over like a dream. Its terrain is all about expanse, regality, dignity and might. It's the land where mountains move your faith.