Land on the Roof of the World
A certain aura surrounds the mentioning of the land of Tibet. One cannot help but think of a long journey to a place once believed to be Shangri-La, that sits on top of the world and is surrounded by the high Himalayan plains stretching towards the great peaks.
Tibet is home to my guide and friend Nima whom I have known for many years. Although we had numerous adventures together, I will never forget one in particular – the time we circumambulated Mt. Kailash, Tibet’s sacred mountain with a small group of courageous travelers. For the devout, a circumambulation of the mountain is considered to be the pilgrimage of a lifetime. For most of us it was a test of strength and endurance as the two-day trek requires an overnight camp at 16,000 feet followed by the crossing of a pass at 18,000 feet.
That night when the exhausted group reached the camp site, our cook prepared a simple meal before everyone tucked into their sleeping bags. I was cold and unable to sleep and decided to look for Nima in the small cooking tent. There he was, surrounded by our trekking crew, the yak herders and our cook. Everyone was huddled around a small fire, cigarette smoke filled the air and a couple of cans of Lhasa beer where handed around the group. It was a surreal moment where I experienced and realized a glimpse of true reality into the life of Tibetan people. Nima smiled and welcomed me to sit with them. He offered me a beer, a special treat at 16,000 feet! I spent an hour with them as I sat by the warm fire and listened to their conversation. Although I did not understand what was being said, I felt that I was part of the group, safe and comfortable. When I left to go to my tent, Nima handed me his big warm coat, which I put over my sleeping bag that night. I could hear the chatter and laughter in the nearby cooking tent as I fell asleep.
I wore Nima’s warm coat for the remainder of the trek and the photos of that journey… myself engulfed in that coat with Nima standing next to me, a big smile on his face, are on my wall to this day.
This warmth and hospitality, which is so reflective of the Tibetan people can be found everywhere in Tibet; in the tea halls of Lhasa, around the Jokhang Temple, in the markets and back alleys and in the small villages scattered throughout the country. I was fortunate to feel that spirit of Shangri-La in the hearts and soul of the Tibetan people.