Days 4 & 5
(In Mt Gongga Monastery courtyard)
Two days of trek completed. Yesterday we walked for what felt like 15-18 kms, 600 mtrs up and 1000 mtrs down. The journey upwards was through the meadows towards a mountain pass which we had to cross to go to the other side of the valley into MoXi valley. We did this part with short breaks and slow walk as some of us were affected by the AMS. For me, this was the pleasant trip as the path was wide and we just had to climb up. Somewhere in middle, it started to hail for few minutes. At the top we were treated with clear views of Minya Konka.
The journey down was a totally different story. After going down the pass, we were into a different landscape. We had to now walk in the jungles, under the trees and cross streams many a times. Sometimes the path would be narrow and slippery and the streams wouldn’t have bridges. Oh how I hate such trails! Already my legs were tired with all the climbing up and I was too scared that the dirt and mud will spoil my clothes on the first day of the trek itself! I hadn’t carried/brought too many walking pants.
Tang En who walked with me all the way down was super patient. At that time, I remembered my last trek in mountains, in India, and the urgency we were all compelled with to walk quickly. It was always like walk faster, walk faster. It is so different here. They understand that a person can walk slower but not faster. They don’t push you to walk faster, just encourage pacing up once in a while. If you tried walking faster, but are more comfortable at a slower pace, then so be it. The training is to be done before the trek, not during! Finally we reached the camp and our tents were already up! The first thing I did after reaching the camp was to clean my pants and shoes.
The camp ground was adjacent to a river. It was a beautiful location and felt like we are in the middle of nowhere. The nearest village was 4-5 hours on foot and two on horses. We have 9 horses, two spare to carry us if required. Camping in the middle of nowhere was a first time experience for me. I have always camped in larger groups. We were in total 15 people, including 4 horsemen, 2 guides and 9 of trekkers.
I can say now that camping is more fun in retrospect/ in memory. In reality, it is a hard, cold, dirty, risky business. At a point, our kitchen tent was just about to be on fire! I dreamt of wild animals in the night. The sound of night in a jungle is kind of disturbing. It is definitely not peaceful. I was up for most of the night, twisting and turning, trying to get warmer. It was so cold. In morning, I realized while talking to teammates, that TangEn and I had forgotten to use the insulation mats and hence were lying almost right on the forest ground next to a river. It was expected to be insanely cold in that case! A lesson learnt the hard way.
The morning was breathtaking beautiful. I had woken up to the sound of commotion. It turned out one of our mates, a British guy, was swimming in that insanely cold river water! The sunlight was lighting up the mountain opposite us, next to the river and we were to be in the shade for many more hours. The moon shining above the peak lit up by morning rays was a heavenly sight. What wasn’t so heavenly was the experience of defecating in the open with three horses staring at me shamelessly! Yes, I admit, I hate forests. They are creepy and full of dark secrets.
After my life saving (literally, this was the only thing that kept me alive) Western breakfast of omelette, cheese, bread, apple and coffee (I could never swallow rice porridge and rice bread first thing in the morning!), I mustered the courage to move my stiff knees and thighs again! Off we went for a 3-4 hours (in my case, may be longer) hike to the Mt Gongga Monastery, the monastery dedicated to Mt. Minya Konka (called Mt. Gongga in Tibetian). Looks like tribes here too pray to the mountain peaks, like we do in back home.
It turned out to be fairly easy hike even though my muscles were quite sore. TangEn again volunteered to be my walking buddy and the last hour of the hike was absolutely amazing with spectacular views. We spent a lot of time clicking pictures as the sun was bright and the peaks were cloud-free. The Monastery looked more like an Indian dharamshala with colourful windows in two-three storey-ed wooden structure. A larger part of the monastery served as guesthouse with kitchen and a tap, and a small restrictive section was the real monastery. Not only did we have two persons’ room to ourselves, the window in our room had fantastic views of Mt. Gongga. It is a privilege to sit on bed (after a day of camping) and simple enjoy such fantastic views!
Ok, so I am an exotic entity here. People stare at me. The visitors, I don’t know where they are coming from, click pictures with me. They are just a step away from treating me like a celebrity. Oh wait, they just did that too! They presented me with a white piece of silk, which they call prayer cloth and put it cross my neck and blessed me. While this happened, of course, I was so damn embarrassed more because I didn’t know what was happening. But now I feel overwhelmed. Of course, there is a Brit and a German here too. But their presence is less unlikely than an Indian’s, I guess. I am very amused to find myself more exotic than Caucasians!
It is evening now and the sun is running the last lap to home. The prayer room is alive with drums. All through this trip, I am reminded of India. Like in India, all the mountains here too are dappled with religious symbols such as shrines, piled prayer stones, prayer flags, monasteries. This monastery is like any temple in India, with a huge courtyard, a structure in middle for religious burning (we have our tulsi in temples), living quarters all opening into courtyard and toilets which are outside the structure. While sitting here I am thinking of the temple above the town in Naggar and the old priest and the young son and the rebellious daughter. Wonder how they all are.