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Day 69: North from Lhasa

Yangbajing, Tibet 
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Michael Palin - HimalayaFirst views of Namtso are dramatic. It lies, gun-metal grey and fringed with snow-dusted mountains. On a day like today it seems to discourage company. Yet down by the lakeside, near a cave hermitage called Tashidor, is a small town of tents and vehicles. The cliffs and rocks are festooned with flags and white scarves cling to a tall promontory like candle wax. A pile of mani stones (stones with mantras on) rises at one end of the shingle beach and despite the appalling conditions, people are out walking their koras or mini-koras, and a number of people are not even walking, but dragging themselves face first through the grit and gravel.

There are men in balaclavas and women with babies on their backs and scarves tied tight across their faces against the penetrating dust. There are figures whose big fur hats and robes of leopard-skin trim show them to have come from Amdo in the east. There are young men who weigh down their katags (white scarves) with stones from the shore, swing them round their heads and send them sailing up onto the cliff. The higher they go and the more firmly they stick the more merit for the thrower.

The hundreds, no, probably thousands of pilgrims who have defied the elements to come here and worship a lake, are largely poor, rural people. I don't know quite what to make of their tenacious dedication. My rational, enlightened, Western self recoils from the tackiness of it all, the parade of plodding, vacant faces. Another, more instinctual side of me is fascinated by and even a little envious of the deep belief that can bring them all this way and turn this remote and unforgiving lakeshore into a sanctuary.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 69: North from Lhasa
  • Country/sea: Tibet
  • Place: Yangbajing
  • Book page no: 166

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