Walking to the Mountain

This is the story of a long (500 miles plus)walk I made across western Tibet to Mount Kailash in 1988. I walked alone and carrying all my food supplies for a month until I reached the mountain, as the region is populated only by a few nomads and there are no towns or even villages for stocking up. For mysterious political reasons it was illegal to walk the way I went, and in fact almost impossible, as it was the rainy season and all the rivers had swollen to such an extent that it was nearly impossible to ford them. Now bridges have been built across them, but then, the only way across to walk.

Anyhow, despite being dragged down onto a river-bed at one point, I did manage to stagger to safety, and was lucky enough to reach the mountain. I was arrested upon arrival and made to pay a fine, but I was treated very well, and given a permit to stay in the region for a month. I spent that time exploring the whole area before spending another month returning to Lhasa - by hitch-hiking around by the northern road, which was about as slow as walking, as the Brahmaputra was too swollen to cross and so there was no traffic.

Mount Kailash is regarded as sacred throughout Asia, to Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and the pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet, Bon. One does not climb up the mountain, as this is considered sacrilegious, but walks around it. One circumambulation is called a kora. The way is quite demanding, and takes about four days to do comfortably (though Tibetans may do it in one day). It is an awe-inspiring place and it is easy to see how so many religions have hung their legends upon the snow-capped peak which rises so dramatically from its sheath of surrounding mountains.

As well as the story of my walk there, the two koras around the mountain and the long hitch-hike back, I detail the previous westerners who have made this journey, the legends of the country, the everyday customs of the nomads and how Tibet has been affected by the Chinese take-over. Walking to the Mountain is the story of a pilgrimage, not only to a place, but to a space out of time.

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