Sunday, July 6, 2008

Walking towards Mingyong

The bus came to a holt on a cliff hugging dirt track, with a snow capped mountain just visible in the distance. We got out and took photos and urinated. It seemed the vehicle had some problems and thoughts of being stuck atop a mountain pass were present. But those ideas of adventure were short lived and the engine came to life again. Back in our seats a group of young chinese men and women tried to converse about their hiking plans. They told us that Brooks walking plans were too unusual. Hardly anyone does that. It was too far. They with their professional mountain walking jackets, drinks cannisters, walking sticks and maps. We with little more than our thoughts of achieving something that would put a sense of pride and purpose in our existense. You have to make your own reason for living.

Deqin was a pleasant little town, with the usual square, where men and women would go in the evenings to dance together and beam smiles, where children would bounce or kick balls. We stayed in a tibetan guest house and watched women's volley ball on our rooms little TV. We ate fried noodles and checked out a lovely bar, which I wanted to be successful because the woman owner was so lovely but only had us as guests at that time.

The following day it was wet and we got up late but by the afternoon their was some sunshine and we made a reckless decision, a mode of action which I was beginning to enjoy, and decided to walk up the mountain a little in search of a sacred lake. We thought we had enough time to make it their and back before dark. We tried to get directions as we took the towns climbing roads. Out and up onto dirt tracks we stomped. We passed rice fields with the sound and sight of trickling waters. The hill we traversed stood proud and we tackled it using the snaking track. Up and through a little village where dogs barked and a child staired. Passed a woman and her donkey. And then downwards. We didn't know if this was right but the ground became boggy further down and we thought this could lead to a lake around an unknowable amount of corners.

In the end we came to a group of tibetan tent dwellings. We intended to walk on and passed, but waves and offers of hospitality persuaded us, and we stopped for some nourishment in one of their tent homes, around a warm fire on the ground. Brook had decided to go back to veganism so couldn't take the usual tibetan milk tea, with yak butter, and bizzarely (I've never heard anyone else mention this) cheese which they dropped into my cup together with the beverage. Cheese and tea!!! What cheese in your tea?!!! It went down well. I ate this with rice and a big fried chilli like vegetable, the sting cooked out of it. The man of the house offered me a piece of his mushroom, with cheese and pepper on it. Brook had to stick with just rice and tea without the fatty sustenance. We couldn't converse with these hospitable people. We understood the offer to sleep in their tent if we wanted. We didn't want to ruin the purity of their giving by offering them anything in return. Really I mean that. Genuine giving goes beyond anything a small offering of money could repay. We thought if we passed this way again we'd like to bring some gift. To get back before dark we'd have to forget the idea of reaching a lake, and so with great pleasure at the thought of how wonderful simple human friendship and kindness is, we pushed on back to Deqin.

The next morning it was raining again but with Brooks inspiring words of how easy it is for things to dry out tied on the back of your backpack and advice on what to bring... "take the big backpack, it helps you walk"... we set out leaving most of our things at the Tibetan hostel, saying we'd be back in a week. Up hill we stomped for 10 kilometres. This was hard enough with a back pack. The rain was still coming down but we talked of Bob Dylan and I sang a litttle, the eccentric finding freedom in me. We considered stopping the night up on the mountain at this point and waiting for the rain to clear the next day but the places seemed pricey and the talk of the guest house staff, that making it to Brooks planned destination of Mingyong was impossible, only inspired us more. "We'll walk on and see what fate brings", we agreed. "If needs be we can hitch out of trouuble."

We were still using a road used by the occasional passing of local trucks and pick-ups. As we descended a little on these winding roads the clouds began to clear and far below we could see an opening in the mist. Tiny specks of dwellings lay somewhere down there on the flat valley, beside a brown winding river. Wow, beautiful! We walked on happily. On these roads, a small distance of what looks like 800metres as the crow flies, takes hours, as you rhythmically step on and on atop the winding mountain hugging track, stepping aside for trucks that groan up the slopes at what seems like 10 miles an hour. We stopped and looked up and down at a past avalanche which had clearly blocked the road at some point. We walked over it after taking some photos.

After perhaps 15 kilometres of descending a pick-up stopped and asked us where we were going. We said Mingyong but weren't sure of the best way to get there. Could we cut down over the mountain side, not using the road? They told us to jump in the back and we rode for a few kilometres to a path dropping down to the left. They lit our cigerettes and bid us farewell. The afternoon sun was beginning to burn. Hot and tired we let the weight of our bodies and backpacks push us down the steep stony path. Only directing my body as it descended I was going too fast and slipped, grazing my palm. That was a note of caution to us as we continued on. I wasn't used to walking so far. Brook encouraged, "We can get a good days walking in today. Tomorrow will be tough. By the third day you'll be feeliing good."

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