Tibet (Day 11) – Hike to Tsabuk Hermitage 1 July 2009

Amala milking yakYak tent wake up call: yak snorting *very* close to the tent! We emerged in the pre-dawn mist to find Chotsomo tying up the calves so she could milk the mothers undisturbed (the bag contains salt which the yaks love). Soon Achi’s mother (left) came along and took over the milking, which she clearly does on a routine basis. After enjoying the ‘phe’ (baby yaks) and morning tea & coffee, we headed back along the river path, marveling as Chotsomo’s husband Tashi rode over the suspension bridge on his motorcycle.

hike startOur all-day hiking/picnic excursion to the cave where the founder of the Drikung Kagyu lineage became enlightened was with many of Achi’s family, and was a blast. We drove to the start of the ~8 mile hike, up the valley from the Guest House, all of us in the van, plus three motorcycles each with a rider also along. We actually had to get ‘permission’ about halfway up, because the area is popular for collecting tree grubs for sale to the Chinese – the nomads complain that the vehicles destroy the land.

chodrunThe ‘road’ became so rough (large stones) that I could hardly believe we were still going along in the van without dragging bottom, and finally we stopped and got out and began walking – at around 14,000′ elevation. The guys on cycles followed along, going up and back, trying to get us to ride, but it became a point of honor for most of us NOT to ride!! Those who came on the three cycles (6 family members) also carried the picnic stuff, including two thermoses – one of the ubiquitous milk tea (here’s Chodrun on the left), and one of butter tea.

achiThe valley we hiked up became very steep and narrow, with streams and little waterfalls running off sheer rock walls that became more picturesque at each turn. When we finally reached the hermitage and the cave, we crossed a sacred spring that turns 3 small-medium-larger prayer wheels (you can see them behind Achi on the right, with the hermitage directly above him). The valley opened out into very high, steep, sometimes rocky, pastures with yaks everywhere, herders, and a fence for milking perched precariously at a tilt.

We found a relatively flat spot below the stupa, boards were dragged from a construction pile, and out came blankets and this amazing lunch of the chapati-like breads (this time with onions AND yak meat), potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, hot sauce, and tea! lunchroom viewAfter lunch we hiked over to the hermitage for a short tour, and then across the *really* steep pasture to an even higher flat end of a ridge – Achi’s altimeter said 15,092 (but we know now that it is at least 500 feet too low!). climbWe were all huffing and puffing like crazy, gasping for air.

We recovered (sort of), thanks to leg massages from Chodrun, Yulo and Tashi!, and thoroughly enjoyed the view, watching several of the guys digging in the hillside for those valuable grubs, and watching a huge eagle (?) soar over us, checking us out. We then headed down and across to the hermitage, again traversing across an equally steep incline to the sparsely-furnished cave – it was incredible. I can’t imagine living in such a place for several years. We yet again hairpin switch-backed down to the road, passing the source of the sacred spring.

yuloThroughout all this tramping around on the steep hillsides, Achi’s niece Yulo adopted me and held my hand to keep me from falling. (Here she is on the left with her braids down…we learned that both women and men blacken their gray hair, and the young women add extensions to their braids!) We had some good laughs trying to understand each other, as neither of us spoke the other’s language. As we headed back down the rocky road, I finally agreed to hitch a short ride on the motorcycle with Tashi driving; great fun! At the bottom near the van, we all sat around on blankets in a light rain, drinking beer and tea and laughing, like it was the most normal thing to be doing in the world! Achi informed us that this day was more ‘training’ for what was to come day after tomorrow…