Between Realism and Fiction , Dege – Western Kham
Dege, Western Kham, Border with Tibet
Long before the sun rises we are up. Behind the mountains it begins to dawn, we are engulfed by the beauty of the morning.
The night had been noisy, with Tibetan lemurs rummaging overhead in the double wooden ceiling, sleeping was difficult. Where we sleep, kitchen, hall and bedroom in one, the typical Tibetan house. Throughout the night I carried a flashlight to spot the noisy little creatures who were after the Chambar, the rye flour stored in the kitchen in a wooden box.
The breakfast is painstakingly prepared with Chambar, salted tea and yak butter, yak cheese, mingled in a cup and bare fingers. The hospitality of the Tibetan people has no equivalent, we are honored guests in their house, and dare not to refuse their persuasive welcome.
Red Tibetan furniture all around us, wooden tables, an open kitchen furnace, we sit on our bed eating and drinking the salted Lapsang, planning for the day. We will ascend to the mountains staying overnight , where wolves and bears still roam freely. As a result, every Tibetan carries a dagger, richly decorated with Silver and gemstones, according to his social standing.
A car takes us to the school where Mr. Chen’s wife is teaching Tibetan kids, in a scenic settlement 30 miles outside the city of Dege. We visit the school, its basic facilities and see only smiling, curious faces. Horses were called in the day before to carry me to the mountain, an almost impossible thought to bear. The means of communication is by word to mouth, as no transport other than by foot or horse can reach to this remote parts in 4000 m altitude.
We start our ascent at 0900 AM and the breathtaking beauty of the valley immediately takes me into a trance. My guide’s pace is fast, difficult to follow pace, I grasp for air in such high altitude. Alpine meadows on our way, tall yellow and purple cowslips along the trails, in the mountain meadows make me remember my own heritage. So similar is the vegetation here, I almost forget I am 8000 Miles from home in a far away location.
The trail is steep, the first plateau reached we stare at the mountains around us, the valley below, fields of rye in golden yellow. The main route to Chamda and to Lhasa, a 5 days journey by car. So vast are the distances here, one needs to shut off his sensing of time entirely for the duration of this journey. Time has no meaning, we are only temporary on this Earth.. Tibetan wisdom comes in many shapes.
The stream we now try to cross is covering the trail over hundreds of meters and we attempt to jump from stone to stone with limited success. Ice cold fresh mountain spring water, a definite substitute to the bottled water in PET packing. Prayer flags with diverse colors line the places where the water is deep, marking the auspiciousness of the location. Mountains and cliffs towering over our heads as we progress into the high altitude dwelling place of my guide’s grandparents. Eagles cry, circling above in the clear blue sky, looking for prey.
An hour into the walk we meet our horses, sent to take us on horseback to our destination. I chose not to ride and pack our luggage on the horseback, a white mare. Noticing the rider’s pregnancy I wonder how strong these people must be, living year in year out in such remoteness. No medical facilities, totally dependent on Tibetan Traditional Healing, easier in the summer months, unimaginable in winter when ice and snow cover the mountains.
A two and half hour ride on horseback, she immediately sets off to return back to her home. Astonishing endurance, strength, people here are robust like no other. I encounter the first Edelweiss on my trip, it makes me forget the strain on my body, for too long I was out of practice since leaving my home country. Recalling my Military training, Hauptmann Lukesch, and the 50 Miles we marched in Alpine regions, I think back and realize how time has passed so quickly.
Here in this region I find a variety of plants, wild fruits, Gooseberries, wild Strawberries, Raspberries in deep red growing nearby. Reminding me of my youth and the Alpine world I grew up with, where we would roam in the meadows after school, using the mountains as a playground, once again I see reflections of my early days appearing with every step I climb these trails.
We zigzag along the rocky paths, it takes all my strength for its steepness. The higher we reach the more spectacular the views, the more you feel yourself free. Only a mountaineer can understand this feeling, perhaps I felt a similar sensation the night I found myself in Beyla, Guinea.
The serpentine paths become more steep, walking dangerously close near to cliffs I realize I made a good choice not to move on horseback. Not being a good rider it would have been too risky, a reckless idea I contemplate.
Well into the afternoon, long overdue we reach the first house on a long stretch of green, rye growing up in this altitude of 4000 meters. We set of at 3000 meters, but the ascent was so strenuous it took me 8 hours to climb. Here in the mountains everyone knows each other, so our arrival had been heralded and we are invited to the first dwelling we see.
Sitting in the dark kitchen with only basic amenities, the lady of the house and her grandson invites me with the same hospitality I am so used to since coming to these parts. All I take is some fresh mountain spring water, trying hard to recover from the climb.
One can not describe the condition of this dwelling place, were it not to hurt the genuine people’s feelings. All they have is this, and this is their life. The rye gives them food throughout the year, and represents their staple diet. All houses in Tibetan tradition are built of raw timber, logs of Fir and are painted with a red mixture that contains yak butter. The yak butter helps to preserve the logs for a long period of time. When entering these parts one immediately notices this phenomena without realizing the deeper meaning of it.
I dread to climb further up and really push myself to reach the last 300 meters where the grandfather is anxiously awaiting us. We can see the house further up the mountain and can see the grandfather standing and looking towards us.
The last stretch lasts forever and I take a rest every now and then, grasping for air. When we finally reach, I feel totally exhausted.
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