Why do we travel ?
If it’s to meet folk from different cultures; to live and breath their unique way of life; share their beliefs, hardships and sense of humour; plus explore the magnificent scenery where they live on the top of our planet – then there’s only two places, the Andes, and the incredibly vast Himalayas.
This story is about the Himalayas, and the wonderful folk who live there.
On the eastern edge, Mongolians once had the largest Empire in our history. All the USSR, China, India, plus most of Persia, and they were riding into Europe at one stage. How ? Because they were great military tacticians, and tough as nails. They still are tough, and, like their neighbours to the west in Tibet, Nepal and Kashmir Jammu, have had to survive for centuries in a bleak, totally unforgiving environment.
A short summer in which to grow enough food to last bitter winters, then bunker down in Yurts or mud brick houses. To do this you have to be fully self sufficient, stoic, and, if you’re living in very close company through long nights, you require great tolerance, and a shared faith.
Their universal faith is Buddhism. This is not a religion. It is all about being kind to other folk, tolerant of different beliefs, caring for nature, and gaining knowledge. All of which help lift their souls to a higher level in the next re-incarnation. For just as space and time have no boundaries, nor do humans.
Buddhists firmly believe the essence of every person is a soul, which lives in their physical body till that dies, then, as our soul is eternal, is re-born in another body. Where that happens, depends on how much karma from good deeds you acquired in this life. They look at unscrupulous millionaires, and think, you hard lot will probably be re-born in the desperate poverty of a Delhi slum – far away from the pure, peaceful life up here in the mountains.
To live so close during bleak winters, they also need a keen sense of humour.
I’ll pass on a risque example. Mongolians love Vodka and Tequila. The first time I met some men, (at a railway station on Chinas’ border), I noticed they were all buying bottles, so bought one only to have it promptly taken from my hand ! They looked closely at it, smiled and gave it back ? Turns out if the alcoholic content is too low, these tough blokes waggle their small finger at you .. which means little, um, you’ll work it out.
Anyway, outer Mongolia is a great land, very unique people, and the big thing is, when folk meet in unusual places, with nothing to gain from each other than enjoyment and knowledge, life sparkles into an unforgettable brilliance.
They live in a truly amazing landscape, with a lifestyle inured to hardships, yet still laugh freely .. but I’ll move on quickly with only one anecdote.
We were on the old train back, myself, 2 men, and one woman in a compartment. One of the blokes was snuggled up to the lady, and they were having a great time laughing and flirting. I naturally assumed they were an item. Then finally the quiet man leaned forward, put his elbows on his knees, and glared at the other bloke. This guy did exactly the same thing and stared straight back. Struth, I thought, the furs going to start flying soon, how close is the door ? This impasse in total silence went on for ages, (with the lady just idly looking out the window), till eventually the man beside her, shrugged, leaned back and moved a fraction away.
What it was all about, is that women in Mongolia have a great amount of freedom and independence. If a married lady wants to flirt, of course she can, and only when it gets a bit too close to home, can her Hubby step in with the stony stare.
There was more fun at the Chinese border, but that can wait for another story, and we should move west to a land which closed it’s doors to foreigners for centuries ..
.. shut away from the west, and vaguely known as some sort of Shangri La existing on top of our Earth .. Tibet.
To get there, I have to break a golden rule, and join an organised tour. This is on a mini bus out of Kathmandu. So away we go, with 14 passengers, and 10 different Nationalities. The road is good, and before long.. one of those dreams we’ve longed for all our lives comes true .. we are dancing on the border of Tibet.
Isn’t life so good sometimes.
Perhaps that’s Everest in the distance, who knows, but this is possibly Earths highest public dunny. Then a third of our crew go down with altitude sickness.
Well, the only way to help them The only way to help them is to descend, so away we travel, through such a bleak, hard land.
Again all the folk here are Buddhists, who still revere their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Who is, to my mind at least, a truly enlightened soul.
China invaded this previously isolated land in 1950, and since then have steadily poured in thousands of Chinese emigrants to push the traditional owners further and further out – exactly as they did in Inner Mongolia. But personally I do not think they will win in the long run. I have nothing against the mainland Chinese, they are lovely people, but are making a mistake here. Sooner or later their own homeland will collapse in a polluted fog, While the absolute faith Tibetans have in the spiritual side of life, that, that will endure forever.
I’ll close this part a of the High Hills here, (The second part is Arunarchal, Sikkim and Nepal – the third is Himchal, Leh ladekh, and Kashmir.)
.. and just say Tibetans, though only slightly similar to Mongolians, share the exact same traits of being tough, stoic, (there’s no other word), self- reliant, and being wonderfully friendly.
Whatever little they have, they will share freely with any visitor .. plus heaps of smiles, care, consideration, and a good laugh.