Looking southeast, back to Kandze and the foothills of part of the Gangga Massif.
The day begins as all good days in the mountains do -- and all days spent in the mountains are good, even if on oxygen from mountain sickness, but that story comes later-- with several cups of hot coffee and a spurt of writing that lasts for hours. There are two types of local Tibetan instant coffees that are delish, and one even comes with its own cappuccino spoon! Although the expresso and cappuccinos at the Dzachusama are delicious, they are a bit pricey to drink every morning during a month-long trip at 30rmb/cup ($5). Plus, I enjoy my quiet, people-free mornings devoted to writing!
The view from my guesthouse window amazes me on a daily basis, silently challenging me as I sip (until the local kids awaken and start to rumble about the front garden around 8am). Never before -- until I moved to China, that is -- have I desired to hike in alpine zones. First of all, I hate cold weather! Secondly, I have little real experience either camping or trekking, especially in snowy areas. But experience is only gained one way, and that is to GO AND DO IT! And now, the peaks of Gangga Massif call to me every time my gaze shifts south: COME AND CLIMB US! Consequently, I am obsessed with hiking higher elevations: I even dared allow thoughts of alpine base camps to sneak across my consciousness ... could this inexperienced, yet fearless day-hiking neophyte trek toward those looming glaciers across the river; or even farther west toward the highest elevations of Chomolungma/Sagarmatha (the actual names for Mount Everest in Tibetan and Nepalese, respectively) and Annapurna? YES I CAN!
I will GO AND DO IT!
I head west toward the Rong Cha, a south running tributary that feeds into the Nyag Cha (Ch: Yalong) River, which runs east-west, on the south side of town. A few twists and turns through town, careful of both uneven pavement and steaming piles of yak "gift" (every part of the yak is respected and used!), and the river roars its presence. I have passed squat houses built with adobe mud and splattered with white paint --either in condemnation or blessing, I do not know -- ancient lintels dusty, framing unused doorways. Along the river, walks an elderly woman strongly carrying a huge bundle on her shoulders and back as she trudges, bent, down the dusty road. Crossing the torrents over a modern cement bridge, I continue up a newly-paved roadway leading north along the west side of the tributary, and pass through the gate topped with stupas that leads to the monastery to the left, and nunnery to the right. The Kandze Jomo* (Jomo- Nunnery) lies further north and is easily spotted clinging to a cliffside. As the smooth cement slants upward, I notice a flat, grassy area against the sheer cliffside. It is an elevated area containing several tombs. A group of men sit nearby, and I am too careful with cultural respect to walk directly up to the tombs for further inspection and photos. Instead, I capture pictures of this burial site from afar, and plan to stop by the tombs on my way back down. Walking due west as I leave the paved road, I notice prayer flags strung thousands of yards between the cliffs of valley walls — I wonder to myself how that was managed; probably time and patience. From here, I can continue up the paved road, choose an oft-used two-track, or tread cautiously up skinny yak trails that defy gravity and danger along steep mountainsides. Of course, I opt for these narrow yak trails that always prove more interesting and surprising than the dirt road that leads toward mountain summits and grasslands, or the other cement pavement which curves up to the Gompa/Nunnery. The yak trails are narrow, and in some points, offer a view nearly straight down from their steep and zig-zag pattern up and down the mountainsides.
*I do not have completely accurate data on the name and location of the monastery and nunnery. Because everything is kept so secretive by Big Red Brother, expecially about the massacres that occurred during the C. Revolution and the Tib. revolt against the Ch. attack on their country, it can be difficult to find accurate historical information that has not been distorted by Big Red Brother. Some Ch. web sites still use the term "peaceful liberation" hahahaha, kind of like Europeans "peacefully liberated" the First Nation native Americans--- yeah, that's accurate. Also, many travelers pass along information that is written with their own bias or supported with facts of unknown basis or reliability; i.e., without historical references ( we all do it!) ... or like myself, could be in error because the truth in Ch. about its actions is hard to find (especially from within Ch. and writing even these words is somewhat dangerous). At any rate, I will continue my research into these somewhat esoteric and hidden subjects. To sum up, after a few hours of research and map reference I was able to determine that I hiked proximal to the Jomo (nunnery), rather than the Gompa (monastery). The Jomo is northwest of the town center, across the Rong Cha Tributary. The Gompa lies in front of it, to the south. The one day I tried to reach the Gompa, I was waylaid by an Ajumma who insisted I was going the wrong way and needed to follow her; luckily for me, I gave in and ended up a fantastic celebration and festival presented by the Nums for the Kandze high Lama! The Kandze Gompa is an old lineage monastery and was centuries old until it was destroyed -- oops, I mean "peacefully liberated" -- during the Ch. Cultural "Retrograd-olution" (my term) of the 50s, when Big Red Brother murdered -- oops, I mean "peacefully liberated" -- so many of their own people, people in the contiguous independent country, and independent cultural tribes withing the borders, all of which are now colonized against their wishes. The Gompa has been rebuilt since the Cultural Retrogradolution, but in an unimpressive mix of Chinese and Tibetan styling.
Click "Read More" to the right for additional (amazing!) photos and narrative!
I never tire of staring at the frosty peaks of Gangga Massif— the white is brighter than the clouds and rises above shadow from nearby foothills.
Once I am high enough, I look down upon the town of Kandze, enclosed by the Yalong River, squares of crop fields, Gangga Massif, and terraced cliffs. Random Mani stones are strewn near the path, carved with the ubiquitous, sacred, Tibetan prayer mantra: OM MANI PADME HUM, or simply, the OM symbol. I have learned from my teachers that OM is alternately, and the same, the sound of god, the sound of the breath, the universal symbol of life. The repetition of this sacred mantra, like prayer, clears negative energy. As I ascend, it seems I get closer and closer to the glaciers streaming down the north face of the unnamed peaks of Gangga Massif. Zooming in it seems I am near-parallel to the summits! All I have to do is take a running jump across a few kilometers of terraced cliffside and skim like a smooth stone over the river. When I look at those peaks, some power deep within me rises up, beckoning, and I feel as if I do have the superpowers required for that leap.
Reddish-brown earth has been carved into meter-high walls to create terraced farmland along the mountainsides, increasing surface area for crops. It seems many of the fields are now abandoned for the flat, easily-accessible valley areas (a local mentions this in fact, has occurred). Or perhaps I am too late in the season to note the results of local agriculture. Relics of recent agriculture poke up from the ground: a hose here, a metal water pipe further on; evidence of farming on the mountain. Hidey-holes are drilled into the grasslands and the terraces by gopher-like mammals that can feel even the slightest tremor of my footsteps; they drop down out of sight each time I try to take a photo! Many of my photos become uneventful landscapes of grass and burrow-holes as a result of their speed! Looking up, I see a possible summit: a far-off house-like structure proximal to a tent-shaped collection of prayer flags. These lung ta (wind horse) flags come in colors that represent each of the elements and the balance of such, carrying a message of compassion and peace along the wind.
More to come in my next post, including sharing the shade with a yak, discovering a Khampa Warriors weapons cache, monk picnics... look for Ganzi, Part 2!