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Tibet

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the dazzle and the dirt

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006

Tibet is dirt in equal measure to dazzle. And Mount Kailas, the most divine mountain in Asia, is the epitome of both. This hulk of rock and ice is so holy the sight of it is meant to inspire metaphysical musings on impermanence and eternity, soulfulness and compassion in all who behold it. All mountains spark such wonder and wondering in me, but Kailas in particular is sacred for Buddhists, Hindus, and followers of the Jain and Bon faiths. Out of devotion to one deity or many, hundreds of pilgrims a year shuffle around Kailas to compensate for the sins of a lifetime. Or many lifetimes, as the case may be.

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the tortuous road to tibet

Wednesday, July 12th, 2006

The road to Tibet is paved in pain: in the butt, in the legs, in the brain that can’t conceive an intelligent thought because all it knows is the jolting of body and bike to which it is connected. As I bounced along this abominable excuse for a road on my jackhammer bike, I often had to remind myself that, like vagabond Everett Ruess:

I prefer the saddle to the streetcar, the star-sprinkled sky to a roof, and the obscure and difficult trail, leading into the unknown, to any paved highway…

Occasional pining for paved highways aside, this bumpy pilgrimage to the Land of Snows was the most sublime, surreal, and soaring experience of my life so far. And like all great adventures, it began at a crossroad. To the right was the unknown allure of Tibet, to the left the safe familiarity of Xinjiang. Standing there with our bikes, hesitating, never had a route looked so daunting for so many reasons: the lung-gasping altitude, the scarcity of reliable food and water sources, the atrocious condition of the road itself. The fact that Tibet was closed to independent travelers meant that our fate was entirely out of our hands. If we got caught, we were finished.

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