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Oct 2013a

I got back to the USA this morning, and am so excited to start sharing my experiences in Tibet.

We flew into Xi'an, previously Chang, the Chinese starting point for the Great Silk Road. Overland by train took us to Xining, a city on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, to take another train on an updated version of the Orient Express, 24 hours rising up over 15,000 feet into the snow-touched moors of Tibet, hints of mountains and occasional deer and foxes, before dropping down into the fabled and once-forbidden city of Lhasa. Now distinctly Chinese, it remains remote, mountain-ringed, bustling with history, pilgrims, markets. The Potala Palace. The Johkang Temple. Drepung and Sera Monasteries.

Then once more overland, three long days of driving in concernedly bald-tired Toyota land cruisers, through harvest farm country worked by a mix of tractor and horse and hand, over high mountain passes fluttering with prayer flags, to barren landscapes dotted with black tents, yaks, nomadic herders, and literally thousands of wild asses and antelope - along with a lucky spot of rare five foot high black-necked cranes.

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Late on the third day, we reached Lake Mansarovar. A location that has for years held a special place in my imagination. Almost a century ago, a young brahman's son walked the final 200 miles from India to reach this remote and winter-frozen inland sea, and spent the next seven years studying the secrets of hatha yoga with a tantric guru at one of the cave-based monasteries that dot its long shoreline. Krishnamacharya returned to India, bringing much that might have been lost about these ancient mind-body practices into the twentieth century. Standing on its shores, wondering at his courage and experiences, I could see the Himalayas shining to the South, while the pure white cone of Kailash peaked over the horizon of dry hills to the North.

Sacred Mount Kailash, reputed throne of Shiva, Hindu deity of destruction and transformation, and wellspring of the major rivers that run down across India. Primary goal of our trip.

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But next day we could see snow-laden clouds building to the South, readying to plunge through that same gap between the Himalayan and Karakoram mountain chains that had enabled Krishnamacharya's odyssey. It seemed our own Kora - the auspicious pilgrimage clockwise around the sacred mountain - might be cut short to a single day before the storms arrived. And potentially trap us many high passes from Lhasa.

Struggling with choices, having hoped for the sole-cleansing opportunity of a classical circuit, we had to question what would define success? Was this only about checking something off the Bucket List?

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On the afternoon of our final preparations for the trek, amid uncertainty and trepidations, while our guide was organizing yaks and porters, I scrambled up to a high point above the tiny frontier town of Darchen where we were provisioning. Reaching a fluttering cairn of prayer flags, I was rewarded with my own intimate encounter with the goddess mountain. White cone of perfection, ribbed with a ladder of snow-rock that seems to lead upward to any pilgrim's highest hopes. In the thin, dry air I rejoiced at having coming so far, chanting "Om Shreem Maha Lakshmi Yei Namah", a classic mantra in praise of Shiva's consort Lakshmi. 

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Whatever the outcome, how could this experience be anything short of abundance?