Amazing Trek Across TIbet!
Today Bookpleasures and Sketchandtravel are pleased to have as our guest, Brandon Wilson, author of Yak Butter Blues.
In 1992, Brandon and his wife Cheryl travelled 40 days from early October to the end of November in 1992 over 1000 kilometers travelling along the ancient pilgrimage route across Tibet. Evidently, they were one of the first Western couples to trek this ancient route alongside, by the way, a horse they named Sadhu.
Good day Brandon and thank you for accepting our invitation to be interviewed.
Norm: Brandon, could you tell our readers something about yourself and your wife Cheryl, and why did you want to trek across Tibet and did you ever had any fears prior to your journey?
Brandon: Tashi delek, Norm! We had been travelling for years as budget travelers, traveling light, with only a backpack to sustain us for months on end. In the process, we'd made our requisite trip around the world for a year and had seen many of civilization's greatest achievements. We'd also traveled overland across Africa for nine months (which is the subject of my book to be released in 2005, Dead Men Don't Leave Tips.) So, we were ready for a more intense experience something more in line with that of the great explorers.
Our decision to attempt to trek from Lhasa, Tibet to Kathmandu, Nepal sprung from the notion that this was the ultimate adventure. Everyone grew up with the legend of a Shangri-La, that fanciful place from James Hilton's Lost Horizon. The more that I read about Tibet, the more I was fascinated by its remoteness, inaccessibility, and its exotic reputation.
Then, as luck would have it, we were told several times that this trek had never been done by a Western couple and that it was "impossible!" That ultimately sealed our fate.
As far as "fears" prior to the journey, first, I had real concerns that we wouldn't be allowed into Tibet as independent travelers, since the border had been closed to them for many years. A Chinese organized group tour was simply out of the question for us.
Then, although we were assured the trip was "impossible" due to lack of food, water, accommodations, and maps, personally I was more worried about the weather. Knowing the severity of weather conditions in the Himalayas, would we be able to reach the lower altitudes of Nepal in time before the roads closed, stranding us until May's thaw?
Finally, I must admit that I was also wary about the reaction of Uzi-toting Chinese soldiers along the way, as well as the various cadres of bureaucrats unused to dealing with outsiders. Guess I'd prefer to deal with nature any day, rather than the vagaries of human nature.
Norm: What were the most harrowing experiences you encountered during your journey?
Brandon: It's a toss-up. This entire journey was chock-full of uncertainty. The spectre of running out of food and water was a daily concern. Where would we stay? Would our bodies be able to physically able to make 1000 kilometers at 12-17,000 foot altitude for 40 days?
But I'd have to say that the most singularly harrowing experience we had was being shot at by Chinese soldiers as we overlooked Mt. Everest from a hilltop in Tingri. What do you do?
As second runner-up, I'd nominate that morning where we awoke to a blinding blizzard and realized that we still needed to press on.
Norm: What impressed you most of all about the trip?
Brandon: First, we were impressed by the unexpected generosity of the Tibetan people. Originally we packed a tent, stove and fuel for the trek, expecting to be totally on our own along the way. However, after our first night spent camping in a potato patch, we were taken-in by local villagers who shared their meager possessions, including yak butter tea and a warm spot around their fire. We really grew to look forward to these human exchanges, even though we had to rely on clumsy sign-language and a limited phrasebook to communicate. Fortunately, we started to run into former monks who'd received training in Nepal and still spoke limited English.
Through talking to them, we became better informed about the hardships of living in Tibet today under the Chinese Communist occupation. We learned that Tibetans are prevented from making pilgrimages along the same route that we trekked into Nepal, as they've done for centuries.
So the trip for us became more than just an "adventure" trek. It became a political statement. If we could make their trek as pilgrims, we'd show to the Chinese that it could be done, even by Westerners, without disrupting the geo-political balance of power.
In fact, on the trek's conclusion, we presented a set of prayer flags to the king of Nepal's personal representative at the palace with the hope that the king would fly them as a symbol of solidarity with the Tibetan Buddhists.
Finally, we were impressed by the unwavering faith shown by many of the Tibetans. At night, in the dark stillness of their homes, we shared photos of His Holiness the Dalai Lama with them that we had secreted into the country. Gingerly holding the photo, they touched it to the foreheads of the members of their family, blessing them. Then drawing back several layers of curtains, they reverently placed it in their private altar beside other statues and holy instruments.
After over 40 years of oppression and death, could we still be so patient or retain so much faith?
Norm: If you had to do it all over again in 2004, would you still jump at the opportunity? As a follow up, would you advise anyone else to follow in your footsteps and what are the possible dangers they may encounter today?
Brandon: Frankly, no. This trek is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. From what I've read since then, and I receive Tibetan news every day now, the country has vastly changed especially Lhasa. As inundated as it was then with Chinese settlers, solders and foreign culture, it is even more so today. Now, they're in the process of completing a railroad line into Lhasa from western China, so the transformation will be accelerating, the assimilation complete. The world saw the same effect in Inner Mongolia and Manchuria with the arrival of the railroad.
With that said, I'd love to return, perhaps to the more remote Mustang region this time, far removed from the propaganda tours. Of course this is assuming I would be granted a visa. Writing this book has certainly made that possibility more remote&
However, I would advise readers to explore any part of the world that interests them by walking. There is nothing so satisfying as discovering a culture one-step-at-a-time. This is a traditional way of exploration which creates total immersion in a culture: its food, history, art, architecture, people, language and nature. I like to think of it as a walking meditation, too. You place your body on "auto-pilot" and travel outside, while traveling within.
If readers are interested in this rewarding mode of travel, they can check out several options on my WEB SITE where I have free "how-to" articles about walking some of Europe's most spectacular pilgrimage routes, along with web links for more information.
Walking across Tibet was the beginning of this, my latest passion.
Norm: How would you describe the relationship with your wife after the trip? Reading the book, I noticed there were some tense moments between you both during the adventure.
Brandon: I really admire Cheryl's courage and willingness to take a chance. Traveling with daily hardship, uncertainty, and often life-threatening situations, will put any relationship to the test. Fortunately ours survived and this experience provided an even stronger foundation. If we could survive that, why, we could survive anything.
Norm: Did you keep a daily journal while you were travelling?
Brandon: Of course. It was sometimes hard to find the energy or time at the end of one of these 14-hours days to sit down and write. But I wanted this account of our journey to be real, raw, and authenticnot some romanticized notion of adventure travel. To capture that essence (while the blisters were still fresh) was vital. Time heals all wounds, as they say, and if you wait to write about it all later you lose much of the minutiae of the moment until it becomes merely a Disney version of your memorywithout the dancing hippos, of course.
Norm: After you returned home, did you write any magazine articles about your adventure or did you lecture anywhere about it?
Brandon: I wrote magazine and newspaper articles about the experience, and would have liked to lecture about the journey and situation in Tibet. Living in Hawaii, there's always a logistical problem and cost of traveling outside the islands.
Now that the book is published, if there's great enough interest throughout North America, I would welcome the chance to talk to groups about this life-changing experience and about the Tibet we grew to appreciate.
Norm: Why did you choose the title Yak Butter Blues for your book?
Brandon: Well, as a global citizen, I was so disturbed by seeing the destruction of this ancient culture; the dismantling of temples, the corruption of monastic life; the re-education of a population where the children are prevented from learning Tibetan in schools; the removal of Tibetan food and clothing from the stores, plus the mass settlement of Han Chinese into Tibet causing Tibetans to become a minority in their country.
It is reaching the point where yak butter tea, that nourishing food that has traditionally fed and sustained a people throughout the centuries will soon be all that remains of an enlightened culture, while all the world looks away. These are the "Yak Butter Blues."
(Besides, I liked the kind of Kerouac-ian ring to it!)
Norm: Did you ever hear any news about your horse Sadhu you left behind?
Brandon: The Internet is an amazing tool. Although we wrote to his new owner, the fellow who ran the Kathmandu guesthouse, shortly after our return home, we never heard back from him. Just recently, I "Googled" the hostel and was able to reach his brother.
Sadly, Sadhu, our old friend, passed away a couple of years ago at a very ripe old age. He spent his last years in a luxury resort, but will always be remembered by us as the only Tibetan we could bring to freedom.
Norm: Have you kept in contact with anyone you may have met during your trip?
Brandon: Unfortunately not. We sent copies of some of the photos we took along the journey to families we'd met, as our way of thanking them. That's all.
Norm: How long did it take you to write the book?
Brandon: The first draft of the book was written in a few months. After that, it was revised through several drafts. Then I added the most current news on Tibet I could find, sorted through photos, and incorporated some of the simple truths which were initially planted in the mountains of Tibet and blossomed along more recent pilgrimage treks.
Norm: How are you going to market the book?
Brandon: Ah, the ultimate question! I consider this, in many ways, an extention of the journey. Perhaps, in retrospect, it is just as difficult with over 100,000 books released each year.
We're reaching out to supporters of a free Tibet, colleges and universities, libraries, adventure travelers, trekking and outdoor organizations, newspapers, international adventure magazines, Buddhist and dharma groups, Indians & Nepalese, and independent bookstores to help get the word out. Much of this has been started and we use the Internet a lot to let people know about our web site.
The national reviews so far have been excellent and I'm awaiting others from abroad. Yak Butter Blues is currently listed on Internet bookseller sites from Europe to North America to Japan and Australia/New Zealand.
I'm also writing and sending articles to related sites and creating links, especially to the vast, displaced Tibetan community, as it is their story as much as our own.
Since book promotion these days ultimately rests with the author, I'm participating in book signings and interviews to further develop interest. As I said, if I find there's a great enough interest in presentations, I might be tempted to put together some sort of North American tour. Whatja think?
Finally, after all those small moments along the trail where we felt like we owed our survival to some mysterious force, we have learned to "have faith," to trust that we were meant to have this journey and that I was meant to write this book.
I can only trust that once again we will be blessed and that our audience will find us along life's trail.
Meanwhile, if readers would like a first-hand look at our journey, complete with a sample chapter, maps, photos, Tibetan music and Tibet/Trekking/Peace links, please drop into my WEB SITE. Then take a moment to sign our guest book, email me, tell your friends, or post a review at Amazon.com. Namaste!
Thanks Brandon and I wish you good luck in all of your future endeavours. _________________________________________________________________
Norm Goldman is editor of bookpleasures.com and sketchandtravel.com.Norm is also a regular contributor to many book reviewing sites and travel sites.
Norm and his artist wife, Lily are a unique couple in that they meld words with art focusing on romantic and wedding destinations.You can learn more about them from their site http://www.sketchandtravel.com.
Norm and Lily are always open to receive invitations to write and paint about romantic destinations in the New England states, New York state and Florida.
Alternatives to Pressurized Fuel
Recently I attended a Boy Scout Leader Roundtable meeting where they held a Pressurized Fuel Training session. The focus of this training was to teach leaders what they should be teaching boy scouts about safety rules for using primarily cooking stoves, but also lanterns and heaters that use propane or liquid fuels under pressure. The point was not at all to teach how to use these devices, but was purely about safety.
San Francisco Beaches
When you are planning a vacation to Maui or Rio de Janeiro you may put beaches on the top of you list of things to see. However, when planning a trip to San Francisco, you may have heard of North Beach, but North Beach doesn't have any beaches (though the neighborhood was named after a beach that used to be on its north shoreline). If fact, San Francisco has several beaches that provide diversions for residents and visitors alike.
Shark Pictures Not The Real Thing
Pictures of a massive dead Great White shark on the back of a bakkie are doing the rounds on email with the subject line saying "Caught at Monwabisi and Strandfontein Beach yesterday" - but experts have dismissed it as a hoax.
Hiking in the Forest Knowing When to Slow Down
One morning in mid summer, I headed out for some time to myself on the trails of Fontenelle Forest in Bellevue, Nebraska. As usual, I stopped in at the Visitor Center to pay the entrance fee, then got back in my car and drove a couple miles down a long and winding road to the quieter back entrance.
Highpointing: It?s Not Just For Mountaineers
Mount Sunflower, Kansas. Ebright Azimuth, Delaware. Hawkeye Point, Iowa. Hoosier High Point, Indiana.
Inflatable Boat Trailers
An inflatable boat trailer is needed if the user has a Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB), since those boats have only a deflatable collar surrounding a solid hull. RIB's are regular boats in many ways. A true inflatable boat does not need a trailer but in some cases the user may want one.
Block Island ? Memorable Vacations Are Made of This
Block Island is a seaside jewel lying 12 miles off the southern coast of Rhode Island. This is a place where nature clings to every pond, stone-walled trail, beach, and everything in between. It's a paradise for cyclists, and a haven for those ready to leave the trappings and demands of the mainland behind.
Too much to do in London!
No one can truly say they know London well. To know London completely is impossible. London changes faster than pigeons descending into the fountains of Trafalgar Square. Home to inhabitants for over 2,000 years now London has grown from the protective circle of the Tower to a sprawling metropolis, the ideal platform for constant illustrious activity. Always where there is history there are tales to tell. Tourists are naturally drawn to the regular tourist attractions, yet it is the true travellers that seek deeper to find the gems of a 2,000 year-old town. It only takes a very small amount of investigating to find something more rewarding, more interesting, more inspiring in London, than the London Dungeons (although it must be said ? is a damn good laugh if you can bear the hour long queues!). For instance, not even a minute's walk from the London Dungeons is the Hay's Galleria. This gem is for some totally bizarre reason hidden from all guidebooks and tourist information ? no doubt to preserve its lack of thousands of tourists making it a less exclusive haven. Please go there! It's a beautiful indoor/outdoor menagerie of a few select shops, with a vast concourse of cafes, market stalls, bands, presentations, and of course, it overlooks a beautiful part of the Thames. Turn right from Hays Galleria and you find yourself in a Thames-side walkway next to the newest buildings in town. The architecture is phenomenal, and these lord-mayor buildings are still so new that you can imagine that the cellophane has just freshly been peeled off all the windows. You are welcome to enter the Lord Mayor's building (it's the one shaped like a golf ball), go to the top and marvel at the mind-boggling roundness of it all ? plus of course see the spectacular views of the HMS Belfast, Tower Bridge & the Tower of London. Continue strolling directly into the I-Witness open-air gallery, before maybe snacking on a hot-dog in the mini-fairground. Walk past the green that previously hosted many Hollywood film premieres in giant marquees, the David Blaine in-a-box episode, plus many other varied events, and you are literally underneath Tower Bridge, keep walking and you are now in Shad Thames, a true delight of traffic-free, cobbled streets full of people, giving you a precise feeling of how the London streets felt hundreds of years ago. It is as if these streets have been restored from long ago, thus delivering to the traveller a wonderfully rich blend of old and new in the same vicinity. Circle around Shad Thames, past the ever-changing Design-Museum, and find yourself in Butlers Wharf, a charming quay-side collection of bars & restaurants all overlooking the Thames opposite the equally picturesque St Katherine's Dock. Trust me when I tell you that Butlers Wharf is the ultimate in romantic settings. Hays Galleria to Butlers Wharf is one walk of quite possibly hundreds to choose from, in fact ? that's a whole day right there! There are equal delights even if you turned left out of Hay's Galleria instead, especially the Clink Street Prison Museum, Vinopolis (Wine Museum), Borough Market, Southwark Cathedral, I could go on?. Great streets, great walks, great museums (forget the big-ones ? go to the Children's museum in Bethnal Green for a real treat). It is frustrating to think that the bulk of visitors to London wind up staying in some of the least interesting areas. Paddington & Bayswater are both great areas, being so close to Hyde Park & Kensington Gardens (now home to the finally-completed Princess Diana shrine). Kensington & Earls Court have their highlights too, but there is more to London than the tried and tested tourist routes. I recently stayed in a five star hotel in the middle of the city on the weekend for less than one hundred pounds a night, and was amazed at exactly how completely empty the city of London was. I was in heaven! There I was in the middle of one of the oldest cities around, and I had it all to myself! City hotels are notorious for being completely empty on weekends, hence the great rates. I am sure tourists pay over the hundred pounds per night threshold to stay in 'trendy' Kensington etal, when they could easily stay next to Tower Bridge, St Paul's, Millennium Bridge etc, for much less. Needless to say that the City of London (the financial centre) is absolutely coloured with history, everywhere you go there are buildings proclaiming their 16th century origins, and they are in abundance. I was recently taken to what is supposedly one of the oldest London pubs in existence. Again, this pub is not only hidden from the guidebooks and the common information sources, it is also hidden from the public! I had to be taken there, as I would never have been able to find it unless accompanied. This pub is hidden from the world. It is sandwiched between two narrow streets and therefore completely obscured from any main thoroughfare. It has its own courtyard and as you stand supping a pint outside, it is as if you are in Victorian London. Look down the misty streets and it is easy to conjure up an old bobby on the beat blowing his whistle, or Jack the Ripper lurking in the shadows. Oh - and there's a 150 year old tree growing through the building, to add to the oddity of the pub. Hampstead is another great area waiting to be discovered. Covered in green spaces, Hampstead (North London) is perfect for the idyllic setting combined with the close proximity to the big-smoke. Steeped in its own folklore, Hampstead was home to Dick Turpin (apparently he was born at the Spaniard's Inn ? hugely popular and famous pub on the Heath) of which his ghost still roams Kenwood house, and the surrounding woodlands. The high streets of Hampstead, Belsize Park, and the immaculately kept Primrose Hill are possibly the last untouched-by-commercialism streets in London (no Starbucks here!). If you want breath-taking views of the city, historical sites detailing the 'first entry point into London', combined with al-fresco dining, and an altogether more relaxed atmosphere, Hampstead is the place, and less than 15 minutes on the tube to the city centre! Now do you see why it seems frustrating that tourists stay in less desirable areas when they could stay in an altogether more inspiring location, just as close to all the major attractions? Of course, Hampstead is one of London's many beauty spots, yet the city is not all about beauty. As with any home to approximately 10 million people, varied activity is rife. London events cannot help but affect all, every Londoner has an opinion on the congestion zone, on the ill-fated Millennium Dome, on Tony Blair, in fact on any topic you care to mention. Start a conversation with any London black-cab driver ? typically famous for their outspoken views, and you will find yourself immediately thrown into the debate of the day. So, when visiting London do not even attempt to see it all ? you cannot. In a city where already this year a Roman road has been uncovered a mile below ground level dating back to 1 AD, and where Paddington workers uncovered Brunel's first iron-bridge ? one they didn't know existed - London is forever creating wonders on a regular basis. enq@VisitHotels.comwww.VisitHotels.com
A Fishy Road Trip in Cairns
The Cairns Fishing AdventureA Great Australia Road Trip
River Rafting in the Grand Canyon
Rafting through the Grand Canyon is the experience of a lifetime. Viewing the canyon from along the rim is a stunning experience on its own, but it pales in comparison to the adventure of riding the river through it. Several river recreation outfitters offer guided rafting tours through the Grand Canyon.
Backpacking Trips - Ten Essential Items
I've had backpacking trips that included rain, snow, lightning, rockslides, altitude sickness, and twenty-mile days - all in a summer weekend. Wilderness trips can be dangerous, but you can make then less so, by having the following ten essentials in your backpack.
Survival in the Wilderness: What to Do, What You Need
Summer is for picnics, hikes, outdoor concerts, barbeques ... and enjoying the wilderness.
Trekking Poles And Walking Sticks
Are walking sticks longer than trekking poles? What about hiking staffs and hiking sticks? Whatever you call them, and whatever their differences, they are supposed to help your knees more than anything. This they do very well, at least when you're going downhill.
Spanish Courses in Spain
Spain: sun, sea, sand and Spanish... discover us! Spain, a golden country in the heart of Europe and gateway to the Americas. A mini continent blessed with sunshine and charisma and overflowing with culture, history, art, flamenco and mouth watering tapas.
Take a Hiking Pole on Your Next Hike
It is the downhill ski racing competition of the winterOlympics. You watch a ski racer zoom down the slope manoeuvringthrough the ski gates. However, you notice that something ismissing. The skier has on skis, boots, and a giant slalom skintight racing suit. You realize what's missing when their armsflail about causing them to lose their balance on a patch ofice. They are missing their ski poles.
African Safari Gear Packing List - What To Take Along
The last thing you want on an African safari is to realise that you have left any important safari gear behind.
Stay Warm - A Backpacking Skill
Stay warm or die. That's what it comes down to at the extremes. More people die in the wilderness of exposure than from any other cause. Staying warm, of course, also means more comfort, and for backpackers, it can mean going even lighter, without more risk.
The Pyramids of Giza
The most famous Egyptian pyramids to be built are the Great Pyramids of Giza, located in the outskirts of present-day Cairo. There are over 100 Egyptian pyramids of various sizes, and over 50 more in neighboring Sudan. However, the three Great Pyramids of Giza earn their fame by being the largest of these.
The Benefits of One Day Hiking Trips
Do you like to take one day hiking trips? Do you want to takehiking trips on trails near your home? One day hiking tripshave a number of advantages. They are great for therecreational hiker. Minimal hiking gear is required and you cantake pleasure in the fresh air and beautiful surroundings. Short day hikes are also a beneficial form of exercise. You cancontrol your speed and terrain elevation. One day you can focuson endurance over flat trails while another day can be spentsprinting and climbing up steeper terrain.
Zambezi Sharks Under Threat at Protea Banks
Sharklife.co.za has been fighting an ongoing for the protection of the Zambezi shark on Protea Banks but has been informed that a fishing charter is still trophy fishing for these sharks.
|© Athifea Distribution LLC - 2013|