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.
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The group behind Rebel Sport and Supercheap Auto has tapped the head of its outdoors division to take over from long-standing boss Peter Birtles as chief ...
Outdoors with Bud Kokomo Perspective
I received an email from a reader asking for some advice concerning footwear considerations during hunting season.
The Green New Deal Is a Great Deal for the Outdoors Outside
The Green New Deal could be the best hope to save our ski seasons and protect our public lands.
This Rochester couple got hitched outside during snowstorm Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Darla and David Bragg wanted a snowy setting for their outdoor wedding downtown. But Saturday's.
To add warmth, bring more of the great outdoors indoors Chicago Tribune
The Sergents' instinct to bring natural elements into their bathroom is reflected in a growing trend.
The Buzz: Gander Outdoors closes Appleton Post Crescent
Sporting goods store, the successor to Gander Mountain, was open for just eight months.
Richardson Reflects Love of Outdoors in Award-Winning Art Weakley County Press
Artist, naturalist and author Larry Richardson says his favorite thing is to “paint places where I truly like to be.” Based on the new exhibit at Discovery Park of ...
Hunter education classes make outdoor activities safer Bismarck Tribune
Pheasant, grouse and archery deer seasons just ended Jan. 6, so I wouldn't blame hunters if they're not quite yet starting to plan for next fall.
Minnesota DNR to host educational outdoors events at state p... West Central Tribune
Tettegouche State Park will host a free ice fishing orientation on Lax Lake. Participants will target panfish and pike, and all equipment, bait and hot beverages ...
Dont Forget that Camping Gear Checklist Before You Leave on that Family Camping Adventure
A camping gear checklist is an important tool to help you prepare and pack for that annual family camping trip. The last thing you want to remember about that camping trip is how you forgot that one piece of important gear and made the whole family unhappy.
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.Because of the nature of safari there are some things that are essential to take with and others that you can do without because they are only going to add to your luggage weight.
Hiking from Your Own Home
Picture this. You are stuck at home knee deep in household chores.
Pigeon Forge Campgrounds
Campgrounds are a perfect Pigeon Forge lodging option for visitors looking to be as close as possible to the great outdoors. Campgrounds in Pigeon Forge are located near the beautiful and majestic Great Smoky Mountains National Park and are still only minutes away from the outlet malls, dining, and music theatres that downtown Pigeon Forge has to offer.
A Hiking Guide to Easter Island
Ask me which Pacific island has the most to offer hikers and I'll probably answer Easter Island. Here on an island 11 km wide and 23 km long you'll find nearly a thousand ancient Polynesian statues strewn along a powerfully beautiful coastline or littering the slopes of an extinct volcano.
Things to Make Your Gap Year in Africa Easy!
The kind of things you pack when you go on a trip says a lot about where you're heading and what you're going to be doing.Taking a warm top and a 'blanky' is OK if you're going to stay at Granny's house, but when you're taking a gap year in Africa, these items come highly recommended.
You Might Be An Ultralight Backpacker If...
If you you find yourself saying "Hey, that's a good idea," to more than one of the following, you might be an ultralight backpacker. They are collected from various lightweight backpacking forums.
Take a Hiking Pole on Your Next Hike
It is the downhill ski racing competition of the winter Olympics. You watch a ski racer zoom down the slope manoeuvring through the ski gates.
Sleeping Pads For Ultralight Backpackers
Ultralight backpackers want to give up weight, not comfort. Sleeping pads are pretty much a necessity for backpacking comfort, but who wants to carry those monstrous old inflatables down the trail? Try some of these lightweight options instead.
Rafting on the Rogue River in Oregon
Oregon's Rogue River is one of the nation's most beautiful. The Rogue River begins in Crater Lake and extends 215 miles until it empties in the Pacific Ocean.
What You Need to Know About - Camping Vacations
Camping is a delightful and adventurous way to spend your vacations. Camping basically means living in tents that are pitched on specific grounds.
Hiking Safely on the Hills
SAFE WALKING TREKKING OUTDOORSIf you are contemplating a long distance walk, or indeed a day walk, on the any of the high level routes in the UK, such as The Pennine Way, for the first time, between October and May, please be aware that you are embarking on a test of your endurance and stamina, especially when carrying a backpack.Each stage in a long distance walk involves a period of several hours spent outdoors, often in isolated and remote locations and sometimes at altitudes above 400 metres, in possibl;y rain or snow.
Kenya Safari Top Five National Parks
The Kenya safari circuit is one of the best in Africa containing national parks and game reserves that consistently provide great wildlife sightings and experiences coupled with high quality accommodation.But within the country itself there are certain areas that are better than others to safari in.
Tanzania Safari Top Five National Parks and Game Reserves
Ask about perfect wildlife destinations and a Tanzania safari will be at or near the top of the list every time.But what about the national parks and game reserves within the country itself? Which are the best to visit because they can't all be equally good.
River Rafting on the Salmon River
The beautiful Salmon River stretches through over 400 miles of Idaho. The legendary explorers Lewis and Clark traveled part of the Salmon River but thought it was too rough to navigate.
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.The grim pictures show the shark with a hook and trace still attached.
Top Five African Safari Destinations
Any vacations in Africa will not be complete without going on a safari to experience the wild animals and the peace and tranquillity of the bushveld.But there are literally hundreds of national parks and wildlife areas in Africa that you can travel to.
Mammoth Cave: One of the Most Beautiful in Our National Park System
Directly south of Louisville, just off Interstate 65 and not far from Cave City, Mammoth Cave National Park sits nestled in the rolling, wooded hills of west-central Kentucky. Cedar trees dominate the landscape around the park, broken only by grazing cattle, small tobacco fields, and immense limestone outcroppings.
Three Classic Hikes Abroad
Paul Scott Mower once said, "There is nothing like walking to get the feel of a country?" If you've ever contemplated going abroad to find your next trail, here are 3 classic hikes to consider.New Zealand's Milford Track: The best known "track" through New Zealand's beautiful fjords, this 32.
Discover The Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden In Arcadia California
In The city of Arcadia California, right next door to Pasadena http://pasadena.usacitydirectories.
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