Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Into the Mountains of Shangri-La

This is summer. Averaging 20°C on sunny days and 14°C on rainy or cloudy days, it's a waste not to take a backpack, get on a horse and head up to the mountains of Shangri-La for a bit. By a bit, I don't mean just a day. Enjoy the peace for three days at least. It's beautiful, and it works off the cellulite on your butt cheeks and thighs. Fantastic workout.

Out in the mountains at these temperatures, we mostly do a dry shampoo and a wipe-down. No showers or baths. Hahahahaha. No sweat, literally. No need lah. Just sleep in your clothes for the three days. At most bring two dry tees or something. Don't be such a city wuss. It's been raining though. Of course our gear is water-resistant, and the dry bags make it sufficiently water-proof. There isn't much cellphone signal out here. Forget all internet or whatever. That's the idea. Okay, I confess that we have satellite phones and walkie-talkies. :P Not just for emergencies. Need some form of reliable basic communication equipment right. Can't just be shouting over the plains.

Up here, most lead an agrarian existence, planting vegetables, highland barley (青稞) and rearing livestock. A very different environment from the city. The prairie's homeowners welcomed us warmly, serving up humble yet filling meals, sharing their food, songs, stories and lives with us for these short few days. Tibetan huts are heated by a roaring fire. My eyes can't get used to all that smoke. They keep smarting. The trick is to sit right by the fire so that you're under all that smoke. But I still can't quite get the hang of it.

One tends to sleep early in the mountains. What's there to do after the sun sets? Wait, don't answer that. We naturally wake early too, when the sun rises. Breakfast is usually a Tibetan flatbread called 'ba-ba' (粑粑) and fresh yak milk boiled piping hot. The combination works for me. Quite love it in fact. I ate everything. Didn't get the runs. Food is as fresh as they come. The little kids will come over and share their flowers with us, sucking nectar from the blooms.

Most of us in the team are experienced riders. We were given time to bond with our sturdy Tibetan mountain ponies and familiarize ourselves with the not-quite-clearly marked out routes in order to ride from village to village in the mountains. Once we got it, the mountains don't feel so threatening anymore. As with all nature, maintain a healthy respect for it, and you'll be fine. I LOVE LOVE LOVE IT. Didn't want to get down back to the valleys.

Go! Make a trip. Zhongdian/Shangri-La is still unspoilt and very charming. Camp out in the meadows, or sleep in the Tibetan huts- mountain rains, animal poop notwithstanding. That's the key to feeling alive and rejuvenated. Smell, touch and feel. In the company of majestic nature, everything is hushed and magical. It's absolutely spectacular. Everyone is in awe of the beauty of the season. The Yila Prairie is breathtaking late summer.

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