Thursday, August 18, 2011

X-tour: The Source of the Three Rivers in Qinghai & Northern Xinjiang

Our original plan this time was to visit the Source of the Three Rivers in Qinghai and Tibet, from 20 Jul to 3 Aug 2011. However, in mid Jun 2011, the Chinese authority in Tibet suddenly stopped issuing visit permits to foreign tourists. We immediately worked with our tour guide, Zen, to change our plan from Tibet to Daocheng Yading. Unfortunately, Daocheng Yading also chose to close its doors to foreign tourists during the same period. Finally, we decided to go see the Kanas Lake in Northern Xinjiang. It was just unexpected. So, this was how the X-tour came about this time…

The first half of the tour primarily focused on our trip to Horthang Monastery in Qumalai County at the Source of the Three Rivers. It was just thin air in the plateau and mountain sickness. Nearly half the group had to be admitted to the local hospitals for emergency treatment of acute mountain sickness.

We flew from Chendu (500m in altitude) to Xinin (2300m in altitude), and revisited the Taer Monastery - the birthplace of Master Tsongkhapa. After which, we set off for Yushu. We spent a night in Maduo County (only to learn from our Tibetan friends at a later stage that even the Tibetans dared not stayed there overnight). We arrived at Maduo County (4300m in altitude) at night. The air became thinner over time as we moved to higher altitude in Maduo. Most of us felt weak and lost our appetite by then. The hotel was extremely poor in conditions, and it was a three-storey building. Most of us could hardly walk due to high altitude syndromes. At night, before sleep, Dharma Sister Yue reminded me to help deliver her soul, if she passed away at night! I could not sleep throughout the night because my heart was pounding loudly, and Dharma Sister Yue who was sleeping next to me kept groaning the whole night!

When we reached Xiewu, there were already 5 members who fell ill due to acute mountain sickness. They vomited and felt giddy, with their lips and tongues turned purplish. One of the doctors on our team suggested admitting them to the local hospital for oxygen treatment. With the assistance from Sonam Lama, the great grandson of Dharma Sister Bing in her past life, we found a small Tibetan clinic, but the doctor on duty was out. Sonam Lama borrowed a few oxygen bags for the few who suffered from acute mountain sickness.

We continued our journey to Yushu. When we finally reached Yushu (3700m), we really felt depressed seeing the entire Jiegu Town in ruins. More than 85% of the buildings in Jiegu Town were damaged during the major earthquake hitting Yushu last year. When our coach reached the local hospital, I quickly looked for a toilet, only to find a make-shift one in a tent – you can imagine its condition. At that moment, we suddenly missed the natural toilet in the wilderness! Eight members were admitted to the hyperbaric chamber for treatment, and the rest of us checked into a simple hotel made of wooden boards. At night, we held an emergency meeting that lasted three hours, discussing in group on whether we should continue our journey to Qumalai County which is located at an even higher altitude, at 4200m. One of the doctors on our team insisted that the eight members who suffered from acute mountain sickness should not go, while the rest of the members also should not risk our lives by going; the local doctor also advised strongly against the group going to Qumalai. However, the main destination of our X-tour this time was just the Horthang Monastery in Qumalai County! How? How?

The other doctor on our team already fell sick from mountain sickness and appeared very weak; she requested to return home immediately, we even considered the possibility of seeking help from the SOS to arrange an emergency flight......

We seemed to be going through a similar situation as Venerable Xuanzhuang in the story “Going West”. Should we give up the task of going west to bring back the precious teachings of the Buddha in the face of a big test? At that point in time, most of us seemed to have a common thought in mind: “Sigh! Why did we come to this horrible place!” Some members suggested staying in Yushu and not proceeding further, but the hotel did not have enough rooms for 38 of us for two nights. Some members suggested returning to Maduo County, but the altitude there was even higher than Yushu. Some suggested taking a flight from Yushu back to Xinin, but there was no air ticket available. Some suggested taking our coach back to Xinin but that would take 14 hours non-stop, and our driver had already contracted a serious flu. How? Should we continue our journey to Qumalai County at a higher altitude? According to our original plan, we had to stay there for two nights! The enthronement ceremony was already planned, with many lamas and students in my past life awaiting my return…… Or, was death awaiting us?

After 12am, all of us felt very tired due to the high altitude syndromes, we decided to just vote openly to decide on our next move. We had no other choice…… The outcome of the voting was that five members decided to stay in Yushu for two more days, including a couple from Australia. On the following morning, when Dharma Brother Hong from Australia did his morning prayer, he had a vision of me appearing before him, in a lama’s attire, telling him that he must continue his journey to Horthang Monastery. So, his wife finally decided to continue with the journey too. There were only three members staying behind in Yushu.

We departed from Yushu with a heavy heart, heading towards Qumalai County at the Source of the Three Rivers located 200km away. We saw vast grass land and plenty of yaks and goats along the way; the landscape in Qumalai County was, unexpectedly, very scenic! We no longer felt the effect of thin air – the feeling of short breath suddenly disappeared. We checked into Qumalai Hotel at night and I had a sound sleep throughout the night.

On the following morning, we were transported by 10 4WD to Horthang Monastery. About two hours later, we finally saw Horthang Monastery – it was surrounded by hills and there was a river flowing pass its front. There were many school students lining up the road leading to the monastery, waving and welcoming us. There were many lamas waving the snowy white hattah in their hands, welcoming us too. When I arrived at the monastery, I was immediately escorted to the main seat in the temple. H.E Kade Rinpoche presided over the enthronement ceremony. Some of the members wept uncontrollably when they were in the monastery. It was just like Venerable Xuanzhuang and his disciples who had finally made it to the west, who had successfully found the teachings of the Buddha. The mission was successfully completed! The practice was finally accomplished! Ha ha!

Next, we flew from Yushu back to Xinin, and continued our journey to Urumuqi in Xinjiang. The second half of the tour was inconceivable too; a sudden change of weather and the appearance of rainbows seem to have become a norm in the X-tours. When we returned to Urumuqi on the second last day of the tour, while we were on our way to see the cultural performance, two rainbows quietly appeared in the sky……

On our way from Chendu back to Singapore, I casually asked the group, “We missed Tibet and Daocheng Yading this time but we will visit both places in future, and the journey might be even tougher. Is anyone coming along still?” Everyone unanimously agreed to come along! For everyone had passed the test this time! On our way back to Singapore, I saw a vertical rainbow and a round-shaped rainbow appearing in the sky, accompanying our group of Vajrayanists all the way.

After returning to Singapore, I recalled our moments at Erdao Bridge in Urumuqi, Xinjiang with fondness – I was eating the famous roasted skewed lamb and drinking the cooling kawas, while humming the song by Daolang entitled “The first snow fall in 2002”. I also remembered the moment when our Qinghai tour guide, Liu, was singing the song entitled “The love song of the 6th Dalai Lama”, when I suddenly had a vision of my past life……, when my tears quietly flowed down my cheeks……

More Photos: