October 20: Down from Dokarla Pass

The steep descent from Dokarla Pass. i i

hide captionThe steep descent from Dokarla Pass.

Bill McQuay, NPR
The steep descent from Dokarla Pass.

The steep descent from Dokarla Pass.

Bill McQuay, NPR
... and the view from the valley back up to Dokarla Pass. i i

hide caption... and the view from the valley back up to Dokarla Pass, with the hue changing from green to rust to gray and white at the peaks.

Bill McQuay, NPR
... and the view from the valley back up to Dokarla Pass.

... and the view from the valley back up to Dokarla Pass, with the hue changing from green to rust to gray and white at the peaks.

Bill McQuay, NPR
The Zisuthang general store is at left -- just shacks under plastic tarps. Our camp is on the right. i i

hide captionThe Zisuthang general store is at left — just shacks under plastic tarps. Our camp is on the right.

Bill McQuay, NPR
The Zisuthang general store is at left -- just shacks under plastic tarps. Our camp is on the right.

The Zisuthang general store is at left — just shacks under plastic tarps. Our camp is on the right.

Bill McQuay, NPR

Pilgrimage Map

Click the smaller map above to chart Bill McQuay's journey. i i

hide captionClick the smaller map above to chart Bill McQuay's journey.

National Geographic Society
Click the smaller map above to chart Bill McQuay's journey.

Click the smaller map above to chart Bill McQuay's journey.

National Geographic Society

We ascend Dokarla and watch as large groups of pilgrims form spontaneous human chains that break apart as some pilgrims pause to rest on the steep mountain path.

Zishuthang is another rest stop on the Kawakarpo pilgrimage — a valley not unlike the others we've encountered with a broad green meadow surrounded by mountains with snow-dusted peaks that feather downward into cold, gray rock. This gray eventually gives way to brown and rust-colored vegetation.

Flanking groves of dark green evergreen trees spread outward around the base of these mountains. In their branches hang wispy strands of cream-green moss that resembles the "angel hair" decorations that my aunt and uncle hung on their Christmas tree.

We will rest here tonight following our daunting trek over the Dokarla pass. Despite the early morning rain, our trek out of Yudrathang and the vertigo-producing ascent up to the Dokarla pass, we arrive here four hours ahead of schedule.

Zisuthang, like Yudrathang and Xinan, has a small store. Like the others it's an improvised structure of timber and stone covered with a semi-transparent, blue-striped plastic tarpaulin. The store offers inexpensive food, water and warmth to pilgrims. There is always a wood-burning fire which stains the plastic tarpaulin black with its smoke.

Spending the night at Zisuthang are a group of middle-aged women from Lhasa. They seem comfortable with their 50-plus years, and joke and laugh at each others' stories. Though our young guide Kayson knows one of their sons, the women decline a request for an interview.

Some of the women appeared suspicious of Kayson, suggesting he might be a spy. Despite his protestations and assurances, the women would not be interviewed. Perhaps the scars of Chinese occupation? Perhaps me and my equipment.

Previous: October 18 — An Injured Yak's Cosmic Fate

Next: October 24-25 — Shards of the Cultural Revolution

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