Kawa Karpo, Part III: Of Mountain Gods

Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Returning to the Tibetan village of Yubeng, I rode a horse back over the mountain pass, hiked back to Xardang, then hitch-hiked and found a ride in the greasy bed of a truck on the way to the Mingyong Glacier and Taizi Temple. Going around switchbacks was difficult in the greasy truck bed as my feet were slipping everywhere. At the next intersection, the truck went on its way as I took the other fork up the next valley to the Mingyong Glacier.

After one night in a small Tibetan family hotel, I hiked up the valley to Taizi Temple, 3000 vertical feet up the Mingyong River Gorge. Surrounded by views of the mountains and crashing, calving glaciers, I sat and contemplated the cloud-enshrouded holy mountain as I picked off another leech.

In Tibet, local villages each have holy mountains where a mountain god lives. The sacred mountain is typically treated with reverence: trees are cut only as necessary, animals are not hunted, the god is worshipped. Worshipping the mountain god protects the villagers.

Other mountains are even more holy, such as Kailash in Western Tibet, where the future Buddha, Maitreya is manifest, or Chomolangma, the Goddess Mother of the Snows. The latter mountain is also called Mount Everest, renamed after a mere mortal.

Many of these mountains are Tibetan pilgrimage sites. Kawa Karpo is one of these, with its holy waterfalls and summits and the powerful mountain god that can be seen in this world as Meili Xueshan.

Some say that the mountain god will reveal itself only to believers. Others will see only the constant veil of clouds. Does seeing the mountain for seven seconds through the veil count? How about through a diffuse mist? Or can someone simply have faith that the mountain is there, unseen, behind the clouds? Either way, the immense glaciers tumbling from the clouds and the periodic glimpses of something greater, far above, are testimony to the grandeur of the mountain.

The mountain god Meili has confounded mountaineers to this date. Many people have died attempting to climb its summit, which still has not seen the marks of footprints. Perhaps the friable snows, ice fields, and steep slopes are the main obstacles. Or perhaps, it is the mountain god. On the other hand, the Goddess Mother of the Snows was not successful at keeping climbers from her summit, and since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay climbed Everest, many others have, probably unintentionally, disrespected the Tibetan custom of not climbing mountain god mountains. But, I know, the allure of climbing mountains is strong and more will try to climb Meili, despite the hurt it causes the Tibetan people.

Despite the sacred nature of mountain gods, perhaps some sacredness has been lost following the Cultural Revolution. Trash, toilet paper, and many cut trees, can be seen on some sacred mountains. Can these once again be treated with the reverence they deserve?

What stays the same yet is always changing?

What disappears but is still there?

What is holy but is made of the earth?
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