Once, a mighty tiger roamed the mountains of ancient China. He ruled the steep cliffs with impunity. But along came a hunter, as mighty in the world as the tiger was in the wild. Slowly and carefully, quietly and expertly, the hunter stalked the tiger. Through forest and clearing, up mountains and down, until late one night, above the river, the tiger was cornered. A huge cliff behind him, and the powerful, deep, ice cold waters of the river below. The hunter drew his arrow, the bowstring stretched back ready for the killer shot. All was quiet. Savouring the moment, taking quiet satisfaction in his expertise, the hunter loosed the arrow.
Yon with friends, December 2014
“Don’t worry”, said the old lady, “just relax, it will all be fine”.
That was the best advice we heard about giving birth. Simple, straightforward, and spot on. It didn’t come from a doctor, a midwife, or the author of any of the veritable library of pregnancy books around our place or any of the generous friends who’d shared them along with their own stories. Instead, it came from the woman in the blue apron in the photo above, a mother of two from a small rural village in China who, doubtless, had given birth in what most of us would consider spartan conditions. The lady spoke quietly, gently and wisely, but more than what she said, it was how she said it. Yon, by then more than eight months along, smiled, and relaxed. As the uncertain father-to-be, I felt the anticipation ease as well. It was almost the first time I really thought “we can do this”.
It’s almost a cliche, the wisdom of an old lady in a remote village. If a backpacker told me the story in a bar in Bangkok, I’d probably roll my eyes. If Hillary Clinton wrote a book about it, Oprah would give it a glowing review. But sometimes, people who do things the old ways really do know how to do them best. And all we need to do is listen.
Momentarily lost in the tiny village of Hemis Shupachan, I turned down a stone alley and bumped into an old local. He greeted me warmly and asked where I was from.
“Australia? Which city? Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra?”
“Wow, you know your cities. Have you been to Australia?”
“No! But Ricky Ponting is my friend!”
Tall green trees wave in the wind, blue sky behind them. The call to prayer rises, wafts in through the open window, alluring and mysterious. We lie on the bed, staring out that window, listening to the singing float on that cool wind. Later, as the sun sets over a huge white Buddhist stupa, we sip a fresh lime soda and stare at the Kangri Range. Stok Kangri’s summit, a grey wedge of rock streaked with snow, reaches up 6,137 meters above the range. It catches the last of the yellow evening light. We are in Leh, a mountain town in northern India, and after just one day we already love it. A happy, peaceful mix of local Ladakhis, Tibetan Buddhists, Kashmiri Muslims and a sprinkling Indians from down south, this place seems to us to show that people can just get along. It’s stark but beautiful, its people practical, hardy, but above all peaceful, friendly and refreshingly warm.
Our directions were less helpful than a pirate’s treasure map – we didn’t even have an “X” to mark the spot. Just the name of a village deep in the Qinghai plateau: Xiadawu. Near there, so these clues suggested, we could find our way to one of the holy mountains, sacred to Tibetan Buddhists: A’nye Maqen. In all, I’d found two sentences on the internet, and they were a few years old. Not much to go on. But in one of my favourite novels, Professor Lidenbrock had made a Journey to the Center of the Earth with nothing more than a centuries old scrap of paper reading:
Descend, bold traveller, into the crater of the jokul of Snæffels, which the shadow of Scartaris touches before the kalends of July, and you will attain the centre of the earth; which I have done: Arne Saknussemm.
If a fictional Professor could do that, surely we could reach A’nye Maqen? Continue reading