Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Pray Harder

One's safety is entirely in the hands of the bus driver, the vehicle and the road conditions. Pray harder! What would have happened if that bus broke down in the middle of hundreds of miles of nothing? (Above is a thangka of concentric prayers.)

By dusk, the gravely dirt had finally yielded a short sparse cover of grass. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something dart, then disappear. Then, I thought I saw it again. About a half a mile later there were thousands of small rodents popping in and out of the cold dry earth and scattering away from the sound of the bus. At a distance I saw what I guessed to be two foxes chasing rodents into holes.

The darker it became the more intensely the stars shone. There was no moon but the stars were incredible. I've never seen anything like it in my life and I had traveled through deserts before. I never knew you could see so many stars with your own eyes. The stars cast an eerie glow on the earth as we passed a flat empty salt lake on our right. The lake mirrored the sky to perfection not a ripple for miles. And still, no obstacles to block the view, beyond the lake it was flat as far as the eye could see.

Perspective had little meaning with such monstrous mountain peaks in the distance to the left of the bus. Imagine a gnat flying past sperm whales. Pushed up the sides of these mountain peaks was sand, or Mongolian dust dunes. They must have been hundreds of feet high.

As beautiful as it was, I was finding it difficult to enjoy. The bus jiggled and bounced until my ribs and back began to ache from the constant pounding and I felt a persistent headache creeping upon me. I had just put my head to my hands when the bus pulled in for a dinner stop.

Everyone aboard seemed desperate to evacuate the bus. The women ran to the left of the bus and the men to the right. Unfortunately, I was not wearing a robe or a dress. There is no privacy for a girl in jeans on the open Tibetan plateau! They did not provide toilets at the stop.

We raced for the door of the mud walled dinner hut to beat the hungry crowd. It was a laughable race. My companions and I were so out of breath after a few feet, that we had to stop for air. We found we couldn't even whistle. My heart was beating a ridiculous 150 beats a minute while standing still.

There was no mistaking what would be for dinner, A skinned and decapitated yak carcass hung from the outside wall of the hut. I was optimistic that a little food would make the headache go away, but there really was little food... bread, water and a clear yak broth soup with a few vegetables. Nothing looked very appealing. We tried to eat but none of my companions or I were able to keep our dinner down. We returned to the bus, no longer particularly hungry, and not feeling at all well.

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