Monday, September 01, 2014

Pilgrims on the Kawa Karpo Kora

In a few weeks I will be joining the likes of this family group on a walk around the mountains range of Kawa Karpo in NW Yunnan. The Chinese call it Meili Xueshan, but you don't see any Chinese doing the circuit.

The 10-12 day pilgrimage is an almost wholly (holy?) Tibetan event. It's quite amazing how many groups you see doing the kora - whole extended families from far and wide, mums, dads, kids, daughters, nieces, grandparents, cousins, uncles and other hangers on.  And not just locals. We met young guys from faraway places like Yushu, and quite a few people who had done the kora several times previously.

One of the most memorable groups was a group of three young men, one of whom had a bad leg and could not walk on it. He didn't have crutches - he was just kind of hopping and limping the whole way, supported the whole way round (as far as we could see) by his mates. It was hard enough for us fit and healthy westerners to do this 10-day trek up and down six or so 4000-metre mountain passes - what this guy did was just just amazing - or insane, depending on your point of view.

Back in the 1920s, Joseph Rock was very dismissive of the Tibetan devotion to religion and pilgrimages. He thought they were stupid and mindlessly superstitious. But you can't help being impressed by their faith and dedication. Most of the pilgrims we saw were friendly - some were a bit reserved, but none were unfriendly or hostile. There was an amazing feeling of camaraderie and shared experience. On one section of the trail I came across a small makeshift store, unattended. Anyone passing by could have stolen the goods, but I saw wads of notes stuffed under bottles, left by honest customers. You don't usually see that kind of trust in China.

In the picture above you can see the typical sleeping arrangements for the pilgrimage - just a makeshift wooden shack or a few poles holding up some plastic sheeting over a dirt floor and some grass or straw if you're lucky. God knows what it's like it it rains. There's usually a fire with a big cauldron of water on it for making butter tea and noodles. And that's about it.  Anyhow, I am looking forward to going back to the Kawa Karpo in about three weeks time. All I need to do now is get a bit fitter.

2 comments:

eddy de wilde said...

Hi Micheal, just discovered your blog so much excellent info.Flicker sent me your panorama of kawakarpo on the far left is a prominent peak any idea of it's name?Do you get any close up views of Kawakarpo on the Kora or is the distant view as good as it gets? Thanks for sharing all your great research

Michael Woodhead said...

That would be Miyetzimu (Tibetan pronunciation) Chinese: Miancimu (面茨姆). We didn't get any close up views of the peaks on the kora, except for the 2nd last day going up to Shola. Even then, need binoculars! Best views are from Fei Lai Si near Deqin. There are also good views from Yubeng but clear sky days are rare with this mountain.