SYNOPSIS:  About manifesting a hot bath.  About another horrible hotel, night intrusions, and a cute little monastery with yet another meditation cave.

For six days we hadn’t seen a shower or even as much as running water.  And two more days without decent accommodations were ahead of us.   When Tenzin took off his boots in the car, we all had to hold our noses…  Well, if anyone else had done that, it could hardly have been better; the difference was that neither Sergej nor I dared!

I longingly remembered the little shop in Darchen, one of the first sites you see after finishing Kora:  Shampooing, it had said, in bright red letters…  If there were not three guys waiting for me in town, I would have succumbed to the temptation. 

We had left Darchen soon after I (finally) made it to town.  The driver Pootse was beside himself that the two guys, Sergej and Tenzin, had left me walking by myself.  Of course, that’s how I had wanted and requested it.  Still, his protective instincts just got the better of him.  He was visibly relieved when I turned the corner in Darchen all in one piece.

Our next stop was Lake Mansarovar.  Sergej was determined to jump in.  He even had carried a wet suit all this way!  But it was cold and stormy out here.  Was he going to do it?  To Buddhists, Mansarovar is holy because just like Mount Kailash is considered to be the symbolic axis of the universe, Mansarovar is seen as the symbolic equivalence of the cosmic ocean.  Hindus see in it a representation, or a mirror image of Brahma’s mind.  Hindus who finish the Kailash Kora, often embark on a trip circumambulating the lake right afterwards.  Another 3-4 days totaling a 100 km walk at 4500 m altitude was the farthest thing on my mind, no matter how much bad karma this lake might wash away.  But Sergej was quite serious about this karma business.  Would he dare?

Suddenly, Tenzin announced that we were going to stop at a hot spring on the way to Mansarovar!  We perked up!  Could we jump in?  Could we soap ourselves down?  Nothing of that sort, was the answer.  The last time Tenzin had been out here, there was a division for males and females in which each sex would strip down and could take a quick walk under a pipe spewing hot water, fed by a natural hot spring; holy, of course.  Was I up to stripping down naked in my stinky condition if I could not even use soap to clean myself?  I could not picture this operation.  But things had changed!

A Tibetan couple now ran a full-fledged bath house.  Mainly, that boiled down to the fact that you had to pay a hefty fee now to gain access to the water.  But you had your own little cubicle equipped with a grimy wooden tub, lined with a plastic sheet for sanitary purposes, and you had to bring soap, shampoo, and towel yourself.  Well, now they were talking!   I scrambled for soap and a change of clothes, and off into the steamy world of the hot spring we went.  A plastic sheet covering the open air cubicle heated up the place like a sauna.  A bus load of Russians — the ones who had finished kora with us — had just completed their spa treatment, and you could see them glowing red from heat and joy, with their towels wrapped around their heads. 

You have no idea what it feels like to have hot water (not a given in Tibet at all!) after living the wild and cold life for 6 days.  I am such a water freak.  I could have spent an hour in that cubicle and an hour under a hot shower every day.  But knowing that the guys would be done in no time, I hurried up.  This was holy water, I swear!

After this wonderful hot soak, Sergej chickened out of throwing himself into the ice cold holiness of Mansarovar.  It was just too much to bear.  And you never know if you offend the locals — who typically only rinse their faces, mouths and hands with the water — if you just jump into this like a big fish.  Just for the record, I want to mention that another crystal clear lake nearby — separated from Mansarovar only by a small land bridge, is considered its counterpart, Lake Rakshas.  Interestingly, it is “dead”.  There are no fish in it.  It is therefore considered female and evil and will be avoided at all costs by the locals.  You don’t drink from it, you don’t go near it, you ignore it.  Thank you very much!  But that is strange, isn’t it?

Our guesthouse was only 500 meters from the shores of Mansarovar.  It was laid out in an L-shape.  Across a vast parking lot, there was one of those notorious open-air stalls that claimed to function as a toilet.  Picture my night:  I was the only occupant in a 6-bed dorm room.  For once, they had given Sergej his own room.  There was no electricity and the door did not lock.  I had a large stone that I rolled in front of the door from the inside to barricade myself in.  Its noise would wake me up, if I had intruders.  And twice that night, I did!  A bunch of men barged in, then realizing that they had gotten the wrong door — now I had to get up in the cold and move my rock back…  And around 10 PM, suddenly the single dangling lightbulb in the room, was radiating bright and obnoxious neon light.  For a few hours, electricity had come about, but there was no switch in the room to turn off the light!  For an hour, I endured.  Then I gave up.  I had to build myself a device tall enough to stand on (in the rattling cold of the night), to unscrew the darn thing.  And finally, just picture the need for a bathroom around 2 AM.  Would you have walked in the pitch dark, ice cold, windy night 100 meters across an abandoned parking lot?   That’s when hard decisions have to be made.  Extreme situations call for extreme measures… 

The next morning was calm and warm and we headed up for a visit of the monastery.  Sergej is quite the sucker for meditation caves.  And I don’t mind them, exactly.  So, both of us sat in the dark meditating in a cave that sported the hand print of some lama, founder, or holy man.  I am sure the hand print indicates the spot where the saint pushed up the rock to give himself a bit more room or some such thing.  Oh… do I sound cynical.  I am sorry.  I am in awe of a lot of elements in Tibetan Buddhism.  But there is just a dose too much magic for my taste in it all, and when it comes to all those foot prints and hand prints and magic images, I am at a loss.  Just like Indonesia is full of “folk Islam” Tibet is full of “folk Buddhism”.  Charming, but often quite removed from scripture or original intent (I think).

We were only one day away now from Shigatse, where our wonderful 3-star hotel would await us to celebrate Sergej’s birthday, and where we could celebrate the return to civilization.  He surely had timed this well and quite deliberately.  He even chose the right moon to do kora.  And I?  I stumbled on it all only after my Iran trip fell apart.  At this point, I have fully reconciled with that.  Iran, I will return someday.  But Tibet — I came at the right time, and was thrown together with the right people, doing a wonderful trip. 

It’s all good!