Asses, Water, and Footprints

'That' Wild Ass....

‘That’ Wild Ass….

Wild Asses exist. One long muscular creature stands in front of the shimmering surface that marks the legendary Tso Moriri lake. The one Michael and I stare at on the flat surface is a muscle-laden thing that doesn’t look at all worried that our little troupe is moving across its terrain. In fact, the way he saunters along I imagine he is swishing his hips a bit from side to side. There is a bit of attitude from this ass.

Michael leads our team across an expanse of stone

Michael leads our team across an expanse of stone

Tashi tells us a little tale of how often these tough, fleet of foot creatures will ‘kidnap’ a horse or mule in the hope of copulating with it. With this knowledge in my head I give the animal another longer look, having perhaps a little less respect for it because of this newfound information. Tashi, shortly after though tells me of how wolves though – numerous as they are in the region – hunt the odd Wild Ass (called kyang), so in some ways, everything balances out up here with the animal kingdom. I wonder briefly though whether Tashi tells me this tale to even things out a little bit.

Early morning love amongst our mule team

Early morning love amongst our mule team

Sadanand, who is impossible not to notice or comment upon at any time, has been a little slower in the past days and is slightly disheveled looking. His immaculate little moustache is being joined by a prized amount of other invading whiskers and his hunched walk and broken strides are just a tad slower than they have been in the past.

Camp along the Parang Chu

Camp along the Parang Chu

Nothing though, takes any of the emphasis away from this mass of water called Tso Moriri. Clear, apparently salty – though we cannot taste even a trace of anything salty – it is a massive body of water that creates its own micro-climate along with the surrounding mountains. It takes us aback seeing it, as it reminds us that the only water we have seen in recent weeks are glacial rivers and wandering streams.

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Nearby Karzok looks like a forgotten windblown little ripple of a town, that is trying to take itself into the future by cleaning itself up. Whether this is true or it is simply outsiders who are changing the landscape, we do not find out. It is odd but I prefer its ‘old self’ looking at the dark little homes that are built into the side of the mountain facing the lake on the northwest. They at least seem to make sense given the battles that all objects must undertake with the elements.

A rain squall above Tso Moriri

A rain squall above Tso Moriri

Winters here are wicked blowing masses of force. The ‘new’ portions haven’t been thought of much. They have simply been erected to appear new, while the winds happily tear at these modern fabrics of plastic and paper. Karzok and places like it work only in their ancient forms – in my mind at least – because the ancient fabrics, the mud homes, and the low slung buildings pay a kind of homage to the greater surrounding elements.

Heroes on hooves. Our mule team carefully makes its way down a mere strand of a path

Heroes on hooves. Our mule team carefully makes its way down a mere strand of a path

Michael sums up a feeling I have by telling me that he prefers being away from the villages and items of man. Karzok is the first real settlement in days and pitching a tent within its general borders is a strange feeling. Our windblown camps where not a soul moved are missed. Here, dog packs roam, cows seek out anything at all that is chewable and humans ride aboard motorcycles. Even this minute little settlement seems devastating to my senses, which have been shaped by winds, our team, and more winds.

Within the realm of the tent

Within the realm of the tent

The lake, its semi-nomadic residents, and its goats were all part of the wool routes, as well as salt, which seemed an inevitable partner on so many of wool’s journeys.

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Weather systems kilometres wide hover and tease in the skies above the lake and above us. The sky is a part creator of these swaths of sky that send showers down in vertical lines.

Our route along the lake

Our route along the lake

Climbing up the western slope beside the lake I peer down at the water which seems more like a sky that has dropped in amidst the mountains. There is much here in these lands that seems to hint that they don’t need any mortals to set foot upon them. The vision of the wild ass comes back to me, and the way it strutted about knowing its place in these vast wide spaces with nowhere to hide.

A wall that has been cut and chiseled by a thousand years of glaciers, and glacial streams

A wall that has been cut and chiseled by a thousand years of glaciers, and glacial streams

Still further up footprints set in ancient mud have the imprint of a large mammal with wide feet, huge nails…a wolf on a trail home, tracking an ibex. It doesn’t really matter but it does feel good to know that predators are still pacing about on their long hunts.

Up above the lake, the mountains shimmer in their own light

Up above the lake, the mountains shimmer in their own light

I wonder long about the wolf and its neighbour the Wild Ass and about their inevitable and eternal match of wits and brawn. I’ve suddenly become almost obsessed about seeing a wolf…one of the earth’s great predators and underated teachers.

Leaves that solve so much: tea

Leaves that solve so much: tea

Karzok the community looks nothing like its name, which rings with intention and power. The town looks like it has been sleeping and dealing with the winds for far too long. Now, no trade comes other than the odd outsider, and the young leave for any place other than here. Isolation in the mountains is brutal on villages that must endure the seasons and the relentless winds whereas the black yak wool tents that bristle seem at least to be alive.

Up a nearby western valley a community of nomads infuses me with a sense that there are still those who move with the seasons. Movement feels right in these lands whereas remaining in one place amidst such hugeness and potent altitude hints at self-destruction.

Tso Moriri from above

Tso Moriri from above

West is the direction we’ll take, towards Leh and past the big peaks and snow covered ridges. Wind here is beyond constant…it is the everything.

Sadanand is tired, but even in this state he is unable to rest. Whether it is the place, his relentless spirit, or the winds, there seems something in the air that keeps us all restless. We need to leave.

A nomadic tent near Karzok...a relieving site.

A nomadic tent near Karzok…a relieving site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

About JeffFuchs

Bio Having lived for most of the past decade in Asia, Fuchs’ work has centered on indigenous mountain cultures, oral histories with an obsessive interest in tea. His photos and stories have appeared on three continents in award-winning publications Kyoto Journal, TRVL, and Outpost Magazine, as well as The Spanish Expedition Society, The Earth, Silkroad Foundation, The China Post Newspaper, The Toronto Star, The South China Morning Post and Traveler amongst others. Various pieces of his work are part of private collections in Europe, North America and Asia and he serves as the Asian Editor at Large for Canada’s award-winning Outpost magazine. Fuchs is the Wild China Explorer of the Year for 2011 for sustainable exploration of the Himalayan Trade Routes. He recently completed a month long expedition a previously undocumented ancient nomadic salt route at 4,000 metres becoming the first westerner to travel the Tsa’lam ‘salt road’ through Qinghai. Fuchs has written on indigenous perspectives for UNESCO, and has having consulted for National Geographic. Fuchs is a member of the fabled Explorers Club, which supports sustainable exploration and research. Jeff has worked with schools and universities, giving talks on both the importance of oral traditions, tea and mountain cultures. He has spoken to the prestigious Spanish Geographic Society in Madrid on culture and trade through the Himalayas and his sold out talk at the Museum of Nature in Canada focused on the enduring importance of oral narratives and the Himalayan trade routes. His recently released book ‘The Ancient Tea Horse Road’ (Penguin-Viking Publishers) details his 8-month groundbreaking journey traveling and chronicling one of the world’s great trade routes, The Tea Horse Road. Fuchs is the first westerner to have completed the entire route stretching almost six thousand kilometers through the Himalayas a dozen cultures. He makes his home in ‘Shangrila’, northwestern Yunnan upon the eastern extension of the Himalayan range where tea and mountains abound; and where he leads expeditions the award winning ‘Tea Horse Road Journey’ with Wild China along portions of the Ancient Tea Horse Road. To keep fueled up for life Fuchs co-founded JalamTeas which keeps him deep in the green while high in the hills.
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