Sacred Lakes Expedition – Led by a Memory

Nighttime temperatures plummet and there are pockets of snow up in the mountains, yet there are no weather reports in the areas we will ascend to. In past times, travellers provided colourful anecdotes about travel conditions, though those sorts of recollections are now as rare as travellers ‘up there’.

Preparations are in full mode here in Shangri-La to ascend to the sacred Tibetan high altitude ‘White&Black’ sister lakes, here in northwestern Yunnan. Known in ancient times as bodies of water where divinities resided, the lakes were consulted by locals in times of need. The lakes are now remembered by only a few ancients. They also remain upon a long forgotten stretch of caravan route…thus my obsessed interest.

A bit of what lies above us in wait…

As always it is the human element that will give this journey life, and make the expedition marvellously unpredictable. Our team, originally scheduled to be 5 strong has now been cut down to just 3 of us due to cold temperatures and timing. It is late in the year and temperatures will be stark and daily reminders of where we are going at 4,000 metres. We will be led by the incorrigible Aniè (uncle) who remembers the route…at least that is what he has led us to believe, and be joined by resident ‘iron-man’ Ngaba. I will complete the party. Aniè the other day told me to be more concerned for my own body than his, when I wondered aloud whether his almost 70 year old body would endure in the now frozen mountains.

Temperatures will add a touch of spice to the heights

We’ve been told that taking mules will be risky not only from the mules’ health point of view, but for the horsemen themselves, and they will not risk their precious mules’ wellbeing on ice, or with temps well below zero. So, it will lie with Aniè and his memories of the lakes and of how to get there, that we will depend upon. It has been over a decade since he made his last journey ‘up’.

A little hat action with myself and the man I so often defer to, Aniè

These days sun bolts out of the sky and winds above a whisper carry the force of the Himalayas to our northwest. It is the nights that we must prepare for.

There is always a few souls that you need when entering the mountains. They are fierce, protective, and intuitive…Ngaba is all of these things, and he does it all in a tweed blazer.

Updates to follow…

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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