Shika Mountain – The Forgotten Guardian I

“Know when to rise and when to retreat

if you wish to see another sunrise”

– Himalayan muleteer saying –

There are mountains that quietly come under the heading of ‘understated beauty residing in plain site’; Shika Mountain in northwestern Yunnan Province, just kilometers west of Zhongdian, Gyalthang (or in its most recently purchased title, Shangrila) might easily fall into that category. Shika, like many such eruptions of stone, invite and tempt with their promise of ‘another place’ and another space. It is what lies beyond that interests, as opposed to its face.

What makes a mountain, a body of water or a simple tree sacred to the Tibetans is a belief in its earth-bound sanctity, an irony considering the very remoteness of the great mountain lands. Shika and its surroundings remain seen but little explored by all but that essential of the highlands, the yak.

Far from being immense, it is at 4,392 metres, more of a subtle block that leads to a range that in turn ushers one to more interesting places. Mountains the world over have this ability to hint and inspire of places in the mind – but beyond the eye. This very fundamental feature has eternally drawn wayward wanderers, adventurers, and masochists to the earth’s peaks.

Shika (in the local dialect of Tibetan Shi means sacred location, and Ka simply means place of offering or snow) is, like many Himalayan spires and ranges, part forlorn and part magnetic – drawing one closer to sate a curiosity and test mortality. It is a mountain that acts as a conduit to other lands, other mountain ranges and it holds a bit of magic. The valleys and passes beyond and behind lead northeastward toward the great snow mountains – toward the Himalayan Plateau and that powerful harbinger of water – the Yangtze. The surrounding valleys long ago played a modest part in ushering caravans laden with goods and bodies onto the more significant trade routes heading to the great market towns.

Claw lines scratch in its slopes tell of centuries of logging and transport by locals. Striating paths crawl up only to disappear in yet another fold of stone and forest. Villagers below the range often warn of winds that gust down upon them – the belief is the winds coming from the north or west out from the Himalayas are to be seen as warnings of pending storms. Wind too, like the sacred elements of wood, water and stone carries meaning that is measured in an unambiguous quote of Tibetans, “Wind is the origin of all things”.

Moving up into the greater Shika range my intention is (as always) to visit a place that is, from down below, completely unseen and unpredictable.

November and December brings the first signs of powerful change; ‘winter change’. My access route has remained the same for years – an aged pathway, etched into the earth heading upwards behind the village of Bulun. Striating at times, zigzagging at others, the pathway weaves upwards on a journey that is seemingly endless.

A steady plodding pace leads in hours to a white furious world of pellets driving horizontally through the shrieking air. It has become no less than a gorgeous winter tempest that in its force erases visual references. Mountain’s rampant power hints at why so many see its empires as sacred. Nothing dictates the natural elements within its great walls.

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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