Tin Soldiers, High-Altitude Torture, and the Transcendence of Trekking

By Brandon Wilson
  |  Gorp.com
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trek tibet
The Sight You Long to See: Prayer flags adorning the mountain summit  (Brandon Wilson)

They Said It Was "Impossible!"
A Tibetan Journey of a Thousand Kilometers Began with One Bold Step.

"Impossible" was what everyone told Brandon and Cheryl Wilson when they began talking about walking an ancient, 650-mile pilgrimage trail across Tibet. But those "impossibilities" only made them more determined.

Their quest to become the first Western couple to trek this trail across the earth's most remote corner was far from your usual travel fare-some even called it sheer lunacy. It was certainly far from easy or predictable.

We join them roughly midway through their efforts as they leave the city of Lhazê, inching toward the summit of Lhak Pa La with their stalwart Tibetan horses Sadhu, their will, and an overwhelming need for sleep. . .

November 8
Plans of leaving early disappeared with any hope of sleep. Our empty pantry forced us to shop for a few indecipherable tins of meat, more 761 bars and hard candies for the climb. After wolfing down a hearty breakfast of yak thugpa with red pepper sauce at an unpretentious Tibetan restaurant, we returned to the hotel courtyard only to discover it abuzz with over a hundred Jeeps and lorries.

"Looks like some sort of Chinese truck and auto show," Cheryl quipped. We hadn't seen so many vehicles in any one place since entering Tibet-or such a collection of military brass.

"Come on, let's get out of here," I said, hurriedly stuffing our bags into the packs. "All these tin soldiers make me nervous."

Outside, I quickly placed Sadhu's new "pillow" on his back. The kindness of the Tibetan people constantly amazed me. Thoughtfully, the hotel manager's young daughters, spotting the thinness of his cotton blanket, had stuffed a feedsack full of straw.

However, after saddling our equine insomniac, we immediately faced a new crisis. There was only one way to the road and that was through the one gate. To reach it, we were forced to parade Sadhu right through the midst of that auto show, past gawkers and pointers, laughers and experts, and a hundred Chinese soldiers. We had no choice.

But again, there was magic. Looking back, it was vaguely similar to stories I'd heard of the great Indian leader, Crazy Horse. After religious ceremonies held prior to battle, people said he simply became invisible. Riding on horseback repeatedly across the line of cavalry gunfire, he was never wounded. So it was with us.

Published: 15 Feb 2005 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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