I left the temple compound by a side entrance, finding myself in a narrow dirt trail leading uphill. I was now in a semi-rural, hillside area. Chickens strutted past me, and traditional Tibetan stone and wood buildings crumbled and sagged on each side. I eventually reached Namo Gompa (pronounced something like goom-ba, Tibetan for “monastery”) In its courtyard I felt the cool wind, which carried the sounds of wind chimes and clanking flagpoles with fluttering Buddhist banners.
Inside the temple, I had to take off my shoes, and I sat cross-legged and watched a woman doing prostrations on the floor. This is an act of showing faith and gaining merit by getting on your knees, then sliding forward on your hands until lying full-length on the ground. After clasping the hands in prayer mode above the head, you stand up again. Between each prostration you perform the triple gesture of hands together above the head, before the mouth, and before the chest – symbolizing the mind, speech, and heart of Buddha. Later in my journey I would see a small group of monks performing prostrations along the side of a highway, measuring their pilgrimage route in body-lengths. To me it seemed a very slow, exhausting, and extreme form of transportation; however, I have neither the mindset nor the faith to be prompted to such an action.
For some reason I got the idea that we would be making the entire trip by motorcycle, something that vaguely terrified me. Not having brought any warm clothing, I went to a local shop and spent 170 yuan for a nice warm jacket. I kicked myself afterward, for this was about one-fifth of my available cash, but later on I would be extremely grateful for this jacket, on cold mountain passes and early-morning rides in vehicles with wide-open windows, cold wind, and blowing dust.
The rest of the afternoon was spent on a trek up a country road to the north of Kangding, hugging a rushing mountain river. It was also my day to kick myself for not bringing sunscreen, for the punishing high-altitude sunlight and UV rays gave me a nasty sunburn on the upper back and neck. I saw some beautifully-tended farmland with small vegetable plots, each plot neatly bordered with a contrasting vegetable. Maybe this was traditional, or perhaps a Chinese Martha Stewart came up with the scheme.
A resting-place by the river on my long walk – I ate a sweet, small loaf of butter cake
I walked about three miles, until my sore feet stopped me in my tracks. I looked for a way to get close to the river, finally locating a spot where I could scramble down a precarious rock bank, past trash and debris to the river’s edge. I found a flat rock, and as I took off my shoes and socks, I wondered how much pollution and/or human waste might be flowing past me. Once my bare feet slid into the cold relief of the rushing water, however, I stopped caring. I felt the sun beating down upon me as I opened Tender is the Night and did some more reading. I had already consumed a delicious small butter cake at a previous resting-place.
After a half-hour’s rest, I started the return trip, passing a “hot springs” resort hotel advertising a covered swimming pool. If there were hot springs, they were concealed somewhere, maybe under the hotel, as the immediate surroundings did not look terribly inviting. Close to the resort I managed to get a taxi back into town, saving further wear and tear on my blistered, tired, sunburned body.
I had a two-hour rest at the hotel, and my final meal in Kangding was a container of rather nasty instant rice noodles – just add hot water. I watched my Chinese costume drama and went to sleep, dreaming of Tibet.