Circling the Massif: August in Tibet

Photos and poetry from the most remote, wild, and committed travel experience yet. 

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Three weeks. 5,000 kilometers. Traveling overland across the entire length of Tibet. For the better half of August, I was fortunate to join a trip of 18 professionals, artists, spiritual leaders and explorers from five countries, guided by author, adventurer and art historian Ian Baker (The Heart of the World) into Central and Western Tibet.

I decided on this expedition for several reasons, but mostly to participate in and study the famous circumambulation of Mt. Kailash, considered by over a billion people to be the most sacred mountain on the planet.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of Buddhist, Hindu, Bon, and Jain pilgrims make the demanding trip to Mt. Kailash to walk 30+ miles clockwise around the base of this 23,000ft Himalayan giant. For four days, we made the circumambulation around the mountain, then spent the remaining days exploring ancient Buddhist cave kingdoms, hot springs, and Everest Base Camp.

I am currently in the beginning phases of a book project // thesis idea on exploring this particular form of ritual and its relationship with the natural world, and this was the first research stop for the project. Here are some of the better images captured during my time there, along with a short poem, “Kailash,” at the end. More words coming. Lots of stories. The sheer magnitude of the land and the people and the heart of Tibet aren’t adequately represented in photo. I tried.

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Kailash

Circling the massif,
A headful of dervishing dakinis
Pull me into dance as wind patterns do.

And the mountain stares, perplexed
At how difficult we’ve, I’ve, you’ve made things.

Yak grazes timid vegetation
Avoiding trash
Fluttering, flailing, failing
Like feathered topsoil,
Crushed into unforgiving earth by
Endless footprints seeking.

To orbit Mystery afoot
Is to court something beyond us,
Yet inhabit a reverence to something
Within us.

This blade,
This blade of rock and ice and symmetry
Slices through millions of years
And is.

I arrive a bundle of
nerves,
questions,
unsettled romance.

Kailash she breathes.
She quells a deep parch
With her rootedness,
Her honesty.

I leave humbled and fully allegiant
To her fierce solitude,
Her soft invitation to see my own
Reflection in her
Glacial mirrors.

There she is.
There we are.
Always carving,
Always howling
Wild wind prayer.

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19 thoughts on “Circling the Massif: August in Tibet

  1. Incredible photo documentation, with heartfelt poetry to conclude, and join them with the natural, and man made wonders of your adventure. More proud by the day Nick. So proud…it feels like tomorrow🙂

  2. How far you have travelled from the Wallowa Mountains, where you once explored with a run and where we spent the last five days. I have always been looking forward to your first book, and here is a preview. Beautiful work, beautiful spirit. XOXO from we four

  3. Dear Nick, I am a friend of your wonderful mother;
    indeed beautiful spirit breathing through your words- thank you
    and all the best upon your return, towards the point of origin

    your poem echoed one of Hafez; same circle of inner struggle outer peace inner peace outer struggle, allow me to share

    “For years my heart inquired of me‚”

    For years my heart inquired of me
    Where Jamshid’s sacred cup might be,
    And what was in its own possession
    It asked from strangers, constantly;
    Begging the pearl that’s slipped its shell
    From lost souls wandering by the sea.
    Last night I took my troubles to
    The Magian sage whose keen eyes see
    A hundred answers in the wine
    Whose cup he, laughing, showed to me.
    I questioned him, “When was this cup
    That shows the world’s reality
    Handed to you?” He said, “The day
    Heaven’s vault of lapis lazuli
    Was raised, and marvelous things took place
    By Intellect’s divine decree,
    And Moses’ miracles were made
    And Sameri’s apostasy.”
    He added then, “That friend they hanged
    High on the looming gallows tree—
    His sin was that he spoke of things
    Which should be pondered secretly,
    The page of truth his heart enclosed
    Was annotated publicly.
    But if the Holy Ghost once more
    Should lend his aid to us we’d see
    Others perform what Jesus did—
    Since in his heartsick anguish he
    Was unaware that God was there
    And called His name out ceaselessly.”
    I asked him next, “And beauties’ curls
    That tumble down so sinuously,
    What is their meaning? Whence do they come?”
    “Hafez,” the sage replied to me,
    “It’s your distracted, lovelorn heart
    That asks these questions constantly.”

  4. Great piece Tree. The photos as stunning and I’m sure the experience was life changing. You continue to amaze and inspire me.

  5. Pingback: Published: Circumnavigation, The Revolutionary Way | The Jasmine Dialogues

  6. Pingback: One Year Later: Excerpt from “The Circles of Kailash” | The Jasmine Dialogues

  7. Pingback: Published: “Running in Circles,” Trail Runner Magazine | The Jasmine Dialogues

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