Discovering China’s ‘hidden’ Himalaya

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The Himalayas (David Abram)© The Himalayas (David Abram) The Himalayas (David Abram)

The phone cut like a cattle prod through my altitude-deranged dreams. “Good morning Mr David.” It was a 5.30am wake-up call from our guide, Renching. “Weather is good. Mountain top clear. Come!”

I stumbled through the gloom, pulled back the curtains and gasped in awe at the spectacle before me. Less than 10km across the valley, from a pedestal of shadowy forest, scree and broken cloud rose the vision of a Himalayan giant bathed in silver moonlight.

The mist that had enveloped the massif had finally cleared, revealing the sacred Tibetan summit we’d travelled all this way to see: Kawa Karpo, spiritual home of the eponymous warrior god.

Stars were still crisp in the sky as we drove downhill towards a platform said to afford the most spectacular view in all China – a front-row seat for a lightshow on a sublime scale. By the time we got there, the sky above the summit ridge had grown paler, and the snow fields and glaciers sculpting Kawa Karpo’s flanks were more clearly defined: it looked as if the bank of cloud behind us was going to spoil the day.

The Mekong© Provided by Wanderlust The Mekong meanders past the Kawa Karpo (David Abram)

But then, just as I’d given up hope of a clean sunrise and started to pack my camera away, cries of wonder erupted from the group of Chinese tourists standing next to me.

The pyramidal ice peaks had fired up like a row of rose-coloured candles, radiating an extraordinary light. The effect was mesmerising. Camera shutters whirred. Renching performed ritual prostrations, bowing before the vision of dawn light and ice, intoning the Buddhist prayer, ‘Om mani padme hum’ – ‘Hail thee, jewel in the lotus’.

It’s a line I’d heard countless times travelling in the Himalayas, but which had never seemed quite as poetic and apposite as it did at that moment.

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