The day I’ve been waiting for! Today we rode horses up to the Jhong caves North of Lo-Manthang. The horses are outside our guest house by 8am – three small sturdy creatures. Tsheri and I ride two that are from Tibet and Tendi gets a local horse. I’m not sure what the distinction means. My horse had recently come fourth in a cross country race so he’s considered a very fine beast and he’s the lead horse. I ask how this will work as I don’t know the way. The horse man smiles and says “Horse knows way. Horse name Okay.” Alrighty then, I now have all the info I could possibly need for the day’s outing. A horse that knows where we are headed that I can talk to by name should I so desire. Off we go. Okay does know the way. He’s a clever wee beast and as such sometimes goes the wrong way to explore this or that on his own. Of course the other two horses follow and the horse man has to sort us all out and get us pointed in the correct direction again. We ford many steams and climb a few narrow paths and cross three tiny wooden bridges. At one point we are surrounded by a huge flock of goats and passed by that now repaired motor cycle. Nothing phases our little mounts. They just bob along, their bells ringing a merry tune. Up hill or down they keep a pretty steady pace. Their saddles are Tibetan style. Beautiful embroidered saddle blankets extend well past the saddles and partially cover their flanks. The saddle sits on that then another smaller but equally colourful thick cushion covers the saddle. The rider sits up on top of this pile – there is little by way of pummel or horn at all. However it’s comfortable and seems effective.
Okay dutifully trots into a path-side “Cafe.” I use the term very loosely – a sort of truck stop with horses instead of trucks might be a better analogy. Then he stops. The other two horse stop too. We have arrived somewhere. It’s tea time. So we dismount and have tea while the horses just stroll around completely free.
Tea complete, cookies fed to the horses and our horse man, Tendi, Tsheri, and I continue up the valley on foot to visit the caves. These are actually 2500 year old apartments carved out of the sandstone rock. Legend has it that at some point marauding Tibetans laid siege to the caves. The villagers had hidden in them to protect themselves from the attack. The besieged villagers were running out of water so the women rinsed their hair in oil and stood combing and “drying” it by the windows. When the Tibetans saw this they gave up the siege as they figured the villagers had an endless supply of water. True or not, the caves have but one tricky entrance, are extensive and rise five or six or more stores above each other and extend far back into the rock. The rooms have little windows in their walls so that outside air and a bit of light can ventilate the inner areas. Some rooms have blackened ceilings from long-ago fires. There are storage areas made from built up stone walls. The outer walls have larger windows. Looking out one of the top floor windows we are amazed to see a veritable stream of fellow tourists climbing up to the entrance. Looking back down the valley we can see dozens of horses milling around the “truck stop.” I’m sure not the only tourist here! But have been so lucky to have avoided the masses till now. And as we are finished with our explorations, having climbed every ladder and looked out every window and peeked into every room, it’s time to go.
Next stop is a monastery built into a cliff and then back to our horses. The truck stop is just too seedy for words so we hop back on our trusty wee steeds and ride back to town for a late lunch. The afternoon I spend doing laundry, having a shower – this is a simultaneous activity. Hanging laundry in the sun, reading in the sun, then dashing inside as the cool on the evening hits with a vengeance. I’d planned on spending an extra day here but we decide to head out tomorrow. The cold is intense at night. And other than in a wind-sheltered outside place in the sun, the daytime temperatures are a bit cool for sitting around. Inside the buildings is uncomfortably chilly all the time. I’ve seen what’s to be seen. It’s time to head back. But we’ll return by a partially different route and take four instead of three days to keep things interesting.
Good night from one who has happily ridden a Tibetan horse in the ancient kingdom of Lo!