What does it take to survive? More than you could fathom. "YAK BUTTER BLUES: A Tibetan Trek of Faith" (2005 IPPY award winner, Pilgrim's Tales, November 2005, 2nd edition), is an inspiring true story by Brandon Wilson. Join a couple and their Tibetan horse, as they become the first Western couple to trek an ancient 1000-kilometer pilgrim's trail from Lhasa to Kathmandu.
This incredible odyssey provides a riveting tale of human endurance and a first-hand look at a Tibetan culture teetering on the edge of extinction.
Little could prepare them for this ultimate test of resolve, love, faith...and very survival.
E-book edition is also available on Amazon.com. Spanish edition with translation by Ramon Solé is also available.
Passes And Passages
Be courageous. A mountain is always highest when you’re climbing it.
Only one obstacle stood between us and Lhazê and the supplies that smudge of a settlement promised. Of course, compared to the others, that hurdle had to be truly formidable. Tsho La (Po La), at nearly 4572 meters (15,000 feet), was the highest pass we’d attempted and it was approached with humble trepidation.
Lately, I knew even lower climbs had tested our endurance. While Cheryl was forced to pause every 500 meters to spit great green globs, I was doubled-over in bronchial fits until my sides seared, as though they were splitting.
I thought to myself, “This will be our acid test, since we’ll face other even more challenging ascents over the next weeks. If nothing else, Tsho La will prepare us for those–or quickly prove their hopelessness and seal our fate.”
As we began our approach, a barren cragginess enveloped us for over an hour until we started a steep, carefully measured climb. Although we struggled to keep a steady pace, at that altitude, our hearts thundered. Breaths were short, wheezing gasps. A bitter wind shredded any optimism, while the summit teased and taunted, consuming every thought.
For over an hour little broke our concentration as we tenderly trod a never-ending series of switchbacks, a twisted heavenly highway to the clouds. That is, until we encountered that lone Tibetan road crew.
For days, highway workers had been our only companions on the ragged road to Nepal. We’d pass crews of ten men and women, hand-shoveling tons of rockslide from the pockmarked path. The distant, advancing drone of a small engine would develop into a tractor, the size of a riding mower, dragging exposed rusty box springs from the end of a flimsy rope. The crews, usually a boy driving with one crusty ol’ geezer perched on the back, would often snap to a solemn salute as they passed and eyeballed our plodding progress.
Now, two men squatted alongside the road, warming themselves by a sheep dung fire. Their wives poured dried pellets of dung into the dancing flames, as they boiled a pot of cha. Spotting our ragged visage, they waved us over. And together, we huddled around that meager fire, sharing their strong, black tea and our sweet sticks of Pao Pao Tang bubble gum.
Perhaps in the scheme of major international events, it was nothing significant. But to us, it was more than a cup of hot brew on a brisk autumn’s day. It was an act of unselfish human kindness shared between strangers–people with little more in common than a nearly insurmountable task ahead–scaling that mountain pass.
Quickly fueled by their warm generosity, we tackled the peak itself. Struggling up its torturous switchbacks, until finally nearing the crest as our leaden bodies ached and groaned, our spirits soared on the wind. As we reached those faded, tattered prayer flags fluttering amidst the transparent, block printed prayer sheets atop that craggy summit, our eyes uncontrollably welled-up in divine gratitude.
And with that triumphant rapture, the thrill of success, came the awesome realization that crest wasn’t nearly as daunting as the obstacle created in our own minds.
As if to join our celebration, a convoy of trucks appeared, blowing horns like ships in a regatta. Bus drivers waved and joined their serenade. Grinning Chinese passengers and enthusiastic Tibetan pilgrims gawked in disbelief at the two odd foreigners and their horse. Then, thundering past, they approvingly shot us a thumbs-up.
For the first time in ages, Cheryl and I tenderly embraced. Surrendering like two new lovers, our past arguments scattered in the breeze like those prayer sheets the faithful had left as offerings, high on that peak closest to the gods.
Recommended for Adventure Travel and Tibetan Culture Collections
"Recent changes in travel restrictions on the China/Nepal border allowed Wilson and his wife to make the 1000-kilometer Tibetan pilgrimage between Kathmandu and Lhasa, becoming some of the first Westerners to accomplish this feat. They chose to make the trip on foot, though they quickly purchased a horse to accompany them. Here, Wilson takes readers through the hardships of late-season trekking and into the homes of the Tibetan people, on whom he and his wife were dependent for basic survival. With few language skills and many items of value to the materially poor locals, the couple engaged in a series of charades and cross-cultural bargaining that brought humor and no small amount of suspense to an otherwise difficult journey. Wilson observes the impact of the Chinese occupation on the daily lives of Tibetans, which distinguishes his book from Heinrich Harrer's classic Seven Years in Tibet, which took place before the invasion of China and the fleeing of the Dalai Lama.
Recommended for adventure travel and Tibetan culture collections." ~ Library Journal
An Engrossing, Fascinating Read...
"Told with vivid freshness and an inspiring sense of wonder, Yak Butter Blues is the real-life story of probably the first Western couple to have hiked across Tibet.
Their journey begins in Lhasa and ends 1,000 kilometers and about 40 days later in Kathmandu, Nepal. Many obstacles face Brandon and Cheryl from the start. In fact, the journey itself seems impossible, but nothing gets in the way of their determination and admirable spirit of adventure. Crossing the Himalayas with their benevolent horse Sadhu, they challenge hunger, ferocious winds, stifling and freezing temperatures, and torturous high altitudes. They sleep wherever the night takes them—to local villagers, monks, potato patches, tack rooms, freezing hotel rooms. They survive on Yak butter tea, hot cha, and 761 bars. They’re shot at, attacked by wild dogs, and afflicted with chest colds that split their ribs each time they cough, but they move on propelled by faith and sheer willpower. Amidst the hostility of the Tibetan land and its strange people they also find surprising beauty and heart-warming generosity.
Spiced with a touch of humor, Wilson’s prose flows beautifully and captures the reader’s imagination and emotions. “We trudged and stumbled like drunken fools in that infernal heat all day, motivated by the dream of food, hatred of each other, disgust with ourselves and a raw will to live,” writes the author.
Their journey is as much physical as it is spiritual and throughout the book there is a marvelous sense of fate, optimism and great purpose. “Struggling up its torturous switchbacks, we finally neared the crest. As our leaden bodies ached and groaned, our spirits soared in the wind. Reaching those faded, tattered prayer flags fluttering amidst the transparent, block printed prayer sheets atop that craggy summit, our eyes uncontrollably welled-up in divine gratitude. And with that triumphant rapture, along with the thrill of success came the awesome realization that the crest wasn’t nearly as daunting as the obstacle created in our minds.”
Often during the trip their suffering becomes transcendental. As Wilson and his partner strain up a mountain pass, brutal barrenness all around them, ferocious winds whipping their bodies, “throbbing ice-pick pains” hurting their lungs due to the heights, “… a soothing magic surrounded and bathed us. It made us ignore the pain, forget our bodies and ourselves. We shuffled in silent meditation, lost in deep circumspection. Trekking turned transcendental. Strangely enough, the wind, the cold, the height didn’t matter anymore. For once, I stopped thinking of my needs, my life. They were as transient as the dust.”
Recipient of an Independent Publisher IPPY Award, Yak Butter Blues is an engrossing, fascinating read sure to be relished by those readers interested in adventure travel and the Tibetan culture. It is also a highly spiritual story of faith which reminds us that nothing is really impossible, that obstacles are often magnified in the human mind, and that the journey is far more important than the destination itself." (5 stars) ~ Mayra Calvani, Midwest Book Review
A Soaring Travel Diary
"The book is a soaring travel diary. It places the reader in the thick of the action every bit as well as Marco Polo transported Italians to China and, as it seems to me, better than Lowell Thomas led readers in the dust of Lawrence of Arabia… Not one reader in a million will ever make the trek, but I don't think any reader - regardless of age or physical ability - will ever read this book without dreaming of the whole trip." (5 out of 5 shakas) - Joseph W. Bean, Book Reviewer, Maui Weekly