Shower of the gods

In deep­est Yun­nan, a pu­rifi­ca­tion rit­ual brings peace to the liv­ing— and the dead­走近梅里雪山上的雨崩神瀑

The World of Chinese - - Kaleidoscope - TEXT AND PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY ZHANG DEMENG (张德萌) TRANS­LATED BY LIU JUE (刘珏)

It’s be­come cliché for Chi­nese trav­el­ers to claim that they are ven­tur­ing into the Ti­betan re­gion to “pu­rify their hearts” be­cause it’s the clos­est place to heaven. But for many Ti­betan Bud­dhists in the De­qen Ti­betan Au­ton­o­mous Pre­fec­ture in south­west China’s Yun­nan, a pil­grim­age to the “Holy Wa­ter­fall” in the Meili Snow Moun­tains is a gen­uine an­nual obli­ga­tion.

This two-day hike takes vis­i­tors through moun­tains and val­leys, nat­u­ral won­ders cre­ated from the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent’s col­li­sion with the Eurasian Plate, and in­cludes overnight stops at some of the most se­cluded vil­lages in China.

Our jour­ney be­gan with rel­a­tive ease of ac­cess at Xi­dang vil­lage and reached all the way to Nanzhenglaya Pass, up to 3,800 me­ters in alti­tude. Once over the pass, a vast green val­ley un­folded be­fore us, framed by misty moun­tains. Our next stop at the bot­tom were the Up­per and Lower Yubeng vil­lages, nested be­tween three of the snow-capped moun­tains.

The up­per vil­lage is en route to a hik­ing camp on the high­est peak of the Meili range, Kawa­garbo, spir­i­tual home to a war­rior god of the same name ac­cord­ing to lo­cal be­lief. In 1990, an ex­pe­di­tion of 17 Chi­nese and Ja­panese hik­ers set off from here to con­quer the peak, only to meet their end in a deadly night­time avalanche. To this day, no man has ever set foot on the sum­mit and fur­ther hik­ing ac­tiv­ity has been banned by the gov­ern­ment, out of re­spect for lo­cal cus­toms and to pre­vent an­other tragedy.

The road to Lower Yubeng vil­lage, on the other hand, leads to the Holy Wa­ter­fall, a three hour trip and our des­ti­na­tion the fol­low­ing day. The round-trip back to Xi­dang, through Ni­nong and around the moun­tains, can be dan­ger­ous, with nar­row paths, steep falls, and slip­pery cross­ings—there have been sev­eral deaths—but the path to the falls is gen­er­ally con­sid­ered safe.

Nev­er­the­less, as we ap­proached our des­ti­na­tion, a mid­dle-aged Ti­betan man sud­denly fell into the arms of his wife; we were told he had high blood-pres­sure. Two monks be­gan mas­sag­ing his neck, try­ing to re­lieve his dis­com­fort while the crowd be­gan to pray. Lack­ing first aid sup­plies, we stopped ev­ery re­turn­ing hiker un­til we found two who rushed to of­fer their help.

Re­lieved, we ar­rived at the sa­cred falls. Lo­cals be­lieve the mag­i­cal wa­ter is smug­gled from heaven by Kawa­garbo, and can wash away bad luck. It is only a small wa­ter­fall of ice-cold wa­ter from the melt­ing glacier, but one in which we got du­ti­fully soaked.

But a fur­ther shock avail­able on our way back—we found the wife of the Ti­betan man griev­ing as her hus­band’s body was wrapped in plas­tic, and a mule idled nearby to trans­port it. Some tried to com­fort the woman, say­ing the man was lucky to be taken by the moun­tain god on his pil­grim­age. Na­ture sud­denly felt like an ele­phant, while we were ants, as pow­er­less as a dy­ing man on a re­mote moun­tain.

IN LOWER YUBENG VIL­LAGE, TRAC­TORS AND MO­TOR­CY­CLES ARE THE MOST AD­VANCED FORMS OF TRANS­PORTA­TION

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