South China Morning Post SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 21, 2002
A new decade, a new challenge for Ruth Lor Malloy, who
muses on the process of ageing
from a sacred mountain in Tibet
Life as a journey of learning
|HOW DO YOU WANT
to celebrate your 70th birthday? asked my husband. ‘‘Kailash,’’ I answered
hesitation. Then added – since I thought they were in the neighbourhood
– ‘‘Guge Kingdom, Everest Base Camp and Rombuk.’’
Mike shook his head, dismissing the idea as crazy. ‘‘Can a 70-year old hike at an altitude of 5,700 metres?’’ he asked.
‘‘But I’ve already been to Tibet three times,’’ I argued. ‘‘I know I can take the altitude.’’
‘‘Yes, but not 5,700 metres.’’
For decades, I had felt drawn to Kailash. It was my ‘‘Bali Hai’’,the mystical place with the strange-sounding name.
Buddhists, Hindus and Jains consider it the navel of the world;
it is the source of four major rivers. They believe that the sins of pilgrims who walk around it are forgiven. I didn’t believe the
part about the sins, but wondered if I should.
Getting old doesn’t frighten me. Each new experience – arthritis,body immune disease – is an opportunity to learn. I didn’t really start celebrating milestones with events until I was 70.
When I was 67, Mike and I trekked 10 days in Mustang, in Nepal, a trip we prepared for by hiking 10km to 15 km a day on weekends. I have always been quite active but at the age of 67 I started to work out in a gym twice a week. As a result, I felt fitter than ever. Stairs became opportunities, not burdens.
Age is not the end of learning, but a chance to learn from another perspective. I was born with an insatiable curiosity, always anxious to see what lies around the next corner and to find out why things happen.
The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to go – this year – before my ageing Chinese-Canadian body would stop me. Seventy was old. Up to 69 was only ‘‘middle-aged’’. Besides, I felt great from the gym workouts.
If the three-day trek part of the trip proved to be too strenuous, I argued, of course I wouldn’t at-tempt it. I knew something about altitude sickness. I write guide books on China and had researched a large section on it.
Money was available, my money, a legacy from my mother. Mike, by then resigned to my trip, suggested that our 31-year-old son Terry go along ‘‘to take care of you’’. It was an opportunity to get to know Terry better. I also asked friends to join us. Everyone wanted to go, but only three others could. One friend wrote back: ‘‘The Karmapa Lama says next year would be a better year.’’ Worried, I telephoned the Dalai Lama’s office in New York. ‘‘Which Karmapa? There are two,’’ said the nice lady who answered. ‘‘We haven’t heard any-thing like that. Yes, you should go.’’
POSTCARD FROM THE EDGE:
At 70, Ruth Lor Malloy's enthusiasm for life let her to Tibet - the
land of mystical peaks, high altitude and the sacred, snow-covered Kailash
Feeling better after a dose of Diamox and tea, he headed back to Lhasa
while the rest of us continued
westwards and upwards.
He later told us that his taxi driver stopped at a clinic which treated him with oxygen and acupuncture. Back in Lhasa, it took him three days to recuperate.
Walter Lai, our 38-year-old taekwando black belt, was the next to feel the elevation. At Darchen, at the base of Kailash, he had diarrhea and felt chest pains. Our guide took him to the Swiss Red Cross clinic where a Tibetan doctor said his heart was beating too hard.
After treatment, lots of meditation, and two days’ bed rest, he was fine.
Without the men, we remaining three old ladies started our 11th day in Tibet out riding yaks along the path circling the base of the holy mountain.
We covered about 12 km. Guide books had said the first day was easy but we found when we hiked that even the slightest slope was still difficult.
By then we knew we could not even ride
around it in the scheduled three days, nor was that important to us.
What was important was that we had seen the sacred and beautiful mountain, a natural pyramid, and the magnificent scenery.
I left Tibet feeling that 70 wasn’t the end of strenuous travel after all. Maybe next year I’ll try to go all the way around Kailash.
When Terry said he also wanted to go back to Tibet, I remembered what I had written in my guide book.
‘‘seems to hit the young and strong more than the old and weak’’.
‘‘Maybe you’d better wait until you’re 70,’’ I said.
Ms. Malloy is author of "China Guide" a regularly updated travel guidebook on China.
Copyright © 2009 by Ruth Lor
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