The Horseman

Often, the sweetest times slip by unacknowledged.  The day we rode horseback from Mustang’s capital, Lomanthang, population 800, to some newly opened caves near the border of Tibet, was a painful one.  The land we needed to hike, to the caves and back, was both too high (over 15,000 feet) and too far (about 15 miles) for us lowlanders to cover in one day so we went on horseback.

My horse was uncooperative at best.  The stirrups, when I used them, were far too short, forcing my knees to a position just under my chin and only a thin blanket separated my tailbone and the horse’s bony spine.  The horseman and I had no language in common but had been traveling together for ten days at this point.  Seeing my distress, he simply walked at my side, speaking softly, humming, and giving directions to the nasty nag I was riding.  I think the calming sounds were really for m.  His hand usually rested lightly on my boot or calf in a sweet, reassuring gesture that overrode the discomfort of the day.  An unbridgeable gap was dissolved by his kindness.  I could only thank him with my eyes and smile.

The five-story caves were astounding with 108 rooms carved into solid rock 2,500 years ago.  With wooden ladders connected the different levels, the lowest opening being about 30 feet from the flat ground, making entry dicey at best.  It was hard to imagine the life lived by these families for fifteen centuries.

On the return trip to our camp, the horseman again walked at my side, his endless calming chatter of repetitive humming. Whistles, songs and quick shouts were we woven again into a mesmerizing rhythm.  When Lomanthang came into view, I slid off my horse and walked the last hour home.  Our two guides, also in tailbone pain, immediately followed suit, and we happily walked back to camp.  My memories of this incredible day are as much of the friendship of the horseman as of the caves.


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Having journeyed to the Far East and Asia over 20 times in the past 20 years, I’ve been intrigued and inspired by the ingenuity, craftsmanship, balance and human spirit that have gone into the making of those works I have seen and collected.

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