Pilgrims cradling heavy baskets followed the steep trail up to a grassy knoll for the annual Drak Yerpa Festival. Red robed monks chanted a puja while extended families pitched tents embroidered by hand with sacred everlasting knots.
Summer Solstice marks the time of year when hermits emerge from their meditative practices and local Tibetans make offering in their humble caves. Over the centuries, many famous yogis have used Drak Yerpa's crags for silent retreat and for this reason it is considered an especially holy pilgrimage site.
As I watched the curious festivities, an old Tibetan woman motioned me to join her. She poured something hot from a thermos into a grimy bowl, which we shared, wordless, grinning. I had heard about Yak Butter Tea and my first sip was predictably salty, however I persevered out of politeness for my hostess. With a smile, my new friend led me, her scruffy dog and a thermos of melted yak butter on a rare adventure.
We poked our heads into several hermit caves, smoky with juniper. Pilgrims poured yak butter into silver dishes to keep candles burning. As we visited each dingy cave (some perched mid-cliff and only the size of a large box), I noticed an incongruous feeling of spaciousness which left me wondering how it could be. My question was soon answered by a hermit's serenely gentle face, framed by raggedy matted hair. With a vast smile, he somehow conveyed the message that peace depends entirely on our mind not our circumstances.
Hermit offered us tsampa (barley porridge) with an apparent awareness of the impact he would have on my life. It felt unusually easy to stay in the present moment in that wild valley far removed from worldly distraction. Maybe it was just the altitude, but something made me want to stay calm like that forever. We sat for a time watching Himalayan shadows lengthen, blissed out with simple pleasure until the spell was broken by twilight, time for the hundreds of pilgrims to descend the sacred mountain glowing like yak butter candles all the way."