Iron Road to Lhasa

Leaving Golmud, we snake
through the slim passes
of the Burhan Budai Shan.
These ochre hills are plant-nude,
a dry land waiting for snow.

Gullies are empty, gravel-bottomed,
the few streams still night-frozen
although this high sun
will let them flow by noon.

Lammergeiers surf the thermals
alert for fresh bones of beasts
that didn’t make it through
to the feather-grass pastures,
the steppe lands of Tanggula.

A grey-green carpet
knits the permafrost
in this undulant region;
haven for pika
and their hawkish neighbours,
home to gazelle, kiang
and square-faced sand fox.

The grassland is backdropped

by un-named snowpeaks

with grumbling glaciers.
Who would name them, who

would read the names?

At turquoise Lake Namtso,
just starting its annual freeze,
the last few bar-heads feed
in the silty shallows. Soon they’ll soar
Himalaya-high, and glide
to the plains of India.

By an outflow river,
Brahmaputra tributary,
a wild bull yak stands,
furred for winter,
on an eroded moss bed.

Dusk descent into Amdo,

here and there mud-brick huts,

courtyards, yak-dung smoke,

little herds of goats and sheep,

dust devils from trail bikes,

flapping scripture flags.

Coming down, from the high spot
of the world, and half a world over,
pilgrimage season’s started.

Next day we flow together,
a river of red robes
and tourists, clockwise,
round the Lhasa circuits,
as if to spin the city
like a prayer wheel.

Colin Will

 If you have any comments on this poem, Colin Will  would be pleased to hear from you. 

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