Kharola Glacier- Tibet


I just arrived home from Tibet last month and I am still trying to process the whole global warming “thing” in light of what I saw in this beautiful country. While I once thought of Tibet as the snow-bound land of the Yeti, Miche or Migoi (depending on who you ask); I now think it looks like the road between Cedar City, Utan and Las Vegas, Nevada. It is desolate, rocky, and barren. Even Mt. Everest, which we visited, looks bare in places.

The Kharola Glacier is found along the scenic road between Lhasa and Shigatse. With splendid views of Mt. Kalurong and Mt. Nojin Kangsang it is a great place to stop and stretch a bit. The glacier sits at the 17,060 ft level in a place that used to be covered in snow pretty much year round. It isn’t anymore. In fact, the glacier has receded 30-50% depending on who you ask in the past 10 years.

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The day of our visit was beautiful. The sun reflecting off the glacier threw multiple shades of white and gray blue along its ridges. The air felt crisp and clean. Prayer flags whispered and shouted into the air depending upon where you stood.

One of the things I learned while at Kharola was that the Tibetan Buddhists believe that the flapping of the flags are in fact a chant or prayer that will be blown by the wind spreading compassion and good will. Traditional prayer flags are arranged left to right in a precise order: blue, white, red, green and yellow. These five colors represent the five elements of our world. Blue symbolizes the sky, white the wind and air, red represents fire, green is associated with water and yellow symbolizes the earth. The Tibetans believe that when these five elements are in balance that health and harmony are the result. Obviously, balance has not been achieved.

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The sad part of it all is that we can see global warming with our two eyes just by looking at the Tibetan landscape and it now mimics the arid high desert of the Southwest in the United States. Yet, with all the changes that are glaringly obvious we do little to try and stop them. I guess people forget that in this area of the world that without snow there is less water in the rivers. Less water for irrigation equals less food that is available which means more chemicals are used to try to boost production. Less water for the people results in mass migration. It is a concern for all of us…except the yak. I expect when the glacier soon disappears he will still be standing there…the only thing that is left of interest on the pass.

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