Yak Butter Blues: A Tibetan Trek of Faith by Brandon Wilson (Pilgrim’s Tales)

Asia By the Book is delighted to be joined by reviewer and book omnivore, Ernie Hoyt, a bookseller for the past 21 years who continues to work in the industry in Tokyo. You can read more of Ernie's book reviews at Ern's Monthly Page Turners on his bilingual blog http://tokyoern.blogspot.com where he also shares his passion for eating in Tokyo and beyond

What's a couple to do after completing a journey from London to Cape Town during which they didn't end up killing each other in the process? To attempt what no other Western couple has done before. To walk the 1000-kilometer pilgrimage trail from Lhasa, Tibet to Katmandu, Nepal. However every travel agency they went to told them it was impossible, or out of the question, or that the Chinese government would never allow it. But those two words -– "can't" and "impossible"-- were just the catalysts needed for Wilson and his wife to make their trip a reality. This book recounts their odyssey.

After checking with a number of travel agencies and being told the same thing over and over again, "It can't be done", "That's impossible", they found a travel agent who was able to help them. Trekking in the Himalayas is no slice of cake, so they trained by climbing the mountains near Vail, Colorado. When all their necessary documents had been approved, they started their journey by flying to Lhasa. It was here where they got a firsthand look at the lives of the Tibetans and their struggle against oppression and prejudice. When the Wilsons discovered that walking this trail is forbidden to Tibetans, it only strengthened their resolve to accomplish their goal.

Their plan was to travel 35 kilometers a day and to reach Katmandu within a month. That plan was shattered after their first couple of days trekking. But instead of giving up or hiring transportation, the Wilsons went in search of buying a pack horse. It was as if they were given Herculean tasks that they would have to clear before reaching their next step. But with faith being their strongest bond, good fortune came upon them again. They found and bought a horse that was to be their companion. A Tibetan horse named Sadhu, which also happens to be the word for a "holy man". How is that for a good omen?

What started out as an adventure soon became a matter of survival. Armed with a dated and nearly useless map and their ever-present faith, they had to endure blizzards, sandstorms, high altitudes and being shot at by careless Chinese soldiers, who claimed they were shooting at birds -- for sport. They also had to worry about restocking provisions and feeding and resting their horse. The further they trekked from Lhasa, the villages became fewer and farther between and they found themselves having to rely on the kindness of strangers.

As they reached the border, they had only one concern -- would there be any trouble in taking their horse with them? Their dilemma was solved by not claiming anything when crossing the border and by not mentioning that they had a horse as a companion. As the border was quite crowded with a line of vehicles, the border guards virtually ignored them. They also unwittingly passed the Nepal Veterinary Checkpoint. Wilson and his wife might not be able to free Tibet from China, but they were able to free at least one Tibetan -- and that would be their constant companion, Sadhu.

This is an inspiring and unforgettable journey--you will be glad you made the trip.