‘œWe are the Pilgrims, master; we shall go
Always a little further: it may be
Beyond the last blue mountain barred with snow,
Across that angry or that glimmering sea.’
– James Elroy Flecker
Pilgrimage makes prayers come true. Or, to an unbeliever like me, a pilgrimage is about commitment and hard work, about the time invested and the time to think. These are the steps necessary to make most prayers and wishes come true.
Walking is both slow and difficult so it makes for powerful thinking time. Slow is good. With slowness and effort comes anticipation and clarity. Rewards have to be earned; ideas can be mulled over. I can appreciate the motivation of the pilgrims to Mount Kailash who prostrate themselves with each stride.
Ablaze in golden robes, hundreds of jovial pilgrims are marching down the road to their holy site with flags and banners. I smile as I pass amongst them. It is chaotic and spellbinding. Lazier pilgrims ride pillion on motorbike, their outfits streaming splendidly behind them. To the right is my river. Wheat fields stretch to my left. Villagers have spread wheat across the road to be threshed by the wheels of passing traffic.
Penance; redemption through suffering; searching – there seems to be an element of secular pilgrimage to my wandering, though that is not intentional. My walk does feel almost monastic and ascetic at times. I share the road for an hour or two with the turbanned, vermillion pilgrims. Eventually our routes diverge. They turn from my path at a junction in a road. I am sorry to see them go. I look down their road as far as I can, then take the other, the road that parallels the river. I am alone once again on my own forty days and forty nights in the wild. I am eating simply, living slow and testing myself out in the world. I do not know where the road is going. It doesn’t matter. Wherever the river goes is the right way for me.