The moody morning had just begun to open up to the rugged landscape around Mount Kailash as I set out on the three-day trek known as the kora. Though I'm not particularly spiritual, I had been drawn to this journey for the chance to explore Tibet and hike in such a beautiful place.
However, it was not the stunning scenery that made this journey unforgettable for me. It was the encounter with a Swiss man that left an indelible mark on my memory.
As I approached the first of two high passes, I encountered a tall Swiss man who began to explain to me, without me ever asking, the local beliefs surrounding the journey. His words were complex and difficult to follow due to the thin air, but I could sense their importance.
Suddenly, he produced a Swiss knife and held it up to my face, leaving me utterly confused and apprehensive. To my surprise, he reached out and snipped off a small braid of my hair. He explained that leaving something behind from the material world was part of the process of dying and spiritual rebirth.
I left my hair at the pass and didn't see the Swiss man again until I reached the second and highest pass. He greeted me with open arms and a warm hug, saying "Happy new life" and "Don't make the same mistakes again."
We hung a prayer flag as he instructed, which I had carried all the way, and marked it with the names of my parents and the person who had hurt me the most in my former life. The wind would take care of it, he said, and just like that, he was gone again.
The next day, I started seeing heart shapes everywhere - not just a few, but hundreds. At first, I chalked it up to the high altitude and the intensity of the experience, but the shapes persisted, appearing in stones and landscapes even after I had completed the kora.
And then, one month later on a trek in Nepal, I was left breathless. There, in the shape of a heart, rose a full Himalayan mountain. The sign could not be clearer. I can't help but wonder what it means.
The Heart Story by Ina Grischau