Article Index

The first three days, I think, as I've completely lost track of time, have gone fairly well. After the first day of acclimating to the altitude, the second, third and fourth days have basically been of no medical consequence, other than head pain. And it certainly has been interesting. First, some errata.

I talked about the five prayer flags that the Tibetans fly from each corner of their mud brick houses. They also put these flags up on mountains, by lakes, wherever they feel like it. The flags are put up once a year, on the Tibetan new year, and they are supposed to bring forth "luck". Greetings in Tibet sound like "de lay", and it means both hello and good luck. They are completely entranced with this concept of luck; luck brings them good fortune, and wards off bad occurrences in their farming, house building, wife finding, food growing, etc. So much for it working on the Chinese.

The five color flags are blue for sky, white for clouds, green for water (the rivers here are green), yellow for earth and red for fire. This whole luck thing was again obvious upon my visit to the Potala Palace today, whereby the entire place was swamped with Tibetan pilgrims from all over Tibet, pushing me and everybody else out of the way, so they could put yak butter in the yak butter lamps, money on the statues, and bow down low enough to put their heads against the same; all with the purpose of getting "good luck". The people look like a cross between Chinese and Indian, I guess because they kind of are, and their education is limited to learning Tibetan, (and now also Chinese). There really isn't any other schooling other than the languages. They are basically farmers and herders of sheep and cattle, and once a year, usually in the winter, after they have finished growing their crops, take the entire family and head for the Potala Palace to pray for good luck. It was basically a mad house, full of the disgusting aroma of burning yak fat. But, it was an incredible place, one that was definitely worth seeing. The only reason why it wasn't destroyed during the "Liberation of Tibet", in 1959, when the Chinese invaded and "liberated" the Tibetans, was because Zhou En Lai told his generals that the Potala Palace was off limits. Shame his generals didn't take the same advice with the other monasteries and the such. The Cultural Revolution also had some devastating effects on much of the ancient buildings and temples in Tibet.



After arriving at the airport a few days ago, we drove to TseDeng, which was the birthplace of the Tibetan culture. The second day was spent visiting some ancient tombs, which, in the pictures under the file "Tibetan Village", I think, look like these giant mounds of earth. No king has yet been discovered in any of these small flat mountains, but legend has it that they are the burial tombs of the great kings, about 19 or so in this one valley. Off in the distance in one of the photos, you can see a typical Tibetan village, and above that, a red "bombed out" structure, which used to be a monastery. That building was over a thousand years old, and it didn't survive the madness of the Cultural Revolution. Now, on this tour, typically the guide brings you to one of these burial mounds, shows you the temple on the top of it, and then brings you back to the hotel (which was fairly nice), to rest for the afternoon trip. That just wasn't good enough for me; I wanted to walk in the village. My guide, a Tibetan, Yan An, I think, told me that that was not really permitted. I convinced her otherwise.

We walked through the village streets, and met many native Tibetans. By native, I mean, not terribly influenced by their Chinese masters. Well, more on that later.... The villagers were building another home, taking earthen bricks that had been drying out in the sun for god knows how long, and mortaring them together with mud. The entire village helps out; the women usually cart the stones, earth, and wooden beams, the men do the technical work and put the house together. Women from as young as ten or so, to 70 or 80, carried supplies. All were terribly fascinated with me, as tourists rarely had gone through the village. The pictures tell the story. The houses are mainly constructed of earth and mud, with wooden beams for the roofs, and yak shit is thrown, by hand, as to make an acceptable pattern, onto the sides of the house. Yak shit is very sticky, as I later found out, having stepped accidentally in a fresh pile of it. The wooden beams are largely decorated with many colors, and the exteriors of the houses are whitewashed. There really didn't seem to be a pattern to the layout of the village. There was a pattern, however, to the layout of the Chinese military base, centered alongside the village.

How can you tell it is a Chinese military base? Well, the buildings are typically Chinese in nature, with rectangular buildings, tiled, red stars, Chinese guards with guns, all surrounded by a large wall, actually, a rarity in this culture (the Tibetans use walls to fence off their lands sometimes to keep the sheep and other animals from straying). The Chinese use their walls to keep the Tibetans from straying, inside. You can tell it is a Chinese wall because there is lots of broken glass embedded in the concrete on top of it. A military base, in this tiny village, way out in the middle of goddamn nowhere. Why would there be such a need, I asked my Tibetan guide, who previously, was very careful how she answered such questions.

She replied that the Chinese were protecting their borders from the Nepalese. One quick look at a map, and at the size of Nepal, and I laughed. And when I met a Nepalese guide, this little, constantly smiling terribly friendly guy, I thought the whole thing absurd. Then I asked, why were there around five military bases scattered around the small town of TseDeng? They were everywhere. All full of very unhappy appearing Chinese soldiers, all probably dreading this miserable outpost. My guide was convinced that they were all there to protect them from attack from Nepal, and maybe India. I suggested that maybe the garrisons were there to help "maintain peace and order", after their "liberation" of Tibet back in 1959. She smiled, as if she was accepting my reasoning far more than hers. Interesting, when you think that Tibet is over 90% Tibetan. The Chinese may be moving in and opening businesses and the like, but the Tibetans still outnumber them. Unfortunately, you can see a lot of Chinese influence in the "cities".

Well, trudging through the yak shit in the village was not enough for me, I wanted to trudge it through some poor Tibetan's house. So I convinced her to find a villager, and get us inside for a peek. And so it was. I was actually pretty impressed with the size and comfort of the building, it was laid out on three levels, with the bottom level for storage, and the upper two levels for living. The ceilings were covered with nicely ornamented cloth, I thought, for insulation purposes. They had electricity, a product of the Chinese liberation (they did not have electricity prior to 1959), and they had rooms for sleeping, for praying, and for cooking. The page Tibet house has some of the pictures from the inside.

That afternoon, we went to the first palace. It was the site of the first king, built in the second century, BC. Pretty damn old, it was the first structure in Tibet. Prior to this time, all Tibetans lived in tents made out of yak hide. The story goes, that a Tibetan was walking through the mountains, found this guy sitting down meditating, asked him where he was from, and when he pointed to the sky, the guy thought that he was sent by the heavens, so he picked him up, carried him back to the TseDeng region, and all the Tibetans built this guy this building. After that, they started to build huts for themselves. The first palace rests up on a hill, which was a bitch to climb at 12000 feet, and overlooks many fields for growing; these were the first organized farmlands in Tibet. Inside the structure is a temple, though previously, it was a "palace". As the oldest building in Tibet, it was fortunately spared the ravages of the Cultural revolution. In the pictures, you can see one of the rooms where one (or all?) of the six monks live.



Oh, and the pile of rocks, are called prayer rocks. One picks up a stone, throws it onto the pile, and says a quick prayer. It is supposed to bring one good luck. The picture that shows the palace way up on the mountain, with the little kid running on the road towards me, was the usual "money" request. The Tibetans, though their lives have "improved" since Chinese occupation, are all pretty poor.

The next day, the third I think, was for visiting the Samye monastery, the oldest monastery in Tibet. It was on the way back from TseDeng to Lhasa. I think it was built around the 2nd century. Getting there required taking one of these leaky wooden boats across a big river, going god knows how far upstream, and then jumping into the back of this Chinese made truck (with Honda stickers on it, a Tibetan joke I take it), and driving downstream the same distance. Don't ask me why they do it that way, all I remember, is that it was damn cold that morning, and we all basically froze on this very slow moving boat. The monastery itself was fascinating. As picture taking inside costs money, if you can take pictures at all, I just got a few. After a while, one monastery starts to look like another. The interesting thing about this monastery is that all Tibetans must make a pilgrimage to this one, at least once in their lives. They feel that when they die, they all go to hell, and if they had put enough yak butter in the yak butter lamps in the monasteries during their lives, that they would have enough light for their souls to make it to paradise. But first their souls had to go to the Samye monastery. The souls then hang in a soul bag inside the monastery awaiting their return to paradise, and eventual reincarnation. So that the souls know where to go, the Tibetans must make a pilgrimage to the Samye monastery at least once. I asked my guide if the souls had to take the leaky boat across the freezing cold river. She said no. I wonder if they have to get into those damn bumpy trucks?