We have been in Tibet less than four hours and have discovered that moving too quickly makes us short of breath.
We boarded a bus and headed for Tsetang on the famous Yarlung Tsango River. With its headwaters in the snowfields of the Himalayas, this river flows east across Tibet, then makes a hairpin turn and flows west to India, finally exiting in Bangladesh. It is the highest major river on earth.
After bouncing on rough roads for two hours, we arrive at the Layong [sic] River Hotel. Shortly afterwards, we board the bus again for a seven mile jaunt in early evening to Yambulhakhang (also known as Yumbu Langang) Monastery. Waiting for us are Tibetans with gaily decorated ponies as well as a camel.
They used to carry tourists up the mountain to the monastery, but once a tourist fell off and broke some bones, that spoiled it for the rest of us who would have given their eye teeth to do that. Me, for instance.
We photograph this second century edifice, which I later learn it was destroyed during China’s Cultural Revolution, but rebuilt in an exact replica. I notice a handsome Tibetan woman standing across the road. She approaches our guide and speaks. They hug and I guess this is a regular part of the tour.
Later I will learn that our guide did not know her and that the woman had approached and invited us to her home.
The guide herds us into a group and we walk across a plaza to the woman’s home. As soon as we enter, she drapes us with traditional white scarves, which to the Tibetans mean, “I trust you; we can be friends.” (Simplified explanation.) She lets us wander through her stone house, serving tea to those who want it.
As in all Tibetan homes, the finest room is reserved for Buddha. Platforms for daytime sitting and nighttime sleeping are around the walls, blankets and quilts folded neatly out of the way.
|The room for Buddha.|
I soon locate the kitchen. It is as simple as a kitchen can get. It is also very dark.
Outside on a concrete deck, the woman of the house introduces an older woman who is either her mother or mother-in-law. We are shown traditional Tibetan hats and invited to have our photos taken in them. We also are shown a churn in which yak butter is made. Its smell is enough to bring tears to your eyes.
A storm moves in behind the monastery, promising rain showers and bringing a strange light that intensifies the color of the geraniums on the ledge.
Outside, the chickens are settling down for the night not too far from a sleeping dog. Two young boys race across the plaza. The men with the ponies are there, smiling as all Tibetans do.
In a day or so, when I am sure of my observation, I mention to our guide that the Tibetans seem to smile all the time.
|Our guide Hue and the yak butter churn.|
“You didn’t see that in China, did you?” she responds. I recall the dour faces of the thousands of Chinese we saw.
Occasionally, when you made eye contact they could not avoid, a Chinese woman would smile. The guide says they are suspicious and not necessarily just of foreigners. They have been through too much political upheaval, she says, when they couldn’t even trust members of their own family.
I think about the simple lifestyle of the Tibetans and their devout Buddhist faith. They don’t have much and don’t seem to ask for much, even though their culture is being diluted and in danger of becoming extinct.
I look at the blue Tibetan sky, free of the dreary gray smog that blankets China, and wonder if that has anything to do with it.
“The Tibetans,” I say, “seem to smile from their souls.”
|Fodder and firewood for winter. Note the flag of China in background.|