Published: November 4th 2005September 8th 2005
A young local
21 years old.
I really wanted to travel to the west part of Tibet, but the offices issuing the permits were closed because of the celebrations of the "liberation." This is a Chinese way of shutting down areas without stating that they are doing it. The official statement is that "nothing has changed," but actually there was no legal way to go to those areas.
I found a travel agency that "found a way around the problem." They issued special permits outside of Tibet, as if the group I wanted to rent the car with is an organized group coming into Tibet on an organized tour. I didn't want to know, and I was promised that it would be OK. I just had to wait for a few more days for the whole process to finish before I could travel west.
Even though Lhasa is very interesting, I felt I must get out of the city for a while. I decided to go to a quiet nunnery called Tidrum, about four hours away from Lhasa. The nunnery is located in a village up some hills, at 4325m (the altitude becomes an important piece of information when traveling in Tibet because of the
altitude sickness and the need for careful planning).
I took my tent, and got on an early pilgrim bus to the nunnery. Taking a bus is still taking a bus - the ticket counter sends you to buy the ticket from the driver, and the driver sends you back to the counter, too many tickets were sold, the bus never leaves on time, after loading the bags on the roof you discover that you have to move to another bus, etc. But finally I arrived.
The place is beautiful. A quiet village on a fork of two river streams, built all the way up the hills, with many prayer flags hanging around over the valleys.
I started with a picnic near the river, where some locals did their laundry. I enjoyed sitting there and watching the area, with the quiet surroundings after a few days in the city.
After that I made a short visit to the temple, which wasn't anything I haven't seen before. Then I started to climb up to the top of the village. It wasn't easy, even though I didn't carry anything with me. The altitude had its affect.
On the way I met many people.
Pilgrims, nuns, and villagers. Communication is always a problem, but the guide book is always something they find interesting. Pictures of the temples and the gods make them smile, and almost always makes them ask the same question - if I have a picture of the Dalai Lama. Some of them show me a small picture they hide under their cloths.
At the top of the hill, just near the last row of houses, I met two local women and their grandmother who invited me to sit with them. They gave me tea and cookies, and didn't even ask for payment later (it is very common here to ask money from tourists for just about anything). A pilgrim who was on his way to the temple up the hill above the village stopped by and had some tea as well.
Then arrived another woman from the family. She carried water from the river way down below. I could barely climb this hill while carrying nothing, and when I tried to lift the water tank in the air I could barely do it. It was amazing to realize how they live. The woman was 45 years old!
As usual - the
book and the camera were the main things that drew their attention. They learned to take pictures and took pictures of each other and of me.
Later that day, after finishing the walks around, I went to the other attraction in the village - the hot springs. There are two pools of medical hot springs in the valley - one for men and one for women. For a ridiculous price of about 0.6$ you can bath with the other Chinese in a small pool surrounded with pictures of Buddhist deities and prayer flags. The bubbling water is hot enough for the chilly air in this altitude. The locals found the hair on my body funny, being so smooth. I tried to explain to them that a hairy chest is a manly thing, but they just laughed and didn't agree. When I pointed at a Chinese guy with a sign of hair on his belly, to show them that I am not the only one, he was so embarrassed that he put on his cloths and left.
The hot spot in the cold mountains attracted more than only people. Suddenly we saw snakes in the walls of the pool, probably enjoying
the warmth as well. It was scary, even though the locals were very calm about it. I stayed there long enough to take a shower in the water, and left.
The only place around the village suitable for a tent was the spot where the pilgrims spent the night. The hills were to steep, and that was the only horizontal place. There were already two tents there, and I asked them if I can settle down for the night next to them. They were very happy, and offered me some of their food (they were cooking meat there and gave me some, again free of charge!). They helped me with my tent, gave me boiling water for my instant noodles so I didn't have to boil my own, and were really charming. They also gave me all the ingredients for making my own tsampa (water, barely flour, and yak butter), and taught me how to make it. Their tent was simple and made of canvas decorated with Tibetan symbols in blue. They also posed for the camera, and one of them even tried to hold the moon (it was his idea to make that picture!).
The next morning was cold.
Library in the temple
Prayer books wrapped and waiting.
I woke up and everything around me was white from the frost. My tent was also covered with a thin layer of white ice. I found a ride back to the city with a local TV crew who came to the area for shooting some clips. They were a little higher class Tibetan people. They has a speaker in their jeep, and they kept making fun of the locals along the way using the speaker. They also listened to some local techno music on the CD player, which was funny. They also didn't ask for money for the ride (hitchhiking in China always costs money).
I can say that the two days out were the most fun days I had in Tibet so far. I really enjoyed the place, the people, the quiet, and the experience in general.
Until next time,
There are more photos below