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Published: February 7th 2011
TIBET: In Shangri-La once again (Part 2) Somehow, don’t ask me why, I knew , or felt, I’d return to the high plateau someday, somehow. For what, when, or how, I wouldn’t been able to answer for a very long time. The previous blog gives an idea of the (unexpected) purpose which led me finally back to Tibet. Here are some of the events which unfolded;
The days of this short visit to Tibet were filled with expectation to travel to the village and meet the 4 children my small NGO (HCH-Helping Children Heal) would be sponsoring heart surgeries for.
I had already been informed that I wasn’t allowed by the officials to go to their homes or meet their families and that I’d be meeting them at their school. Also I’d be informed there had been an outbreak of scarlet fever at their school, but that it had been resolved.
There were lots of calls post phoning the travel day to the village, so in the mean time, I decided to travel to my favorite monasteries in Tibet, GANDEN, majestically encrusted on top of a high mountain, and also to visit SERA, near Lhasa. Both monasteries were
very familiar to me, as I have visited them twice before. However, being such enchanting places, I was more than delighted to make the trip to be in their grounds once again, to take in the beauty, to hear the monks' chanting and to feel the spirituality they exude. GANDEN MONASTERY:
The trip there isn’t that eventful, except for spotting some yaks and a stupa by a small village. The very curvy, narrow road, goes up and around the mountain forever, but it keeps rewarding you with glimpses of the amazing white structure of the Gelupa monastery founded in 1409 at each curve. There were hardly any visitors at all there, and I was the only foreigner around. I wandered inside, and it was amazing that once again I could go where all the monks were chanting. I spent time respectfully watching for a while, particularly when I found a window where I could peek from up above without my presence being felt.
I than had a chance to cover the rest of the chapels, and even had encounters with a couple of locals before venturing to one of my special spots in Tibet, located behind the Monastery. On the
top of the mountain I stood, listening to the nothingness around. I had an stupendous view of the Kyi-chu Valley below, at 4500 meter, which went on to stretch to more Himalayan Mountains and into infinity, going as far as my eyes could see. Nobody else around, almost complete stillness, if it wasn’t for the colorful prayer flags fluttering while sending Buddhist prayers to the vivid blue sky. When my guide finally caught up with me, she snapped some photos to capture the special moment and then we just sat there for a while to soak up the calm and beauty of the place.
On my last day in Lhasa, I finally got the call I had started to dread: the team from Touching Hearts Tibet informed me that the hospital let them know the authorities (TAR) denied my travelling to the village to meet the kids, because "I had not been invited by the Chinese government!" I was here to do philanthropy and all I wanted was to I meet the kids HCH was sponsoring. No politics. So, why the denial? I couldn't understand. And why agree and let me come all the way here to change the
With 2 Tibetans...
who have been prostratting their way to Lhasa for 2 months.
mind now? This news was very upsetting to me and I got very sad. But, there was nothing I could do, other than leave the toys I had brought for the kids and hope that the surgeries would happen and go well.
Since I had already rented a van and paid for the permit to travel to the village area, I decided go to the area anyways and to visit an ORPHANAGE
along the way, bringing some donations of food and school materials for the kids. (www.tendol-gyalzur-tibet.ch). I had a wonderful visit with the founder of Tendol and the children. NAMT-SO LAKE
was the next destination, the new rail road following us along the way. There were many check points, where we had to stop for my passport and travel permit check.
Around the lake area, the scenery has changed as well, partly by men, partly by nature. Three years ago, when I visited the area during the same month of the year, there were so many nomad tents. Now, I counted only 5! The lake, back then, was still completely frozen, covered by ice. Now, it has already melted and I can see its turquoise blue color
contrasting with the brown surrounding mountains. Climate change has arrived here as well. I stopped to meet some local women and kids.
On our way back, I spotted TWO WOMEN PROSTRATING
on the asphalt and asked the driver to stop. They had be prostrating from the north of Tibet for 2 months plus some days and are heading to Lhasa. (see video on top of page) Their cheeks are crusty are almost red, they hold these wooden paddles to protect their hands as they slide on the asphalt or dirt road. My guide translates my many questions, which they graciously answer. They are part of a group of 12 people who are prostrating all the way to the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa. One cart carries water and tents, and they stop only at night to camp by the road to sleep. By the morning they re-start the prostrations again. They take 2 steps, bring their hands together up above their heads and slide their whole body all the way down to the ground, pushing their arms and hands forward. Then, up again, repeating the ritual all the way, for months, to accumulate good karma for themselves and for
others!!!!! I gave them packages of crackers and drinks, for which they were so thankful. They immediately sat on the side of the road to eat and drink the treats. They kept turning their heads to look at me, and I did the same, curious of each other, probably wandering about me as much as did about them, all the way until we could no long see each other.
Later we passed by an area where the arid Tibetan land was being prepared by several men and women. The yaks wearing colorful pieces of cloth on their backs and head, indicating that this was an auspicious day for planting, according to my guide.
I love to learn about the culture of the places I visit, and besides observing I ask many questions. The long drive offered the perfect opportunity to learned a little more about the ways of the Tibetan people, things about their culture we don’t easily find in books:
*In the Shingatse area, it is still common that brothers share one wife. “That’s better for the family-only one house and the brothers can go look for jobs elsewhere and bring money for the household”, I
*“The oldest child stays in the house to take care of the parents, no matter the gender. If he or she marries, the spouse joins them.”
*“Tibetans can’t eat fish, horse, birds, or insects. Sheep, lamb, pork and yak are okay. Nowadays, pork is ½ the price of yak.”
*“In certain areas, the kids help with the household income by looking for some worm-like plant underground which is fairly valuable for its medicinal power.
*When a Tibetan dies, the family waits 3 days with the body in the house, the monks chanting. A Lama makes the decision about the type of burial the person should have. I already knew the specifics of the sky burials in Tibet, and the river burials for the very poor, but not the details of the “water ground burial”, which is very prevalent for those who can’t afford the more expensive sky burials. I was told that an “undertaker” chops the body (she stops to emphasize that the family wants to hire the “best” one to do the job) than mixes with barley flour to dry the blood, and feed to fish, which, but the way is never eaten by Tibetans. Before,
the body is taken in a vehicles around the Jokhan Temple for a last kora.
On my last morning I got up early again and headed to the Jokhang to do a my last kora, mala in hand to find peace. How happy I was to find the Barkkor filled with pilgrims the incent burner sending a massive cloud the juniper scent into the air. I felt the same spirit I witnessed years ago. As I made my offering of juniper into the burner, I started to get discrete thumbs up, nods and smiles of approval from pilgrims. That approval gave me a comforting feeling.
Later I learned that my last day was the 15th day of the month on the lunar calendar (28th on ours). "In Tibetan Buddhism the 15th is a very important day, so they pray more, as their prayer have more power than; however, if you do wrong doing, it’s more powerful too. Meat is not consumed on the 15th, and people visit the monasteries more." Thus this was an auspicious day, explaining the reason for the extra people on the temple and the yaks being all dressed up on the field. I felt
so lucky to be here on the 15th and observe the devotion and belief.
The time to say goodbye to the land of Tibet came. I left with a certain feeling of sadness. Some of the reasons I've described in this blog, some I've choosen to keep private.
Do I recommend Tibet as a destination? Absolutely. Go and don’t just see it. Learn about it. Experience it! Share it.
My journeys in Tibet have ended, but I hope yours are just about to start. P.S. The children's surgeries went well, they got the toys I left, and you can see their pictures on the HCH site, if you desire. (www.helpingchildrenheal.com)
Wishing you well.
Patricia from Somewhere
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