Tibet: Land of Peaceful Liberation – Part Two

This view of Turquoise Lake pales in comparison to reality.

This view of Turquoise Lake pales in comparison to reality. This a photo taken by Terry – not a purchased postcard.

The next day we set off by car with guide and driver to Gygantze, a town some 253 km away, but what a journey!  We leave Lhasa and climb through two mountain passes, one a mere 161 meters lower than Mount Everest base camp.  The road is paved and “reasonably” good but narrow.  The sides are buffered with heavy cement barriers–if you go off the edge, it’s a long way down.  Not that this puts off the drivers who honk and pass with impunity.

Even for the traffic scenes we we have witnessed since coming, this was something.

Even for the traffic scenes we we have witnessed since coming, this was something.

What a scene!  With the incredible backdrop of lake and mountains, an amazing assortment of human activities unfold.  First, eschewing the actual parking lot, are great numbers of tourists who park on the shred of shoulder and leave their vehicles.  The predictable mayhem results, with cars and trucks unable to pass, honking honking honking, until finally someone takes charge and breaks up the log jam.  Around the parking lot, vendors take advantage of the location to flog trinkets and charge for pictures to be taken holding their filthy lamb or posing beside their very sad looking Tibetan mastiffs.  Still others offer the opportunity to take pictures posing with a yak or, better still, posing on a yak.  Whoever would want to do that?

Elephant, Water Buffalo and now Yak - what's left for me to ride?

Elephant, Water Buffalo and now Yak – what’s left for me to ride?

Imagine living and farming on the edge of this. No wonder they believe as they do.

I didn't realize how popular Geoff was until we came to China. I am actually quit jealous of all of his new friends.

I didn’t realize how popular Geoff was until we came to China. I am actually quit jealous of all of his new friends.

In spite of the human circus, it is hard to leave the beauty of the holy lake, but onward we go.

We pass through many small villages and several times have to stop while shepherds drive their flocks from the road.

What are they?

What are they?

A flock of sheep and their shepherds, that's what. Tough for the sheep to find much to eat, I think.

A flock of sheep and their shepherds, that’s what. Tough for the sheep to find much to eat, I think.

We see bricks drying in the sun and know that they will become a new home or an addition to a present one.  Between villages, we see nomads and villagers walking the hills, collecting yak dung to be dried for winter fuel.

Imagine - you have to go out and wander wherever the yaks may have wandered on the mountains and pick up the dried dung you find so that you can survive the winter. They wanderers are in the circle - sorry but we were driving.

Imagine – you have to go out and wander wherever the yaks may have wandered on the mountains and pick up the dried dung you find so that you can survive the winter. They wanderers are in the circle – sorry but we were driving.

Later we see the dung stacked on fences, on rooftops, in piles; sometimes it is stuck on side of buildings to better catch the sun and add to insulation.  We watch farmers turning the soil with hoes or horse-drawn plows and others in court yards throwing sheaves of grain in the air with pitch forks, separating the wheat (or barley) from the chaff.  A very few have smallish tractors.  These are subsistence farmers, we think, managing to grow enough for their families and with perhaps a little more to sell or trade in the villages.  To see these sites is to understand our own history.  Geoff and I both come from families of farmers; both our grandparents were immigrants who homesteaded on the prairies.  We know about this hard work but it is something again to see these people working in ways that the western world has left behind.

These shepherds spend all day with the flocks of sheep or yaks or cattle.

The shepherds spend all day with the flocks of sheep or yaks or cattle.

We wonder how drastically their lives will be changed in the next year as “China’s Tibet” becomes modernized, and how they will cope.

Kharolla Glacier. This was a spectacular sight. I know we use that word a lot, but it really is the only one that works.

Kharolla Glacier.
This was a spectacular sight, which is not done justice in the photo. I know we use that word a lot, but it really is the only one that works.

(Ed. Note: We also go through the Kharolla Pass – 5039 metres high, 161 metres lower than the Everest Base Camp. Here Terry got some altitude sickness and was quite woozy. However, she managed to get a photo of these three Tibetan women. The first one wanted 10 rmb and then the second also wanted 10 rmb. When the third saw what was going on she rushed over as well – but only got 9rmb was exchanged with the hard hearted, woozy headed Terry – actually that was all she had left.)

Tibetan woman at work - modelling for money. Not much different than Kate Upton, really.

Tibetan woman at work – modelling for money. Not much different than Kate Upton, really.

We stopped above the Mola Dam. I don’t know the name of the river, but when it was dammed, it eliminated a number of small villages and homes. In the photo below, you can just kind of make out a house that was at the top of the hill (it is an island now). It provides a great deal of electricity and is spectacular, but like all progress came with a cost.

These are the two wings of the "Y" which leads off to the right and the dam.

Running from bottom to top of the picture are the two wings of the “Y” which leads off to the right and the dam.

The washroom Terry used was not as spectacular.

No comments for those with sensitive constitutions.

No comments for those with sensitive constitutions.

In Gygantze, we visit a monastery and 9-story stupa, a place like a tomb but without bodies, only statues to honour famous Buddhas and their teachers.

The largest Stupa in Tibet. (Known in the west as a pagoda.)

The largest Stupa in Tibet. (Known in the west as a pagoda.)

In Tibet, only the Dalai Lamas and their teachers are actually entombed.  When every one else dies, they are given a sky burial.  Prepare yourself for a description.  In every village or city, there is a man or several men who are able to perform this ritual.  A body is kept in the family home for 3 days since the Tibetans believe that the body and soul are one but that they separate after death, which takes 3 days to be complete.  Next the body is taken up into the hills and mountains to one of many holy sites where it is dismembered, cut into pieces and left to hundreds of eagles which dwell there.  There are two reasons behind the ritual:  the first is that the eagles will lift the body up into the heavens; the second is that it leaves nothing of a mortal being on earth so that the soul can more easily ascend into the next world.  Even the bones are broken and covered with barley flour so the eagles carry even the smallest morsels away.  Up until 2010, foreigners were allowed to witness the sky burials but  no longer.  Just as well, probably. (Ed note: if you are interested there is a Youtube video of one – it is a 2:31 slide show which is not terribly graphic but illustrates what happens).

Thermoses full of yak butter - everywhere you go near a temple.

Thermoses full of yak butter – everywhere you go near a temple.

(Ed. Note: While we were in Tibet we saw hundreds of people carrying thermoses and containers around. They take yak butter to the temples and offer it to the Buddhas to help divine their way to heaven.

Perhaps the highlight of our entire Tibet experience was our interaction with these ladies outside the monastery. Apparently they just sit there all day chatting and having tea. I asked if I could take their photo and offered them 100 rmb – way too much but they were just so delightful. The lady on the right kept saying too much, but we just told them (through Jamyiang) to share it. Then they wanted to see the pictures (well not so much the one on the left – she was a bit sour.). Now comes the most interesting thing. We asked their ages. The one on the left is 57 – 2 years younger than Terry; the one in the centre is 75 and the one on the right is 72. If this isn’t an indication of the incredibly hard life these people live, I don’t know what is.)

Paaarrrtttyyyyy!!

Paaarrrtttyyyyy!!

"Hey, I think I look pretty good for my age" says the lady on the right. "Really?" says the one on the left.

“Hey, I think I look pretty good for my age” says the lady on the right. “Really?” says the one on the left.

After one night in Gygantze, but before we headed back we watched Gyantze start to wake up. These photos were taken at 8:30 am as we waited for a mug of honey ginger tea to be prepared to go. Now remember, this is the main street of town.

Fresh lamb for dinner tonight. (and I mean FRESH!)

Fresh lamb for dinner tonight. (and I mean FRESH!)

Do you think they know where they are going? Times change - herding cows down the street, while a 3 wheeled cart and a new Buick are parked at the side.

Do you think they know where they are going? Times change – herding cows down the street, while a 3 wheeled cart and a new Buick come the other way.

Gyantze's Peaceful Liberation Monument and Plaza

And finally, Gyantze’s Peaceful Liberation Monument and Plaza

 

9 thoughts on “Tibet: Land of Peaceful Liberation – Part Two

  1. Val

    I have really enjoyed your blog entries on your trip to Tibet. It is a place that I never considered visiting but it seems very interesting now. The pictures are a wonderful, especially that guy on the yak!

    Reply
  2. Kelly Spencer

    What an adventure! Wow!!! Can’t believe the landscapes. All of the pics are amazing and that first photo should be framed, truly! Absolutely gorgeous!!!

    Reply
  3. Joan Hendrcks

    Gorgeous scenery, but not sure if I could handle those washrooms.
    What a great adventure for you guys!

    Reply
  4. Sue

    Did you ever think in a thousand years that you would be touring Tibet or riding a yak!! To see all this in the flesh must be surreal.

    Reply

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