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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
We wonder how drastically their lives will be changed in the next year as “China’s Tibet” becomes modernized, and how they will cope.
(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.)
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.
The washroom Terry used was not as spectacular.
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.
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).
(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.)
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.