Saturday, December 10, 2011

Culture Corner: Tibet Part II

After visiting Lhasa, we traveled into the countryside to begin a four day overland hike.  But in order to adjust to the altitude, we first had to spend a couple days at Ganden Monastery (above).  (In case you're wondering, this photo, like all the others, has not been doctored; the colors are real.)
These are some of the monk's cloisters at Ganden.
Painted on both sides of the entrances to all Tibetan Buddhist assembly halls and chapels are protector deities.  Above are two of them.  The style of art is called Thangka art.  Like the roof beams and trim, they are painted in such minute detail you find yourself drawn closer, one step at a time as some strange little detail arises from the chaos.  (If you want to see something neat, highlight this photo; it's like an underwater rendering.)
And after acclimatizing, one foggy morning we started our hike. The yaks didn't seem to mind the weather...
The second day of our hike involved a tremendous uphill climb, so we opted to hire a guide to handle our heavy packs.  Desiring a genuine Tibetan experience, we hoped a yak could carry our packs, but according to our guide: "One yak: no good.  Two yak: no good.  Three yak good."  Unfortunately we didn't have enough baggage to warrant three yaks, so we used his horse instead.  (Tibetan rule of thumb: less than three yaks together and things can get unruly.  Ha!)
Along the way we encountered homes of nomadic yak herders, the traditional Tibetan way of life.  As our guide knew the people living in this particular yak-hair tent, we stopped in for a cup of yak butter tea. (If you can't tell, the yak is life to them.  Along with transportation and baggage handling services, its hair provides shelter and clothes.  It's milk provides food and beverage, and when old, it provides meat.  And as there are no trees in most of Tibet, when dried its dung provides fuel for fire.)
A kind and friendly man, this was our guide, Undoo.  Solely by meeting the other travelers passing by his door he could speak a few words of English, and what we couldn't communicate using this language, we used a combination of body language, Chinese, and Tibetan to express ourselves.  It goes without saying Nietzsche's effect on existentialism was not discussed.
This was our campsite at the end of the second day's hike.  It's difficult for life to be more idyllic.
After hiking two mountain passes, our trail went steadily downward the remainder of the way.  Combining our decreasing altitude with the confines of a moist valley, trees began to spring up, as did several homemade bridges.  Here is the FF navigating one.  
And by the fourth day hiking out the valley, we began to encounter civilization, again.  This was a little village of maybe one hundred people.
In the middle of the afternoon on the fourth (and last) day, we stared down the the final leg of our hike.  Here I'm cursing the prospect of the next hour: dead ahead – pun intended.  Boo!  (You should know that once we reached the end of the length of road pictured above and turned the corner, another length loomed ahead.  It was a loooong afternoon.)
At the end of our four day hike was the village of Samye, pictured above.  Sadly, this is the last photo of the FF alive.  We were so tired from our hike, he was unable to get out of the way and the sheep trampled him in a violent death of hooves, matted wool, and bleating.  (If Frau Fighter should read this: don't worry; your son is still alive.)
Part III coming (Part I was here.)

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