Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Tibet Day 3: Continuing on the Road to Gyantse

The drive from Samye to Gyantse is long day, but well worth it. Of course, if you're bored, you can travel like Douglas ...

After leaving Yamdrok-Tso Lake and stopping for lunch, we headed through farming country. At the beginning of October, the fields are full of people harvesting. Stopping to find out what was in the fields - "cow food", we found that sweet turnips were being harvested.

Farther along, we found a "real Tibetan factory" - the place where Potala incense was being made. Run-off streams were turned into small outdoor milling operations. Something like sandalwood was being pounded and pulverized, and ultimately turned into incense sticks.

Amazing to find mountains giving way to sand dunes, as the river ran fast and narrow and then smoothed out into wide river valleys. The sand-boarding market opportunity remains untapped in the region!

Along the way, we passed sky burial sites. Extracted from travelchinaguide.com,
Stupa burial and cremation are reserved for high lamas who are being honored in death. Sky burial is the usual means for disposing of the corpses of commoners. The origin of sky burial remains largely hidden in Tibetan mystery.

Sky burial is a ritual that has great religious meaning. Tibetans are encouraged to witness this ritual, to confront death openly and to feel the impermanence of life. Tibetans believe that the corpse is nothing more than an empty vessel. The spirit, or the soul, of the deceased has exited the body to be reincarnated into another circle of life. It is believed that the Drigung Kagyu order of Tibetan Buddhism established the tradition in this land of snow, although there are other versions of its origin.

The corpse is offered to the vultures. It is believed that the vultures are Dakinis. Dakinis are the Tibetan equivalent of angels. In Tibetan, Dakini means "sky dancer". Dakinis will take the soul into the heavens, which is understood to be a windy place where souls await reincarnation into their next lives. This donation of human flesh to the vultures is considered virtuous because it saves the lives of small animals that the vultures might otherwise capture for food.

Turning off the main road, we headed across the countryside to visit a farming village. While much has been done to improve conditions for people in towns, and farmers along the roadside, a large percentage of Tibetans live in harsh conditions with little, if any, government support to improve their lives.

A woman welcomed us to her home. You see the entrance, in which small animals could be housed, the kitchen blackened by years of smoke and oil. The walls and floor pounded earth. A magnificent Tibetan chest held most of the family's belongings.

With the furniture resting up against the packed earthen wall and sitting on the packed earth floor, the reasons for the state of Tibetan furniture brought into Shanghai becomes much clearer. It's a wonder there is much left to work with.

Reaching Gyantse, we stayed overnight at the Jianzang Hotel in rooms with private baths. Certainly adequate, though not exciting. Down the street with Gaden to another Tashi Restaurant - not as good as the one in Tsetang, or the Snowlands Restaurant in Samye. Breakfast at the little restaurant next door to the hotel ... love that Nescafe for breakfast!

See earlier postings at Planning for Tibet, Arriving in Tibet and Off to Tsetang, Tibet Day 2: Tsetang, Tibet Day 2: Journey to Samye and Tibet Day 3: Road to Gyantse - Yamdrok-Tso Lake

Link forward to Tibet Day 4: Gyantse Pelkor Choede and Kumbum Chorten

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