Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Walk like a Tibetan

Xiahe, (or Labrang, as the Tibetans call it) the town that gave us the boot, despite the drama, was a fantastic place. A town of little more than one main street, Xiahe had all the elements that makes a town one of our choice places: affordable accomodation, good, cheap food, comfortable temperature, interesting culture, and easily accessible nature for hiking.
Xiahe's population, according to our guidebook is fifty percent Tibetan. The town is built around the large, active Labrang monastery, home to around 1200 crimson clad monks.

Xiahe is a busy place in the summer. Colourful, traditional Tibetan pilgrims from the rural countryside arrive by the truckload to pray at the monastery. Its amazing to see. Most of the worshipers spend time everyday walking the 'kora' (pilgrim path), a 3km path that rings the monastery, lined with 1174 colourful prayer wheels. Most simply walk, spinning the prayer wheels as they pass, but some prostrate themselves on the ground, with every step- the entire way around! Tibetans are fascinating to me. The way they dress, their faith, the colours, their smiles.. Most female Tibetans wear a skirt, which looks like a solid colour blanket has been wrapped around their waists and secured in a huge, lumpy fold with a belt lined with gold medallions. Their long black hair is always swiped off their face either tied into a low bun, or two (very long) braids which are tied together at the bottom. They wear fantastic turquoise and orange clunky jewellery, which compliments their skin tone and look perfectly. Their facial features are big and beautiful, and their skin is dark, flawless and smooth. Their cheeks are literally rosy all the time- natural blush! Except for the older Tibetans, of course, whose faces are so wonderfully weathered and wrinkled and almost always smiling. Babies are slung around the backs of their mothers and bounce along happily for the ride, taking in the world with wide, black eyes.

One of our favourite things to do in Xiahe was to join the pilgrims in walking the kora.  I spent most of the time practicing my local Tibetan. 'Cho Day Mo?,' (How do you do?) I would recite to almost every person we passed, just hoping to be rewarded with a big ol' Tibetan smile- because when a Tibetan smiles at you, really, there's nothing like it. Its worth the effort. Its an ear-to-ear, full-on delight. Gold teeth glimmer, their eyes shine, their whole face becomes a part of the smile. Its so genuine. They are actually happy just to be smiling at you. Its like a little ball of happiness floats out of them and pops, with surprising impact- into your chest. Its one of the most amazing half second experiences I can think of- or maybe I've just been drinking a little too much yak milk by accident...

One of the favourite things for elderly Tibetan woman to do, while walking the kora, is to swat at wandering goats, sheep and dogs with their canes. They just love it. While everyone else is gathered around, watching two mountain goats battle it out by smashing each other, head on, with their horns, and old lady will no doubt sweep in a break up the party with her crooked walking stick, all the while, not missing a beat on the prayer beads she is fingering with her free hand! haha

The Tibetans are inquisitive. There were quite a few student artists in town sketching the beautiful surrounds and people. Almost always the students sketchbooks would be surrounded by Tibetans watching, amazed, as the student sketched their friend, a chapel, or a couple goats. There was one particularly interested Tibetan man who stood and watched, smiling widely, showing off his gold teeth the whole time. When he noticed us watching him watch the artist, his smile got even wide (somehow) and he started snapping pics of us with his cell phone camera, and tried to convince the artist that she should sketch us instead!

We are back in the land of the yak. I was super excited about this when we saw our first yaks grazing at side of the highway on the bus ride in. Yaks, as I've mentioned before- are just so entertaining, in their yakky way. But then, I realized, yaks = yak milk. 'Is your milk tea made with yak milk?' I asked the server at our restaurant. 'Of course,' he answered like I had asked him if the grass was green. Darn. Yak milk is, well, for a lack of better words - yakky. Anyways, many more things are available to buy in Xiahe, besides yak products. Tibetan clothes and jewellery, monk robes and boots, Tibetan bread with bright yellow colouring, various knick knacks, toilet paper, and Chips'Ahoy chewy chocolate chip cookies. We didn't suffer.

1 comment:

Mom and Dad Mooney said...

Great to see another entertaining post from you two. Looks like the locals are finding you as entertaining as you find them. Luv and miss you.