In late September 2011 I returned from Tibet with memories, stories and hundreds of photographs. It seemed more like a dream, even now, when I look over images of another world, it feels as though it happened to someone else. Colin Thubron's words came flooding back, "What did you feel". "Nothing" - only now do I understand.
Our second overnight stop in Sage was as memorable as the first. My only joy sharing a room with Bebe, at last a snore free zone.
Tuesday 13th September 2011 - The afternoon's sun hung in the deep blue sky and low clouds framed the distant mountain peaks. Located 20 km south of Mt Kailash was our overnight stop, lake Manasarovar. It is only when you drive up to the shores of the world’s highest fresh-water lake laying before you that you appreciate the majesty of this major pilgrimage destination for Buddhists, Hindus and followers of the indigenous Tibetan religion of Bön
At a height of 15,000 feet ( 4,583 meters) it is certainly breathtaking. It covers 412 square kilometers. and at it's deepest point over 70 meters. In the distance were Tibetan pilgrims, their weathered faces lined with hardship, walking clockwise round its circumference of 110 kms, (we were later informed achievable in a single day,)
Buddhists consider Lake Manasarovar to be associated with the legendary lake Anavatapta, which is where the mother of Buddha (Maya) is believed to have conceived Buddha. Another version is that Queen Maya was bathed in Lake Manasarovar by divine beings before she gave birth to Buddha. Either way, Manasarovar is the holiest lake to Tibetan people and a leisurely drive to westerners. Our motorised pilgrimage lasted for three hours, an air-conditioned drive along its dirt road. Passing the five Buddhist monasteries along its shores with the most well-known being Chiu, located on the northwest shore of the lake. then past Gossul, Trugo, Yerngo and Seralung monasteries. These once ornately decorated structures enlivened by high Buddhist dignitaries are now in disuse.
Hindu pilgrims have been going to the lake for well over 1500 years as they believe the lake was created by the god Brahma. The well-known Sanskrit poet Kālidāsa in the 4th century wrote that the water from the lake was “like pearls and that to drink them erases the sins of a hundred lifetimes”.In the distance Hindus waded into the lake drinking its water perhaps oblivious that in 1948, some of Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes were scattered in the lake. However Tibetans and certainly this Englishman considered the lake too sacred to drink from. Can you imagine the bottling label - may contain xxxxx
There are fleeting images that define a moment in time. We had stopped off at Chieu monastery, our walk from the lakes shore line to this remote place had left me exhausted. A elderly Tibetan monk dressed in rags greeted us. Panden exchanged pleasantries and without fuss, fumbling with his keys, the weather beaten door was opened to reveal in the gloom an enchanted scene of manuscripts, statues of the Buddha, butter lamps and deities whose arms and demonic faces divided and multiplied in the dark. An overwhelming flood of emotion enveloped me as I gazed on this devoted caretaker who was now lighting butter lamps for us. We had left behind our modern technological existence and we had now entered a solitary forgotten world, of myths and dreams, an ethereal place devoted to a belief.
Leaving the chamber I walked a few steps and sat on the roof of Chiu monastery, perched high on its rocky hill, a surreal presence enveloped me as I gazed out on the cobalt water of Lake Manasarovar that lay below me, and the surrounding hills a rich ochre, luminous in the sunlight of this late autumn afternoon. Our caretaker had locked up and was now shuffling down the dusty path stopping briefly to turn once again with devotion the prayer wheels
My memories of my mother came flooding back, material ghosts of the past, she threw nothing away. Documents, photographs, receipts, telegrams from my father, all memories of a bygone age waiting for this boy to pluck up the courage and decide what is to survive. For six months the papers lay in her cold empty house, wardrobes of clothes, waiting for me to decide their fate. Cost or beauty are not important only memories have value. You sift and cling to trivia, unable to let it go, preserve it for who? Like prayer flags fading with age and blowing away with the wind until there is nothing left, but memories.
Margery was never rich, she lived alone on her Widows Pension, living a frugal life, her pleasures were few and far between; seeing me briefly, agitated and stressed and to my shame rare visits with my children. Only now do you truly value time, those brief moments, now gone, the sound of the ticking clock. the kettle boiling on the gas stove and the rattling of the best china tea cups. Home for a brief moment. Then the closing of the door as you depart to your busy life and distorted values. The house is now cold and empty, I sit in her chair, that seems small. The television screen is blank, its images now insignificant. All is silent.
Week after week I would visit this empty house and walk into all of its small rooms and sit in silence, knowing that I must let my past finally go. One dark winter evening I sat on the faded chair in her bedroom and summoning what little amount of courage I had, I pulled open the drawer under her bed. There at the back, hidden by garments was a small wooden box filled with faded bygone letters and notes, Mothers Day, birthday and Christmas cards all neatly stacked. I sat alone on her bed surrounded by decades of cards with my hastily written words of - Hi happy birthday, you're the best, have a great day, love and best wishes, all now so empty, so unbearable.
And there on top a small insignificant white envelope with the words written in her shaky handwriting a simple message from beyond her grave " I hope this will help." I opened the envelope stuck with hard brittle gum and there inside in twenty pound notes was £2,000..........years of savings, tucked away week after week, money put aside to pay for her funeral. Her way of easing the burden of her death upon me.
There are no words of comfort, no cups of tea to make your isolation tolerable, only grief.
All pilgrims coming to Tibet regard circling and drinking from the lake as their greatest fortune. We did neither, instead we headed for our lakeside accommodation
Exhausted from lack of sleep, the effect of altitude, and the prospect of walking around Mt Kailash, I could not stand another sleepless night with Philip, so seizing the opportunity I asked for my own room. My wish was granted. My bedroom, (well more like a cell,) a ten foot by eight foot mud hut complete with my own plastic bowl and a single light bulb connected to a car battery, or in my case no battery. Before you ask how were the batteries charged, obviously from solar panels, after all this is the 21st century! But some things never change, the toilet, another gut wrenching hole in the ground, thankfully without any lights or roof.
After unpacking I descended to the quiet shores of the lake, birds so tame they barely budged finally waded into the inky black water. Black-headed gulls and redshanks paced along the sands; sandpipers waded the shallows, and Brahminy ducks floated in pairs through the strands of bleached prayer flags that hung from skeletal fingers protruding from the icy water
This land sanctified by others. my night filled with portents for those who lie awake consisted of shooting stars, Hindu sky gods descending to bathe in the nearby icy waters, I was oblivious, a week without a full nights sleep had taken its toll, the silence of the moonlit night wrapped its cloak around me, I drifted into wild dreams.
The images of the runes and carved Yak skulls viewed that morning entered my night. The words, formed in my mind were repeating over and over, dreaming in metaphors.
"Come Sir, look and see. These are my words and deeds cast into stone for the world to see. For they are my soul and await your touch. Be gentle for this is all that is left of me."
Wednesday 14th September 2011 - After ten hours of sleep, dawn had broken and I awoke to a cloudy sky, and before you ask my cells walls were not padded.
This is Mt Kailash
It is said that "to depart for Mt Kailash is a metaphor for death"
Mt Kailash is to a fifth of humanity the centre of the universe, sacred to Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Bons and resting place of the god Shiva. The highest goal of every believer is to cleanse themselves of earthly misdemeanours by walking around the mountain. The more often that one completes the extremely difficult 53km path – which leads over the 5648m high Dolma La pass – the closer one becomes to enlightenment. . Four great rivers see their inceptions within 50 kms radius, and in four distinctive directions:
Through the west flows the great river Sutlej. Towards the east flows river Brahmaputra (locally known as Yarlang Sangpo) the south flows river Karnali and towards the north flows river Indus.
In 1926, Hugh Ruttledge, an English civil servant and mountaineer, along with Colonel R. C. Wilson had made an attempt to climb the legendary mountain. Accompanying them was a Sherpa called Satan the three adventurers spent a considerable amount of time around the mountain. Ruttledge considered the north face of Kailash to be 6,000 ft high and called it ‘utterly unclimbable’. Colonel Wilson claimed that “just when I discovered an easy walk to the summit of the mountain, heavy snow began to fall, making the ascent impossible.”
Another mountaineer, a Russian climber, Sergei Cistiakov, said, “When we approached the foot of the mountain, my heart was pounding. I was in front of the sacred mountain, this cannot be beaten. I felt extremely emaciated and suddenly I became captivated by the thought that I do not belong on this mountain, it must necessarily come back! As soon as we started the descent, I felt liberated.”
The last recorded attempt at climbing Mt Kailash was when the Chinese government had given permission to a Spanish team to climb the peak in 2001. However, it was followed by an instant outrage among people across the world whose faiths believe that Kailash is the holiest.
The same incident is the reason why the mountain sees an all-out ban from the Government now.
For Hindus, Mount Kailash is the abode of Lord Shiva. Buddhists, the place is an embodiment of Lord Buddha. The first Jain saint, Adinath received his emancipation at this place. and for the Bons, their saint Shenrad is said to have descended on its peak. To me, my personal pilgrimage to my mother.
The Cultural Revolution and the proclamation of Tibet as an autonomous region by the People’s Republic of China in the 1960s has led to the suppression of the Tibetan people and has resulted in a massive restriction in their freedom of belief and expression. The region we are in was difficult to access until relatively recently, but the tourist industry has impacted even this remote area
As we approached the town of "Darchen“, the starting point of the "Kora“ – as the circular tour of the holy mountain is known. our faces dropped Darchen does not resemble a mystical pilgrimage site. A century ago Kawaguchi found Darchen to be a cluster of thirty stone houses. A curious treaty assigned its administration to the Maharaja of Bhutan, along with many local monasteries. When a visiting British trade commissioner arrived in 1905 he found everyone drunk. Twenty-one years later his successor found everybody still drunk and in the wake of the Cultural Revolution Darchen was all but abandoned
The streets are now scattered with tourist shops with cheap imitations of Tibetan culture, restaurants, and run down hotels modelled on Chinese standards to master the steadily growing influx of tourists from China and abroad. The millennia-old pilgrimage trail, charged by a wealth of inestimable humility in the form of prayers and prostrations, desecrated by red flags and army checkpoints.
A partially asphalted gravel track already leads to Drira Phuk, the first resting place on the Kora. This was just the beginning of a crazy plan to allow the Kora to be circumnavigated by car by building a road around Mount Kailash – a project bordering on madness
Bowing to international pressure, the Chinese government finally called a halt to the construction project. Many Tibetans only dare to walk the Kora under cover of darkness. For the majority of Tibetan exiles, Mt Kailash remains a dream, a longing towards their past.
Our overnight stay in Darchen made Sage seem homely. Philip had again spoken to his wife and was resigned to spending three days in Darchen the risk of accompanying Bebe and me to Kailash to great a risk to consider. The previous year thirty pilgrims had perished on its slopes a grim reminder of the dangers of walking the kora at 17,500 feet. My bedroom was next to a diesel generator and my single bulb doesn't work. Its cold, there is no heating and Im in bed fully clothed with two duvets. Hardly Shangri La.
Thursday 15th September 2011 - In Darchen Bebe had set off at 6am in the dark, on his own, walking towards the entrance. This was the morning of my 57th birthday. At 8am we had packed the vehicle and our guide Panden, Philip and I drove to meet Bebe. At the entrance to the kora, at Darpoche, we met our lone American, regrouped we bade farewell to Philip, who would turn back to Darchen, as dark ominous low clouds encircled its mouth, we entered the kora, ahead of us a six-hour trek and our first glimpse of Kailash, but immediately ahead of us Drachom Ngagye Durtro - the sky burial plateau set against the valley wall at the base of Mt Kailash, a gentle reminder not to fail.
Sky burials are still carried out up to present day. With no timber for cremations and little earth how do you dispose of the dead ?. To understand the sky burial plateau I have set out the detailed account of Ekai Kawaguchi who's book Three Years in Tibet based on his time in Lhasa in 1901 described in detail how to deal with the dead ......see below
It was just previous to the grand monthly catechising contest that I returned to the Sera monastery. While I was busy with preparation, and in eager expectation of taking part in this important function, one of my acquaintances died and I had to attend his funeral. Incidentally therefore I took part in a ceremony which is perhaps unique in the world. I may observe here that in Tibetan funerals neither a coffin nor urn is used in which to deposit the corpse. It is simply laid on a frame made of two wooden poles, with a proper space between and two cross pieces tied to them. The rectangular space thus described is filled in with a rough sort of network of ropes, and over the netting is spread a sheet of cloth for the reception of the corpse. Another piece of cloth, pure white in color, is thrown over the corpse, and that completes the arrangement. The whole burden is then carried on the shoulders of two men, who insert their heads between the projecting ends of the two longer poles.
Generally a funeral is performed on the third or fourth day after death, the interval being spent in observances peculiar to Tibet. First of all a properly qualified Lama is consulted as to the auspicious day for performing the ceremony; then as to the special mode of funeral and the final disposal of the corpse. The Lama consulted gives his instructions on all these points after referring to his books, and bids the relatives of the deceased read such and such passages in the Sacred Texts, conduct the funeral ceremony on such and such day, and take the bier from the house at such and such an hour of the day. The priest also advises on the mode of burial, of which there are four in vogue; the four modes being distinguishable from each other by the agencies to be brought into service, namely: water, flame, earth, and birds of the air. This last corresponds to the “air-burial” of Buḍḍhism.
Of the four kinds of burial, or more properly modes of disposing of corpses, the one generally regarded as the best is to leave the corpse to the vultures, known under the name of Cha-goppo in Tibet; then comes cremation; then water-burial, and last land-burial. This last method of interment is never adopted except when a person dies from small-pox. In this particular case alone the Tibetans observe some sanitary principles, though probably by mere accident and not from any conviction, for they think that this dreadful epidemic is likely to spread if the corpse of a person stricken down by small-pox is left for birds or consigned to a river. Though cremation is considered as a superior way of disposing of dead bodies, the process is by no means easy in a country where faggots are scarce, for the dried dung of the yak is hardly thought proper for the purpose. Hence cremation is confined to the wealthier class only. Water-burial generally takes place near a large stream; but, in consigning a dead body to the water, it is first thoroughly dismembered, and thrown into the water piece by piece. This troublesome course is adopted from the idea that a dead body thrown in whole will not speedily disappear from sight.
These four processes of disposing of corpses originate from Hinḍū philosophy, according to which human bodies are believed to consist of four elements, earth, water, fire and air, and it is thought that on death they should return to these original elements. Land-burial corresponds to the returning to earth, cremation to fire, water-burial to water, and the bird-devouring to the air, of which birds are the denizens. The bodies of Lamas are mostly disposed of by this last process, while those of a few privileged persons only, such as the Dalai Lama, sub-Dalai Lama and other venerable Lamas, believed to be incarnations of Boḍhisaṭṭvas, are given a special mode of burial.
‘Air-burial’ was chosen for the friend whose funeral I attended, and I shall briefly describe how this ‘burial’ was performed. Leaving the college at Sera, the cortège proceeded eastward till it reached the bank of a river near which, in a small valley formed between two contiguous hills, stood a big boulder about twelve yards high. The top of this stone was level and measured about fifteen feet square. This was the ‘burial-ground’ for this particular kind of interment. On the summits of the surrounding hills, and even on the inaccessible parts of the rock itself, were perched a large number of vultures, with their eyes glistening with greed. They are always waiting there for ‘burials’. When the bier was placed upon this rock, the white sheet was taken off, and the priest who had come, with the rest of the mourners and sympathisers, began to chant their texts to the accompaniment of drums and cymbals. At the same time one man approached the corpse with a broadsword, with which to ‘dress’ it. In ‘dressing’ the abdomen was first cut open and the entrails removed. Next all the various members of the body were severed, after which some other men, including a few priests, undertook the finishing work of final ‘dressing’, which consisted in separating the flesh and bones, just as butchers do with slaughtered cattle. By this time the vultures had gathered in a flock round the place, and big pieces, such as the flesh of the thighs, were thrown to them and most voraciously did they devour them. Then the bones had to be disposed of, and this was done by first throwing them into one of the ten cavities on the rock, and pounding the heap with big stones. When the bones had been fairly well pulverised a quantity of baked flour was added to the mass, and this dainty mixture was also given to the birds. The only thing that remained of the dead body was the hair.
The Tibetans may practically be considered as a kind of cannibals. I was struck with this notion while witnessing the burial ceremony. All the cloths used in the burial go as a matter of course to the grave-diggers, though they hardly deserve this name, as their duty consists not in digging the grave but in chopping the flesh of the corpse and pounding the bones. Even priests give them help, for the pounding business is necessarily tedious and tiresome. Meanwhile the pounders have to take refreshment, and tea is drunk almost incessantly, for Tibetans are great tea-drinkers. The grave-diggers, or priests, prepare tea, or help themselves to baked flour, with their hands splashed over with a mash of human flesh and bones, for they never wash their hands before they prepare tea or take food, the most they do being to clap their hands, so as to get rid of the coarser fragments. And thus they take a good deal of minced human flesh, bones or brain, mixed with their tea or flour. They do so with perfect nonchalance; in fact, they have no idea whatever how really abominable and horrible their practice is, for they are accustomed to it. When I suggested that they might wash their hands before taking refreshment, they looked at me with an air of surprise. They scoffed at my suggestion, and even observed that eating with unwashed hands really added relish to food; besides, the spirit of the dead man would be satisfied when he saw them take fragments of his mortal remains with their food without aversion. It has been stated that the Tibetans are descendants of the Rākshasa tribe—a tribe of fiendish cannibals who used to feed on human flesh; and what I witnessed at the burial convinced me that, even at the present day, they retained the horrible habit of their ancestors.
The first outsiders to complete the kora was the Japanese monk Ekai Kawaguchi who disguised himself as a Chinese Lama ( See chapter 5 ) followed several years later by the Swedish explorer Sven Hedin who in 1907 was the first werstern explorer.
Death of a bold and most Ambitious Explorer
Sven Anders Hedin, born in 1865, Swedish by birth, part-German by extraction, died in Stockholm on 26th November 1952. Once honoured as the man who had more single-handed than any other coloured the blank spaces of the map of the world the 87-year-old Swedish explorer ended his days friendless and neglected.
Among the newspapers that noted his death was The Times. It recalled how Dr Hedin had supported Kaiser Wilhelm II in the First World War and Adolf Hitler in the Second World War. As to his achievement it recalled that Dr Hedin was apt to dismiss the geographical fruits of all discoveries other than his own. There were two irreconcilable elements in his character: his single-minded ruthlessness in the pursuit of his goals and his craving for recognition and adoration.
But these criticisms were mild by comparison with the obituary notice that was published three months later in the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society. For his contributions to geography and exploration the Society had awarded him its founders medal in 1898 and it's Victoria medal in 1903. Half a century later it took about a different view
And of Hedin’s greatest journey (1906-1908) he crossed Persia and Afghanistan, entered Tibet, and identified the true sources of the Indus, Sutlej, and Brahmaputra rivers. He discovered and mapped the Transhimalayan Mountains, crossing the range eight times and overcoming formidable obstacles of winter weather, mountain passes never crossed before, and hostile local tribesmen, who kept Hedin prisoner for a time.
In late 1907 Hedin crossed from Chemayungdung Chhu water shed into the Manasarovar basin. At last he caught sight of the blue waters of the lake, his presence by the lake was the consummation of years of single-minded devotion. No European had approached Kailash- Manasarovar with a better understanding of its religious significance. When he reached the lake Hedin reassembled his cockleshell boat and went for a row in the moonlight. The next day he again launched his boat and was nearly drowned by a fierce squall that drove him across the lake.He beached his boat near the Gossul Gompa and spent the night with the monks. Early next morning Hedin walked out onto the monastery roof.
"The Holy Lake which yesterday had done everything to drown us, was now smooth as a mirror. The air was slightly hazy. One could not see whether the eastern shore was mountains or sky, The lake and sky had the same values. Objects swam before my eyes. The whole temple swayed under me and I felt as if hurtled into infinite space. But beneath lay the Holy Lake, along the shores which innumerable pilgrims had walked themselves weary to secure peaceful their souls. The Manasoaovar- the hub of the wheel which is a symbol of life! I could have stayed there for years
In the event, Hedin spent a month by the lake taking several trips on its waters. Next was Kailash and Hedin set out with four Buddhists to circumnavigate the mountain. Like Kawaguchi he rode most of the way but nevertheless he later professed to be deeply moved by the experience and the new insight it gave him into the religious life of the Tibetans.
The greatest mistake that Seven Hedin ever made was his decision in November 1907 to make yet another great sweep through to Tibet. The delay of more than a year between sending news of his discoveries from Tibet and arriving in London to substantiate them proved fatal to his reputation. Hedin never gave any plausible explanation as to why after paying off all the members of his caravan crew he suddenly headed back into Tibet
Driven by some compulsion to submit himself to further hardship to complete a final circuit of the unknown areas of Western Tibet he later wrote that
"He simply had to go there. It was on thinkable that I should return home without carrying out my plans or reaching my goal".
Running out of time and plagued with eye trouble for over a decade he was already all but blind in one eye, he finally reached Stockholm in mid January 1909, after an absence of nearly three and a half years. On his arrival he was shown press reports of an article in the Royal Geographical Society's journal that were said to reduce his discoveries to a minimum.
In London at the Queen's Hall on the evening of 8 February 1909 Dr Hedin declared that he had brought back from the wastelands of Tibet an answer to the most important magnificent geographical problem still left to solve on earth
He offered nothing less than the final solution to a geographical mystery that had captured and held man's imagination for some 3000 years, this mystery was centred on the belief shared by a large slice of humanity that somewhere between China and India there stood a sacred mountain an Asian Olympus of cosmic promotions. This mountain was said to be the naval of the Earth and the axis of the universe
Not a whisper of this belief so ancient and powerful in Asia reached the West before the 17th century.
Hedin was later on trial but it was not just his claims it was also the argument about his style, his determination to treat others who had gone before him, his lack of modesty, in success cowering over others, and his stress on triumph gained through suffering.
All this grated on the British public he may not have cheated but he had let the side down, not played the game. British geography could still applaud his romantic fighting spirit but never the man himself.
Hedin left England for Germany and continued his bitter correspondence. His support for Kaiser Willhelm II and the German war effort later led him to be stripped of his fellowship of the Royal geographical Society, he was never reinstated.
The great explorer found himself in a dire financial situation at the end of the expedition in 1935. Having accumulated considerable debts, he gave more than a hundred lectures in 91 German cities as well as 19 lectures in neighbouring countries to earn money to repay his debts.
His support for Germany during the Second World War again grated on Sweden and Britain. Hitler bestowed many honours on Hedin in the 1930s and asked him to make a pro-Nazi address at the Olympic Games in 1936. For his 75th birthday, they bestowed the Order of the German Eagle on him.
During World War II, Hedin was one of few prominent Swedes who urged Sweden to abandon its neutrality and support Nazi Germany. Even when Germany lost the war, Hedin pressed for America to join forces with a resurrected Germany in a third world war against Russia.
After the war, Hedin became an aged embarrassment to the Nobel Committee but he never regretted his pro-Nazi stand. He claimed that his direct line to Hitler and Himmler enabled him to free many Jewish intellectuals and their families from the Nazi concentration camp at Sachsenhausen.
Shunned by his own countrymen for his enthusiastic support for Adolf Hitler and his course in the Second World War Hedin died a lonely death, not at all fitting for this bold and most ambitious explorer.
Our trek to our first stop was arduous the gentle slope of the valley rising, the path flanked by cairns of stones adorned with prayer flags, and pilgrims of all nationalities French, German, British, American, Indian and the local Tibetans. Approaching the first chaksal gang of the kora, a platform for ritual prostration facing the mountain we came across several Tibetans prostrating themselves. This incredible feat consists of body length prostrations right the way around the mountain. These devotees lay down with arms outstretched hands clasped then rise take two steps forward then repeat this motion all day, through mud, snow, hail, rain until the kora is completed taking anything between 15 to 20 days. At the end of each day they place a marker indicating the point they have reached and in the morning off they set. They were dressed in rudimentary protection to perform this Herculean task, a leather apron, rubber kneepads, and mittens cut out of old tyres. By comparison our task was simple a walk of two and a half days: Tibetans and sturdy grandmothers complete it in one day.
The solidity and massiveness of Mount Kailash strikes you hard, it has four clearly defined walls that match the points of the compass, and on its southern face is the mark that has earned Kailash the title of the swastica mountain. It is this southern face emblazoned with its talisman of spiritual strength, the swastika, that the pilgrim first sees as he climbs out of India. The swastika is an ancient Indian symbol of immutable good luck. “Swastika” is an Anglicization of the Sanskrit word svastika, which means well-being or good luck. Used by Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains for thousands of years, it became widespread in Tibet as well.
The swastika has also appeared in most other ancient cultures of the world. For example, the counterclockwise variant of it, adopted by the Nazis, is also the letter “G” in the medieval Northern European Runic Script. The Freemasons took the letter as an important symbol, since “G” could stand for God, the Great Architect of the Universe, or Geometry.
Our viewing platform was strewn with stones, carved yak skulls and horns, old and new prayer flags and articles of clothing. Walking was now laboured, Bebe was ahead by 50 metres striking a steady ambling stride, I'm aware of the shortage of oxygen, the air is too thin I'm inhaling in panicky gasps, stumbling, shaking my head looking for warning signs. There is no hospital, no brain scans. An elderly white haired Frenchman passed me by and smiled, "only another 3000 feet to climb" he muttered. I don't know who was comforting who, I nodded and stared down at my feet in despair. I had undertaken this with no training, nothing, failure was not an option. I had cheated death all my life this was not my time. If Bebe at 78 can do it, so can I.
Our arrival late afternoon at our first stop was greeted by hot tea and a bench to sit at. Bebe and I hugged each other. We had made the first leg. That evening in our tented accommodation I spent hours staring at the changing forms of Kailash. I saw the clouds come and cover it in the evening, the moonshine reflecting on its surface, and in the middle of the night, visions in my dreams of my mother's frail hands clasping her oxygen mask, her thin fingers holding her invisible cigarette, her dull eyes scared sensing, through me, her end. Best wishes, see you tomorrow, lots of love. There was no tomorrow, death was close.
Friday 16th September - On our second day, I saw the snow cap of Kailash turn hues of pink as the sun rose and I saw the vapour like wispy clouds form a skirt midway up its sheer sides. I walked close to its base and craned my head upwards to record every detail of the magnificent sight before me. Tea and noodles and a day to climb 3000 feet, what a treat. My travel journal dedicated to my two children was up to date, my close friend was aware of my last wishes, the sun was shining and life was exhilarating.
In the meeting tent I sat and bent down to check the laces on my boots, even this act of raising my head left me reeling like a drunkard, I looked up the there before me was a small Tibetan girl, her sleeves rolled up, hands in her pockets, her wind beaten cheeks shining red, her eyes gazed through me. I nodded, my shutter clicked and I smiled, her face imprinted on my mind, a departing gift from the base of Kailash.
As the morning progressed my exhilaration along with the skies darkened, I stood and faced the slight breeze my mouth open gasping again for oxygen with consciously deepening inhalations my senses regained I continued my trek upwards. Other than Tibetans, all around me were struggling.
Teams of horses led by local nomads travelling down the mountain passed me by, their mounts looked utterly spent, ashen-faced and unspeaking. Swathed against the cold, their deathly grey faces disappeared in coils of scarves. Some of them cradled little canisters of oxygen, all were clinging in desperation to their saddles, eye contact even for a brief second says it all. Fear and death are universal.
My Frenchman from the previous day passed me by on a horse, but travelling not down but up the mountain, "That's cheating" I croaked, he smiled and waved back to me, in a French way you understand. Followed by, you guessed it, not one but three grandmothers.
When at 18,500 feet on a narrow pass and a one ton black Yak with big pointy horns passes you by, you have to take a photograph. When a team of horses obviously spooked, with sick passengers mounted on them come down the same narrow pass towards the big black Yak its not the time to take a photograph. Mayhem ensured, the leading three horses reared up and bolted towards the yaks their mounts thrown off and dragged along trapped by their boots in the stirrups. There was screaming and crying, all hell broke loose, not from me you understand, I was sitting on a rock, too exhausted, too inert to move, or even care. "I shall miss myself so much when I die."
Not I'm afraid to say very Buddhist, but certainly for a brief moment enlightening. Death always gets the best lines. "Everybody's death diminishes somebody's address book."
This second leg crossing over the Dolma - La pass was sheer Hell. At this altitude I was torn between staying and reflecting in the majesty of this forbidding place or making a rapid descent to keep the demands of altitude at bay The twin lakes were ahead the lack of oxygen was gathering in my brain. I stopped to take two painkillers. I stumbled on now finally moving down hill, the ache in my knees fighting the ache in my head. Down and down I stumbled. In my haste, and now panic, I forgot my reason for being there. The thought of performing this task in a serene setting had long gone.
Reaching inside my jacket exhausted and gasping for oxygen I stopped and swayed in the cold breeze. Floods of tears were now down my cold cheeks. With my fingers shaking I tore up my mother's photograph, a small 3 x 5 inch portrait with my eulogy written on the back, and with raised arms cast these fragile segments amongst the wind torn bleached prayer flags and jagged peaks of my mountain........I slumped down on a large rock a stared ahead, in a dream like state, I was not alone!
I continued sitting watching the line of pilgrims striding past me, muttering mantras, spinning their prayer wheels, oblivious to my solitary performance.
A TIbetan Sage, Milarepa, born in Western Tibet in 1052 his original name Mila Thopaga, is credited with the words " All worldly pursuits have but one unavoidable and inevitable end, which is sorrow; acquisitions end in dispersion; buildings in destruction; meetings in separation; births in death. Knowing this, one should, from the very first, renounce acquisitions and storing-up, and building, and meeting; and, faithful to the commands of an eminent Guru, set about realizing the Truth. That alone is the best of religious observances".
This was easy for Milarepa to say: he dined on nettle soup, lived in caves, sat on an antelope skin and composed songs all day. And in the 12th century possessions were few and far between but there are resonances to his philosophy: in the West mindless consumerism is a distraction from living, from seeking real experiences. The Kailash kora is certainly a raw experience, a pilgrimage to find your inner strength. and hopefully to gain merit and I was certainly experiencing it.
And my merit, late afternoon, to walk unaided into our second camp having successfully completed the most difficult stage. My American Buddhist who at 74 was there tearful that his final attempt had ended in success. We sat across from each other drinking our tea, smiling, huge smiles of joy, friendship and acquired merit. The hard hiking was over.
Our last night under the shadow of this mountain was in a dormitory, a larger cell this time that housed six single timber slatted beds each with a pillow and sleeping blanket. Two huge rugged bearded Russians had joined us, as if extras from a gangster movie, and our final companion ......our Frenchman a little saddle sore but he had made it. Grandmothers were excluded, they were probably home cooking the family evening meal . As darkness fell, we lay in our beds, the Englishman, American, Russians and Frenchman, light from our head torches bouncing off the ceiling, all smiling and talking about worldly pursuits and other manly nonsense until the early hours.
Saturday 17th September - The final 5km leg I was awake at dawn 7am Bebe had done his usual and had left at 6am in the dark. Panden our guide was packing our ruck sacks, you certainly feel feeble when your guide is half your age and carrying all three rucksacks on his back. My load, a small water bottle. The clouds had disappeared, the sky was blue and the dusty path ahead was downhill all of the way. I ambled along happy and content. A lone Tibetan wild dog was now following me, I had read that these dogs survived by feeding on Yak meat and human remains and had been known to attack travellers.
One dog is company, I now had eight dogs following me, and I'm trying to act brave after all they can smell fear, I could smell fear, mine. In my right hand a large stone, in my left hand a half full plastic water bottle, and in my pocket my tooth brush hardly a lethal weapon. Maybe they could line up and I could clean their teeth. I sighed in visible relief as my pack of dogs wandered off in the distance the morning was fresh with the waining moon still visible. In the distance ahead of me was Bebe still ambling along, I smiled, content my trek was nearing completion our driver and our vehicle lay less than a kilometre ahead. The stream swollen by the earlier rains raced downhill I filled my bottle and tasted its cold nectar. Life was good, I was homeward bound.
In the early hours of a cold and frosty morning on 3rd January 2005 my mother Margery died. I had returned from India and Nepal with my friendship with Mick and Simon still intact, and fate intervened in the format of two books. The first was a gift by an old friend, a 1954 edition of Seven years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer. This was avidly read and followed by To a Mountain in Tibet by Colin Thubron. I later saw Colin Thubron at The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival in April 2011.
At the festival a member of the audience asked " Did you find your journey to Kailash a spiritual encounter". To my surprise Colin replied with a single word "NO" ......Mick would have been pleased. I asked Mick the same question on his return from Ayers Rock in Australia and his Thubron reply was "it was big and hot".
Now there is nothing else to add to that statement, you have travelled 5,000 miles walked the Kora at 17,000 feet around one of the holiest sights, Mt Kailash, a mountain revered by a fifth of the world population and you felt nothing. Driving back from Oxford I felt deflated, I read his book again, maybe he has been asked this question hundreds of times before, and he thought, I know lets surprise them with a NO.
So what better way to emulate the spirit within both books than to journey, in remembrance, to Tibet and Mt Kailash on my 57th birthday. And my training for my 53km walk around Kailash, in the tradition of Colin Thubron .........NOTHING.
My preparation to visit one of the cruellest environments on earth, was books. I devoured all I could, to understand this community, totally isolated from all outside influences. A people denied everyday materials , such as wood, which most other societies take for granted. A climate, one of the harshest known to man, (you can suffer from frostbite and sunburn simultaneously in Tibet.) Adjustments over thousands of years to high altitude living means that Tibetans feel unwell if they descend to the plains of China or India. Conversely, Chinese aircrews flying into Lhasa are not allowed to stop overnight lest it affects their health.
Until the Chinese invasion, their spartan way of life had hardly changed since the Middle Ages. They had no electricity, no wireless, no clocks or watches, no sewing machines, no cars or bicycles. Apart from a few individuals of noble families, most Tibetans had no idea of the outside world. Tibet was a land where time stood still, its people had not yet lost their innocence. This was its allure.
So on Saturday the 3rd September 2011, this solo traveller set off from London Heathrow, bound for New Delhi, and then on to Kathmandu, to collect my visa to gain entry into Tibet. I will not bore you with details, only to say that as I sat in The Kathmandu guest house lobby on Sunday evening waiting for my courier, he was late. His duty was to extort money from me, take my passport and visa, get it stamped and passed by the Chinese Embassy, and return it to me within 24 hours. Where was he?, no message, nothing, I emailed my contact in Lhasa ..........April yes thats her name. Her reply "my courier had been delayed and he would be with me on Monday", my flight was on Wednesday morning.
Monday 5th September 2011 A young lad who had arrived on a scooter, dismounted and walked through the hotel reception towards me, this spotty youth was my courier. To hand money and your passport to a complete stranger is a big act of faith. In broken English he promised faithfully that he would be back at 5pm. So breakfast in the Pilgrim book shop and a rickshaw ride with my DRIVER with the toy horn that sounded like a strangled duck, then back to the hotel and an anxious wait for my courier.
5.20pm still no sign of my spotty driver. Im now worried, but a beer and the company of two Australian women passes the time. They had just arrived and were embarking on my trek of last year - the staircase to hell. Their trek was to start in the morning and they had been told it was a gentle walk up to 1000 feet. So when I showed them my photographs of the trek starting at 1000 feet and ending some five - six hours later at 3000 feet they were horrified. To ease their fears I laughed it off and said it was worth it. The reality was I had embarked on a three day trek ill prepared and after the first day my body ached all over, but yes it was worth it to see the sun setting over the Himalayas and rise through the mist in the morning. Then they would travel to India and visit all the sites I travelled to last year.
I looked at these two middle aged ladies, obviously good school friends, and I wondered how they would feel after being in each others company for four weeks. India to me was, and still is, a glory hole of filth, sounds and smells. But above all its the sights colours and smiles of its people. They would love it or hate it.
And of their relationship they would still love or hate each other.
Kathmandu is a smaller version of India, there is pollution and poverty but the Nepalese are gentle and kind. And the day ended on a high, my heroic spotty driver had arrived, three hours late, but with my passport and visa, my journey to Tibet could commence.
Tuesday 6th September My last day in Kathmandu, so it an early start, with my rickshaw driver.
We made our way over to the Swayambhu Stupa known as the Monkey Temple. The 7km journey was noteworthy, it's not a pretty sight seeing an Englishman, along with his driver, both pushing his rickshaw, both puffing and panting. The 300 steps leading up to the Stupa was a challenge but it was worth it to look out over the valley shrouded in pollution.
On the way back into Thamel we passed the local children on their way to school. Im constantly amazed how well behaved and dressed they are, all smiling and waving and at every greeting the strangled duck horn was sounded. And as we passed any Buddhist monk my driver recited a small chant. Obviously praying that he will make it back. As we arrived in the hotel I asked my driver how much do I owe you? Yes I know that I should have bartered before setting off but his reply a big smile, the shrug of this shoulders and "Pay me what you think" Money exchanged there were hugs all round. It was worth it just to hear his duck horn and the opportunity to push your own rickshaw up every hill.
Finally in Tibet - Lhasa the forbidden city
When travelling to Tibet you have to be linked with a tour operator. My guide was Sefan a 26 year old Tibetan and my two fellow travellers Bebe, and Philip.
Wednesday 7th September 2011 - Lhasa and its airport stand as the world highest capital. They are located at an elevation of 11,710 feet, and those with raised blood pressure are advised to stay elsewhere. The airport built in 2004, it is all new and shining, in fact it's enormous and empty. I met Setan as arranged, Bebe and Philip were both arriving by train. In our new 4 x 4 we set off along the newly constructed motorway, a 60km ride towards Lhasa station, past golden fields of barley in full harvest.
Our arrival at the station was a shock, again huge and empty with granite paved carparks and numerous offices under construction. Philip arrived first, he was stocky, 5 foot 6 inches with a deep voice, 61 years old, ex accountant, now lecturing English in China and married to a Chinese woman, Cindy. We waited for a further two hours for our final companion Bebe at 78 years of age an American, a Buddhist, 6 foot tall and thin, very thin. A man who started out in the American submarine corp and later became an Architect, now an expat living in Thailand with his wife and family.
Our Hotel room consisted of twin beds, painted walls with vinyl flooring and a traditional painted timber ceiling, I was sharing a room with Philip. Now, have you ever tried to sleep at altitude. It's difficult because you wake up through the night suddenly gasping for air, now add to that Philip who snores so loud its like a train coming out of a tunnel, that was my evening. Sleep was impossible, I had my headphones on, a woollen hat pulled down over my ears, a pillow over my head and still I could hear him. I managed two hour's broken sleep. Oh joy, this did not bode well.
On our first day, we three novice tourists ,were escorted around Sera Monastery once home to 2000 monks, their numbers had diminished to 200. During our two hours of wandering from room to room a sadness fell on me. This was not a monastery but a museum, where the monks were its prize exhibits. Not a place of worship, but a money making venture, with security cameras on the corner of every building ensuring that everyone including tourists performed their role.
Have you met Big Brother?
Our journey into the heart of Lhasa was completed, by lunch, in a rooftop restaurant overlooking Jokhang Plaza. On the adjacent rooftops sat two armed Chinese troops complete with, parasols, mounted machine guns and video cameras. As we wandered around the streets forming the kora around the Jokhand temple, the irony of the obelisks in front of the Jokhand became apparent. Built in 823 by King Relpachen to commemorate the peace treaty signed with Tang China, they were now witnessing 150,000 armed Chinese troops marching around Lhasa equipped with the latest in semi automatic guns and the new addition of a fire extinguisher, to quell out any flames of resistance. Pun intended. To extinguish the act of self immolation.
Three weeks earlier, Tsewang Norbu a 29 year old Tibetan monk had drunk petrol and then proceeded to douse himself before setting himself alight, calling for freedom and the return of the Dali Lama to Tibet. A personal graphic demonstration against the presence of troops in occupied Tibet. Up to this point Tibet had no history of self-immolation as sacrifice, or religious offering.
Time magazine declared the Tibetan self-immolations the #1 most under-reported story of 2011.
Foreign journalists began to sneak into closed areas to cover the story, but the self-immolations did not make the front page of the New York Times until Jamphel Yeshi set himself on fire on 26th March 2012 in New Delhi. Photographers from Reuters and the Associated Press were on the scene, and shot haunting, powerful images of his self-immolation were immediately published around the world. The protest mainly by Tibetans in New Delhi was set before a visit by President Hu Jintao of China, Mr. Yeshi was living in the Tibetan refugee colony of Majnu ka Tilla, on the northern outskirts of Delhi., a colony first settled in 1963,
Jashi died in Ram Manotar Lohia Hospital, 43 hours after he had been admitted. No one ever survives with 98 percent burns
Most of the self-immolators have been young Buddhist monks (or former monks), men in their teens and early twenties, but nuns have also immolated, as have both male and female lay people.
In the spring of 2008, protests rocked the Tibetan Plateau. These were the largest, most widespread protests in Tibet since 1959 when the Dalai Lama escaped to India. For a brief while, Tibet captured the world’s attention. The protests and accompanying violence received widespread coverage inside and outside of China. The media attention eventually moved on to the devastating earthquake in Sichuan and then the summer Olympics in Beijing. Ironic that a flamed torch was paraded through the world capitals.
This was the beginning of Tibetan self immolations, a practice that has continued to date, currently totalling 150 plus desperate souls seeking to highlight Tibet's plight. Tibetan self immolations were briefly reported by the media up to 2013, and then, silence. Why the silence? Fear that reporting it would encourage others to follow, yet we are constantly informed of terrorists armed with bomb vests, or is it fear, the power of the Yuan ?
To understand Tibet and its occupation I would urge you to read "Fire under the Snow" - a testimony of a Tibetan Prisoner by Palden Gyatso. In the words of Bernard Levin of the Times "This is a book with glory and filth, innocence and murder, wisdom and madness, and at this moment the filth, murder and madness are taking over"
In this book Palden Gyatso relates his fascinating story of his life, as a Tibetan monk and his 33 years in a hellish Chinese Communist prison, where he was, starved, subjected to horrific tortures, leading to irreversible physical damage and barbaric re education classes.
Born in the Tibetan village of Panam in 1933 he entered the Gadong monastery at the age of ten, and during the Chinese invasion of Tibet he was fully ordained as a monk.
Arrested by the Chinese, along with thousands of monks and nuns, during his hellish incarceration from 1959 to 1992, he saw the destruction by the Chinese Communists of the Tibetan people and their culture and beliefs.
Monasteries were destroyed, books burned and thousands of Tibetans arrested and executed by the Commuinist Chinese determined to destroy everything of Tibetan identity and culture, and replace it with Chinese Communism.
Of the group of monks Palden was ordained with, he was the only one that survived.
Palden describes the barbarous "struggle sessions" in which thousands were murdered or beaten to death, the Chinese propaganda that turned reality inside out, claming they were "freeing"' the Tibetan people from "Feudalism" and forcing them to abandon " the four olds "; - their culture, customs, habits and thoughts.
On a brief leave, during 1983, shortly before being re arrested, Palden describes the sight of thousands of Tibetan children starving to death as a result of the famine deliberately created by the Chinese to subjugate the Tibetan people,
Many children from the wrong "class backgrounds" were deliberately starved to death by the Communist authorities.
Thousands of arrested nuns were stripped, humiliated and often raped.
Fire under the Snow - "It is hard to sit and watch someone you know in the moments before their death. I heard my name being read out by an officer on the podium. I was ordered to come to the front and face the prisoners kneeling motionless, awaiting execution. One of them was grabbed by the hair, face pulled up to mine. She was an old woman, deep wrinkled and toothless. Her face was swollen and bruised. She could hardly breath. Even today the memory of her makes me shiver.
She was Kundaling Kusang la. Kundaling came from one of the great aristocratic families in Tibet.
We stared at each other. Her eyes were red and misty and something in her face seemed to be asking for my prayers. The prisoners were forced to kneel at the edge of the trench. They were shot by a firing squad. Fifteen people were shot that day. Their families would be informed of the execution by means of an invoice on which such expenses as the number of bullets fired and the length of jute rope used to bind the prisoner were itemised."
After his release in 1992, Palden went into exile and swore to bear testament to the crimes of Communist China against the Tibetan people. I later met Palden Gyatso at the London Free Tibet 50th Aniv rally in March 2009, On that cold English morning Palden was still proudly waving the banned Tibetan flag.
And in Lhasa September 2011, in our small way we were witnessing the continuing devastation of a nation. George Orwell's book "1984" was being acted out for the world to witness, and the world response, was, and still is to turn away, in shame.
Buddhism first reached Tibet in the middle of the seventh century, a thousand years after its founders death, and bough about a remarkable change in the Tibetan people. Until their conversion to Buddhism Tibetans had been a warlike race, with Imperialist ambitions who represented a perpetual threat to their neighbours, particularly the Chinese. For a period they ruled Chang'an, China's ancient capital, and virtually the whole of Kansu, much of Szechuan and Northern Yunnan, as well as upper Burma and Nepal. But following their conversion to Buddhism, with its gentle message of submission, the once dreaded reputation of the Tibetans began to decline until finally in the tenth century the empire collapsed and they withdrew behind their mountainous ramparts and their isolation began.
Buddhism arrived via North India. The debased northern Indian school. This debasement was due to an infusion of Tantrism, an animistic creed which embraced magic, witchcraft and spells. In Tibet the new belief immediately found itself in violent conflict with the old Bon faith and its devotees. The Bon faith practised an even more primitive kind of animism, indulging in human sacrifice, cannibalism, and sexual orgies. Originally banned Buddhism gradually prevailed, and borrowed freely from the Bon pantheons, as well as from other religions including Nestorian Christianity, which has reached central Asia. In its final form, the Buddhism of Tibet - or Lamaism, as it is sometimes called - would scarcely have been recognised by its founder.
Lamaism is so named after its priestly upholders, the lamas, or superior ones, ruled by a religious hierarchy headed by the Dalai Lama. The first Tibetan monastery is said to have been built in 775. For every Tibetan family was expected to provide one child for the monastery. It was a custom which their Chinese neighbours - and at times overlords - were to encourage. More monks meant fewer soldiers. Oh how times have changed.
The first Dalai Lama dates back to the fifteenth century, he was the leader of a sect called the Yellow Hats of Tibetan Buddhism which with powerful Mongol support, gradually supplanted the rival Red Ghat sect as the dominant power in Tibet. Until the 16th century the country had been ruled by a dynasty of kings supported by the Red Hats. Nominally the kings continued to rule but gradually temporal as well as religious power passed to the Dalai Lamas. By the middle of the 17th century this transfer of power was complete
How were the Tibetan people converted to Buddhism? And who did the converting?
Tibetan historians always say that the conversion happened during Tibet’s imperial period and Tibetans were converted to Buddhism when Songtsen Gampo set down the new royal laws based on the ten virtues of Buddhism. Other historians consider the real conversion to have been carried out a century later by the trio of Trisong Detsen (the emperor), Śāntarakṣita (the monk) and Padmasambhava (the tantric adept).
The second edict of Trisong Detsen, the Emperor, (dated to 779 by Hugh Richardson) records the way in which Buddhism was made the state religion of Tibet. Looking very much like the official minutes of a meeting, it describes various discussion during which the court deliberated on how to establish Buddhism in Tibet, beginning with Trisong Detsen’s own account of how he was converted to Buddhism and wanted to spread Buddhism in Tibet. The Emperor had some harsh things to say about the old religion:
At that time it was declared that those who followed the old Tibetan religion were getting everything wrong…
Among the old practices he disapproved of were, painting your body red, casting spells on the government, and causing diseases and famine. Later the tsenpo convened another meeting, this time with lords from all over the Tibetan empire:
The minor princes under our dominion such as the Azha ruler, and the outer and inner ministers were consulted and a council was held. Together they considered in brief these things, first that trust should be put in the word of the Buddha; secondly that the example of the ancestors should be followed; and thirdly that help should be given by the power of the teachers of virtue.
So at this meeting everyone agreed to an empire-wide project establishing Buddhism, with a caveat that the traditional ways of the ancestors should be followed as well.
Further to that, a council was held about how the right path should not be changed, and how it could be increased. Thus an excellent summary of the dharma was made
In the early years of the 9th century, the reign of Senile, one of his edicts was preserved on the Karchung pillar, which survived almost undamaged right through to the Cultural Revolution, when it was smashed to pieces. This pillar edict is concerned with the appointment of senior Buddhist teachers to lead the religion in Tibet. It says:
But from the time when the tsenpo and his descendents are young until the time when they become rulers of the kingdom and thereafter, teachers of virtue shall be appointed from among the monks. By teaching religion as much as can be absorbed into the mind, the gate of liberation for the whole of Tibet, through the learning and practice of the dharma, shall not be closed.
Note here the apparently inclusive statement that “the whole of Tibet” will have access to the “gate of liberation.” This egalitarian sentiment is made even more clear further down the pillar:
And when for the Tibetan subjects from the nobles downwards, the gate leading to liberation is never obstructed and the faithful have been led towards liberation, from those among them who are capable there shall always be appointed abbots to carry on the teachings of the Buddha.
It seems clear enough that the phrase “from the nobles downwards” must include every Tibetan subject, however lowly.
Explorers & missionaries - "You are a liar and a bounder Sir"
The tale of Tibet, a land closed to foreigners, begins in the middle of the 19th Century. Tsarists armies were advancing and menacing the British. A number of brave and/or crazy but ultimately unsuccessful explorers and missionaries from England, Russia, America, France, India, and China were ALL “hell-bent” on being the first into the holy city of Lhasa The terrain was perilous, the British maps were blank, the weather worse, and the Tibetans resistant.
Victorian travellers named Lhasa "The Forbidden City " nearly three miles up in the roof of the world, its a reminder of why travellers returning from Tibet, a forbidden land, told tales that were scarcely credible and many perished in the attempt.
The story of the early attempts to get to Lhasa are pretty awe-inspiring, beginning with the Indian spies trained by the British.
In 1862, headed by a young Royal Engineers officer, Captain Thomas George Montgomerie, and Colonel James Walker recruited and trained for two years, Nain Singh aged 33, headmaster of a village school, Milam high up in the Himalayas and Mani Singh his older cousin. Their mission, to wandered through Tibet for years disguised as holy men, with measuring and recording instruments hidden inside Buddhist prayer wheels and Tibetan rosaries. Their pay 20 rupees a month and the promise of a larger reward if they were successful.
In January 1865 they set off to cross Tibet and establish the location of Lhasa. Exactly one year later Nain Singh walked into Lhasa and remained there for three months. After an absence of eighteen months Nain Singh returned into British India. Their first expedition he had successfully calculated the position and altitude of Lhasa. In all he had walked 1200 miles and counted 2,500,000 individual paces with the aid of his beads.
After this success Montgomerie now determined to discover information on the fabled Tibetan gold fields. Within six months of his return Main Singh was sent off to seek their whereabouts in western Tibet. He had witnessed at first hand the golden objects that adorned the temples in Lhasa and Shigatse. He had also learnt that the Tibetans were reluctant to exploit their gold fields.
Nain Singh traded his way into the remote Thok Jalung gold mining settlement. Even in August Nain Singh recounted conditions beyond endurance. At 16,330 feet terrible winds ravaged the land. The ragged miners lived in yak hair tents pitched in specially dug holes eight feet below ground. The gold seams spread over a mile in length and at times the miners were forced to dig down twenty five feet. These productive seams producing nuggets over two pounds in weight.
Singh learnt that in winter the miners numbers increased from a mere three hundred in summer to over six thousand in winter. As there was no timber for propping the tunnels, winter tunnelling was safer as the ground was frozen. And the price paid to these hardy men, less than thirty Indian rupees per ounce, paid in silver.
And the market for all this gold, its neighbour to the North, China, and in return China traded large quantities of tea, preferred to the cheaper Indian variety. The diggers considered Indian tea only fit for the very poor. This was one obstacle for the British, the other was the powerful Tibetan monasteries held a virtual monopoly on all tea coming in from China and neither they nor the Chinese would let their joint control of this highly lucrative market go without a bitter fight.
These two native explorers achievements were considerable. In there two expeditions they had positioned Lhasa and discovered the Thok Jalung gold fields, and intelligence of the Tibetan gold industry, route surveys totalling 850 miles and in doing so they had filled in the blanks in an area of 18,000 square miles
So successful were these clandestine explorations proving that Montgomerie assisted by Nain Singh began to recruit and train other hill tribesmen. As these ventures relied on absolute secrecy, why would Colonel Walker (with Montgomerie's approval), in January 1868, sent to the Royal Geographical Society for publication a detailed account of Nain Singh's first expedition. Their secrets were revealed, use of disguises as holy men, measuring and recording instruments hidden inside Buddhist prayer wheels and Tibetan prayer beads.
The Royal Geographical Society Journal was not on public sale, but it was read by Russians and was to prove invaluable to them. In 1878 Montgomerie broken in health died aged 47, he had witnessed his protege Nain Singh win the Royal Geographical Society's gold medal for having added a greater amount of positive knowledge to the map of Asia than any other individual of our time.
This was surpassed by Kishen Singh who in a journey lasting four and a half years walking 2,800 miles and counting 5,500,000 paces had surveyed vast areas of Tibet. Upon his return Kishen Singh discovered that his son had died and his home had broken up.
These intrepid explorers, what was their reward,? - a small pension, grants of land, both men broken, in health, and obscurity. Nain Singh died in 1882 and Kishen in 1921
Most explorers and missionaries never succeeded in getting to Lhasa, as there was little incentive for locals to assist them: Tibetans who were discovered helping foreigners get to Lhasa, even by selling them food or providing shelter, would be tortured and killed. Then there was the young missionary couple whose newborn died as they trudged along at sixteen and seventeen thousand feet, not understanding that little lungs were inadequate to the challenge.
A couple of the adventurers were even women traveling alone..
So who is credited with first entering Lhasa. In June 1897, Ekai Kawaguchi, a Japanese abbot left Japan for India, without a guide or map, simply buying his way onto a cargo boat, he travelled for over four years before entering Lhasa undetected in March 1901 and lived there undetected for over a year.
Kawaguchi's search began in January 1899 at Bodha Guya it was here that he spent a night in meditation underneath the bodhi tree whose branches shaded the Buddha when he first attained enlightenment twenty-five centuries ago. He then went north by train to the Nepalese border where by strange coincidence he met the one man in Nepal with whom he carried a letter of introduction the Tibetan Abbot of the monastery of Bodnath the Chihi Lama
Passing himself off as a Chinese monk on pilgrimage from Lhasa he companied the Chihi Lama to Kathmandu valley and spent a month as his guest living under the shadow of the great stupa of Bahnath.
Although Kawaguchi's Final objective was the Sera Monastery outside Lhasa he had hoped to make a pilgrimage to the holy Mountain and lake that he had read of in Chinese religious texts
With help from the Lama in the form of a pony and guide he set off to the Kingdom of Mustang. At the Nepalese border proceeded on his own carrying everything that he owned in a large bundle strapped to his back. Once in the capitalof Mustang he was welcomed as Iearned Lama and installed in the Palace chapel. It was here that he stayed for over a full year and in March 1900 he finally dragged himself away from this perilous Shangri-La and across the border into Tibet.
It was whilst crossing the large open countryside that he came across large numbers of bones lying around some of them undoubtedly human, it was often the case that the skull and the leg bones were missing only later did he discover to his disgust that these missing bones were put to good use as ritual vessels or as drums and the trumpets in tantric lamaist ceremonies
Soon afterwards he caught his first sight of the holy Mountain. He later recalled
"It inspired me with the profoundest feelings of pure reverence and I looked up at it as a natural Mandala The mansion of a Buddha and Bodhisattvas. Filled with soul stirring thoughts and fancies I dressed myself to this sacred pillar of nature and confessed my sins and performed to it the obeisance of one hundred and eight bows"
Two days later his joy was complete when he finally saw the placid waters of Lake Manasarovar
As a good pilgrim he went on to make complete circuits of both the lake and mountain
Joining a party of Tibetan pilgrims the Japanese monk walked over the pastures above the lakes until he came to the first of the Kailash temples Nyandi Gompa where to his intense disgust he found the images of Buddha and Naro-Bonchung sharing the same altar
It was from the abbot of Nyandi Gompa he learned that there were three paths of pilgrimage around the holy Mountain. All pilgrims started at the lowest and widest of the three circuits and only after they had completed 21 parikaramas where they judged to have attained sufficient merit to attempt the middle circuit which ran high across the four faces of the mounting itself
If you survived this middle path let alone the higher one which was attainable only by those who had achieved an advanced state of Buddhahood or its Hindu equivalent.
Although well aware that it reduced the merit of the act Kawaguchi made his circuit on a borrowed yak lent to him by the abbot of one of the surrounding monasteries. The crossing of the 18,600 foot Dolma La gave Kawaguchi a severe bout of altitude sickness.
It was now September and he was anxious to get to Lhasa before the winter setting so without further delay he set off towards the east and it took him another six months before he reached the Tibetan capital Lhasa.
His book "Three years in Tibet" gives detailed accounts of life in Lhasa. I have highlighted his account as written; of the floggings for minor crimes, mutilations and executions that were carried out. This is a far cry from the Buddhist faith as we understand it, but we do need to consider that it is 1901.............extract below
A prison-house is in any case an awful place, but more especially so in Tibet, for even the best of them has nothing but mud walls and a planked floor, and is very dark in the interior, even in broad day. This absence of sunlight is itself a serious punishment in such a cold country.
The most lenient form of punishment is a fine; then comes flogging, to be followed, at a great distance, by the extraction of the eye-balls; then the amputation of the hands. The amputation is not done all at once, but only after the hands have been firmly tied for about twelve hours, till they become completely paralysed. The criminals who are about to suffer amputation are generally suspended by the wrists from some elevated object with stout cord, and naughty street urchins are allowed to pull the cord up and down at their pleasure. After this treatment the hands are chopped off at the wrists in public. This punishment is generally inflicted on thieves and robbers after their fifth or sixth offence. Lhasa abounds in handless beggars and in beggars minus their eye-balls; and perhaps the proportion of eyeless beggars is larger than that of the handless ones.
Then there are other forms of mutilation also inflicted as punishment, and of these ear-cutting and nose-slitting are the most painful. Both parties in a case of adultery are visited with this physical deformation. These forms of punishment are inflicted by the authorities upon the accusation of the aggrieved party, the right of lodging the complaint being limited, however, to the husband; in fact he himself may with impunity cut off the ears or slit the noses of the criminal parties, when taken in flagrante delicto. He has simply to report the matter afterwards to the authorities.
With regard to exile there are two different kinds, one leaving a criminal to live at large in the exiled place, and the other, which is heavier, confining him in a local prison.
Capital punishment is carried out solely by immersion in water. There are two modes of this execution: one by putting a criminal into a bag made of hides and throwing the bag with its live contents into the water; and the other by tying the criminal’s hands and feet and throwing him into a river with a heavy stone tied to his body. The executioners lift him out after about ten minutes, and if he is judged to be still alive, down they plunge him again, and this lifting up and down is repeated till the criminal expires. The lifeless body is then cut to pieces, the head alone being kept, and all the rest of the severed members are thrown into the river. The head is deposited in a head vase, either at once, or after it has been exposed in public for three or seven days, and the vase is carried to a building established for this sole purpose, which bears a horrible name signifying “Perpetual Damnation.” This practice comes from a superstition of the people that those whose heads are kept in that edifice will forever be precluded from being reborn in this world.
All these punishments struck me as entirely out of place for a country in which Buḍḍhist doctrines are held in such high respect.
Thought to have been lost, the three hand written diaries detailing Kawaguchi’s journeys in Tibet, were found in 2004, 2005, and 2016 respectively. The last journal, found at the Tokyo home of his then 90-year-old niece, includes the account of his escape from Tibet, and his grueling 400-kilometer journey to Darjeeling, India.
Interestingly, the diary contained accounts that he left out of his book "Three Years In Tibet", such as details of his stay in Lhasa and the specific Buddhist teachings he received or studied at various sites in Nepal and Tibet.
However, events listed in the diaries have allowed Japanese historians to confirm the authenticity of information contained within "Three Years in Tibet". It was only after Kawaguchi returned to Japan that he dictated the story of his journey, which was published in 1904. This book is known as the first book which started the travel book genre in Japan
So the title goes to Francis Younghusband, A brilliant young Indian Army officer, soldier, explorer, and athlete, winer of the Royal Geographical Society's gold medal
Why did The British want to invade Tibet?. In 1898, Lord George Curzon had been appointed as Viceroy of British India. Under the public pretext of solving “trading difficulties” through a “peaceful mission, the same pretext had been used for British interventions in Burma, however, the actual reason and causes for this British expedition, which later developed into a violent military mission, were much more complex. Lord Curzon’s decision to orchestrate a forced entry into Tibet was based on his strong belief, that across the northern deserts, Russia had been intruding and exerting her influence in Tibet. The public portrayal of the expedition as a means of negotiating small frontier and trade disputes was also a legitimate motive for the British and the expedition was also spurred out of European curiosities to explore a land that was highly romanticized in European minds.
In January 1801, Tsar Paul I, the son of Catherine the Great, “dispatched an invasion force of 22,000 Cossacks across the unmapped deserts and mountains of Central Asia towards India. It was no secret to the British that the Russians even before Paul’s reign had coveted British India, but this was the first time Britain had seen threatening actions on the part of Russia towards her imperial holding in Asia. The Tsar’s invasion eventually ended in failure and was recalled a few months later, however many historians view this event as the impetus for what came to be known as “The Great Game”, an undeclared war between the British and Russian Empire over control of Central Asia.
Viceroy Lord Curzon believed that “Tibet’s then ruler, the youthful and ambitious 13th Dalai Lama (and his coterie), was privy to a secret understanding with the Great White Tsar.” Curzon also believed that, behind the backs of the British, the Russians had worked out an understanding with Tibet’s political masters, the Manchu rulers of China. And Tibet was now up for grabs. Lord Curzon as a student of Russian aspirations for over fifteen years, believed that Russia had plans in dominating Asia.
And of course history was on his side, as century earlier In 1793 a Chinese army of over 70,000 men had crossed the Himalayas from Tibet into Nepal on the Indian side, via the Kirong Pass of about 16,000 feet, and had dealt a crushing defeat on the Gurkhas near their capital, with this understanding the British knew Tibetcould be used as a penetrable frontier to attack India and so it could not allow Tibet to be acquired by any hostile power.
The reality of the Russian threat via Tibet was realistically never certain by the British at the time, but Lord Curzon remained adamant in his judgment derived from his suspicions. Agvan Dorgief, a Buryat Mongol from Russia’s Trans-Baikal region, who became the Dalai Lama’s ‘roving ambassador’ to the court of Tsar Nicholas II (r.1894-1917), was believed by Lord Curzon to be a ‘sinister figure’, ‘an eminence noir’, “who had wormed his way into the Tsar’s confidence as well as the Dalai Lama’s.
Contrary to what Curzon believed, Agvan Dorgief was actually a man of great learning who had set his heart on teaching Buddhist values and had established a Buddhist temple at St. Petersburg. Dorjief also sought to persuade the Tibetan ruler and his people to inch closer together. “The compact he allegedly concluded on the Dalai Lama’s behalf and the arms and men the great white Tsar is said to have promised to fight Tibet’s battles against the British.
History repeating itself, as stories of weapons of mass destruction circulated within the British Governmenta British mission was put together in December 1903.
The British in India were “inspired by a typically Western respect for exact frontiers and precisely determined international relations and regular trading arrangements with neighbor's along so many hundreds of miles of effective frontier. The borders between Tibet and Sikkim were not being respected by the Tibetans, and Lamas had even removed the boundary pillars erected under the treaty and made further advancements on Sikkim Thus, the British upon arriving to Lhasa wanted the border between Tibet and Sikkim to be respected.
The British sources of information and communication with the Tibetan government were also sorely lacking and so the expedition was also sent with the purpose of solving these problems by making direct contact with the Tibetan government and its officials.
Under the command of Brigadier - General J.R.L.Macdonald a soldier of no distinction or ability, with more than a thousand soldiers, 7,000 mules, 4,000 yaks, and 10,000 “coolies” headed by Francis Younghusband, they crossed into Tibet to seek out Russian Cossacks, advisors and of course weapons.
The British had to fight a battle though to get through the last barrier, Karo Pass. At 16,000 feet, the skirmish was fought at a higher altitude than any other engagement in history. (The British, with their advanced weaponry, lost five men with another 13 wounded, while the Tibetans suffered more than four hundred dead and wounded.) What had started off as a peaceful mission to negotiate small frontier and trade disputes turned into an armed expedition that ended in the deaths of thousands of ill-trained Tibetan forces, and a general outcry of disapproval back home in England and India
On the 1st August 1904 Major W.J. Ottley commanding the mounted infantry road unopposed into Lhasa. Once the British crossed into Lhasa, however, they saw this squalid and unprepossessing city full of wild roaming pigs and dogs, and wondered what all the fuss had been about…
Correspondants from London followed, the one building that exceeded everyone's expectations was the imposing Potala Palace. Where were the weapons of mass destruction. There were no arsenals of Russian arms , no advisors from St Petersburg , no secrete treaty, only a ramshackle workshop making primitive native firearms which Younghusband did not think worth destroying.
The British were on the whole well received by the people of Lhasa for the merciful way they had behaved towards the wounded on the battlefield at Guru, the respect shown to holy places and to everyones astonishment they paid for everything.
On entering Lhasa, Younghusband discovered that the Dalai Lama had taken flight to Mongolia and that the deposed ruler’s nominee and other such Tibetan authorities were ready to sign a settlement with the British. “The September 1904 Lhasa Convention, as it came to be called, had sought to establish a virtual British protectorate over Tibet but was modified in some material respects before it was ratified. Later in 1906, China watered down the terms further, making all that Curzon and Younghusband had sought to achieve during the expedition fail to materialize.
A trade agreement was also agreed upon between the British and Chinese that finally allowed for a direct trade route to Lhasa to be opened from India, via Sikkim through the Chumbi pass. However, the trade agreement was later repudiated by Lamas who refused to recognize the agreement under the pretext that they had not been a part of the decision. “The Lamas effectually neutralised the opening of Yatung by preventing any Tibetan traders from coming to or settling in it, and by barring the valley beyond by building a strongly loop holed wall across. Behind this protest to the agreement by Tibetan Lamas, was an open secret that the Chinese were behind this stratagem to show Tibetans their diplomatic skill. While the Chinese were forced by the British to open Yatung, they had cleverly evaded the concession by building the block-house. In doing so, the Chinese had effectively stopped the most direct route to Lhasa for the British. The Chinese had economic interests behind this deceptive strategy in ensuring that all trade to Tibet was to be made through the Chinese province of Szechwan. In this manner the Chinese Viceroy of Szechwan could divert trade that previously flowed along this much shorter Indian route into the much longer and difficult route through Eastern Tibet which would subsequently travel through his province, in this way the Viceroy could benefit from the profits on European goods, and Chinese tea from the Tibetan merchants and Lamas
Young husband's - Book "India and Tibet" published in 1910 ............extracts
Jokhand temple - The actual building is not imposing. The original temple, built about A.D. 650, according to Waddell, has been added to, and the result is a confused pile without symmetry, and devoid of any single complete architectural idea. One sees a forest of wooden pillars grotesquely painted, but no beautiful design or plain simple effect. Moreover, dirt is excessively prevalent, there is an offensive smell of the putrid butter used in the services, and the candlesticks, vases, and ceremonial utensils, some of solid gold and of beautiful design, are not orderly arranged. Still, this temple, from its antiquity, from its worn pavements marking the passage of innumerable pilgrims, from the thought that for a thousand years those wanderers from distant lands had faced the terrors of the desert and the mountains to prostrate themselves before the benign and peaceful Buddha, possessed a halo and an interest which the beauty of the Taj itself could never give it.
Here it was that I found the true inner spirit of the people. The Mongols from their distant deserts, the Tibetans from their mountain homes, seemed here to draw on some hidden source of power. And when from the far recesses of the temple came the profound booming of great drums, the chanting of monks in deep reverential rhythm, the blare of trumpets, the clash of cymbals, and the long rolling of lighter drums, I seemed to catch a glimpse of the source from which they drew. Music is a proverbially fitter means than speech for expressing the eternal realities ; and in the deep rhythmic droning of the chants, the muffled rumbling of the drums, the loud clang and blaring of cymbals and trumpets, I realized this sombre people touching their inherent spirit, and, in the way most fitted to them, giving vent to its ijaighty surgings panting for expression.
In another respect the Chinese are very different from us in their dealings with a feudatory State. Hardly one of the Chinese officials we met in Tibet could speak a word of Tibetan. Except that they married Tibetan wives for the time that they were actually serving in Tibet, they troubled themselves little about the people. They remained quite aloof, took small interest in them, and certainly never worried themselves, as a British Resident would, to improve their lot in some way. The Chinese, both here and in Chinese Turkestan, where I had also observed them, preserved great dignity, were very punctilious in ceremonial, were always, so to speak, in full-dress uniform, and they were ever highly respectful to one another. But theTibetans were barbarians in their eyes, were treated with disdainful contempt, and the Chinese officials thought of little else but how soon they could get back to their own civilized country.
The Tibetans naturally resented this, and hated the Chinese, but they were also greatly awed and brow-beaten by them ; and I think, too, that the mere fact of seeing more civilized men than themselves in their midst, and of being attached to a great Empire, with an all-powerful Court in the background, has in itself had much to do with lifting theTibetans out of barbarism. The aboriginal Tibetans were a savage and warlike race, who constantly invaded China. They have received both their civilization and their religion from China, for Buddhism, as I have said, reached them, not directly from India, but through a Tibetan King's Chinese wife, the daughter of a Chinese Emperor, Books and relics came from India, but it was the personal influence of the Chinese wife which seems to have had the greatest practical effect in establishing Buddhism*
The British left Lhasa on 23rd September 1904 having been there for seven weeks. On the evening of his departure Younghusband alone rode into the mountains to look at the Tibetan landscape ...................extract again from Younghusband's book
When I reached camp, I went off alone to the mountain- side and gave myself up to all the emotions of this event- fultime. My task was over and every anxiety was passed.
The scenery was in sympathy with my feelings ; the un- clouded sky a heavenly blue; the mountains softly merging into violet ; and, as I now looked towards that mysterious purply haze in which the sacred city was once more wrapped, I no longer had cause to dread the hatred it might hide. From it came only the echo of the Lama's words of peace. And with all the warmth still on me of that impressive farewell message, and bathed in the in- sinuating influences of the dreamy autumn evening, I was insensibly suffused with an almost intoxicating sense of elation and good-will. This exhilaration of the moment grew and grew till it thrilled through me with over- powering intensity. Never again could I think evil* or ever again be at enmity with any man. All nature and all humanity were bathed in a rosy glowing radiancy ; and life for the future seemed nought but buoyancy and light.
Such experiences are only too rare, and they but too soon himself was no ordinary compliment.
reverend old Regent rose from his seat and put the present And as the become blurred in the actualities of daily intercourse and practical existence. Yet it is these few fleeting moments which are reality. In these only we see real life. The rest is the ephemeral, the unsubstantial. And that single hour on leaving Lhasa was worth all the rest of a lifetime.
After the Tibet expedition, Younghusband became a British Resident in Kashmir. Outside India he is remembered as a thoughtfully religious man and the founder of the World Congress of Faiths (1936)
And finally we come to the Victorian adventurer Arnold Henry Savage Landor who was born in Florence in 1865, the grandson of the famous English poet Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864), a man who had the same vile temper that distinguished his grandfather. He painted world leaders- from US President Benjamin Harrison to Czar Nicholas- and regularly hobnobbed with many more, including Queen Victoria and Franklin Roosevelt. Interestingly he participated in the 1915-18 War on the Italian Front and presented a new invention, the armoured tank. Sven Hedin described him as the Baron Munchhausen of Tibetan exploration.
Landor crossed into Tibet on 13th July, 1897 with thirty native carriers. Hardship and fear reduced his party down to two. Word spread that an Englishman was heading for Lhasa. Tibetans were out in force searching for him and his ragged party. Crossing one of the many rivers Landor and his two porters were seized and tortured by the Tibetans when he refused to turn back from Lhasa.
Henry Savage Landor remind band and a prisoner of the Tibetans for the next 25 days during which time he and Chanden Singh well starved beaten tortured shut at and then finally put through a mock execution.
Landor’s account is for obvious reasons less than positive. He depicts Tibetans as religious savages, one of them he says was even foaming at the mouth. At various points, they threaten to behead him, put his eyes out, pretend to behead his servant, refuse him food, and all the while enjoy his suffering. They even, he claims, make him ride for a good while on a spiked saddle at such speeds that if he ever fell off, he would die. Tibetans are stupid and childlike, technologically inept, do not understand how to use watches or compasses, and think a gold ring his mother had given him is possessed of “occult powers,” are terrified of his rifles. And so on. Landor offers no real explanation for their excessive brutality, duplicity, and stupidity, although he does note that they think he is a spy because he carried maps and made notes and sketches. Even this justification feels thinly sketched though, perhaps to prevent it from detracting from Landor's depiction of Tibetan savagery which, if nothing else, makes for a very entertaining story.
I on the other hand, was tortured - by the constant snoring of Philip.
Finally Landor and his two companions were put on the yaks and are taken under escort to the fortress at Taklakar whilst there the prisoners were met by Dr Harkia Wilson it had been rumoured that Landor had been executed. At first the missionary was unable to recognise the gentleman traveller his condition was unkempt he was unshaven, his clothes, in tatters and his body covered in wounds
After his release and despite his wounds Landor insisted on Dr Wilson tying him up exactly as it Tibetans had done and photographed the results for prosperity
The was topped this some days later Landor had himself photographed half naked at 16,300 feet with his companion Chanden Singh emptying a pitcher of water over his shoulders. The incident carries the hallmark of vintage Munchhausen. The water immediately froze on my shoulders with the result that in a second he had icicles hanging on each side of his neck and a shawl of ice on his shoulders
But he got what he wanted from his misadventure his stirring account of his Tibetan adventures in the forbidden land was rushed through the printers and became a best selling book and a rebuttal in The Times from the distinguished explorer Douglas Freshfield calling Landor a "liar and a bounder".
For the next two years Landor toured Europe and America thrilling audiences with details and well illustrated recitals of his tortures
Then to the horror of the government he turned up once more in Kumaon with the declared intention of re-entering Tibet. This time officials from both sides of the border worked together to ensure that Lando stayed out of the country
Setting off in his traditional style Landor entered Nepal and during a daring night climb with straw boater, walking shoes and cane reached the summit of a mountain 23,000 feet high an altitude unsurpassed by any mountaineer at the time
His Nepalese adventures were by no means the end to his travels. From the Himalayas he set off for China where he arrived in time to take part in the general looting of Peking from there off to Russia then sailing around the Western Pacific Islands followed by Safari to darkest Africa and the Amazon jungles
The Potala Palace & the Dalai Lama's
So why did the early explorers and missionaries risk everything to reach Lhasa. Perhaps it was the Potala Palace, once the worlds largest building, the iconic image of Tibet. A building that is 118 m high, 350m square with 1000 rooms and housing 200,000 images. A 13- storey , 130,000 sq m. palace that was nearly raised to the ground in 1960 but survived thanks to the efforts of one man, and remains a wonder of the ancient world.
Little remains of the original 11 storied Palace, built in 637 it was destroyed by lightning. When Lhasa was reinstated as the capital of Tibet in the 17th century, after a period of 900 years, during which the seat of government had been successively at Sakya, Testing, Rinpung and Zhigatse, one of the first acts to be carried out by the 5th Dalai Lama was the reconstruction of the Palace.
The 5th Dalai Lama preserved the original foundations of the 7th century edifice and had the White Palace built between 1645 and 1653. 7000 workers and 1500 artisans ere employed. The central upper part, known as the Red Palace was constructed between 1690 and 1693, its interior completed in 1697, however the 5th Dalai Lama died in 1682 and his death was concealed by the Regent until 1694. Work on the funerary chapel was carried out over two years completing in 1694 at a cost of 2.1 million taels of silver, a tael was equivalent to 1.3 ounces of silver. - 76 ton of silver.
From as early as the eleventh century the palace was called Potala. This name probably derives from Mt. Potala, the mythological mountain abode of the Bodhisattva Chenresi (Avilokiteshvara / Kuan Yin) in southern India. The Emperor Songtsen Gampo had been regarded as an incarnation of Chenresi. Given that he founded the Potala, it seems likely that the hilltop palace of Lhasa took on the name of the Indian sacred mountain. Fulfilling numerous functions, the Potala was first and foremost the residence of the Dalai Lama and his large staff. In addition, it was the seat of Tibetan government, where all ceremonies of state were held; it housed a school for religious training of monks and administrators; and it was one of Tibet's major pilgrimage destinations because of the tombs of past Dalai Lamas. Within the White Palace are two small chapels, the Phakpa Lhakhang and the Chogyal Drubphuk; dating from the seventh century, these chapels are the oldest surviving structures on the hill and also the most sacred.
The palace also houses numerous works of art. These include statues of the Buddha, antiques, as well as murals. The last of these, which decorate the walls of Potala Palace, depict important events in the history of Tibet, as well as stories from the lives of the previous Dalai Lamas. Finally, the sacred nature of Potala Palace is further enhanced by the fact that it is the burial place of previous Dalai Lamas. The mausoleums of eight previous Dalai Lamas are located in the Red Palace. The mummified body of the Fifth Dalai Lama, is enshrined in a stupa (a dome shaped structure) in the western part of the Red Palace. This stupa is 5 stories high, covered with 4 tonnes of gold, and encrusted with a large amount of semi-precious stones.
The 5th Dalai Lama created an institution which some of his successors had cause to rue. This was the office of Panchen Lama which he bestowed as a gesture of veneration upon his aged and revered teacher, the abbot of Tashilhunpo monastery near Shigatse. Tibets second largest town.
Tibetans believe that both the Dalai and Panchen Lamas are reincarnations of different aspects of the Buddha. The Panchen being concerned exclusively with spiritual matters, while the Dalai is additionally entrusted with the nations sovereignty. So long as the Panchen Lamas confined themselves to spiritual affairs, leaving all temporal matters to the Dalai Lama , no problem arose, but this did not always prove the case
Until the age of eighteen, the young Dalai Lama's temporal responsibilities were carried out by a Regent. Some of these were clearly reluctant to relinquish their powers, for a large number of young Dalai Lama's died before reaching eighteen. During a period of a hundred and twenty five years, five successive Dalai Lama's ruled for a total of only seven years. Nor were all Dalai Lama's models of saintliness. The sixth, who was enthroned in 1697, showed little interest in his spiritual development, preferring to indulge in sexual adventures, drunkenness and writing erotic poetry.
In 1922 the 13th Dalai Lama renovated many chapels and assembly halls in the White Palace and added two stories to the Red Palace.
During the 1960s and 70s, approximately 6,000 Tibetan religious structures fell victim to the fanatical Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. Many were bombed and torn down.
Generations of Chinese have been taught that the Tibetan people are grateful to China for having liberated them from “feudalism and serfdom,
It was Mao’s goal from the moment he came to power. Tibet “is strategically located,” he said in January 1950, “and we must occupy it and transform it into a people’s democracy.”
He started by sending troops to invade Tibet at Chamdo in October 1950, forcing the Tibetans to sign the 17-Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet, which ceded Tibetan sovereignty to China. Next, the People’s Liberation Army marched into Lhasa in 1951, at the same time — in disregard of the Chinese promise in the agreement to leave the Tibetan sociopolitical system intact — smuggling an underground Communist Party cell into the city to build a party presence in Tibet. Meanwhile, Mao was preparing his military and awaiting the right moment to strike. “Our time has come,” he declared in March 1959, seizing on the demonstrations in Lhasa. After conquering the city, China dissolved the Tibetan government and — under the slogan of “simultaneous battle and reform” — imposed the full Communist program throughout Tibet, culminating in the establishment of the Tibet Autonomous Region in 1965.
Mao used his most seasoned troops in Tibet. Gen. Ding Sheng and his 54th Army, veterans of the Korean War, who had gained experience suppressing minority uprisings in Qinghai and Gansu in 1958 before heading to Tibet in 1959.
On the morning of 10th March 1959, when thousands of Tibetans rallied around the Dalai Lama’s Norbulingka palace to prevent him from leaving. He had accepted an invitation to a theatrical performance at the People’s Liberation Army headquarters, but rumor's that the Chinese were planning to abduct him set off general panic. Even after he canceled his excursion to mollify the demonstrators, they refused to leave and insisted on staying to guard his palace. The demonstrations included a strong outcry against Chinese rule, and China promptly labeled them an “armed insurrection,” warranting military action. About a week after the turmoil began, the Dalai Lama secretly escaped, and on 20th March, Chinese troops began a concerted assault on Lhasa. After taking over the city in a matter of days, inflicting heavy casualties and damaging heritage sites, they moved quickly to consolidate control over all Tibet.
The Dalai Lama had fled hoping to prevent a massacre. He thought the crowds around his palace would disperse once he left, robbing the Chinese of a pretext to attack. In fact, not even his departure could have prevented the blood bath that ensued, because Mao had already mobilized his troops for a “final showdown” in Tibet.The new weapons included 10 Tupolev TU-4 bombers, which Stalin gave Mao in 1953. Mao tested them in airstrikes at three Tibetan monasteries in Sichuan, starting with Jamchen Choekhor Ling, in Lithang. On March 29, 1956, while thousands of Chinese troops fought Tibetans at the monastery, two of the new planes were deployed. The Tibetans saw giant “birds” approach and drop some strange objects, but they had no word for airplane, or for bomb. According to Chinese records, more than 2,000 Tibetans were “annihilated” in the battle, including civilians who had sought refuge in the monastery.
When the Dalai Lama left, he didn’t plan to go as far as India. He hoped to return to Lhasa after negotiating peace with the Chinese from the safety of the Tibetan hinterlands. But once he heard about the destruction in Lhasa — several days into his journey — he realized that plan was no longer feasible.
Accounts of massacres, tortures and killings, bombardment of monasteries, extermination of whole nomad camps are well documented. Quite a number of these reports have been also documented by the International Commission of Jurists' 1960 report on Tibet. In a crackdown operation launched in the wake of the National Uprising of 10 March 1959 in Lhasa, 10,000 to 15,000 Tibetans were killed within three days. According to a secret 1960 PLA Tibet Military District Political Department report, between March 1959 and October 1960, 87,000 Tibetans were killed in Central Tibet alone.
Information compiled by the Tibetan Administration in exile, determined that over 1.2 million Tibetans died between 1949 and 1979 and that Human rights violation in Tibet was all pervasive. with China violating with impunity every norm of civilised conduct as laid down in international law
So what of the Potala Palace, it was not "blown up" by the Chinese (as proposed by Mao Zedong) it was only slightly damaged during the Tibetan uprising against the invading Chinese in 1959
Chinese shells were launched into the palace's windows. Before Chamdo Jampa Kalden was shot and taken prisoner by soldiers of the People's Liberation Army, he witnessed "Chinese cannon shells began landing on Norbulingka past midnight on March 19th, 1959... The sky lit up as the Chinese shells hit the Chakpori Medical College and the Potala.
It is said that only the intervention of Zhou Enlai had saved the Potala from looting and destruction. Zhou Enlai had sent troops loyal to him to Lhasa for the protection of the building from the Red Guards. As a result, all the chapels and their artefacts were preserved. However about 100,000 thousand historical scriptures and pieces of art are said to have been destroyed or removed.
Cultural revolution - forget ISIS this was plundering and madness on a grand scale.
In order to understand the barbarity of the CCP during this period Zhou's own personal life is noteworthy
Zhou was the main driving force behind the affairs of state during much of the Cultural Revolution. His attempts at mitigating the Red Guards' damage and his efforts to protect others from their wrath made him immensely popular in the Cultural Revolution's later stages. Although Zhou escaped being directly persecuted, he was not able to save many of those closest to him from having their lives destroyed by the Cultural Revolution. Sun Weishi, Zhou's adopted daughter, died in 1968 after seven months of torture and imprisonment by Maoist Red Guards.
When the Cultural Revolution began in 1966, Zhou Enlai's power became very limited, while Jiang Qing gained power. Although Zhou still held the formal position of premier, he was not able to prevent the arrest of Sun or even his own brother, and personally signed their arrest warrants in fear of angering Mao. After forcing Zhou to sign Sun's warrant, Jiang ordered officers from the Air Force (loyal to Lin Biao, Jiang's ally) to arrest and secretly imprison Sun, so that Zhou could not intervene to protect her.
Sun Weishi and Jin Shan were both imprisoned on March 1, 1968. Jiang, Mao's wife, gave orders that Sun be sentenced without trial, and directed that Sun be tortured at leisure, but not killed
After being imprisoned, Sun Weishi was tortured for seven months, and eventually died in prison on October 15, 1968. Her body was found naked with her arms and legs still shackled. There are no female guards in the prison. Interviews with a guard a decade later implied that "higher-ups" had ordered her to be repeatedly raped. Two other prisoners gave an account of seeing the guards handing Sun over to several male convicts in the prison to be raped.
After hearing of Sun's death and her condition at the time of her death, Zhou Enlai ordered an autopsy, but Jiang intervened and had Sun's body quickly cremated. After cremating Sun's body, Jiang had her ashes disposed of, in order to prevent Sun's family from taking possession of them.
After Zhou Enlai died in 1976, Jiang initiated the "Five Nos" campaign in order to discourage and prohibit any public mourning for Zhou.
So the history lesson is over, the are no words to describe the actions then and now of the CCP towards Tibet and Tibetans. Sun Weishi"s treatment is not isolated. If you consider Younghusbands report in 1904 he wrote of the Chinese attitude towards the Tibetans - "theTibetans were barbarians in their eyes, they were treated with disdainful and contempt", and this barbarity continues by the CCP, imprisonment without representation, torture, murder and the immediate cremation of the victims still sadly happens, and families are still handed an invoice by the CCP ordering them to pay for the cremation.
And now walking around Lhasa in 2011 I to was witnessing Younghusbands words - to the Chinese the Tibetans were invisible, non people to be ignored.
And what did I make of the Potala Palace, its big, its iconic and perhaps a wonder of the ancient world, but like all religious buildings, I have yet to read a scripture "you will build a temple and in my name, fill it full of gold"
A brain scan please
Saturday 10th September 2011 - Our Toyota land cruiser was packed, Bebe, Philip, and I were now heading out of Lhasa, over the new gleaming arched bridges and onto the new highway opened four months earlier. At 100km/hr we cruised across the countryside stopping at the modern petrol station to fill up 90 yuan / Litre = £1
After an hours journey west of Lhasa we crossed the river and pulled over to stretch our legs. Bebe was inspecting the goods on offer at the roadside stall, I had wandered down by the river to photograph the landscape and Philip was looking through the luggage. As I turned around, I can recall a group of twenty people looking at Philip, who was under the bumper of another vehicle. My immediate thought was that he had been run over. Philip was deathly grey, shaking and unconscious. I was about to berate the driver for running over my companion, he gestured that Philip had just collapsed. A oxygen mask was applied and Philip was lifted barely conscious onto the back seat of our vehicle. After ten agonising minutes Philip had regained consciousness and was sitting up barely able to speak. Within the assembled group of onlookers were two British nurses their diagnosis, altitude sickness.
We had agreed to drive immediately to the hospital in Lhasa. Philip was sitting next to me, now speaking slowly, he had no knowledge of his name , who I was. Bebe throughout this was in karma mode, what will be will be, whilst I was ringing his wife Cindy on his mobile explaining that I thought that Philip had had a stroke and we were now twenty minutes away from the hospital.
The hospital our guide had driven us to was for natural medicines, after a few well chosen Anglo Saxon words we finally arrived at the main hospital. Asking for a brain scan on a Saturday in Lhasa for Philip was surreal. 600 yuan = £60 was paid and Philip was lifted into the brain scan machine and thirty minutes later a small Chinese doctor in broken English was explaining that Philip was diagnosed with a slight increase in blood pressure, they recommended rest. At 12,000 feet, our experienced trekker, Philip had succumbed to the affects of altitude.
At 2pm we were back at our hotel, room 6208. With Philip asleep I sat in the Jokhang Square observing the troops marching anti clockwise around the kora. To the Chinese the Tibetans were invisible, they simply did not exist, they were ignored. At first glance you marvel at the achievements in living standards, roads, hotels, hospitals, brain scans, but who is it for?.
The new nationals, the Chinese, making Tibetans strangers in their own land, a non person. Monasteries are tolerated, a tourist attraction, the Tibetan history museum whitewashed to a shade of red. By early evening my snoring room mate was able to speak normally and Philip"s recollection, that he was waking up after a deep deep sleep. Our predicament to walk around Mt Kailash would be at 17,000 feet an increase of 5,000 feet with the nearest doctor two days drive away. Sleep gripped me at 2am, altitude had not lessened Philip's nocturnal torture of me, nothing had changed.
The following morning was a groundhog day, we packed, and in exactly twenty four hours we passed, in silence, the fateful spot, as we headed west towards Mt Kailash.
The village of Nagartse
Sunday 11th Sept 2011 - We continued over 15,000 feet snow covered passes, passing morning fields of amber grain, before decending as the road ran parallel with a large expanse of water, Yamdrok Tso lay before us, a shimmering turquoise lake. with smoke rise from rare little hamlets on the horizon, a donkey cart loaded with household goods going from nowhere to nowhere, locals smiled and waved as they walked the plains Birds flew and swooped for food in rivulets and water bodies, our driver told us that more than six months a year, this entire grassy landscape remained covered under snow and ice.
In the distance the village of Nagartse, its villagers had assembled on the shores of the lake for a horse, archery riding contest in full traditional costume of course. We parked some 200 feet away armed with my camera I walked across the prairie mingling with the villagers. Children were running and playing in the long grass, nervous glances followed by a brief smile were cast in my direction, but on the whole indifference towards this westerner with a camera.
There were two targets 300 feet apart, twelve riders rode, the red tassels of their head dress blowing in their eyes as they aimed their arrows at the first target then onto the second target to the cheers and delight of the crowd. There were no tourists, no stalls selling food and drinks just a fifty seven year old Englishman gazing in wonder at this ancient festival in a lakeside prairie in Tibet.
Gyantse & Palcho Monastery
Arriving at Gyantse, notable for its restored Gyantse Dzong or fort, we headed for the magnificent tiered Kumbum of the Palcho Monastery, the largest chörten in Tibet. (1) The Kumbum was commissioned by a Gyantse prince in 1427 and was an important centre of the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism. As we climbed 100 feet inside this religious structure containing 77 chapels walking through all of its six floors, the air was hot and dry, the altitude at 12,000 feet left my mouth dry, its 10,000 murals, many showing a strong Nepali influence, which have survived almost entirely intact, the last of its kind to be found in Tibet. hardly registering with me as we made our way to the top to look over the quiet town.
The town and monastery have had a checkered history, they were attacked by Francis Younghusband in his 1904 advance on Lhasa and although most of the damage was later restored, bullet holes from this attack remain in the monastery are still visible. In 1954 it was nearly destroyed by flooding, and after rioting in 1959, local industries were dismantled and artisans fled while others were placed in work camps. Before the Cultural Revolution, the fort, the monastery and Kumbum housed 1500 monks after they were ransacked. precious objects were destroyed or sent out of Tibet. during this period some 400 monks and laypeople were imprisoned in the monastery. Fortunately, the chorten was spared but it again is a shadow of its former glory, it now houses 50 monks.
Our next call was the Pelkor Chode Monastery (known also as Palcho Monastery), built in the 9th century, the main buildings are from the 15th century, this once great monastic complex held an impressive find, in the gloom of the hall huge twenty foot statues bare down on you. Photographs inside all Tibetan monasteries are now strictly forbidden, in monasteries within Northern India Ladakh this is not the case and within Tibet in 2011 it was beginning to be enforced, not so the CCP surveillance cameras. I respect the right for privacy after all these are sanctuaries for private meditation but and its a big BUT .............a photograph of an empty monastery, a monastery smashed and plundered over fifty years ago still lying in ruins, being airbrushed out of history is worth what ?
On leaving Gyantse our final destination was Shigatse, the 2nd largest city in Tibet, with its sterile Chinese architecture. Shigetse Manasarova Hotel was our overnight stop and my cell mate Philip didn't disappoint.
Shigatse & Tashailhunpo monastery
Monday 12th Sept 2011 - The room my cell was in darkness, it was 3.30am I had managed thirty minutes sleep, altitude and snored are not recommended and certainly not in the travel brochure. By torch light I had written down the events of the past few days, my mind wandered to Mt Kailash, why was I doing this ? Philip was too vunarable to walk the 53 km kora, I was overweight and had slept six hours in five nights and Bebe was 74. What a team. After breakfast we departed for Tashailhunpo monastery (1) founded in 1447 by the 1st Dalai Lama. After being dropped off at the entrance our guide departed with our passports and visas to obtain yet another pass, this time to Mt Kailash.
Captain Samuel Turner, a British officer with the East India Company visited the monastery in the late 18th century, describing it -
"If the magnificence of the place was to be increased by any external cause, none could more superbly have adorned its numerous gilded canopies and turrets than the sun rising in full splendour directly opposite. It presented a view wonderfully beautiful and brilliant; the effect was little short of magic, and it made an impression which no time will ever efface from my mind.
Two-thirds of the buildings were destroyed during the excesses of the Chinese Cultural Revolution they were mainly the residences for the 4,000 monks and the monastery itself was not as extensively damaged for it was the seat of the Panchen Lama who remained in Chinese-controlled territory.
However, during 1966 the Red Guards led a crowd to break statues, burn scriptures and open the stupas containing the relics of the 5th to 9th Panchen Lamas, and throw them in the river. Some remains, though, were saved by locals, and in 1985, Choekyi Gyaltsen, 10th Panchen Lama, began the construction of a new stupa to house them and honour his predecessors. It was finally consecrated on 22 January 1989, just six days before he died aged fifty-one. Today the outer building are in a dilapidated state of repair, as we walked around the Jamkhang Chenmo, on the west side we came across the tallest building of the monastery. It was erected in 1914 by the Ninth Panchen Lama and houses a gigantic statue of the Maitreya Buddha and is 86 feet in height. Within it is an enormous juniper tree from Reting monastery this functions as a life supporting axis The statue sits on a splendid lotus throne in the 'European' posture with its hands in the symbolic teaching pose. A single finger of the giant figure is almost 4 feet in length. The statue contains 279 kg (614 lbs) of gold and 150,000 kg (330,000 lb) of copper and brass moulded on a solid wooden frame. The whole statue is finally encrusted with ornaments and precious stones.
I can still remember the image of this towering golden / copper statue of the Buddha reflecting the flickering of the light from the butter lamps onto the painted walls, yet it felt lacking, now a place of sorrow, of silence, a tourist attraction. The young monks silently going about their business, their shoulders hunched like their elders.
Panden returned with our permits, we set off for Saga, a journey of 450km an eight hour journey. The friendship highway soon deteriorated to a single road full of potholes. The weather changed constantly, snow, rain laced black clouds hung low in the sky over mountain peaks., all giving the impression that they were within our grasp. Traditional farm houses dotted the vista, unusually devoid of the flag of China fluttering from their flat rooftop.
As the sun set we past a nomadic settlement with their flock of sheep, oblivious to the oncoming edict, they would be moved off the land they had tendered, nomadic's who have managed their pastures over 9000 years, with little evidence of land degradation and forced to live in concrete boxes.
What is China’s plan for rehabilitating the grasslands?
China, is reaching worldwide for not only food but to buy lands on which food is grown, dairy farms in New Zealand, cherry orchards in Australia, croplands in Africa, is need for food security is paramount to feed the newly rich urban desire for a diet high in animal protein means that China produces less than 12 million tons of soybeans a year, and so has to imports a further 74 million tons, mostly from the US, and is by far their biggest buyer, mostly used to feed animals in feedlots. China’s imports are two-thirds of the global soybean trade
Since 1999 the Chinese government has been implementing policies of settlement, land confiscation, and fencing of pastoral areas inhabited primarily by Tibetans, dramatically curtailing their livelihood.
Grasslands are grasslands and not forests, because there is insufficient rainfall to support forest. The grasslands of the world are the unpredictable drylands of the world, between the deserts and mountain peaks that are too dry or cold (or both) to support vegetation, and the farmlands and forests of the wetter areas.
China insists that all who abandon their pastures are voluntary “ecological migrants” altruistically surrendering grazing rights for the benefit of the planet. Exile authors depict the removals as coercive and forcible, ignoring the many reasons pastoralists, especially the poorest families, find a provisional move to be close to a town acceptable.
China is stuck in a time warp, seeing nomads only as backward, primitive, ignorant folk whose lives are little better than the animals they follow, who are to blame for the degradation of the grasslands. What the pastoralists do understand is that China is focused on grass, not people. Every law, edict, policy statement, production strategy and conservation program is designed to maintain, protect and grow more grass. Whether such programs increase or decrease the incomes of pastoralists is a secondary consideration.
Animals are viewed as genetic resources, including traditional breeds likely to be swept aside as new breeds are introduced, but which should be saved in case they turn out to be useful. Above all, the focus is on specific strategies to intensify meat output: “The stated intent is to increase grassland production capacity through improved fencing, water infrastructure, livestock pens and sheds, forage and seed storage, artificial pastures, improved pastures, controlling degradation and increasing monitoring
This adds up to a long list of extra work for the pastoralists, turning them at least partially into farmers who must not only fence their allocated land but, within the allocated area, fence off fields to be sown with fodder crops to be later harvested and stored as winter feed. These requirements necessitate extra labour at the busiest livestock produc on season, in summer, in an economy that has always been short of sufficient labour in summer; and further requires investment of capital for fencing materials, pens, ploughs and storage sheds. Poverty alleviation programs were meant to pay much of these costs but in practice many pastoralists went into debt to fulfil these mandatory requirements. A major reason for chronic labour shortages is the fragmenting of the pastoral economy into individual households, each with a separate contractual obligation to the state. This contravenes the customary pooling of decision-making, and of herd management, by groups of families which not only shares knowledge of rangeland dynamics but also aggregates herds, even allowing the seasonal formation of specialised herds. This shared herding is more efficient, and less labour-intensive.
In short, on one hand they are deemed to belong to specified areas, with unclear rights to graze herds seasonally on the common pool lands beyond their fences. On the other hand, they are treated as an undifferentiated mass of unskilled workers available to move to wherever industrialised meat commodity chains can make best use of all factors of production, including their labour.
In Tibet, the area enclosed is far greater, the pace is slower, the opportunities for mobilising populations to resist are fewer, and media coverage is minimal. Rather than the sudden, overtly violent removal of village and villagers, a more typical sequence on the grasslands is the arrival of a team of officials who announce a quota of people, a fixed percentage of the population of what is legally a township but in practice is a scatter of nomadic households who may cluster over winter. The team announces that for the 15 per cent who are to leave, the state will provide housing, electricity, rations, perhaps even a school or a health aid post. If the reasons for this policy are explained at all, it is presented as a temporary closure of pastures to allow the overgrazed areas to grow back. According to anthropologists who have done eldwork in these areas, the families that opt to leave include the poor, who have too few animals to make a living, usually because of natural disaster, such as an unseasonal blizzard. Other families opting to migrate to the urban fringe have several in the family who are old and in need of access to medical care, or young children who may benefit from schooling. One the family has relocated, the able bodied adults often return to their pastures to continue livestock-raising, if official policy is not strictly enforced.
Hundreds of thousands of Tibetan nomads have been required to slaughter their livestock and move into newly built housing colonies in or near towns, abandoning their traditional way of life. By the time of this photograph between 50 and 80 per cent of the 2.25 million nomads on the Tibetan plateau were progressively relocated.
Resettlement policies in Tibet are usually carried out without consultation or consent, and local people have no right to challenge them or refuse to participate. This is despite the fact that Chinese law, in accordance with international law, requires that those, who are to be moved off their land or are to have property confiscated, must be consulted and, if they are moved, compensated for their losses. The reality, total absence of civil and political rights. Those who are settled often have to go into debt—without having an assured future livelihood, as they are often deprived of their livestock—to pay for part of the cost of housing or the fencing that will divide and enclose the grasslands, under the policies of relocation and fencing, remaining livestock are confined and their grazing land limited, leading to overgrazing and further land degradation.
The underpaid and undertrained grassland inspectors themselves usually have little idea of the logic behind official policies transmitted down the line for them to enforce, and they have little enthusiasm, as rent seekers, to alienate the pastoralists on whom their incomes depend, by explaining at length the ultimate purpose of policies they may not themselves comprehend. Everyone knows the quota must be fulfilled, little else matters.
So what is China’s plan for rehabilitating the grasslands? Once the grazing animals and their pastoralist herders are removed, what is the next step? Exactly how are the grasslands meant to recover?
There is no such plan, no meaningful budget to support a rehabilitation strategy. The removal of the nomads and their animals is the plan. After that, the rehabilitation will somehow happen by itself. There is no new law, nor authoritative policy statement, no specific directive on how degradation is to be slowed, still less halted and reversed. Exclosure of the nomads is the beginning and the end of the policy response; all that remains after that is to scientifically measure the biomass in the exclusion zones, and the policy can be declared a success
So take a long look at this photograph, six years later in 2017 I drove through the same region, room 101 was ready, complete with your very own red flag, in case you forget who your master is.
China has poured huge amounts of capital expenditure into major infrastructure projects to create the preconditions for modernity. These big projects were all about enclaves and corridors, hubs and spokes, connecting the west of China to Tibet through highways, pipelines, railways, power lines, optical fibre cabling. They could be designed by engineers far from Tibet, based on data collected by the militarised first wave of surveyors and road builders in the 1950s and 1960s. During the construction phase they brought tens of thousands of Han Chinese workers to Tibet, but usually this labour force left once the jobs ran out.
It is tempting to call this a failure of the imagination, a failure to consider anything but the standard, centuries-old process of populating new lands with Han settlers. But if it is a failure, it is strictly a state failure, not a widespread popular failure, as most Han just wanted to make a living, or even get rich, with little interest in nation-building ideologies. It is by now a failure that is no longer failing. The decades of investment in infrastructure, in transport corridors, extraction enclaves and urban hubs are at last generating the economic take-off the state has always sought. Han Chinese are nding opportunity as never before in Tibet to make money, and stay as long as it takes to accumulate significant wealth.
However, those several decades in which the central party-state did little beyond construction of enclaves and corridors, have cost the land and the people of Tibet dearly. The neglect and almost invisibility of areas and communities not included in enclaves and corridors of modernity resulted not only in stagna on but degradation. Land degradation was the legacy of past failures caused by breaking the steppes with ploughs and plan ng cropsill-suited to the frigid climate. Revolu onary zeal for intensifying livestock produc on often required communised herders to build fences out of sod, clod piled on clod, in the absence of sufficient finance for even wire fencing materials. The upturned earthen fences, running pointlessly up and downhill in the straight lines of the trigonometrical surveyor, can still be found in many areas, long abandoned, but highly visible due to the erosion they set off , exposing bare earth to scouring gales and blizzards that can quickly strip soil back to rock.
This is the untold story no-one dares talk about, of the hubris of Han cadres sent to the grasslands, con dent they could scientifically make the pastures yield more, beginning with imposing straight lines on the landscape. Tibetans old enough to remember the compulsory labour required in the 1960s and 1970s recall all too well the futile efforts fence the herds, to divide them by gender and age, the idea being to breed superior qualities into the yaks, sheep and goats of the uplands. They remember how many Tibetans died pointlessly during the forced labour, digging and building fences from nowhere to nowhere, soon abandoned. But what Tibetans say, or whisper, to each other cannot be said to others, as that risks, even now, being accused of revealing state secrets, and disloyalty to the party, both serious crimes.
The massacre of wildlife during Mao’s war on nature, and the slow recovery of wildlife numbers in recent years get little attention, and the significance of their absence from the grassland has gone un noticed.
In the late 1950s huge numbers of yaks were requisitioned by the army as pack animals to haul artillery across Tibet and over the passes, animals later slaughtered to feed the troops. According to calculation by historian Li Jianglin, in her book, When the Iron Bird Flies: 1956-1962 Secret War in Tibet Plateau, based on the memoirs of Chinese military commanders, as many as 800,000 yaks were taken by the PLA. This was followed immediately by famine, the worst Tibet has ever known, yet even as people starved, food was sent from Tibet to inland China. The famine lasted in some areas until 1962.
The real transformation in livestock production revealed by the official statistics is the slow but steady intensification of meat production and accelerating slaughter rates, boosted by the rise of intensive production enclaves close to cities. Although production has sped up and slaughter rates increased, it has not been fast enough, and extensive production, making use of the full spectrum of plateau grasslands, is considered inherently inefficient, and lacking in scale, more now than ever. China is disappointed that its dream of greater wealth from Tibet, especially more meat, has largely been unfulfilled; and, faced with a zero/sum choice between pastoralism and water, China has now decisively turned away from pastoral production. China has opted for access to water from Tibet as its top priority
The official 2013 Agricultural Yearbook table for “Major Livestock and Poultry Offtake by Regions” lists 1.29 million yaks slaughtered annually in TAR, and 5.29 million sheep and goats. This produced a total of 252,000 tons of meat, a trifling 0.3 per cent of China’s total domestic meat production, of 83.9 million tons.
We arrived in the deadbeat gassion town of Saga at 8pm. At a height of 15,200 feet, Saga was the last town on our way to Kailash. Our room for the night was a twin bedded affair 10 x 9 feet with a bowl on a stand, a single light bulb painted walls, a concrete floor and a room at the end of the block with a hole in the floor. The toilet. Night fell at 8.30pm, so we all followed Setan, our guide, to a small room about 300 feet down the main road, the only road. Pool tables on the pavement were in constant use by the local youths, pool by torchlight isn't something you see much of. To say that our eating house was scarce is an understatement. The eating area / lounge, remember this is someone house, consisted of wooden benches against the flaking wall paint and two small tables, the kitchen was hidden by a tablecloth acting as a curtain. And the cost for 5 bowls of noodles with small pieces of yak meat washed down with jasmine tea 40 yuan. = £4 and tipping is officially frowned upon ?
We were in bed by 9.30pm Philip switched on the boom box of snoring this time interrupted by Philip's five visits down the corridor. What a brave man. Finally Colin Blunstone on my headphones beaconed me to sleep at 3.30am. We left Sage four hours later.
Tuesday 13th Sept 2011 - Breakfast was a quiet affair. Our table we had vacated ten hours earlier was set, noodles for breakfast, I opted for a mug of hot water. Starvation and sleep deprivation were a scream away from my lips. As we walked back to the land cruiser past the Sage sports venue, the pavement floodlit pool tournament, was obviously over, the once green cloth now coated in dust, its shiny off green covering had seen better days, I wondered if the table was level.......... I smiled.
Our 450 km drive was filled with again breath taking views well over 5200 m its certainly breath taking. The journey was more of what we experienced the first day of the drive, except for the Kiang or the Tibetan wild ass. We saw a herd, roaming free, grazing on the grass that grew in abundance. Sand dunes in the middle of the grasslands, dunes that rose to the height of a two- or three-storeyed building and except for the surrounding vista they could well have been in the Sahara.
Below an absolutely clear sky, there were patches of grey mist that hugged the terrain. Bright sunlight washed over the land as moving shadows, of clouds above, crisscrossed the terrain. There were erratic bursts of wind driving the low-hanging clouds in different directions and there were moving banks of rain, when suddenly the sun rays hit one such bank of rain transforming it into a block of rainbow. Imagine a rectangular rainbow, about 200 feet across and 150 feet high, drifting under a grey cloud sailing in the wind. The ethereal sight lasted for about five minutes before the angle of the sun turned and what was a wall of colour became the grey blue of rain once again.
Yaks and Nomads were in every valley. And poverty, in the form of three young men in the middle of nowhere sitting by the roadside with their prams held together with string, did I look away as we drove past in our 4x4 shiny white, air conditioned land cruiser ? No I took the photograph and then looked down.
Spending days in a car with such a small group you talk mostly nonsense, but occasionally profound things such as why noodles for breakfast? What is better, freedom from the CCP or roads, airports, brain scans. Did you know that if you join the American submarine corp its voluntary and you can leave at any time, obviously only when you reach land. Why do Chinese roads fall apart after two years. crop up in conversation. Philip who was obviously swayed by his recent hospital visit opted to be ruled by the CCP. Bebe was being Buddhist and was quiet and I, you can guess what I droned on about, mile after mile after mile.
Unlike the friendship highway from yesterday this road was new so we reached the Lake Manasarova in five hours , as we approached it we were silent, rising beyond the Great Himalaya on a plateau of lunar emptiness, in its isolation above two brilliant blue lakes splendid in its eerie beauty was Mount Kailas, holy to one-fifth of humanity. The car stopped and our Tibetan companions got out and faced this revered peak, then fell to their knees with heads bowed.
We had arrived.
13th Feb 2010 - Our arrival in Varanasi airport was memorable in that the main departure doors were stuck, as we meandered around looking for some logic to the chaos, you start talking to anyone who isnt scary. Travel is a great way to meet your fellow man / woman and you always come away feeling good. Your faith in humanity restored. So I started talking to a young New Zealand couple who were starting in India on a years journey around the world, Then a New York photographer for the 4th largest newspaper in that city who after seventeen years had been made redundant along with nineteen fellow workers. Tim had travelled the same path in India and was now venturing for five days into Nepal.
I even told him the story of, the Khajuraho horse and man, Tim smiled in a polite sort of way. I smiled back thinking why did I say that.
Our Air India flight was late, the doors were still stuck, we departed at noon for our forty five minute flight to Nepal.
Unlike Varanasi, Kathmandu airport was quiet, clean, even quant and the traffic outside calm unlike India. The Kathmandu Guest House had provided a taxi, and again, all calm, no horns, no blessings, and they even adhered to the flow of traffic. We were amazed.
Kathmandu Guest House, in the heart of Thamel, sounds great doesn't it. It had history, travellers abounded from all four corners of the globe to drink and exchange tales, and above all it was cheap. Our room 301 overlooking the gardens was 50 USD per night, divided by three, perfect.
Sunday 14th Feb 2010 - Durbar square in the early morning light after topping both Mick and Simon up with yet more temples I think they were culturally beyond help we had decided that they would set off on a seven day hiking and white water rafting adventure and I would spend my time on a three day hike and four days exploring Kathmandu. Visiting yes you have it ......more temples. Now did you know that you need a trekking registration card, its a card with your photo, passport number, trekking area and entry and departure dates. A tax on walking.
In the hotel bar I started up a conversation with PJ ( James ) a plasterer from Manchester. Once met never forgotten. He had purchased a motorbike in Mumbai for £800 and had set off to Goa then east to Hyderabad North to Agra then East onto Darjeeling finally into Kathmandu. PJs stories were real boys own adventures 1400 miles driving a motorbike in India certainly get's my respect.
PJ was sending weekly blogs back home they were amazing, his journeys end was to ride his bike to the foothills of Mt Everest then to reach basecamp and his bet was to spend a night in his £6 Blacks tent and in the morning have his photograph taken doing a hand stand wearing just his hat and hiking boots. Now thats a bet.
We followed PJ to the Celtic Bar as he had arranged to meet some travellers he had met yesterday we continued listening to his stories all of us roaring with laughter at his encounters on the road. Following a funeral procession with the body tied to a roof rack, and the deceased hand flapping either side of the car, guest of honour at a wedding, teaching monks how to ride a motorbike or breaking down in a remote village and having your engine rebuild on the road side for the princely sum of £2. Mick and Simon left early as they were setting off at 6am, I continued talking to PJs friends who mentioned that they knew a guy in Hanoi Vietnam who owned a factory making jewellery boxes, the person who they were talking about was my brother in law. What a small world. So from after two more beers I left then spent the next two hours trying to be sick, sleep finally came at 2am my three day trek started at 8am.
Now when your friend leave at 6am taking with then all of the tablets and you have two hours to stop your diarrhoea and you vaguely remember seeing two tablets in your suitcase, panic sets in. You cannot move from the bathroom for longer than ten seconds so dragging my suitcase next to the toilet I found my salvation tucked in the corner, two white little pills, not the best way to start a trek.
15th February - Trekking in Nepal Amrid my guide drove through Kathmandu there were huge traffic jambs due to a Tuk Tuk driver being killed in a road accident. We arrived late at our starting destination a small village Sundarijal. Amrid carrying two rucksacks and sleeping bags set off at a brisk pace. Now my mind was full of crazy notions, two hours sleep, what would happen when the effects of the tablets wore off and when would we stop walking up this staircase. As far as I could see the stone steps went on and on. Running parallel to our path were two large steel water pipes. Its crazy seeing little old ladies walking hours down a mountain with their large plastic containers to collect water. And even more embarrassing when they pass you carrying 5 litres of water.
I have never been so exhausted, I was dehydrated, swallowing painkillers, my legs were seizing up 5 hours of walking and we had yet to reach the summit. This was the slowest time recorded Amrid was kind and patient he even managed a smile from me with his tale of his fellow sherpas carrying a dining table and a set of carver chairs to K2 for a group of American climbers. Their only comment was that the chairs were to small.
The hotel was basic, my room a cell of 6 x 7 foot a plank for a bed and small window complete with glass, a naked light bulb and the bathroom, across the landing, consisted of a sink with cold water only with the waste discharging onto the floor then through a hole and a wc . In the next room was Carin she was Swedish living in New Zealand I had met her in the morning on the staircase to hell as she passed she commented that she had asked for a gentle relaxing hike. We met again later in the main hotel room, Our late lunch was black tea and noodles. The hotel front door was wide open so were the windows, it was so cold The hotel owner bought a small heater and plugged it in under our table. Watching the sun setting over the Himalayas and the galaxy of stars emerging was wondrous it made the pain of the day nearly worthwhile
Bed time in a freezing cold room, complete with sleeping bag, a blanket and fully clothed is more like an endurance test but at least it was peaceful and I had the stars to look at.
16th February 2010 Early morning on the balcony watching the sun's rays striking the mountain brought to start of a great day, in the shadows it was frosty but walking in the sun a delight and best of all we were walking down hill. This soon ended as our hotel for the evening was the the highest in the valley. Room 111 a double bed hot water and hot food with a Everest beer. And an upset stomach.
17th February 2010 I woke at 5am then to the rooftop view point. It was packed with Chinese and Japanese trekkers cameras at the ready for the 6.30 am sunrise. Now have you ever in a morning stopped off at the Britney Spears tea house, photographed a girl carrying a basket of dung, watched in awe as Nepalese women past me carrying bundles three times their size and marvelled at school children skipping with joy on their way to school. And the joy of two children playing with a hose pipe. At the bottom of the valley our bus arrived it was full, 50 Rs each then onto our final hotel. It was cold, dirty and dark. My meal, black tea and noodles, bed again fully clothed waiting for the morning so I could leave this place.
18th February 2010 The taxi back to the Kathmandu Guest House was memorable for seeing the non touristy sights of Nepal. Brick factories belching out smoke from their huge chimney stacks , polluted rivers. From the heaven of the mountains to this man made hell in a short taxi ride.
My weekend in Kathmandu was filled with breakfast in the gardens at the back of the Pilgrims bookshop, it was a perfect start to the day, then travelling to the World Heritage sites, Durbar square, the great Stupa of Boudhanath and the famous monkey temple. And of course I had to fly around Mt Everest on Buddha Airlines. At the airport my 7am flight was delayed due to fog so over the two hours I spoke to a group of four elderly women from Hereford England and a retired gentleman from Blackpool who was a medic in the Gurkas. He had returned to Nepal to meet up with his comrades and was obviously moved by the parade for him by his old regiment but the star of the show were the four ladies. They were retired teachers who had grouped together to spend four weeks in Nepal teaching infant school children. They were delighted by the kindness shown to them by the schools and had the highest praise for the children. There visit was marred by an incident when a teacher was beaten up by Maoists. In order to bully there way into power daily strikes are being announced, all shops, schools etc are to remain closed for the day, so this dedicated teacher decided to go to the school early collect books to take home so that he could mark them. As he was walking across the school yard he was spotted, beaten and hospitalised. Over the weekend vehicles with loudspeakers were driving around with the Maoists announcing that Monday was another strike day. And as for my fellow travellers old, grey, but young in heart and so kind in spirit.
The flight around Mt Everest was majestic
Monday 22nd February 2010 Strike day, all the shops were closed, no taxies so I walked into Durbar Square and there was a wedding where children were being married off to Bael fruit.
This is a ceremony in the Newar community in Nepal in which pre-adolescent girls are "married" to the bael fruit (wood apple), which is a symbol of the god Vishnu, ensuring that the girl becomes and remains fertile.
The ‘fruit marriage’ ceremony is called Bael Bibaha or Ihi Newa girls are routinely expected to undertake three ‘marriages’. The first is the fruit marriage, and this happens before puberty. This is followed by the Barah ceremony in early teenage years, which marks the ‘marriage’ to the Sun God. The custom requires the young girl to be barred from seeing any males, including her own family, and confined in darkness at home for three weeks. This is seldom performed as it’s just not practical ‘How would she be able to go to classes at school?’. Finally, the young woman marries a man.
Even today in Nepal, up to half of Nepali girls are married by the age of eighteen. Some observers regard the long-standing Newar tradition of the three stages of marriage as a shrewd way of legitimising the delay to their young girls marrying. The practice is thought by some to have stemmed from a need to keep young girls safely ‘married’ and therefore unavailable. Away from the roving eyes of the men in the powerful and wealthy Rana clan, who were the ruling dynasty in Nepal from the 18th Century, right up until the 1950s.
Another theory is that the practice of first marrying a fruit means that, symbolically, the woman is always married. Thus meaning that if her husband should die before her, she will be spared the social disdain that commonly befalls widowed Newar women. In a country with no social services and a very poor healthcare system, the bael fruit marriage provides a woman with an essential means of retaining support and community ties in the event of her widowhood. A socially compelling argument for the fruit marriage some might say.
So what became of Mick and Simon my desperate adventurers. Well they were whisked off to the raft and started when my diarrhoea moment also afflicted them. They spent the next two days and nights in the bushes. When they emerged the worst for wear their trekking was marred by countless Chinese and Japanese trekkers.
Our final night in Kathmandu was one of reflection and laughter. Three men in a suitcase were finally going home.
You have heard the saying mad dogs and Englishmen well several weeks later I opened my email and there was PJ in the morning light at Everest basecamp in the snow doing a hand stand wearing nothing but a big grin, his hat, hiking boots and it looked cold.
I had decided at the grand old age of fifty four to pack my camera and set off to India for the fifth time, but instead of work, this would be my chance to explore and to chase the Buddha, with a few minor detours along the way. In the cold winter days, I sat and plotted my four week personal pilgrimage, to all things sacred. My journey, London, Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, Orchha, Khajuraho, Bodha Guya, Varanasi then into Kathmandu Nepal and finally back to Delhi, my personal adventure was set.
Now you may be thinking he has no friends , why is he going alone?. The truth is India is like Marmite, an acquired taste. You either love it, or hate it, and to many they prefer, well something that is quieter, not so full on.
In the photo below, are two friends who three months earlier, having watch the television series Three men in a boat, I had coerced Mick and Simon into a four day kayaking, boys own trip, down the river Wye. So after a few beers, and me being an inclusive type of guy, I invited Mick and Simon to join me, thinking all along they would never accept, after all Mick wasn't in the least bit spiritual he is tidy and organised liking the good things of life and Simon was, gentle, always busy, how wrong can you be.
So three men in a boat were to become, three men up the Ganges, and on the 27th January 2010 armed with my itinerary, the latest fashion in trekking wear, several packets of diarrhoea tablets that can stop you up in minutes, baby wipes and a strong heart we were ready.
Delhi - 28th January 2010
Our Air India flight touched down in Delhi at noon and out taxi journey from the bustling Airport terminal to the Hans Hotel in central Delhi gave Mick and Simon their first taste of driving in India. Mick sat in the front passenger's seat Simon and me in the back. Very soon all we could hear from the front was :
"Oh my God," - "did you see that", - "we are driving up the one way street the wrong way" - "you must be kidding"
As our drive remarked, all you need when driving in India are three things. Good brakes, a good horn and good luck.
So when getting into any car, this was the daily ritual. - no one volunteered to sit up front, this was normally decided by the toss of a coin. - we all looked at each other in amusement and fear as our driver, before setting off, blessed everything in the car; the steering wheel, the horn, the stuck on deities assembled on his dashboard covering every religion know to man and beast and a few strange ones stuck on for luck, and finally himself. We the three fee paying passengers were not blessed.
To journey in India, by any form of road transport is an experience, it's like being in a fair ground dodgem, hopefully without crashing. Lots of horn, no signals, and anything goes. If you see a short cut to your destination you take it. One way streets they think it's fine to drive up the wrong way because they are only driving one way. It's not for the nervous. or those with a weak bladder.
So we checked in to our hotel, then straight out again to The Red Fort ..........(thats a Fort that's big and red), then our first curry where we met a local, Don was his name, a big jovial Canadian with a white handle bar moustache, an expert on the menu and the bill for all three of us 880 Rs amazing. We had survived our first taxi ride, our first day in Delhi and our first meal.
The Spice market 29th January
Our tuk tuk driver Badri or better know as "Patrick" was waiting outside, 9am, right on time. So it was back to the Red Fort to admire the machine gun turrets at the entrance and its lush gardens at the rear then we set off down the back lanes to the Spice market.
In the heart of Delhi "the spice market" where the air is filled with spices of every kind, was an assault on our senses. Patrick beckoning us through unlit passages, up dark narrow staircases, until we reached the roof top of the market. Laid before us was a scene that hadn't changed for hundreds of years, spices and the bustle of the city, coming to life.
Daily life in Mumbai
Leaving the market we passed the Jami Masjid mosque, then detoured to a small Janis temple, hidden in an ancient alley. After washing our hands and minus belt, camera, shoes, mobile phone and all things leather, we were shown our guide. He was little white bearded man in grey socks and a Gandhi robe. Our tour was over, with a red dot on our forehead, and after blessing each of us with happiness with watered down milk our donation was registered in the book and confirmed by a hand written receipt. Very British, very touching and very tax deductible. Then by tuk tuk to the five storey stone tower - The Qutb Minar
In 1200 AD, Qutb al-Din Aibak, founder of the Delhi Sultanate, started construction of the Qutb Minar. In 1220, Aibak's successor and son-in-law Iltutmish added three storeys to the tower. In 1369, lightning struck the top storey, destroying it completely. So, Firoz Shah Tughlaq carried out restoration work replacing the damaged storey with two new storeys every year, made of red sandstone and white marble. 240 feet in height at 47 foot in diameter it is world's tallest rubble masonry minaret.
Before 1974, the general public was allowed access to the top of the minar accessed through a narrow staircase. In 1981, 45 people were killed in the stampede, there were 300 to 400 people inside the minar at that time that followed an electricity failure that plunged the tower's staircase into darkness. Most of the victims were children Subsequently, public access to the inside of the tower was stopped.
Jaipur - 30th Jan 2010 The Pink city
The Kingfisher flight from Delhi to Jaipur was a forty five minute hop, our taxi a 1950s white ambassador decanted us at The Naila Bagh Palace Hotel in Jaipur. A gem of a find, this 150 year old colonial palace was our accommodation for the night. As three weary Englishmen approached the house we were greeted with a profuse apology. The owners brother was holding his young sons birthday party so we were now their newly arrived invited guests welcomed with free food, drinks, music and merriment. Hospitality at its best.
Now a history lesson - The Naila family belongs to the Champawat branch of the Rathore clan of Rajputs. They came from the Thikana Peelva of the former Jodhpur state. In 1849 Thakur Jeevraj Singh Ji of Peelva came to Jaipur. He was presented to H.H.Maharaja Ram Singh Ji, the then ruler of Jaipur, who kept him at his court. His youngest son Th. Fateh Singh Ji was made the Prime Minister of Jaipur in 1870s. He was given the Jageer of Naila Village.
Thakur Fateh Singh Ji Naila was a prominent figure in Jaipur in the late 18th century.He was the head of the Naila Family and the Prime Minister of Jaipur for 7 years (1876). In 1876 he was appointed as the Prime Minister of Jaipur. He re-organized the whole administration of the state and put things in order.
During his 7 year tenure as Prime Minister, he initiated various development activities in the city. The Famous Albert Hall was built under his initiative and supervision. It was during his time as Prime Minister that the city bazaars were painted pink. Electricity via gas was introduced, an underground water ways system was developed; The work on Janter Manter was initiated. A proper road system was introduced for the first time in Jaipur.
Thakur Fateh Singh Ji had two sons, the elder son Thakur Roop Singh Ji succeeded him as Thakur of Naila. Thakur Roop Singh Ji served the state first as Bakshi Quilajat and then as Sardar-i-appeal (session Judge) for a long time. H.H. Maharaja Madho Singh Ji made him a member of the council and also a member of the cabinet formed to administer the state. The Maharaja had great regard for him and use to consult him on all important matters.
Thakur Roop singh Ji was succeeded by his 2 sons. His elder son - Thakur Pratap Singh Ji also looked after state administrative matters and was appointed Sardar -i-appeal in place of his father.
Thakur Daulat Singh ji (son of Thakur Roop Singh Ji Naila) was Sardar in waiting in the personal staff of H.H the late Maharaja Man Singh Ji
Thakur Fateh Singh Ji's 18th century residence in Jaipur has now opened its doors to international travelers, The property provides guests a true feel of the old world charm of the 18th century whilst ensuring that all modern day facilities are provided to the guests in their rooms and outside. The current Thakur of Naila has ensured that the palace's original beauty is kept intact as a heritage boutique hotel.
It was a bright early Sunday morning as we walked into Jaipur walking down the alleys dodging sacred the and heaps of not so sacred rubbish, with the passing of each mound Mick became increasingly agitated "Why don't they use a bin" ......because there are no bins. this tourette's moment was repeated on every street corner, and in amongst this, I casually photographed a woman with a 6 foot high basket of popadoms on her head.
During the rule of Sawai Ram Singh, the city was painted pink to welcome the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, in 1876 so when we entered The City Palace museum and walked past the Hawa Mahal, guess what, both were pink.
On our way to the Amber fort, by taxi, Mick again in the front we all screamed out in unison "did you see that".
We were in the middle lane of a three lane highway and our taxi had just swerved around a legless beggar ......No, not a drunk, but a beggar with no legs, shuffling across the highway, in rush hour, on his hands. Of course no one stopped, the rush hour traffic treated him like a road cone. Other memorable moments; seeing a family of six on a moped, a moped being driven with his passenger holding a 4 foot square piece of glass, or a 12 foot ladder transported by a bike at each end. Driving down the motorway at 70 mph dodging cows, and lorries driving down the fast lane, yes you guessed it, in the wrong direction, in order to take a short cut. Only in India.
The Amber fort is not pink, it's amber, and it's big, very big. Built of red sandstone and marble it was built by Raja Man Singh I. The fort is known for blending both Hindu and Rajput elements. With its large ramparts, series of gates and cobbled paths, the fort overlooks the Maota Lake. Reduced to a dried up puddle.
Simon & Mick - on "the long a winding road"
Pushkar - 1st Feb 2010 "Wish you were here".
Our taxi driver (organised by the hotel) was six foot tall, very thin, and stoney faced with a "death wish" stare. The 70 mile drive to Pushkar took 2.5 hours with Mick still in the front seat, still unblessed, and crawling up the battered seat in fear. Pushkar is a small town, in its centre, a sacred lake. The town is full of stalls, restaurants and camels. Yes camels: you know the things with humps, and the other oddity, no meat, no eggs, or alcohol, a car toll to enter the town and to make it greener than green, signs up saying that plastic bags are banned, all very noble, all totally ignored.
Now when the travel guides say the priests will fleece you, what is the last thing you do? - I sat next to Simon both chanting, both with a red dot on our forehead, both poorer, but at least our parents, wives, grandparents, children, chickens and pets were blessed. Oh how Mick laughed and repeatedly on the hour chuckling"tell me again, how much did that red dot cost you?"
The Taj Mahal - 4th Feb 2010
The most visited site in India is the Taj Mahal at Agra, south of Delhi this sprawling regional centre once hosted a large colonial British cantonment. A legacy of the Mohammedan invasion from the north, it was built by Shahabuddin Muhammad Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal Emperor of India. This mausoleum of Mumtaz Mahal, his favourite consort, is decorated with floral inlay and Koranic script, as is typical of a mosque. It is a magnificent tribute to the Jahan’s wife, who died in 1631 giving birth to their 14th child.
If ever there is a building that defines spiritual beauty it is this. We were told the best times to visit The Taj Mahal are sunrise and sunset. So on 4th February at 6.30am Mick Simon and me were waiting at the gates to be the first visitors that morning to gaze upon the white marble edifice, now rendered pink as the sun's rays crept above the river Tumuna. From the time of wakening to the time we arrived at the gates Mick had for the past half an hour, like a naughty school child, repeatedly, and I must stress the word repeatedly asked the question
"Tell me again why do we have to get up in the middle of the night and be the first ones to look at it. It will still be there later on". As I have explained Mick was not into his spiritual side.
The morning was silent, mist rose off the river banks, the air cool, fresh with the morning dew, and the moon still pinned in the clear blue sky as the first rays of the sun appeared. No philosopher can explain the sublime better than this, to stand between day and night. It was as if God said " Let there be light". This was ethereal perfection.
All I wanted to do was to spend the day siting in the garden, living each moment, then look to the west for the setting sun to darken the sky and look at moon beams to striking the marble sarcophagus and reaffirm my presence amid the grandeur. The spell was broken by ......."can we go now"?
Video - Sunrise over the Tai Mahal
We are never so wise as when we live in this moment
Orchha - 5th Feb 2010
With its magnificent preserved examples of Hindu architecture standing on a heavily fortified island in the Betwa River
Khajuraho - 6th Feb 2010
Our journey from Agra to Khajuraho was memorable. How can you forget a drive of 12 hours notable for our driver accompanied by a white knuckled me, in the front seat wondering why a miniature Elvis statue was stuck, in amongst all the other religious icons, to the dashboard, a new deity perhaps.
And yes, before you ask, as we set off even Elvis was blessed.
Now I started this journal by saying that this was a spiritual journey, now this is 9th c pornography, tons of it, mountains of...... well have a look. For the mature reader Khajuraho is a small village in the state of Madhya Pradesh. Built in the 9 & 10th c by the Chandela dynasty They lay hidden for a 1000 years hidden by the jungle. It is believed they were built to illustrate the emptiness of passionate desires, while others suggest they were used to educate boys before their release from the hermitage. It is believed that every Chandella ruler built at least one temple in his lifetime. Therefor all the Khajuraho Temples were not built by a single ruler but the process of construction of Temple was a tradition and almost every ruler of Chandella Dynasty followed it.
The site lay abandoned until It was discovered in 1838 by a Captain of the Bengal Engineers by the very British name of TS Burt. A wonderful chap.
In 1839 Captain T.S. Burt published in the pages of the prestigious Journal of the Asiatic Society an account of his discovery of an overgrown and abandoned Hindu temple complex in central India. The good captain, writing in the restrained style of the early Victorian era, noted that:
"I found in the ruins of Khajrao seven large diwallas, or Hindoo temples, most beautifully and exquisitely carved as to workmanship, but the sculptor had at times allowed his subject to grow rather warmer than there was any absolute necessity for his doing; indeed, some of the sculptures here were extremely indecent and offensive..."
There were 85 temples, today only 26 remain, each one adorned head to foot with artistic poses, and infamous for being a "X" rated UNESCO world Heritage site
It was mostly their isolation that saved Khajuraho from the destruction wreaked by the invaders of northern India, the first being Mahmoud of Ghazni. He took back vast wealth from the destruction of Hindu and Buddhist temples and, fortuitously, was repelled twice on the outskirts of Khajuraho, in 1019AD and 1022AD.
Several books have been written about Khajuraho, ranging from a maximum weight of 2.5 kilograms to a minimum price of Rs 12 published by the Dept of information & publicity, an excellent document if you can read Hindi.
Roughly speaking the sights of Khajuraho can be divided into three categories (a) the temples (b) the sculptures and (c) the tourists. Further details of the temples can be obtained from the booklet mentioned above. As between the sculptures and the visitors the latter are more interesting, but having read this far a few words should be said on the former.
There is a praiseworthy economy of effort about the sculptures. Apparently only two models were used, one a well endowered man and the other a well endowed woman, beautiful in her 37-25-37 proportions, all carved in hard river sandstone. It is understood that she was a girl friend of the ruler.
Three activities are portrayed in the carvings war, worship and whoring, the last one is incorrect but it is funny, the 3 Ws, it should be physical activity, but that's not as funny. To continue all three w's follow a set pattern.
Large numbers of men, all really the same man, go to war. After about 50 yards of mayhem, they switch over to physical culture ( whoring), with the aid of what ever is at hand. Mainly the female model, and a few weird things thrown in along the way. The physical culture is obviously of Yogic origins including the Shir Shasan ( standing on ones head ) aided by two assistants, all naked of course.
I can hear you say, but where is the worship?, I made that up as well.
When you walk round a corner at 8am on a beautiful sunny morning feeling very cultural and see a panel on a frieze of a man having sex with a horse I can tell you its a shock. Then you photograph it in a artistic way, taking care to focus it correctly, thinking, who should I show this to without them thinking strange that he's showing me this, then you shout " Mick you have to see this". I wonder if Mr TS Burt said the same thing all those years ago.
What followed from Mick was boyish schoolboy laughter that set the tone for the rest of the tour. I hasten to add we were alone, no tour guide, no other visitors just two Englishmen looking at 80,000 images of the same woman wondering, this is a bit OCD?
Both Guya - 9th Feb Bodhi tree & the Mahabodhi Temple
Bodh Gaya is the holiest site in the Buddhist world. It was here the Buddha was enlightened under the Bodhi tree. He spent the next seven weeks here before heading off to Sarnath to begin his teaching. Buddhist pilgrims from all over the ancient world also visited the site, including Hsuan Tsang, who visited the site twice during his pilgrimage to India between 630 and 644 A.D and the great Buddhist king, King Asoka, who arrived in 252 B.C.
Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history … the name of Ashoka shines, and shines, almost alone, a star.” – H.G. Wells
Emperor Ashoka (304-232 BCE) is undoubtedly one of the most significant, yet often overlooked figures in the creation of modern India. As leader of the region’s first great empire, Ashoka Maurya wielded a fierce, bloody and iron-fisted approach to the expanse of his kingdom, which at its height engulfed a vast swathe of land from the Hindu Kush to the Bay of Bengal.
Eventually reformed by his encounters with Buddhism however, Ashoka is said to have undergone a profound personal transformation that compelled him to rule his empire no-longer by military force; but by spiritual wisdom, humanistic values, tolerance and respect. In honour of this, the ‘Ashoka Chakra’ is today emblazoned at the centre of the Indian national flag; emblematic of the influence Ashoka still has on the fabric of the nation itself.
It was King Ashoka who first built a temple near the Bodhi tree. In the second century A.D., the original Ashoka's temple was replaced. The present temple, which has gone through many alterations over the centuries, dates from around 600 A.D. The last full account of the temple was written by the Tibetan monk Dharmasvamin, who arrived in 1234 to find only four monks there and the place deserted. Sri Lankans did much to restore the temple, in 1286 and again in the 15th Century.
It is one of the earliest Buddhist temples built entirely in brick, still standing in India, from the late Gupta period.
The history of Bodh Gaya is documented by many inscriptions and pilgrimage accounts. Foremost among these are the accounts of the Chinese pilgrims Faxian in the 5th century and Xuanzang in the 7th century. The area was at the heart of a Buddhist civilization for centuries, until it was conquered by Turkic armies in the 13th century. The place-name, Bodh Gaya, did not come into use until the 18th century.
With the decline of Buddhism in India, the temple was abandoned and forgotten, buried under layers of soil and sand. During the 16th century, a Hindu monastery was established near Bodh Gaya. Over the following centuries, the monastery's abbot or mahant became the area's primary landholder and claimed ownership of the Mahabodhi Temple grounds.
In the 1880s, the-then British government of India began to restore the Mahabodhi Temple under the direction of Sir Alexander Cunningham. Cunningham had joined the Bengal Engineers in 1833 (note at the same time TS Burt was also in the Bengal Engineers)
In 1885, Sir Edwin Arnold visited the site and published several articles drawing the attention of the Buddhists to the deplorable conditions of Bodh Gaya. For three hundred years it had been used as a Hindu temple and many of the Buddhist carvings in the niches around the temple had been pilfered or destroyed and the ancient Ashokan pillars and much of the magnificently carved stone railing around the bodhi tree had been looted. He was guided in this undertaking by Ven.Weligama Sri Sumangala
The modern history of the Mahabodhi Temple begins with the remarkable Sri Lankan Theosophist, David Hewivitarne, better known throughout the Buddhist world as Anagarika Dharmapala.
On January 22, 1891, Dharmapala was on a pilgrimage to the recently restored Mahabodhi Temple, accompanied by Japanese priest Kozen Gunaratna. Here he experienced a shock to find the temple in the hands of a Saivite priest, the Buddha image transformed into a Hindu icon and Buddhists barred from worship. As a result, he began an agitation movement
He wrote in his diary,
"As soon as I touched with my forehead on the Vajrasana a sudden impulse came to my mind. It prompted me to stop here and take care of this sacred spot so sacred that nothing in this world is equal to this place where Prince Sakyasinha gained Enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree".
In 1891 Dharmapala founded the Maha Bodhi Society. One of its primary aims was the restoration to Buddhist control of the Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya, To accomplish this, he initiated a lawsuit against the Brahmin priests who had held control of the site for centuries. After a protracted struggle, this was successful only after Indian independence (1947) and sixteen years after Dharmapala's own death (1933), with the partial restoration of the site to the management of the Maha Bodhi Society in 1949. It was then the temple management of Bodh Gaya was entrusted to a committee comprised in equal numbers of Hindus and Buddhists.
Visiting the Dungeshwari Cave,
Dungeshwari Cave Temples, also known as Mahakala caves, lies 12 km north-east of Bodhgaya. The three caves contain Buddhist shrines, where the Buddha is believed to have piously meditated at this place for six years before he went to Bodhgaya
The Bodhi tree -
It was under this tree that Buddha sat for enlightenment. The present tree is considered as the descendant of the original tree. There is a tradition that Ashoka's wife had it secretly cut down because she became jealous of the time Ashoka spent there. But it grew again and a protective wall was also built at the time. Many sacred trees in India and other countries are originally raised from seeds brought from the ancient Bodh Gaya tree.
After my holiday I read that all pilgrims seek the Bodhi Tree's seeds and leaves as blessings for their monasteries and homes. At 6am first light I walked into the temple complex and sat by the Bodhi tree reflecting that this would be my last chance to visit Bodh Gaya and to recall the sights from yesterday, I had seen a tall elderly European monk collecting the fallen leaves off the Bodhi tree. As I looked up a brief gust of wind and a single leaf fluttered down to my feet. An elderly woman looked at me as I picked it up and handed the single leaf to her, with hands placed together she smiled and thanked me. Now do you believe in fate?.
The wind blew again, two minutes, with leaves fluttering down all around the monks, I gathered 8 leaves and with wet rain drenched socks and a large grin I collected by boots and caught the tuk tuk back to my hotel, and my precious 8 leaves. We were on our way to our final stop in India, Varanasi, the Ghats and the Ganges.
Varanasi and the Ghats - 10th Feb 2010
This was a lengthy journey, again by car, so after a few hours hot and weary we pulled into a dusty lay bye, attracted by the inviting rusty Coke sign. Now try to imagine three Englishmen pulling up metal chairs expecting afternoon tea and scones. The table looked as it hadn't been wiped in days. Mick threw his hands up in frustration " you think they could have wiped it" Seeing an elderly man walking wiping the dirty marble floor with a rag Mick enquired if he would be kind enough to wipe the table. This was duly carried out ........with the floor cloth............ sparking off another Tourette's moment. We left.
The Ganges is not just a river, its an experience, a powerful religious significance to millions of Hindus who take part in the ageless pilgrimages and festivals held along its banks.
The 87 Ghats in Varanasi mostly built after 1700 c are the riverfront steps leading to the banks of the river. Most of the ghats are bathing and puja ceremony ghats. On the western bank the fires of the Manikarnika Ghats have been burning for thousands of years for this is the most sacred place on earth for Hindus and it is believed that if a person’s ashes are scattered here then their soul will finally achieve nirvana (moksha). But to liberate the soul, the worn-out body must first be burned.
Cremation on the Ghats
Up to 300 people a day are cremated Cremation is the preferred way of disposing of dead bodies among Hindus, who believe that fire purifies the soul and frees it from the body, allowing for the person to be reborn.
For centuries, the old and sick have flocked to the site to die on the banks of the Ganges, and special buildings on the site are reserved for those awaiting their final hours but the atmosphere at the giant funeral site is not one of sorrow, as mourners instead laugh, chat and play cards as the funeral preparations are carried out
Piles of mango wood logs, which are cheaper than sandalwood, are used for burning human bodies. About nine million people die in India annually, so for practical reasons other methods of cremations are being introduced using electricity or gas instead
A body is taken down to the Ganges on a bier, wrapped in an orange shroud. It should be burnt in 24 hours of death To begin, the remains are carried through the alleyways of the old city to the holy Ganges on a bamboo stretcher swathed in colourful cloth. The closest male relative must perform the funeral rites, while women are traditionally not allowed to be present for fear they will cry and ruin the respectful atmosphere. The body is then immersed in the Ganges before being laid out to dry for two hours on the steps. Once it has dried, the body is taken to the burning pit and the piles of wood, which have been carefully selected and weighed depending on the amount the family can afford to spend on the ceremony.
No coffins exist in the Hindu world, and only a select group of people are buried instead of burned. These include holy men and, children who die before reaching two years old, as it is believed that their spirits are pure and don’t need to be cleansed by the fire. Criminals and people who have committed suicide are also buried, as their sins are too great to be cleansed by a funeral pyre.
A typical funeral pyre requires 300 kilograms of wood to burn the body sufficiently. Wealthier families may choose to use the much more expensive sandalwood instead of the cheaper mango wood, while the poorest may just use cow dung, and some simply throw the body directly into the river. Clarified (and edible) butter called ghee is smeared on the wood. In the old days, ghee was also used to fill the body before burning and finally Sandalwood powder is poured over to cancel out the smell of burning hair.
But death is believed to be contagious, and only a certain subcaste of the 'Untouchables', an oppressed group of people people shunned by society, are allowed to come into contact with the dead body. The members of this subcaste are called the 'Doms'.
The feet of the body are positioned pointing south in the direction of the realm of Yama, the god of death, and the head positioned north towards the realm of Kubera, the god of wealth.
Traditionally it is the chief mourner, lighting the pyre. He is likely to be the eldest son or closest male relative. He shaves his head and wears white out of respect then sets light to the pyre by accepting flaming kusha twigs from the Doms, and the body becomes an offering to Agni, the god of fire. Heavy wood is placed on top of the body, this is important as heat causes muscles to contract which could cause the body to sit up
After the body has been burned – a rite that is left incomplete if the family can’t afford enough wood – the flames are extinguished with water from the Ganges, and the ashes are scattered into the river.
11th Feb 2010 - Simon had departed from us after the Taj Mahal to pursue his hobby of fishing in the nearby Royal Chitwan National Park later joining Mick and I in Varanasi. We greeted each other with excited tales of taxi journeys, images of men and horses, big fish and tigers on the loose, and oh boy was Simon scared, well its not very British when fishing to be stalked by a tiger. And yes before you ask, he did catch a fish, and he did throw it back.
So at dawn we set off to walk down to the Ghats, it was a groundhog day, a certain person who will remain nameless, a lone voice in the mist muttered....... "Tell me again why do we have to get up in the middle of the night and be the first ones to look at it. It will still be there later on". Simon and I shook our heads in silence and carried on walking.
At 7am there we were on the Ganges in a fog so dense all that could be made out were ghostly shadows, so as intrepid explorers do, we went back to bed.
12th Feb 7am we set off AGAIN to walk down to the Ghats, another groundhog day, the same lone voice in the mist muttering....... "Tell me again why do we have to get up in the middle of the night and be the first ones to look at it. It will still be there later on". Simon and I bowed our heads, and in despair carried on walking.
It was still dark, no fog and behold thousands of Hindus bathing in the Ganges. Now this is a simple question and a simple reply is required, would you walk into a cold polluted river at dawn, when I say polluted I mean look at this four year old report -
A 2006 measurement of pollution in the Ganga revealed that river water monitoring over the previous 12 years had demonstrated fecal coliform counts up to 100,000,000 MPN (most probable number) per 100 ml and biological oxygen demand levels averaging over 40 mg/l in the most polluted part of the river in Varanasi. The overall rate of water-borne/enteric disease incidence, including acute gastrointestinal disease, etc. and was estimated to be about 66%.
A systematic classification done by Uttarakhand Environment Protection and Pollution Control Board’s (UEPPCB) on river waters into the categories A: safe for drinking, B: safe for bathing, C: safe for agriculture, and D: excessive pollution, put the Ganga in D. Coliform bacteria levels in the Ganga have also been tested to be at 5,500, a level too high to be safe for agricultural use let alone drinking and bathing.
The leather industry in Kanpur which employs around 50,000 people in more than 400 tanneries uses chemicals such as toxic chromium compounds. Effectively, chromium levels have not decreased in the Ganga even after a common treatment plant was established in 1995. It now stands at more than 70 times the recommended maximum level
A study conducted by the National Cancer Registry Program (NCRP) under the Indian Council of Medical Research in 2012, suggested that "those living along its banks in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal are more prone to cancer than anywhere else in the country".
Now seriously, what would you say ....WTF...... springs to mind, but as my photographs prove, we witnessed a man catching fish, no not Simon, a group of Japanese tourists, oblivious to the cremated remains floating past them, having their photographs taken, obviously for their impending insurance claim. We three sat in our boat and floated down stream watching the daily ritual of bathing and burning, unfold before our tired eyes, and in my head I hummed the immortal nursery rhyme
Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream.....................................Eliphalet Oram Lyte (1842 - 1913) an American teacher
“Life for now as we floated down the Ganges was a dream life and death being acted out before us on the stage of the Ghats.
So, we three Englishmen, rowed our small boat, and yes two were merry about it. For now?
And as we eat our last meal in the hotel, we were astonished to view out over the terrace a huge wedding parading past, with the groom, dressed in all of his finery, on a white horse. The images of Khajuraho came to mind, only in India.
13th Feb 2010 - we flew out of Varanasi leaving India behind, heading towards Kathmandu Nepal our final leg of this adventure.