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.