Judging from the number of prayer flags, the interest in yoga and dharma talks, the emphasis on films on Tibet at Mountainfilm, there definitely exists a mountain-to-mountain affiliation between Telluride and Tibet. A few years ago, Town Council even voted unanimously to try to enter into a sister city relationship with Gyantse, a town in central Tibet – unfortunately, however, our invitation was deemed untimely and rejected.
Quite a few Telluriders have explored the “land of snows,” as climbers, trekkers, students of Tibetan Buddhism or out of plain curiosity. This coming June, I would like take a group of interested, adventurous travelers with healthy stomachs and a good pair of hiking boots to the eastern part of Tibet, the old province of Kham.
I like to call this two-week journey a “beginner’s trip to Tibet,” since it is designed for travelers with less experience in third world countries, no inclination to do long treks or sleep in a tent, but the desire to experience Tibetan everyday life up close.
The landscapes this journey traverses range from the fertile lowlands of western China to the seemingly endless grasslands of the Tibetan nomads and horsemen to Minyak Gangkar (“White Snow of Minyak,” also known by its Chinese name Gongga Shan), a 24,790 foot peak.
Tibetan culture is comparatively alive and well in Kham: dashing Khampa men still weave strands of red yarn into their gorgeous long black hair, wear their sheepskin coats with just one shoulder covered, and walk the kora around the local temple, prayer beads in hand. There are ancient prayer halls and other places of worship spread throughout the countryside. With the Buddhist faith still an integral part of every day life, we’ll see mani walls, stupas, whole fields of prayer flags, monasteries and nunneries everywhere. Here, in the traditional borderlands between China and Tibet, the Tibetan culture and way of life is somewhat more tolerated by the Chinese government than in central Tibet, especially in the capital, Lhasa. In Kham you will even find pictures of the Dalai Lama tucked into a temple’s main altar.
What makes Tibetan Buddhist art and architecture so fascinating – and photogenic – is the Tibetans’ fondness of color and abundance. They pour their hearts, money, imagination and deep-felt love for the Buddha into their places of worship – in stark contrast to Zen Buddhists who embrace a pure simplicity. In a Tibetan temple a wall’s every inch is carved and painted, covered with brocades or statues of gods, saints, guardians and benefactors. Strong colors make the temples glow, even if hardly any daylight finds its way in.
Temple dances, horse races, a variety of secular and religious holidays mark the calendar; however, we will also see too many young men playing pool all day long, drinking too much beer, going “home” to totally non-descript ticky-tacky housing complexes.
We will travel with Conscious Journeys, the for-profit arm of Tamdin Wangdu’s Tibetan Village Project, a humanitarian aid organization. Tamdin and our guide Tempa are natives of Kham; they have friends and relatives all over the area, are cheerfully greeted in almost every place we will stop. They both have plenty of experience and can show us places other tourists will not easily get to.
Tempa’s large family home will be ours for two nights. Homestays have become a new way for locals to earn a bit of money; they give both parties the opportunity to learn about each other in a relaxed atmosphere, usually with lots of laughter and teasing, and your chance for sampling a cup of yak-butter tea.
Depending on our group’s skills and interests, we can do some service work, in an orphanage or a local hospital. Since there will only be six to eight of us in this group, we can custom-tailor this trip to our interests and preferences.
The weather and other practical details?
June should be dry and sunny, green and as lush as a landscape above 10,000 feet will ever turn. We will indeed live above that magic line that separates Tibet from mainland China, for 12 days. We will have to observe the same rules we recommend to visitors to Telluride: drink plenty of (boiled) water, get enough rest, take it easy for the first three days. And be careful what you eat. The Szechuanese influence on variety and tastiness of the dishes we will sample is obvious and positive, even if the white rice gets to be a bit much.
Please get in touch with me if you are tempted to join or just to hear more! You might enjoy the trip so much that you will also sign up for the “Pilgrimage to Mount Kailash,” coming up this fall; more about that in another dispatch.
At a glance: Journey to Kham (now western Szechuan, China), June 2-16; about $ 2,500 plus airfare to and from Chengdu, China;
Lhasa extension possible. You need a valid passport with a Chinese visa; no immunizations.
In a slideshow and talk at the Wilkinson Library program room on Wednesday, Feb 27, at 7:15 p.m. (after John Bruna’s monthly Dharma Talk), I will show pictures and tell stories from my four previous trips to this fascinating country. I hope to address many potential questions with this presentation and whet your appetite!
For more info email email@example.com
Tashi delek: good and day and good luck!