It is tough to get to Tibet. Expensive with requirements to travel with a mandated guide. The guide ushering you back and forth to State approved sites through the territory. When I was traveling in China, I decided to go as far West as I could without crossing over. I visited, Northern Yunnan, Western Sichuan, Gansu, and Qinghai provinces. While the defacto border lies to the West, a diverse group of ethnic minorities populate Western China, among them, Tibetans. The above photos (from top to bottom) are from Xiahe and the Labrang Monastery; and Shangri-La, a town in Northern Yunnan renamed for the famous James Hilton book Lost Horizon.
Excerpts from my Travel Journal:
Woke up pretty tired of moving and travel but went to Xiahe anyway. Beautiful countryside, absoloutely love this place. Few tourists, but hard to find accomidations as there were only a couple of guest houses open to Westerners. The road in is paved with construction, signs that the town is planning to receive many more to come. Development is looming. Tourists and us alike were there to visit the Labrang Monastery. The Labrang Monastery is one of the six great monasteries of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism and the largest outside of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. At one time, the monastery housed over 4,000 monks, but the state has since restricted enrollment to 1,500.
Set in the misty mountains, it's truly special here. and almost completely populated with Tibetans and a few Muslims. We took a tour of the monastry, which was a little strange. We had to walk around in groups and it's always strange to be in a group of white people oggoling culture. I was mostly frustrated when we were granted a brief glimpse into main meditation hall, where thousands of Buddhists monks were chanting. A beautiful, gutteral, etheral, throat singing chant; it completely entranced me. However, of course, there were people taking photos and videos (even though our tour guide repeatedly asked them not to) and talking loudly to each other. I mean, a little respect people. We spent the afternoon walking the 3 km kora of prayer wheels, letting our intentions flutter in the breeze.
As usual, I have many thoughts and reflections I can't quite name. The history of Gansu, the spiritual intention of this place. The contrasts and contradictions of traveling in China.
I think my favorite day with them (my friends Carl & Shilene) was on out day long trek on the outskirts of Shangri-La. Unfortuantly Patrick was too sick to go with us...but we had a great time with out Tibetan tour guide, as playful as a 12-year-old. We visited a Tibetan home and tried some Yak butter tea and cheese...extremely salty...went to a small monastery and ended it all with a nice dip in some hot springs. Really enjoyed the relaxed vibe of the town, but know that in a few years it will be a bumping tourist attraction like Lijiang. I mean, they renamed the town after what was probably a fictional place just to attract people. What is progress? What toll does it take on culture? Money preserves and also preverts the culture. Do we have to scrifice identity for economic progress? Here Tibetan culture is a show, like that of the North American Indian. Dress up, sign and dance for us Han Chinese and Western tourists. It's a sort of cultural masterbation. But without the draw of the tourism, the Chinese government may have dismissed these cultures long ago, seeing them as a threat rather than an attraction. For now, I'll just enjoy this quite cafe and hope that this town can hold on to a piece of its charm.