people think of the Tibetan people and the Tibetan Plateau as being only within the lines drawn by the Chinese government, the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Both the Plateau and the Tibetan people are spread over several other provinces. The government encourages Hans to move into Tibetan lands with various incentives, and by building new cities deep in formerly exclusive Tibetan lands. But the fingers of Himalayas we crossed to climb the Plateau, and the difficulty in building and maintaining roads, have kept this part of Tibetan land Tibetan.
When we awoke it was still raining, spattering the mud puddles of the courtyard with discouraging regularity. We couldn’t imagine another day of near hypothermia, and more hills and bad roads. But, we didn’t want to stay another day with the road workers, nice as they were, so we packed up our filthy gear and steeled ourselves for the day. By the time we were ready to go, the rain had stopped, and there was even a hint of blue over the first hill. The road workers were spot on with their description of the road ahead, a first on this trip.
We used Bob’s jacket printed with a map of the world on it to try to convey where we were from, where we’d been and where we planned to go. I have no idea if they’d ever seen a map before. It doesn’t really matter to them, their world is an isolated village along a road between two passes and 50 kilometers from the nearest town. It sounds romantic: going to sleep to the sounds of chanting and waking to the sounds of milking. But these women’s lives are a gritty existence that our culture hasn’t known for generations. Hauling wood, water, and food up the ladder to the living space, making butter and curds, grinding grain, hand washing clothes, keeping the fire going, cooking… Mundane, routine, weather-dependent, smoke-filled and layered with years of grime.
We were in the middle to nowhere for three days, climbed more passes than were supposed to be there, were never below about 14,000 feet and bad weather surprised us. The road to Shangri-la is always filled with life and surprise.
Follow the whole story over the next three posts.