Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Throughout the high altitude regions of Tibet and the surrounding Tibetan provinces of Sichuan, Qinghai and Yunnan, disposing of the dead can prove to be a problem. The ground is often frozen solid so digging graves is out. These regions are often above the tree line, so there's no firewood, so cremation is not an option. The solution is called Tianzang (Sky Burial). This is where the corpse is laid out in the open and chopped up and the sight of flesh draWs in the vultures. A feeding frenzy ensues and Tibetans see the ceremony as a way of taking the corpse to the heavens. Sky burials are generally held for those of a higher cast. Those of a lower cast are generally just thrown down gorges. For this reason Tibetans don't eat fish (or vultures, for that matter). It would be a shocking, yet fascinating experience to witness a Sky Burial, but needless to say, its very rare for a traveller to be invited to such a ceremony. And to go without an invitation would not be an option for us.And so, when I came around a bend to find a large, still warm, piece of road kill, Markus and I decided to bring along the recently deceased 'Roger' (pictured above) as food for the vultures. For 2 days solid we scanned the skies looking for vultures. We must have spotted close to 50 vultures in the proceeding week. These hugh birds generally congregate in large open barren areas as they rely on sight rather than smell to locate their prey. But as we dropped altitude, we entered a huge forested region. This was not going to be the hunting ground of the vulture and as Roger began to gain the attention of the large dogs of the region, we had to ultimately accept that he was of a lower cast. We threw him down a gorge. He sleeps with the fishes.

Its been two days of continual downhill. Yesterday before leaving the town of Banma, we visited a huge marque full of monks and watched a lively debate. We hadn't a clue what they were talking about but it seemed as much about clapping hands and movement as discussion. We continued for another day of downhll. We were following a river which would eventually take us out of the Quinghai provence and into the Sichuan provence.The scenery is beyond description. The whole journey from Xining to here (800KMs or so) has been extraordinary. But it just kept getting better. Little or no tourists must have come this way. When we enter a village, everyone stops and stares. When we go into a restaurant, we often fill the place with onlookers. Our bikes, our clothes, our language and everything else fascinates people. It can be all quite daunting, but when you make eye contact, its all smiles.The river (I don't know its name) must be of massive spiritual important to the Tibetan Buddhists. I've never seen so many monasteries, so many monks, so many prayer flags. We even saw pilgrims (video below). They would walk 3 steps, then lay down on their stomachs, completely stretched out, bow to the ground, get back up, walk 3 steps and continue the process. I don't know where they came from, but chances are they are going to Lhasa. Its about 1000KMs. I'll probably be back in Ireland before they reach Lhasa.

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