On to Labrang, the road lifts to a 3600m peak through vast open grasslands with multiple mountain ranges off in the distance. It was classic and strikingly beautiful Tibet. Continuing further, a gathering of nomads was evident in the distance, making offerings to the mountain gods.
And further, we peaked again at 3400m, stopping at a popular viewpoint with a viewing platform, a few small shops, tents for overnight guests up on the hill. Small groups of Tibetans and monks were lounging, drinking tea and picnicking on mats under portable shade.
Further still, we turned off the main road and went 9km, reaching a small monastery called Drakar on a remote hillside up against soaring walls of granite. The highlight of the day.
The abbott of this location is a 75 year old woman who has been meditating in hermitage for 50 years—that’s two extremely unusual circumstances in the body of a single person.
There are two hundred monks here. Everything about this place, how we were warmly met, shown around, allowed into the shrines, given time to contemplate, felt inviting and friendly. In fact, my driver knew one of the lead monks here from three years ago when he brought several American filmmakers for three days.
We were invited to lunch inside the monk’s quarters and served by a young monk with tea, soup, fruit and bread. The interior was wooden flooring and cabinetry, and quarters themselves housed-as far as I can tell- three monks on snug and warm mattresses, covered with the casual beauty of Tibetan blankets. There were armchairs, a flat screen TV, kitchen, an “office area,” a small washing machine and western plumbing. I don’t assume all the monks apartments were this comfortable.
Then something else was brought to the center of the table, what looked like it must have been a yak stomach inside which were pieces of meat. The entire concoction had been cooked over hot stone. All at the table, except me, plucked pieces of meat from this organic container that smelled so very much of dead animal. Not appealing.
We couldn’t leave without giving our host a crash course in auto maintenance for his brand new 15 yr-old Lexus SUV. I have no idea how these things are financed.
But Drakar is a place I would return to. Its remote setting is spectacular, commanding a vast view across verdant grasslands to the far mountains while holding a snug position against its own soaring backdrop of vertical stone.
Tenzin is twenty-nine years old now. He was born in Tibet and was taken to India at age 11 by a family member. He entered India as an undocumented person. He attended primary and secondary school there, learning English and Chinese and even completed three years of university majoring in English literature, but was unable to complete the final year because his parents wanted him to come back. They had not seen him for 10 years. So he returned to Tibet, just as he left, without passport, in 2011.
Without government ID, you are a non-person here. He managed to get ID (I did not ask how), and to find work. His parents are indifferent to him completing his bachelor’s degree. He can do the coursework by attending a Chinese school, essentially a mail-order university, but if he signs up for a course, he has to complete it within a specified period of time and must work to support himself while studying.
It’s extremely difficult for a Tibetan to get a passport now. Just another restriction placed on the movement and activities of Tibetans. So his prospects for employment are limited. He would not be able to find a job requiring fluent Chinese because the Chinese apparently believe that those jobs should be reserved for people for whom Chinese is their primary language. A Tibetan fluent in Chinese is simply not considered capable. (Imagine the effect of such a policy in America–or anywhere else but Tibet)
His prospects for completing his university degree are limited and his travel is limited because he doesn’t have a passport. I suspect Tenzin is much better equipped to make his own way under the present circumstances than the average Tibetan, yet even with his skills and education, there are few doors that are truly open and he is not free to seek opportunity elsewhere…except by illegal means, of course.
I found him intelligent, capable of conversing on a wide range of topics, good humored, insightful and very knowledgeable on the topics of interest to me. I was well-taken care of. I hope we can meet again sometime.
On to Labrang.