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Monday, August 08, 2005


As I have been walking all day, I thought I would take a bit of a rest before following a small river out to a place where I saw some kids swimming before. When I saw them I was descending from a road that led me out to a town nestled in a valley about 4 km or so away from Langmusi. The walk led past a monastery and out into rolling grasslands, and for most of the walk I felt like the only people on Earth were a few cowboys and me. The town I walked past rolled down the slope of a hill. Cattle and sheep and dogs were fenced in by thin barbed wire fences and fences made of jagged planks of wood. With the red roofs of the homes and smoke drifting into the air it was a scene out of a Christmas movie (well, minus the snow) or some other idyllic situation.

Another part of the same walk took me up to the sky burial ground above the monastery. This is where bodies are disposed of. I did not see the ritual, and in fact I did not exactly intend to walk into the area. It was when I looked down to see what appeared to be part of a blackened hip bone that I realized where I was. Then there was a finger joint, two skulls, and an entire spine still attached to a third skull. These were lying amid wildflowers and old fabric and small pieces of trash. As I hurried to return to the trail that would lead me back to the main horse trail between the two towns, I stepped over the lower half of a jaw bone. None of this was particularly horrific, mind you. I just felt like I was in a place I should not be.

As I was walking back from a small hill overlooking vast and endless grass covered hills, and was passing the village again, two boys came running up calling to me. They immediately asked me to take their picture. Their faces and hands were filthy, but as soon as I took out my camera they posed as if they have been in front of cameras their whole lives. In fact, they said, they have their picture taken by passing foreigners just about every day. They walked back with me to Langmusi and for the first time this trip I felt a little bit on guard, despite how young the kids were. This was the second time a couple of children approached me like this today, and it is obvious that they are growing accustomed to a foreign presence here, and from the mere fact that they asked me if I was a "you qian ren" (rich man) tells me that maybe when they are older they won't be so satisfied with the life they have here. What a difference between the people here and those in Ruoergai, who for the most part were hesitant in front of the camera, at least until they saw someone else have theirs taken first.

Langmusi is a beautiful town. On one side are mountains that remind me a lot of the Flatirons in Boulder. Then there is the constant haze of smoke rising over the town, from chimneys made of brick and corrugated metal, from incense at the temples, or from wood burning stoves in restaurants. The mix of odors--wood smoke, incense and excrement (animal, and I suspect human as well)--is intoxicating. The sounds as well, of bells, and horse hooves, of Tibetan chatter and birds. On my first walk this morning, I went behind the other main monastery in town, along the White Dragon River. I walked past a few tents, past a manmade waterfall and a big pool of clear water and then into a narrow opening that led into a narrow valley between two sides of steep pine covered hills. Straight ahead, the mountains were taller and more imposing. While walking along the river (more a creek, really), crossing back and forth over it, the only sounds present were the birds, the water, my breathing and my steps. At one point I heard behind me a haunting melody being sung in Tibetan. Later I saw the man, walking along in a leather jacket, his hands stuffed deep in his jacket pockets as he walked along. He came from Ruoergai and had just arrived in town today. A nice man whose voice will stay with me for a long time.

Langmusi reminds me a bit of Sarajevo, with dirty streets and a mix of religions with mountains forming an imposing and breathtaking backdrop. There just happen to be a lot more tourists here than there were in Sarajevo (which is a shame because that is a beautiful place, and I quite hope to return someday). The Chinese tourists stick out like a sore thumb, about as obvious as the other foreigners here. Accordingly, there are several hostels and restaurants lining the main street, places with names like the Nomad Hostel and Ana's Cafe (something like that). Apparently, several places are following the lead of a place called Lesha's which I know is written up in Let's Go China, and serve Yak Burgers and apple pie and omelettes and coffee and a variety of other foreign friendly dishes.

It is small wonder though. Any place where you can walk for twenty minutes, be surrounded by jaw dropping vistas and feel like you are the only person on earth is a place anybody would want to come. And besides that, if you don't want to eat in a restaurant crowded with fellow travelers, you can always pop into the place I ate lunch in today, dimly lit with a concrete floor and old, scratched wooden tables. The table surrounded two furnaces where blackened tea pots sat steaming. A monk watched me write in my notebook and in the backroom, unseen, a group of Tibetan men had what sounded to be a horrible argument until they all started laughing loud, uncontrollable laughter. Never mind that the beef noodle soup was too oily or that the green tea a bit weak, and with too much sugar. They cost .45 USD altogether, and to experience that kind of ambience was worth a whole lot more than that.

Now my legs are rested and I am ready to walk again. The sun never came out today, but I am hoping the same sort of haze that descended upon the evening returns in the next few hours. I'm a sucker for atmosphere.


Anonymous Natalia said...

THose kind of places are the ones I meant by "strange food". Please, be careful with what you eat.

4:57 AM  
Anonymous Mom said...

I second Natalia's comment.

Not knowing exactly where this place is, I wonder how it came to be "Tibetan." Is it actually in Tibet? Is it populated by emigres from Tibet? Is it designed as a tourist town, like Williamsburg or Dearborn Village?

Just curious....

8:45 PM  

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