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Litang: Monks, Cowboys and Yaks

We are now four days away from Litang, a town that sits at 4100m seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The minute the bus pulls in to town you can tell that you are not really in China anymore. We arrived exhausted and were blown away by the yak skin jackets, silver and
turquoise earrings, cowboy hats, sun-tanned skin and the "nihao" replaced by "tashi delek". Khampa Tibetans roam the town, they were a red scarf in their hair with yak bones decorating the scarf. They are known as Tibetan cowboys, and they staged a rebellion in 1959 andconsequently Litang was heavily bombed by the Chinese. Photos of the Dalai Lama are proudly displayed in many homes and buildings, including our hotel.

After having dinner, Yann and I noticed we had an admirer as we walked along the main street. After a few minutes the sixteen year old boy introduced himself as Bryeena (found out later it was Bruno) and told us he would show us to the internet bar. But first, did we want to go visit his school and meet "Teacher" his English teacher? Not having the heart to say no, we walked with him to the edge of town to his school where we were greeted by lots of excited kids, but we couldn't find "teacher". After helping Bruno set up an internet account at the cafe we were invited back to his place where we were greeted warmly by his mother, grandmother and greatgrandmother in their one-room home. We were fed boiled potatoes which we dipped in a bowl of salt, Tibetan flat bread and of course lots of butter tea. We happily excepted the
generous gifts and before we left we parted with our Mandarin-English phrasebook which we left for Bruno to help with his English. We also promised to meet him again at his school the next day to attend his English class. Heading back to the hotel we ran into a local guide and a tourist who told us about a nomad festival that we could visit, we agreed to meet the guide the next morning.

Bright and early the next day, 11 people crammed into a 7-person van and headed to what we were told was a nomad festival. We drove for about an hour down a deserted highway and then appeared hundred of tents camped along the highway. We parked the van and our guide
brought us first to visit the lama so that we could "ask him questions". We all entered the colourful tent and were greeted by a fairly young, fairly fat, monk wearing big sunglasses and a huge smile. We could ask him question through our guide, who didn't speak much English. The lama is the head monk of the Litang Monastery and had moved for 2 weeks, along with his 800 monks to the campsite along the highway, so that nomads can come once a year to pray with them. He asked us where we were from and was particularly interested in a German girl's cold sore. After a few minutes of awkward conversation, including me telling him that I liked beer, it was time for us to leave. The guide had the German girl kneel on the ground and the lama
proceeded to breathe on her face. We all thought he was curing her cold sore, but it turns out we would all recieve he same blessing before leaving the tent and visiting the camp.

The next few hours were a fury of photo taking, with monks and nomads following us everywhere, holding our hands and running away with our cameras to take photos of their friends. Every once in a while the monks would be called to prayer and 800 boys in crimson robes would bolt from every direction to the monastery tent and chant. In the early afternoon, we headed to a big black tent to find crowds of nomads throwing wood frantically onto a huge fire on which sats dozens of pots of melting yak butter. We all smiled eagerly and snapped away
at the men blowing on the fire and chanting, until all of a sudden they came running towards us with the pots of scalding butter in hand. As the crowd shouted for me to get out of the way, I just stood there, until someone from the crowd pulled me out of the line of butter. It turns out, this is a daily butter melting ceremony where they prepare over 1000kg of melted butter which is then drunk by the monks and nomads. As the butter is carried out of the tent, another set of young monks come running and carry smaller containers back to the prayer tent for the elder monks to drink. The back and forth running went on for most of the time we were there.

Yann and I ended the visit at the lama's tent where we offered a donation to the monastery (we had been told to do so), and in exchange were offered hunks of yak butter to eat, or even better a bowl of melted yak butter to drink. We left the campsite in awe of what we had just been through.

The day was not over yet though, we still had a meeting with Bruno at his school. We arrived at the gate, and were greeted by "teacher", a 21 year-old Tibetan with long black hair and Western clothing. He brought us to the small rundown classroom where 20 eager students poured in. The class he teaches is actually an after school class, that he teaches to the poor kids from town, including some nomad children, those who can't afford to pay for an English teacher. The kids are absolutely wonderful, so dedicated, they come to this class at 4:30 after having been at school since 7 a.m. and furiously take notes and shout out English sentences. What we didn't know about our invitation to the class, is that we had actually been enrolled as guest teachers. We nervously gave a lesson, I tought them fruits and Yann taught them sports. Then we taught them the word 'favorite'. At the end of class "teacher" asked each student at a time, what their
favorite fruit, or sport was, Bruno (the oldest boy in the class) would shout out "my favorite sport is basketball", whether or not the question was about fruits or sports, and whether or not he had been addressed. After class, we treated "teacher" to dinner and heard about his dreams to become a movie star so that he could bring the money back to Litang to all the poor students. We promised to send him some English videos, so that his students could watch them. Bruno followed us back to our hotel room where we eventually had to kick him out so
that we could go to bed.

We left Litang reluctantly the next morning, to head south to Shangri-la, although I felt that we were already there.

11 comments:

denise said...

Quelles belles photos que vous nous avez envoyees, je fais le tour du bureau presque a tous les jours pour montrer votre site.
Le monde n'en revient tout simplement pas.
Les prises de vue sont FANTASTIQUES. ainsi que les details.

Continuez et faite attention a vous deux
On vous embrasse et on vous aime beaucoup beaucoup, beaucoup.


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Jean Richer said...

fascinating adventures.Love your blog.

Papa

Jean Richer said...

Em and Yann? How cold is it when you were with monk festival.Why are monks so young? Is this a way for poor families to get education for their young? Do the monks stay monks all their lives? Who do they worship? Where are the women?

Do you now like Yak butter tea? Do they drink yak butter straight? or dip it?Is it drunk hot?Do they eat anything but yak butter? Is it a luxury? Is is holy?
How windy is it in these plains below the foothills? Is there electricity? I notice a mobile phone with monk. Though area seems desolate is electronic access available?

How are they treating you as man and woman travelling together?

Just a few questions. Because I'm interested.

Papa

Jean Richer said...

How do these people make a living? Nomads and monks?
They seem to have no facial hair. What do they think of Yann's beard? The children especially?
Is there TV in the tents? What's on? reruns of Baywatch and Dallas?
What do the monks think of Baywatch? Or George W. Bush? Do they know he exists?

Papa

Jean Richer said...

7

denise said...

Bonjour Yann & Emilie

Je viens de voir vos photos chez Denise
& Raymond avec Nicole et Mario.Je suis
agreablement surprise de voir votre courage.
pour le manger et le coucher.

Grandmaman Mondou

P.s.: Faites attention a vous, je pense a vous et je vous embrasse tres fort
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denise said...

Bonjour Yann & Emilie

Je viens de voir vos photos chez Denise
& Raymond avec Nicole et Mario.Je suis
agreablement surprise de voir votre courage.
pour le manger et le coucher.

Grandmaman Mondou

P.s.: Faites attention a vous, je pense a vous et je vous embrasse tres fort
xxxxxxxx

Princesse Eve et Prince Matt said...

I wanna go meet you there........It sounds like so much fun. I recieved your gifts....Thanks for the cup, not what i was expecting, but I have it on my desk at work, Everyone here follows your site, my bellmans are very interested and even put it as their favorit on the internet....

Super-Mario said...

Quelles aventures que vous vivez! Je vous admire. Ce dernier blogue était fascinant. Si nous pouvons leur faire parvenir des videos en anglais ou pourquoi pas ne français.

Je n’ai pas bien compris l’histoire du lama avec la fille allemande bien que les croyances de guérison semblent bien loin des nôtres.

Belles photos!

Super-maman said...

Bonjour Yann et Émilie,
Je suis vraiment encore impressionnée! Belles expériences. C'est excitant pour nous tous qui vous suivont! Les enfants sont tellement beaux.
Bravo Emilie encore pour ton reportage et Yann merci pour les belles photos. Vous savez l'émission "La course autour du monde" va reprendre, êtes-vous intéressés!!
Attention à vous et soyez prudents
Je vous aimexxxxxxxxxxxx

Nicole
P.S. le butter yak me donne un peu mal au coeur

matantechantal said...

Salut vous deux,je suis en retard de quelques jours.Le dernier blog etait plus long a lire...Mais,finalement Ericka m'a aidé!Nous avons trouvé ce parcours très touchant et les photos superbes.Quelle vie!!!Et pour vous aussi.A la prochaine...On vous embrasse.XXX XXX