Tibet’s borders with previous China constitute the eastern margins of the Tibetan Hight. This area is used as a seam zone between different communities which settle in it; the Hans, the Buddhist Tibetans, and the minority of the Hui – a Moslem group which origins at the Mongolic Hight. In 1959 China has completely taken over Tibet, and took charge of the cultured and political freedom which remain init by then. Since then, as part of its attempt to diminish the Tibetan people, the Chinese government has transferred Chinese population to Tibetan areas in order to extinct the Tibetans’ religion and tradition. Nevertheless, the Buddhist religion in Tibet is still living and breathing, and gets out to all the Tibetan people.
In this journey of mine, I chose to focus on the Tibetan people’s culture, religion and tradition. Therefore I intended to visit four authentic Tibetan towns which were close to each other geographically (in order to ease the travel from one to another): Xinduqiao, Tagong, Bamei, and Danba.
A ride in a spasmodic taxi on a curvy road which was icy for unstopping snow, with a Tibetan driver who nonstop mumbled mantras, we then crossed the Zheduoshan heights at altitude of 15,075 ft.
Using sign language, I said to the driver that I was looking for a place to stay for the night. He dropped me off at a local family’s house, where for 30 yoan I got a bed with warm sheet, and for 10 more I got dinner which included slightly baked dough, yak milk and tea. I took out of my bag a tuna can, some soup bags, raisins and almonds. I asked the family to join me, they were glad to and enjoyed the holly land’s flavors.
When I went to take a shower I have found a small room in which there was an authentic privy with water drizzling, which was suppose to be my shower… I had to split my feet over the privy otherwise I would fall into it. The water was lukewarm, but for their defense they remembered to arrange a few heat lamps, which normally are used for chicken roasting. At least I wasn’t cold…
Without early planning, with no planed schedule (except for the date of my flight back to Israel) – this is how my journey in Tibet began.
Tibetan gifts by ceremonies, occasions and festivals
I went outside early in the morning to find where the hard knocks and loud noisesI heard came from. I have figured that next to the house there was a small labor which produced hammers, hoes and other metal gear. The roller knocked at the same pace which made it to be sound like background instrument to the yaks that were walking in the narrow road next to the woman who carried water in buckets and to the mother who carried her baby on her back in a warm colorful carrier. That baby wore a pompons decorated hat, and this whole scene was moving pleasantly, peacefully and in wonderful harmony. I stepped up one of the houses stairs to take a shot of a yaks herd which galloped into the passageway.
After taking a few shots, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Behind me stood a man with a long braid, a heavy stylish erring was hanging on his ear, and he wore a pale cowboys hat. He invited me into his house. A bit hesitating, I passed the gate into the yard, directly into a decorated and colorful door into a slight dark space. After my eyes got use to the limited light room, my heart was delightful for the sight I have seen in front of me. In a room accessorized with speakers and a huge TV, a family sat and sealed with preparations for a religious ceremony. One woman was brighting some sipper tools which contained oil for lighting candles. Another woman was folding silk scarfs into plastic bags. One guy kneaded figures made of clay in different sizes. On one bed, a very old lady sat and turned a huge prayer wheel.
A small bowl with yak milk mixed with tea has been served to me. I wasn’t surprised for the sour flavor of that beverage and drank for respect and politeness to my hosts.
At first I was shocked for the sights and surprised particularly for the invitation to get into their own private space and to be exposed to their own life. A few slight bows and “Tashi Dilay” blessings and I quickly recovered from that first shock. carefully I picked my camera, trying to figure their attitude, feelings and responds for that. Fortunately I’ve got a full corroboration from the in tire family. I haven’t really figured what was the purpose of that ceremony they were preparing to and where it was taking place. The next day thought I have found the answer as I was driving to Heping (meaning “peace and harmony”) – a nuns monastery in Gerima village, next to the town of Tagong.
The great stupa in this place is made of thousands of slate suffuses on which mantras are engraved. Those plates are being purchased by pilgrims, and dedicated for the built of the stupa which gets higher constantly. Huge prayer wheels are attached under the stupa. Dressed with their traditional outfit and decorated by variety of jewelry and accessory, the pilgrims – including children, youth and adults – turn the 656 ft. perimeter stupa (!!!) a hundred and eight times (!!!) – for a hundred and eight holy scriptures which were translated from Sanskrit to Bod skad. I was deeply impressed by the corroboration among the young generation. The temple stood still magnificently on the mountainside over the stupa. As I approached to entrance I heard the unique voice of the nuns who were praying at the moment. I asked for permit ion to enter, and surprisingly I was permitted. I took my shoes off and integrated in a very big and tall hall. Inside, hundreds of nuns sat in rows, faced each other, while between them there was a short bench with holy books. They were all skinheads and wrapped with red cloaks. On one of the walls there were great golden Buda statues hanged. So pleasantly, the nuns sang psalms and in between gently tapped on little drums with their singing. Along that, extended blast emerge from the corner of the hall. Their source was two giant horns, about 20 ft. long, played by two nuns in very high effort. In some point of the prayer, the nuns threw rice towards the ceiling and the floor was covered by white bright layer under the tender light that came threw into the hall. As the prayer was over, a spectacular sight took place; A stream of nuns dressed in red robes and golden pointy hats were moving into an alleyway which lead to the enclosed temple, and preyer flags flew over.
Living Buda ceremony next to the nuns monastery
At the moment everything was clear. I have realized the in the house where I was invited in Sinidiziu, they were getting ready to this ceremony here in Gerima.
The nuns settled on the ground in rows in front of a decorated wooden stand, like the houses and the Tibetan outfit. The colorful platform was raised over the ground, and the stairs led to it. In the wooden stand sat the “Living Buda”. According to the Mahayana, this is the Buda’s soul which travels in different people’s bodies – till the arrival of freedom and salvation. In each region, a Buda is being chosen by astrologies to be the holy. Big audience has gathered and settled. Everybody held rounding prayer wheels in different varieties. They mumbled mantras while listening to the Living Buda’s homily.
I wanted to get a better look at the Living Buda and maybe take a shot of him. Hesitatingly, I slowly crossed the defined area, concerned in case I was doing something wrong. No one seemed to be bothered though. I have reached to the Buda. As he noticed my presence he winked to me, smiled in generosity and asked me to approach. He put a silk golden scurf around my neck, decorated with different Tibetan symbols. As a tribute I donated a few dozens of yoans and put them onto the pile of bills next to him. I bowed him respectfully and asked his permission to take photos. The holy man took a break from his activity, did a pose for me, and made my day.
I went back to my previous spot in the audience delighted and excited from the unexpected moment I experienced.
The mantras together with the sounds of drums and taps which were played in high volume threw the surrounding speakers have raised the crowd, the monks and the nuns. They raised their hands up and bowed for prayer of thanks. I was very excited for the presence of the elderly and handicaps who have taken part in the ceremony. Despite of their limitations they have gave everything they could in order to catch up with the audience’s pace.
As the ceremony ended the audience walked out threw the gates in wonderful and quiet order. Joyful and delightful the people went away.
I was impressed by the honest welcome and the kind hospitality I got anywhere I went in Tibet. The Tibetan people a known for their humanity. The culture and the religion are as one. Religion which preaches against violence and encourages harmony and love among human beings. The people I have met were friendly and positive by every single aspect. They were more than happy to help with any given thing they could. I have never felt scammed or threatened anywhere by anything. Wherever I went I literally felt quite and peace. I have never even felt concerned for my high duty filming equipment. Everywhere I went I have received unexpected gifts that any traveler and photographer would love to experience on their way. As I am in my way, I respected and honored the religion and culture of those I filmed. I believe that each human shall live by their faith. Therefore, in every journey of mine I try to look close and see the life perception and costume of the place.
I came back to Israel full of admiration, appreciation and so thankful for the Tibetan people. The other award I earned was the photographs I perpetuate in the lens of my camera.