Tibet (Day 9) – Lhasa to Drikung 29 June 2009

We left Lhasa around 11 am in a 9-seater van (with Lester and I in the back, and we learned the shocks are completely shot!).

One thing I have not yet mentioned is that the boom town of Lhasa has a very strange and mysterious traffic flow system. Many busy 4-way intersections have great lights, but one of the MAIN 3-way intersections at the heart of the city has NO streetlight, and it is LITERALLY every vehicle AND pedestrian or bicyclist for itself, going in every direction imaginable. In addition, there are almost no horns heard, and it is as if drivers have a sixth sense for other vehicles or pedestrians. It is quite amazing how people drive – not just here, but everywhere in China we have been. On a two-lane road, everyone drives in the *center* in order to leave room for pilgrims, bicyclists, and motorcycle carts on both sides, and weaves continually around slow and between oncoming traffic. On a four-lane road, usually the outside lanes are blocked by parked traffic, and it is quite common to for vehicles to move all the way over to a far, oncoming lane!! We see vehicles coming straight at us all the time – I am astonished that we have yet to witness an accident, and wonder what the vehicular death rates are.

monkSo, all along the road to Drikung, which is well paved but not exactly ‘flat’, our teeth rattled mercilessly. It was a longer drive than I anticipated – about 3+ hours, and at one point we had to get out of the van and walk across the gravel mounds at a bridge construction site while the van forged the river. We made a brief stop at the small monastery of a monk whom Achi knows, who was hearing requests for blessings as we arrived.

As we approached Drikung, the scenery became more and more green and beautiful, and the steep ridges rising away from the river valley became more striking. I am still amazed at how rugged it is here – there may be “plateaus” (as in the ‘Tibetan Plateau’), but we have yet to see them. typical houseThe houses we passed were so interesting…beautifully built stone-and-mud wall houses, surrounded by stone-walled courtyards with brightly colored decorative, covered entryways. The courtyard walls were nearly always topped with dried branches of brush gathered for firewood, or even more interestingly – also for fuel, very geometrically stacked pies of dried yak dung, sometimes even an entire courtyard wall of dung, snaking around the property.

welcome ceremonyWhen we arrived in Drikung at Achi’s home and the Guest House — at 13,000+ feet and nestled between two high ridges/mountains — we were first greeted with yet more kata scarves, followed by a welcoming ceremony involving barley flour (I think) and beer. We were each shown how to pinch three fingers of the flour with our left ring finger and thumb and then flick it over our left shoulder. We did the same with the beer, followed by three sips from the very large silver bowl, which was topped off from a gilded pot after every sip.

guest houseWe were delighted to find that the Guest House (right) has 5 en-suites (bedroom-private bath combination) that were beautifully decorated in traditional Tibetan style (below). We certainly had not expected private baths!! Achi has asked his sister-in-law Kesang, who is a horticulturalist in Lhasa and has worked with the Smithsonian, to come and be the chef for us this week (since his family here is nomads who, he says, live on tsampa and yogurt). our roomSo we then had a fabulous lunch of green chilis with yak meat, cucumbers with garlic and cilantro and red chilis, carrots with onions, bok choy with garlic and cilantro, and egg drop-tomato soup – all served with rice. We then toured the house, even up onto the roofs for a spectacular view of the Drikung Til Monastery hanging on the side of the mountain above the village.

After a nap, Lester and I spent about an hour in a 3-way translated conversation (English-Tibetan-Mandarin) over Johnny Walker Black scotch whiskey 🙂 with Achi and a young Chinese woman who has become a close friend of the family (and one of the family is employed in her office). She has been in Tibet for about 15 years, and is in charge of reforestation and wildlife management – it was fascinating, and we shared info on work we are doing with American Forests, discussing ways to set up linkages for exchange of information and approaches.

noodle soupFollowing a simple dinner (finally!) of hand made noodles soup with bok choy and yak, and a spicy radish salad, we all sat on the covered porch on couches while Achi’s sister Chodrun (wonderful hostess and in charge of the Guest House) brought out blanket after blanket out to cover us while we watched the rainstorm display of lightning and thunder move toward us from up-valley. ‘All’ was all five in our tour group, Achi, our tour guide Konchuk and driver Sangye, and all of Achi’s family – mother, sisters, father-in-law, three nieces and their husbands, brothers-in-law, and cousins – the porch was packed. What a great way to spend our first evening in the village!