Tibet (Day 14) – Sky Burial, Farewell to Drikung 4 July 2009

Almost unbelievably (after the past two days’ efforts), we arose at 6 am today, after hiking ~20 miles to well over 17,000′. I was…AM exhausted! But we were ‘willing,’ because today was our last opportunity to witness the sky burial, since we are heading back to Lhasa tomorrow.

So it was that around 7:30 am we found ourselves once again trudging along the path at the base of the Drikung Til Monastery, up, up toward the top of the ridge to the burial site. sky burialThis time however, our ‘trudging’ was due not the effects of the altitude, but to our having gone much higher for much longer. We were ALL knackered, and I recall even saying to Lester that, where we were headed NOTwithstanding, my stomach felt ‘fragile’. But we also ALL did not want to miss this experience…I doubt any of us would say we were looking forward to it though, especially given how tired we felt physically.

FYI, I have not yet mentioned that there are only two ways to get a body up to the ridge top site – for someone (usually a loved one) to carry it on their back, or for it to be carried up on a very small flatbed tractor. This tractor passed us several times on our first trip up here, though empty; after today, the sound of the tractor is burned into my memory.

I will not say much about the ceremony (several, actually), as it cannot really be expressed in words, but you can read about details elsewhere if you choose. I personally did not find it “disturbing”, but “intense” and “profoundly humbling” sort of begin to describe it. Certainly it forced me to confront my mortality in a way I have never experienced. Even now, when I think about it (nearly two weeks later at this writing), it gives me great pause. I did find it very helpful when Lester pointed out that some American Indian nations have performed sky burials, and that burying a body at sea is virtually the same (except that who goes under water to observe?).

After lunch (my stomach still queasy) and a nice long nap, we visited the local elementary school. schoolThat was a blast!! We spent about 15″ in the schoolyard just taking photos of the kids, then saw the library that Achi’s foundation built (still in need of books!), and to everyone’s great delight – kids and adults alike – Alexandra was invited to teach an English lesson to one classroom. She was wonderful, and we all enjoyed it tremendously.

The day was appropriately completed with a huge farewell party in the family’s home courtyard, with all of us in the tour at seats of honor, back on the verandah, covered in blankets, and literally blanketed in katas! For hours the primary sustenance was BEER and the local rice wine – like rakja/Turkish brandy – followed by noodle-yak soup. dancingAnd most fun of all, the traditional circle dancing began at about 7pm and went on until after midnight, stopping only for about 45″ for the dancers to eat. The circle started with about 20 – all the immediately family, and slowly grew and grew, adding most of us gringos (gasping for air at 14,000′!), and then slowly shrank again but maintained at about 15 for the rest of the evening, dancers coming and going – it was delightful! (I bummed this [only] photo I have is blurry, but we have some great video!)

As is traditional, most participants were completely plastered in honor of the event. Just after we had retired (the last of the ‘guests’!), Konchuk banged on our door and mumbled something unintelligible – we came to the door, and after an entire week of clouds, the stars were finally out! What a lovely send-out.