The first temple I visited after descending from Paoma Shan: traditional Tibetan design of slightly inward-slanting walls of stone or rammed earth, horizontal bands of white and deep brownish-red, fluttering tent-like awnings acknowledging Tibet’s nomadic past, gilt roof

I left the temple compound by a side entrance, finding myself in a narrow dirt trail leading uphill. I was now in a semi-rural, hillside area. Chickens strutted past me, and traditional Tibetan stone and wood buildings crumbled and sagged on each side. I eventually reached Namo Gompa (pronounced something like goom-ba, Tibetan for “monastery”) In its courtyard I felt the cool wind, which carried the sounds of wind chimes and clanking flagpoles with fluttering Buddhist banners.

A rickety bridge beside the path linking the two monsteries – note the gold roof of the first gompa in upper left

Inside the temple, I had to take off my shoes, and I sat cross-legged and watched a woman doing prostrations on the floor. This is an act of showing faith and gaining merit by getting on your knees, then sliding forward on your hands until lying full-length on the ground. After clasping the hands in prayer mode above the head, you stand up again. Between each prostration you perform the triple gesture of hands together above the head, before the mouth, and before the chest – symbolizing the mind, speech, and heart of Buddha. Later in my journey I would see a small group of monks performing prostrations along the side of a highway, measuring their pilgrimage route in body-lengths. To me it seemed a very slow, exhausting, and extreme form of transportation; however, I have neither the mindset nor the faith to be prompted to such an action.

Namo Gompa from my approach along a winding dirt path
After I photographed a group of young monks on the temple steps, letting them practice their “Hello’s” and “How are you’s” on me, I set off downhill into Kangding. I snapped pictures of traditional buildings on my way down, and had worked up an appetite, having climbed a mountain and walked to monasteries on nothing but a bag of Oreos. I stopped for street food – two grilled hot dogs and some potatoes on a stick, and then went to my regular place for a Nescafe. What a gift of a day!

Young monks, Namo Gompa
Friday morning I had breakfast of steamed dumplings at “my” Tibetan restaurant. I took my Sichuan map with me, intending to ask my friend Puba for advice on a side trip. The Kham Aid website recommended Tagong as an easy (and cheap) day trip, so I asked Puba if he knew the town. Not only did he know it, but his home town of Bamei was just beyond Tagong. He said that if I waited until Saturday, he would go with me and show me both places. When we got to his family’s home in Bamei, he would take me on a “moto” (motorcycle) to visit an important temple. I jumped at the chance. This was the beginning of our friendship, and also of several misunderstandings, for we were communicating in broken words and phrases, hand gestures, and illustrations. We agreed to meet in front of my hotel at 8 am Saturday morning.

For some reason I got the idea that we would be making the entire trip by motorcycle, something that vaguely terrified me. Not having brought any warm clothing, I went to a local shop and spent 170 yuan for a nice warm jacket. I kicked myself afterward, for this was about one-fifth of my available cash, but later on I would be extremely grateful for this jacket, on cold mountain passes and early-morning rides in vehicles with wide-open windows, cold wind, and blowing dust.

The rest of the afternoon was spent on a trek up a country road to the north of Kangding, hugging a rushing mountain river. It was also my day to kick myself for not bringing sunscreen, for the punishing high-altitude sunlight and UV rays gave me a nasty sunburn on the upper back and neck. I saw some beautifully-tended farmland with small vegetable plots, each plot neatly bordered with a contrasting vegetable. Maybe this was traditional, or perhaps a Chinese Martha Stewart came up with the scheme.

A resting-place by the river on my long walk – I ate a sweet, small loaf of butter cake

I walked about three miles, until my sore feet stopped me in my tracks. I looked for a way to get close to the river, finally locating a spot where I could scramble down a precarious rock bank, past trash and debris to the river’s edge. I found a flat rock, and as I took off my shoes and socks, I wondered how much pollution and/or human waste might be flowing past me. Once my bare feet slid into the cold relief of the rushing water, however, I stopped caring. I felt the sun beating down upon me as I opened Tender is the Night and did some more reading. I had already consumed a delicious small butter cake at a previous resting-place.

After a half-hour’s rest, I started the return trip, passing a “hot springs” resort hotel advertising a covered swimming pool. If there were hot springs, they were concealed somewhere, maybe under the hotel, as the immediate surroundings did not look terribly inviting. Close to the resort I managed to get a taxi back into town, saving further wear and tear on my blistered, tired, sunburned body.

I had a two-hour rest at the hotel, and my final meal in Kangding was a container of rather nasty instant rice noodles – just add hot water. I watched my Chinese costume drama and went to sleep, dreaming of Tibet.

The End – Part 1
Stay tuned!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s