Nomad tent (where smoke is coming from), yaks, and a cluster tall prayer banners on summit of hill (I forget what you call them)

Back in town, I bought a prayer wheel to send to Kenton, and salivated over brocade fabrics and clothing. We went to a small restaurant where I bought lunch for us. As we ate, a large group of local men came in and filled up the restaurant. They had longish black hair and the wild-west swagger that seems to be popular here. I also admired their motorcycles, with the fringed Tibetan rugs that cushioned the seats.

Dorje Tsering

Back home, we played with Puba’s adorable young cousin Dorje Tsering. Puba’s parents, and his mother’s sister and her husband, came in for a break from their hard work, and I watched them eat tsampa and sweetened yogurt.

Puba, Dorje, and I went for a walk beside the river; opposite, and on a hill, were a couple of black-fabric nomad tents with attendant yaks. We watched as two young boys swam naked in the river. Dorje Tsering was called home, and went running; Puba’s lower back was hurting from riding the moto, so I continued alone.

We walked along the river across from Puba’s house

I followed the river to a small chorten amid a cluster of cairns – piles of stones carefully set in concentric circles in rough pyramid shapes. I sat before the chorten, with its inset colored image of Sakyamuni, and sat cross-legged on a small mound and meditated. The trail I was on would have led eventually to the gompa we’d visited the previous day. I walked back.

Chorten with cairn (cone-shaped pile of stones on the left)

It was almost the end of my Tibetan stay, and as I wrote in my journal I listened to Puba cooking dinner in the kitchen. He then appeared with a tall glass of fresh yak milk for me; his mother had just finished the milking. She encouraged me to drink as many glasses as I could hold. Later, we ate delicious home-grown cauliflower with pork fat and rice.

I also learned that Puba (like the Grand Imperial Pooh-bah of Fred’s lodge on The Flintstones) was his Chinese name; he went by it even though he spoke both Tibetan and Chinese. His Tibetan name was pronounced something like Per-ruh-wahr. After racking my brain to remember the spellings of Tibetan names I’d seen in books, I wrote out his anglicized first and middle names as Prewar Dorje, with which he seemed to agree.
The following morning it was time to go, and Puba’s mother woke us up at 6:30. Puba had made phone calls the previous evening to arrange a car for me back to Kangding. He would stay on with his parents. I didn’t find out exactly what his plans were. He didn’t like working at the restaurant, so maybe he was staying home until he figured out what to do next. He’s only 20, with a mixture of boyishness and wisdom beyond his years.
Before I left, Puba placed a white silk kata around my neck, a symbol of hospitality and blessing, and gave me a lovely tea bowl with Tibetan designs on it, as well as a bag of bread. The only thing I had to give him in return was my black Adidas baseball cap from L.A. (made in China). He was thrilled with it.

I bid a sad farewell to his parents, shaking hands, and his father wished me a final tashi delek. I got on the moto behind Puba, and he took me into town to meet the driver who would take a group of us to Kangding. Puba and I hugged goodbye, and I was off on the dusty, windy, butt-numbing and tailbone-crushing return trip.

Goodbye, yaks

*****

Postscript

I got back to Chengdu in the midst of mild, cool, clear weather, which completely changed the way I felt about the city. My trip back was lo-o-o-ong, 12 hours, not counting four hours in Kangding between transports. I was covered in dust from the open car windows of the ride from Bamei to Kangding, which I spent bundled in my new coat with the hood up. In Kangding I went to “my” coffee bar to hang out, and enjoyed possibly the best Chinese meal there since I came to China: spicy stir-fried chicken with peanuts. The earliest bus I could get to Chengdu was 5 pm, and it was full. You haven’t lived until you’ve spent 7 hours with a bus full of Chinese people all hacking up phlegm and spitting into buckets between the seats put there for that purpose. I had no appetite during the dinner stop. We arrived in Chengdu at 11:30 pm, and for the very first time I gave a cab driver verbal directions instead of shoving a hand-written note in his face. I was quite proud.

The End – Into Tibet (for now)

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