As we left crowded, noisy Kangding, I had the luxury of the seat next to the driver, while the other travelers were wedged into the two rear seats. The journey would last four hours, much of it on horrible, butt-crushing roads. This was the day that I entered the real Tibet.
We drove through several different landscapes: the ugly, ramshackle Chinese landscape of buildings along the road, giving way gradually to uninterrupted vistas of an indescribably beautiful terrain of green mountains.
We climbed and climbed and climbed, the view changing with each hairpin turn, the vehicle’s ability taxed to its limit. Perched on hills above the road, I saw my first nomad tents and herds of yaks in the misty landscape.
Chorten in the mist, Zheduo Shan pass
At last we reached the summit of the Zheduo Shan pass at 4,200 meters (13,780 feet), lying between Kangding and Litang (home, by the way, of the famous Litang Horse Festival, which I just missed Aug. 1-5 because of my teaching schedule). A towering chorten rose into the mist, streams of prayer flags snapping in the wind and sending karmic good wishes into the elements. We stopped for a quick photo and potty op, and I practiced gratitude for my new jacket. Brrrrr.
We began our descent, and the good road suddenly became the road from hell. Picture a loaf of week-old bread beginning to crumble or gnawed by mice into a mass of holes and scattered crumbs: that’s a Chinese-built rural road for you. The right pothole could spell death for an axle or a tire. Our progress was agonizing, at something between 10 and 15 miles per hour, and every time I was about to exclaim over the scenery I received another blow to the tailbone.
This was the land of three-story stone farmhouses, windows and doors gaily decorated. The barley harvest was going on, and I saw farmers carrying harvested stalks to the roofs of their houses, where the stacks would overlap the edges of the roofs, drying. At long last the driver exclaimed, “Tagong!”
Tagong, buildings across the square from the monastery
I’ve seldom been so glad to see anyplace, even a one-street “Wild West” town in the middle of nowhere. Were it not for the prayer flags, gaily bordered windows, and a large Buddhist temple, we could have been in a Colorado mining town. Sun-baked Tibetans walked the streets, and I was overjoyed to see a pair of male friends holding hands. No Western hang-ups about physical expressions of friendship here.
Arriving in Bamei, we were dropped off at the gate to Puba’s parents’ farm. They were waiting in the drive to greet us. Their hospitality to me would extend over two days and nights, and even with the language barrier I enjoyed their witty, practical, and animated personalities. Although I could see the love and admiration for their son in their eyes, I noted that there were no kisses or hugs among the family members.