Kham Photo Diary – Part 5

Ganzi old town
Days 8 and 9 – Ganzi

7/9/07, Monday

I didn’t write in my journal yesterday (7/8). I was busy; my day was one long photo shoot. I taxied to the monastery, toured the building, followed the pilgrim path up and around the hill, wandered around the old town, and snapped away. I also got sunburned feet. I always take the precaution of covering my exposed flesh with sun block, but since I wore sandals, I neglected to think about my feet.

Today I climbed a mountain. Sort of. I had two options: to cross the scary suspension bridge over a muddy river, and explore the mountains beyond, or to visit a cluster of monasteries 15 km outside of Ganzi. I left Hotel Hell about 7 am, and stopped at a restaurant for bao zi [steamed dumplings], my morning ritual.

I negotiated with several drivers to take me to Beri Gompa, a monastery I’d noticed from the bus that stood above some romantic ruins. The highest price asked was over 100 yuan, the lowest 40. Just to go 15 km. I said “zai jian,” and set off on foot in search of adventure.

As I crossed the suspension bridge it swayed and vibrated, and I focused straight ahead. If I looked down, I could see the swirling brown water between the gaps in the boards at the bridge’s edge.

I set my sights on a green mountain ahead of me, and began my walk. I passed through a grove of trees, then a couple of villages. I stopped to visit Dontok Gompa, a small monastery. As I walked through the gate, a monk waved to me to come sit with him and his pupils, who were reading out loud. I sat a while as the monk chanted and each student read something different at his own speed. It was a little disordered. On the monastery roof, local Tibetans were laying a new tile roof on the main building, raising buckets of cement prepared by a woman on the ground.

I left the students and wandered through the rest of the compound snapping photos. I came upon my favorite building of the trip so far – a small, neglected temple or shrine that looked like a cross between a miniature Egyptian temple and a crumbling American Southwest adobe.


Monastery student


My favorite building, a small neglected temple


Leaving the monastery, I wound my way up a road into the green mountains, huffing and puffing and sweating, even though the day was cool and cloudy.

I came to a small square shrine covered with prayer flags, and sat down to rest. A man appeared, walking down a hillside carrying his small daughter on his shoulders. He sat with me a while and taught me how to pronounce some basic Tibetan phrases. I think he said he was a Tibetan language teacher.

I followed the road up and around, reaching mountain-top meadows straight out of The Sound of Music. I didn’t sing. There was a light rain, enough to cool me off, but as I got higher and passed a village the rain became more insistent. There was no cover anywhere – not a tree or a rock. I looked longingly up at the cloud-shrouded mountain I wanted to climb. I momentarily thought of taking refuge underneath a grazing horse, but dismissed the idea. I turned and hurried back to the village.

I was saved by a group of children huddled against a wall under some trees, where it was dry. After joking around with me – I wondered how many foreigners happened to wander into their village – they led me to a small shrine housing an enormous prayer wheel. We played merry-go-round with the wheel, then the “head” boy invited me home for lunch.

As we entered the gate to his house, a ferocious dog lunged toward me, barking and snapping his jaws hard enough to detach an arm or leg. Fortunately, he was chained, and the chain didn’t break. In the house I was given rice and copious amounts of tea, and I stayed until the rain stopped. Then I went outside with the children and sat down in a meadow. I shared a package of goji berries with them. It was time to go.

The children who saved me, inside the small prayer wheel temple


I walked down the mountain a different way, along a dirt path, through another village, and across a field via a narrow walkway. I ended up at a small temple shaped like a chorten. A monk called “hello” to me and motioned me inside. He showed me around, and led me upstairs to a chapel that housed a statue of Chenrizig that he claimed dated from 1360. There was a mother cat and a litter of kittens, and one cat hopped on top of a statue by sinking its claws into the statue’s silk brocade robe. Before crossing the scary bridge again, I stopped in the tree-filled park to sit and rest and eat some food.

I overdid it today. It was all I could do to go back to the hotel, bathe with a washcloth and bottled water, and rest a bit. By the time I went to dinner (same restaurant as last night, with friendly people who helped with my Chinese), it was raining.

That night, I figured out that the noisy people upstairs who banged doors and shouted were not hotel guests, but employees. Guess my building is also the employee dormitory.

7/10/07, Tuesday

Last day in Ganzi. Rather uneventful, as it rained off and on all day, but I still put in a lot of footwork. I walked to a giant chorten and temple just outside town. The temple was a hybrid of Chinese and Tibetan styles, and looked new. It was suspiciously clean compared to the other temples I’ve seen.

Checked out of Hotel Hell, and went to another one with a private bath. When I turned on the bathroom faucet, brown water came out. At first I thought it was rust, but it didn’t change color and it smelled like a polluted river. It probably was. No shower for me tonight.


A building in Ganzi old town




 Hung out at “my” teahouse, had lunch of beef-noodle soup, and walked to the old town for another photo tour when the rain paused. I was exhausted, but still walked back through town and up a different hill that overlooked the city, river, and mountains. I watched gray storm clouds move slowly across the sky, and momentary spotlights of sunshine on a mountain.

Walked back down and went to the bus station to buy my ticket to Tagong tomorrow morning. Had my final dinner and paid my last respects to the small temple in the center of town by moonlight.


One response to “Kham Photo Diary – Part 5

  1. I love the self-portrait in silhouette. What an interesting way to do it.

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