A Very Special Village

Trip Start May 04, 2011
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Trip End Oct 08, 2012


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Flag of China  , Sichuan,
Thursday, September 22, 2011

Today's adventure made the grueling 14 hour commute from Litang somewhat worthwhile. In lieu of stomaching a visit with the Nomads either on foot or via horseback, I met up with Roman and Margret from Poland for a little excursion to the nearby village of Derga.

We set out mid-morning in pursuit of the school for Monk's and a nunnery which supposedly houses over 3,000 nuns and are currently celebrating a flower festival. Per Angela's directions once we hung a right on Airport Road we would see the monastery in the distance. Indeed we saw the monastery but contrary to Margret's intuition we passed the designated dirt road and proceeded along the highway until finally hanging a left across the unmarked grasslands. After two hours of dodging the Yaks and a few strewn skulls we arrived to the Monk's School. Unfortunately we caught them just as they were in study session and right before seeking cover from the crazy hail storm that attacked us. Just as we exited the premise, as if sent from God, there stood before us a makeshift construction tent where we ran for shelter. The ice pellets came down on the tin roof with force to the point of knocking down one wooden beam with rusty nails, just barely missing Margret's head by inches.

Shielding ourselves as best we could by layering ourselves up with every glove, hat and scarf, we passed the hour getting to know one another and sharing our observances of the Chinese and Tibetan culture. Margret and Roman have spent the last 6 years living in London so their English is excellent and I really appreciated that they spoke it between one another in my presence.

Finding humor in the situation we stared out at the ominous sky knowing that it would eventually pass. Sure enough, after just over an hour we could see the blue sky far off in the horizon, moving steadily in our direction.

Pitying the Yak herders we emerged dry but cold from under the tin hut sloshing our way towards the nearby village. Still baffled as to why we couldn't see any sight of a nunnery we were thrilled to stumble upon a hill filled with bright colored little houses. The red wood Tibetan homes were a different style than what we had seen in Tagong and set against the blue sky with puffy clouds our spirits were suddenly lifted.

Still no sight of a large complex aka nunnery we couldn't have asked for a more photographic backdrop. What was revealed beyond the first hill was a wonderful square of prayer wheels.

But better yet was finding the entire village gathered in prayer around a tent filled with flowers; silk flowers but thousands of them. The live chanting over the loud speaker brought back memories of my visits to the Muslim countries although this was a much more soothing mantra. Desperate to capture the visual of the masses in their local garb going through the motion of raising their hands in prayer toward the sky, to their head and then dropping to their knees and bowing, repeating this motion over and over again for what felt like hours, we partly felt like invaders but addicted to the phenomena in front of us we struggled to not be too intrusive while snapping away in an effort to capture it all on film.

Once the crowd dispersed and hunger prevailed we gave the camera a rest and used our best sign language to locate food and accommodation for the night.

The grilled skewers of sliced potatoes with chili never tasted so good, followed by some local noodle soup. We realized that the hordes of females in monk attire were the nuns and in lieu of a large monastery they must live spread out through the village.

Their shaved heads made them appear androgynous. Once fed, we were guided upstairs to a dorm room where we passed the night playing cards. The couple taught me a Chinese card game called Landlord which I am now teaching to others.

The beds were actually mattresses vs. the usual slim pad provided in most dorms and we each got two duvets to shield us from the chill coming through the broken windows. The worst part was the open air hole in the ground aka toilet sat in the dark distance so as usual I didn't bother and just squatted anywhere. One thing for sure is to ALWAYS carry tissue and have hand sanitizer nearby.

The next morning we feasted on bananas, fried egg with tomato and local Tibetan bread which for the first time I saw nuked in a microwave. 

Another cloudy day we were amused by another ritual only seen to date in this "special village." The girls were all dressed in a thick rubber apron with stone paddles on their hands and rubber covering the toes of their shoes as they slid their way down a cement hill that runs through the town. This is what I call commitment; the girls looked tired as they moved through their repetitive vinyasana like movements. It seemed smart that some girls took a larger dive, sliding further down the road, minimizing the amount of actual push-ups they would have to do.

We stood there in awe as foreigners and spectators devouring the culture until our camera batteries were drained. I had just enough juice to snap a few more photos of the yaks lounging in the fields as we exited the village. And one of Mr. Superstar with his long hair and pseudo bomber jacket cruising the village on his motorcycle blasting pop tunes. I'm still not sure why a guy like that would live in a village of nuns.


PS: I credit Margret and Roman for many of the attached photos.
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