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These two Tibetan children were wandering the mountainside looking for yak dung, which they typically plaster in clumps on the side of their homes in order to dry them out, before using for fire fuel. When our bus stopped to take in the view from the top of the mountain pass, the children were curious and wandered over. They must be in their 30s by now.


Potala Palace

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I don’t know what it’s like now, but in 1987 a traveler could enter the grand Potala Palace and explore every part of it, including the private residence of the exiled Dalai Lama. The Tibetans themselves entered the palace with great reverence, restricting their activity and maintaining postures of humility. But we were dumb foreigners and at that time completely unaware that there was a man known as the Dalai Lama who had to flee the Chinese occupation of Tibet for fear of imprisonment or worse. We traipsed around the Dalai Lama’s private quarters taking it all in while the Tibetans kept themselves at the entrance and did not enter. Sometimes when you travel you don’t know the real significance of what you’re seeing. The fuller impact of your experience can come much later, as was the case for me in Tibet.

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Barkhor Square, Lhasa, Tibet, 1987

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From my travel diary:

The neatest thing happened to me today at noon. After writing, and feeling lost and confused, in the Toots Restaurant, I walked to the Kirey Hotel across the street to sit in the sun and enjoy a cup of yak butter tea (1 Maio) and a cigarette. As I sat, a man who I noticed an evening prior ambled over kind of purposeful and sat down nearby. I knew he wanted to talk but I wasn’t quite sure if it would happen. Just then a “crazy” Tibetan woman came over and dumped her little bag of treasures onto the table in front of us. There was a package of cigarettes, a tube of red lipstick, a jar of something and the jar shape looked like the Ponds Cold Cream my mother used to use, a couple of large, shelled nuts, a string of rock sugar (one was making sharp angles in her cheek as she sucked on it), and several worn playing cards. She was mumbling, rambling, wandering liquidity. I said, kind of without any pre-thought, “Here’s the crazy lady.”

Well that was the key and this fellow started a monologue about THE EDGE, topics including sanity vs. insanity, teachers of wisdom, sensitive people who go insane, clairvoyants, the death instinct, his desire to be wise, what a person of wisdom attains (mainly detachment from their ego so that praise and criticism do not matter, and never talking about one’s self), the feminine power, etc. Somewhere in his energetic, crazed rambling the old Tibetan woman disappeared, but she left two cards on the table: the queen and the five of diamonds. I pointed it out. He grabbed the five, said it was his because on a wisdom scale of 1 to 10 (ancient Chinese belief that when one gets to #11 they are enlightened) he was at #5 with a lot of work to do still. He said the queen was for me but I didn’t feel it was. He put the five of diamonds in his pocket and I gave the queen to a young Tibetan boy. We parted with me telling him how much I enjoyed our talk, that it was a nice way to start my day.

This photo of nomadic Tibetan children (who'd be in their late 30s now) collecting yak dung at Gampa Pass in Tibet, sacred Yamdrok Lake below, is posted in honour of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's 80th birthday today. Long may He run.

This 1987 photo of nomadic Tibetan children collecting yak dung at Gampa Pass in Tibet, sacred Yamdrok Lake below, is posted in honour of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday today. Long may He run.