A JOURNEY OF A LIFETIME
TIBETAN FESTIVALS, MONASTERIES, LANDSCAPES, NOMADIC
LIFE AND TEXTILES.
EXTENSION TO THE LITANG HORSE FAIR
---By Mrs. Gina Corrigan
Expert on Textiles and Tibetan Culture
This tour is a rare chance to travel extensively in
the remote Tibetan region of Amdo. We shall have the opportunity
to drive through some of the most beautiful scenery in this region
and visit little known monasteries as well as outstanding monastic
establishments that were as important as those in Lhasa. On the
way we will see traditional Tibetan nomadic life, little changed,
and we will visit nomadic encampments so that we will learn at first
hand. This is also the best season for wild flowers which grow in
great profusion. Also, we are able to incorporate two quite different
festivals into our programme. Visitors to this area are few and
we shall be among local Tibetans. This journey is a unique photographic
bonanza but also an opportunity for textile lovers to study costume
and jewellery. We have also arranged demonstrations of a wide range
of textile techniques used by nomadic families and monastic communities.
This quintessential tour has been put together by Gina Corrigan
following her extensive travels in Amdo. Gina says you need a spirit
of adventure for the tour but hotel facilities have much improved
and we are using land cruisers so that everyone can travel in comfort
and enjoy a good view.
Thursday 13th July This
afternoon we depart London Heathrow on Air China flight to Beijing
Friday 14th July Following
the early afternoon arrival in Beijing the capital of China we will
be met and transferred to a centrally located hotel. The remainder
of the day will be at leisure or resting. An efficient taxi service
makes it easy to move around Beijing although there is increasing
congestion on the roads.
Saturday 15th July After
breakfast we will depart by air to Xining, the capital of Qinghai
Province, one of China's least visited provinces, yet one of the
most exciting destinations almost unknown to western tourists. Xining
is situated on the edge of the Tibetan plateau at 2000m and is pleasantly
cool. Depending on the time available we will walk into the city
and see the exceptionally exciting market with its local products.
En route we will stop at the park and join the local people drinking
tea, which is served, in special teacups with, dried fruits and
berries. In Xining we will meet our National Guide that will travel
with us in Qinghai and our drivers and land cruisers which we will
use for the rest of the trip.
Sunday 16th July Today
we visit Kumbum Monastery, one of the biggest Yellow Sect monasteries
in Qinghai., which has been well-known for many centuries all over
Tibet. It was founded in 1560 to commemorate the birthplace of Tsongkhapa,
the founder of the Yellow Sect. The monastery was built round a
tree, which was the reputed birthplace of Tsongkhapa. The Dali Lama's
brother was for a short time, abbot of this spectacular monastery
with its great assembly halls and schools of learning. This will
be our first opportunity to see how rich brocades and silks are
used as wall hangings in the monasteries as also are appliqu¨¦
thangkas. Here, too, we find a large trading area where one can
buy everything needed for monastic life, as well as antiques and
tourist trinkets for the visiting pilgrims. Perhaps one of the most
interesting workshops is where they make great metal images of the
Wheel of Life and the deer which surmount temple roofs. Textile
enthusiasts will be delighted to find various embroidery materials
as well as some antique embroidery. One of the most interesting
items is the embroidered plait cover, which the Tu minorities wear.
We stay once again in Xining
Monday 17th July It is
an easy drive of 190km to Tongren (Repkong) where we will stay four
nights. The altitude here is only 2400 metres. We travel through
a landscape dotted with villages inhabited by Muslim farmers who
grow wheat, barley and rape, as well as fruit and vegetables. Since
this is harvest time there is a lot of activity on the land so the
journey is really interesting with local people sickling and threshing
the crops. We are requesting a visit to the Dali Lama's birthplace,
which is on the route, but this is not always possible, as one has
to get special permission, which is not always granted.
Tuesday 18th July, Wednesday 19th July, Thursday
20th July. At Tongren
Tongren was in the past and is still today one of the most famous
centres of thangka painting as well as the making of appliqu¨¦
thangkas. We have asked local people to demonstrate these two arts,
as well the making of clay sculptures. In the area there is a famous
hat maker who makes the hats for the Yellow Sect monks and lamas.
This is a particularly interesting craft, which we also hope to
see. In 2004 the hat maker was rather elderly and we only hope that
he will be able to show us his hat making skills this year. Other
members of the family will show us monk's robes and cloaks so we
have some idea of the huge amount of work that goes into the making
of these clothes. There will be visits to small monasteries in the
area and an opportunity to wander in the villages of the Tibetan
and Tu people who are not nomads but arable farmers growing the
important crops of wheat and barley that is the staple food of the
Tibetans. The valley at this time of year will be a sea of longhaired
barley surrounded by sand brown eroded hills with single storied
villages tucked into the hillside. It is a beautiful scene.
The Tibetans of Tongren are Buddhists but in August
there is a most unusual secular festival in each of the villages,
which has its origins in pre-Buddhist traditions. The people re-enact
the Bon traditions and they worship the Mountain Gods. No monks
of the Yellow sect are allowed to take part but sometimes give their
blessing to the ceremonies early in the morning. The shaman of each
village conducts this important ceremony, which honours the local
Mountain God and asks for the good health of the village and a successful
harvest for the local community. On the first day the image of the
God is paraded round the village and the local populace give gifts
of spirits, beer, bread and sweets. In only one village on the second
day two goats are killed as a blood sacrifice to the Mountain God.
This ceremony is early in the morning and if you wish to avoid it
you can stay at the hotel. In another village butter effigies of
a goat, sheep and yak are burnt as a sacrifice to the God. Various
ceremonies go on all day, watched by the whole of the village dressed
in their best clothes. The male members of the village dance in
front of the shaman and at the height of the ceremony long needles
are placed in their back and through their mouths. The men continue
dancing, with the needles still in their mouths to the beat of a
goatskin drum. Beautifully costumed women perform elegant dances
to the God. Villagers enact costumed comedy skits. Each village
ceremony is a little different and we will visit three villages,
which have different costumes and traditions.
Friday 21st July Today
we drive 110km to Jentsa County which straddles the Yellow River.
Originally this was a Tibetan area but Hui Muslims traders and farmers
have recently to settle in the county. However, important Tibetan
monasteries still remain in the area and we are visiting Achung
Namdzong Red Sect Monastery, which is surrounded by beautiful mountain
peaks and is in the middle of Khamra National Park which is a spectacularly
forested region. The monastery has strong connections with Padmasambhava
and the area has been a place of pilgrimage since the 8th century.
Sadly many of the temples still need restoration. Nearby, Chorten
Tang the biggest nunnery in Amdo houses 200 nuns. We plan to visit
it. Road construction has finished so it is now possible to visit
both areas and then drive to the Lijiaxia Hydro Power Station hotel
Saturday 22nd July. It
is an interesting drive to Maqen (Machen), the Tibetan Golok capital.
The Goloks in the past were the most feared Tibetans, as they made
their living from plundering the caravans that passed on through
their way from Xining to Lhasa. We encounter a great variety of
landscapes, from a sea of sand with huge dunes and a heavily eroded
landscape of strange shapes, to pastureland, where nomads can be
seen herding their flocks of sheep, living for the summer in black
yak hair tents. We will stop at a monastery en route and admire
the huge lhatses of coloured flags and spears, refurbished every
year by the men of the family in honour of the Mountain Gods. The
altitude is higher at 3800m here but we shall be acclimatised as
we have driven slowly higher.
Sunday 23rd July If the
weather is fine we should see Amnye Machen, which is the sacred
home of the protector deity Machen Pomra, revered by Bonpo and Buddhists
alike. Many thought, as late as 1949, that Amnye Machen was higher
than Mount Everest but in the 1960's the height was fixed at 6282
metres. It is a day of wonderful skyscapes and rolling pastureland,
grazed by sheep and yaks. A picnic on the open plateau among the
wild flowers is just perfect. Madoi (Mato), where we stay, stands
at approximately 4300 metres is one of the highest points on this
journey. It is an outback frontier town and is an administrative
centre for the Golok prefecture. This is the most testing hotel
and there are no private facilities but the rooms are clean and
warm and the food is fine. It can be very cold on the windswept
plateau and white clouds scud across the blue sky sometimes changing
to grey which can even mean the occasional snow storm, which passes
as quickly as it came.
Monday 24th July Starting
early we travel 400 km to Yushu (Jyekundo), which stands at 3, 700
metres. En route we see black yak wool tents, flocks of horned sheep
and huge yak herds. Prayer flags flutter as we pass towns and villages.
We stop to see rare yellow and blue poppies on High Mountain passes
as well as water meadows rich with flowers. Lunch is at a typical
frontier town and we will probably see nomadic girls wrapped in
wool chubas wearing yellow amber pieces on their long black hair
contrasting with blue turquoise. As we approach Yushu the hills
are a rich green and we note a number of monasteries, perched high
on the cliff face, painted in earth colours to our right. Yushu
is the capital of the Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and this
region is known for the monasteries belonging to Sakyapa and Kagyu
Tuesday 25th July. Wednesday 26th
July, Thursday 27th July Friday 28th July
Our arrival coincides with the opening of the Yushu Horse Fair and
on the first day there is a huge parade of the participants which
includes the dance teams, horse riders, the monastic communities
dressed in their ceremonial clothes, the local schools, the services
and the army. It is a riotous display of colour and beautifully
costumed. Flags fly and the Tibetans dance vigorously to the music
with their feet stamping in time. Ankle bells jingle. There is a
huge programme of events for the next four days and we pick and
choose. The favourite events are always the acrobatic riding and
target shooting from horseback and the dancing. The Tibetan families
live on site, at the time of the fair, in huge white canvas tents
decorated with appliqu¨¦ designs. It is enormous fun
to wander round and meet the Tibetan families who nearly always
invite you into their tents to picnic from the huge quantities of
food, which has been brought with them. Yoghurt and cold lamb with
fried breads are some of the favourites, washed down with quantities
of beer and chang. Most people are wearing their regional costumes
and the women wear their richest turquoise, amber and coral jewellery
and exotic hairstyles. There is also a thronging market on site,
which is well worth exploring.
We also visit some of the local monasteries in the
area and picnic with a nomadic family. Horse gear is made from sheep
and yak wool and many of the men are very clever at braiding. Some
of the braids collected from here have been very much admired by
specialists in the field. We hope to get a demonstration as well
as a weaving demonstration on the nomadic ground looms. Men and
women still make storage bags, tent panels, horse-harnesses and
slings. There is time to photograph meadow flowers which are particularly
stunning in this area.
The centre of the town has a number of textile shops
where you can buy local materials used by the Tibetans to make their
traditional colourful costumes. There are also a few shops where
you can buy antique Tibetan items.
Saturday 29th July, Sunday
30th July Unfortunately too soon it is time to return the
way we came up the new main highway to Madoi, where we stay and
then directly to Xining for the next night. It is a total distance
of approximately 800km. Although we have travelled along half of
this road before it is still full of interest, as the scene is every
changing. Peter Corrigan will accompany you and Gina is taking the
extension to the Litang Horse Fair.
Monday 31st July The group
flies back to Beijing and the afternoon is free to shop
Tuesday 1st August. We
transfer to Beijing airport and fly on the Air China flight to UK.
Same day arrival in London Heathrow.
EXTENSION TO LITANG HORSE FAIR IN SICHUAN PROVINCE
WITH GINA CORRIGAN
The following is written by our Beijing agent who
is a specialist in the Tibetan Region and we must point out we have
not done an exact reconnaissance of this route, although Gina has
visited Litang using a different road and in a different season.
The extension is operated in land cruisers and the roads in this
season can be quite testing but it is a very exciting option. Many
people want to travel to this remote Tibetan region and especially
to the Horse Festival with its outstanding women's costumes and
jewellery, which is quite different than Yushu.
Friday 28th July
Drive 350km to Manigango, a very small and simple town as most of
the Tibetan houses are built with timber. Many nomadic families
come here for shopping and to taste different food. The town gives
you a strong feeling of the past. On the way we pass Sershul Monastery
and visit Dzogchen Gompa one of the three important Nyingmapa monasteries
in Tibet. It is just 3km away from the main road and is hidden in
a beautiful valley. It was built in 1684 on the advice of the Fifth
Dali Lama. The altitude is 4023 m. We overnight in the Communication
Hotel, which has no facilities in the room, but it is simple and
Saturday 29th July
Before driving 110 km to Ganzi we drive to the beautiful and famous
holy lake of Yilhun Lhatso, located 15 km from Derge. Ganzi was
once the largest and most important town in Khan built by the Mongols
in the 17th century. Ganzi Gompa is in the town and we will also
visit Den Gonpa, a very important protector monastery. The Khampa
Hotel has facilities in the rooms.
Sunday 30th July
There are two possible routes and if there is no rain we will drive
for half a day along a beautiful valley and visit one or two very
old monasteries hidden in a valley. Overnight at Xinlong Guest House,
with facilities. If it rains the alternative is the main road to
Xinduqiao Township which is a transportation hub for truck drivers.
We shall stay at the best local hotel but there are no facilities.
Monday 31st July
We drive to Litang, which is honoured by Tibetans with the title
of 'Paradise on Earth'. The city is built in beautiful grassland
at an altitude of 4200m. The town is characterised by large stone
houses and both the third and seventh Dali Lama was born here. We
stay at Highland Pearl Hotel, which has facilities.
Tuesday 1st ,Wednesday 2nd and
Thursday 3rd August
At Litang Horse Race Festival where we see the magnificent local
Tibetan costumes and all the activities that make up a Tibetan horse
fair. Litang is the wild unruly outback so anything can happen here.
Friday 4th August
Drive to Damba which is the home of another ethnic Tibetan group,
which has kept its own culture and distinctive dress. Each family
often lives in blockhouses built of stone, which rise to between
30 to 60 m high. They won against the Sino - Manchu armies in the
18th century. We stay at a government Guest House.
Saturday 5th August
Drive 340km to Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province The road is
interesting as we pass Tibetan and Qiang farmer's houses with their
particular architectural style, looking more like small castles.
Finally we reach the light industrial area of Chengdu. 4 star hotel.
Sunday 6th August
Fly Chengdu to Beijing and overnight.
Monday 7th August.
Fly Beijing /London and arrive the same day at Heathrow.