Sichuan Tour. Day 9, 22 May. Tagong, Pt 1

Tagong is cold.

Daytime temperatures hover between 15-20°, and at night it drops to below 10, so understandably, not many people wander around at night. The wind blows constantly throughout the day; sometimes it’s gusty but mostly it’s just light breezes. Regardless, the wind is always cold. But, in spite of it, I really like this town; it’s as Tibetan as they come, which is something I’ve been looking forward to experiencing as a cycle-tourer.

I’m not leaving town today, so I take it easy. In any case, it’s a bit of a struggle trying to crawl out of a warm bed when the morning air is sharp, crisp and oh-so-chilly.

Sally’s mother is there waiting for me as I make my way to the dining room. Since I’m in Tibet, it’s only appropriate that I eat something Tibetan, so I ask for the barley pancake that was in the menu. She’s also having her own breakfast so I decid to join her. She is making her own breakfast of tsampa (barley flour mixed with tea and also yak milk, I think), yak cheese and bread.

The rest of the day was spent exploring the town and its surrounds. I especially enjoyed walking up a small hillock just on the edge of town, giving me a clear view of Tagong and beyond (see video below). I considered hiking up the other hill behind the town, the one bedecked with thousands of prayer flags arranged in a triangle but thought better of it. Even this small little hill had left me a bit breathless. The oxygen level, though not as thin as at the high passes, was thin enough to discourage lowlanders like me to go hiking.

Another very encouraging aspect of this town is the lack of tourists; something the locals lament … not that I’m complaining. Along the main street, almost every pedestrian, motorcyclist and driver was a Tibetan, including a few deeply tanned and tough looking specimens complete with gold teeth, ear-rings, high boots and one side of a long sleeve hanging by the side. No wonder this part of the world is sometimes referred to as the Tibetan wild west, what with the huge expanse of grasslands where the only real way to get around is by horse.

Note: Tibetan jackets feature really long sleeves, a design that does away with gloves. When it’s not as cold, they simply let one of the sleeves hang out, allowing one arm full freedom of movement.

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Sally Kham’s mother having her own breakfast after serving me mine (the piece of barley flour pancake in the foreground).

The bowl on the left is the barley flour. Tea is added slowly to make it a sort of soft dough and is eaten plain. The curly thing on the piece of bread is yak cheese. She gave me a bit to try … it was stringy and tasted sourish.


The view of Tagong town from the hillock. On the right is Laghang monastery. Facing the top left corner of the monastery walls is Snowland GH.


From the top of the hill I was on, a steel cable stretches across all the way to the hill on the other side, holding  hundreds of flags flapping and releasing the prayers inscribed on it to the wind.


(click to see full-sized pic)

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I couldn’t quite make out these slabs engraved with what must be prayers. They were piled up on top of the hill.


A chorten, a Tibetan stupa, stands majestically on this hilltop.


(click to see full-sized pic) An inspiring sight — in the foreground is the famous Nyingmapa monastery built in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) to commemorate the Han Princess Wencheng’s visit. If you look carefully, the 4 small towers in each corner sport a different colour each — green, red, yellow and white. Lining one side of the wall are 100 chortens (close-up below). The white peak far off in the background is the 5,800 metre Mt Yala, covered in snow all year round. It’s also the source of the Yala River which flows down to meet the Dadu River, which I had already crossed at Danba.

Video: 360° view of Tagong and its surrounds. You can hear the wind blowing in the background.

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Prayer wheels line one entire wall of the Laghang monastery. As the faithful laity walks around it, they chalk up more merit by spinning these wheels.

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Takes quite a bit of effort to get these wheels rolling. Naturally, the lubrication of choice is Yak fat.

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One of Tagong’s hotel/restaurant. This one is facing the town square. The chef seems to be sunning himself in between customers.

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It doesn’t look like much but that stuff on the floor is caterpillar fungus or yartsa in Tibetan. Worth its weight in gold, I was told the best quality yartsa can command up to USD18,000 a kilo! Crazy, when you think that it’s just dried mummified caterpillars unlucky enough to be attacked by some microscopic fungus. The ones in the box are already brushed clean while the newly picked ones are on the floor. No prizes for guessing which country is the biggest market for yartsa.

Here’s what wikipedia says about these expensive worms. Fascinating stuff::

In Tibetan, it is known as དབྱར་རྩྭ་དགུན་འབུ་ yartsa gunbu [Wylie: dbyar rtswa dgun ‘bu, “summer herb winter worm”], which is the source of the Nepali यार्शागुम्बा, yarshagumba, yarchagumba. The transliteration in Bhutan is Yartsa Guenboob. It is also known as keera jhar or keeda ghas in India. Its name in Chinese dong chong xia cao (冬虫夏草) means “winter worm, summer grass” (i.e., “worm in the winter, [turns to] plant in the summer”). The Chinese name is a literal translation of the original Tibetan name, which was first recorded in the 15th Century by the Tibetan doctor Zurkhar Namnyi Dorje. In colloquial Tibetan Yartsa gunbu is often shortened to simply “bu” or “yartsa”.

The caterpillars prone to infection by the fungus live underground in alpine grass and shrublands on the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas at an altitude between 3,000 and 5,000 m (9,800 and 16,000 ft). Spending up to five years underground before pupating, the caterpillar is attacked while feeding on roots. The fungus invades the body of the Thitarodes caterpillars, filling its entire body cavity with mycelia and eventually killing and mummifying it. The caterpillars die near the tops of their burrows. The dark brown to black fruiting body (or mushroom) emerges from the ground in spring or early summer, always growing out of the forehead of the caterpillar. The long, usually columnar fruiting body reaches 5–15 cm above the surface and releases spores.

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A vendor with only 3 articles of (fly swatter?) for sale — it can’t be anything else except yak or horsehair.


Nice hat. Exclusively for use by Tibetan monks.


Dusty main street, Tagong.


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Butt crack! The ubiquitous split baby pants are everywhere. This little fella has got to feel the cold wind biting his butt.


Off to hard labour. Those stones look pretty hefty to me.

More about Tagong in pt 2…

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4 thoughts on “Sichuan Tour. Day 9, 22 May. Tagong, Pt 1

    • Kiat, the monasteries here have no worries abt funds…Tibetans are very generous when it comes to donations…it’s all about gaining more karma. I was in the town’s monastery and inside the inner sanctuary, Yuan notes were everywhere. They simply stuff it here and there… And of course, no one would even think of stealing it.

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