...which represents impressions, opinions and possibly insights gained during a twenty day
tour which selectively dipped into a very large and complex society.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Tibetan customs

Although we do not venture much beyond Lhasa, where one can see a billboard advertising Hummer cars, this part of our trip is the most exotic. We are far from home, geographically and culturally. All around there are signs of the unique Tibetan culture ... a large pot with burning incense in the marketplace, colorful prayer flags flapping in the wind on top of houses and buildings, and people in distinctly non-western dress. (At the same time the cowboy-style hats worn by the natives to protect them from the sun give the place an "old west" feel.)

It is a very poor country where customs which seem bizarre or even gruesome at first begin to make a lot of sense upon reflection.

In a village we visit outside of the city of Lhasa we can see piles of yak dung molded into various forms to be used as fuel in the winter: a sensible practice in a poor country where firewood and other fuels are scarce or expensive. Jen points out that Herodotus, in the fifth century B.C., commented on this practice in antiquity.

We also spot from a distance a large rock used for "burial." We are told about, but do not witness, the Tibetan customs of sky burial. When Tibetans die their bodies are cut into small pieces and placed outdoors for the vultures to eat. When one realizes that burial under the ground is out the question because of permafrost and that fuel for cremation is scarce, it turns out be a very practical custom.



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