Arriving at an altitude of 2900 meters, I learn that my trusty backpack feels about 100lbs heavier than when I put it on the train. The Tibetan girls at the hotel insist on bringing my back up the stairs, and I begrudgingly oblige, embarrassed that I am so out of breath. The air is much thinner here, although much clearer and refreshingly pollution free from the crowded cities of Beijing and Xi'an. It takes some getting used to just walking around at this altitude. Looking at the outdoor market is about all the activity I can muster. On the way to this lovely out of the way town, we passed through the gate of what used to be the border between Tibet and China, and crossed into the beautiful Tibetan grasslands.Fantastic mountain scenery with yaks, horses and sheep grazing serenely on the golden, sandy colored grasslands made a long bus ride fantastical and dreamlike. We arrive in the afternoon, just in time for delicious Muslim tea, sweetened with rock sugar and flowers and dinner, being made to order. This is the place where they literally go out and retrieve the eggs and other ingredients for the meal. We are patient and the Tibetan food tastes wonderful, served with gracious hospitality. I love Tibet already. After nourishing our bodies, it is time to nourish our souls. We take an evening kora, a clockwise sacred walk around an ancient monastery. I marvel at its intricate wood carvings, colorful fabric hangings, and numerous prayer wheels.
It is the devout pilgrims that most inspire me, in their traditional Tibetan nomadic attire known as chupas, so reverently praying after a long day of hard labor in this harsh cold environment. The mountains hugging Xiahe are covered in snow. These people start their days long before sunup and don't stop working until they go to bed just after dark, after cooking on smoke filled stoves and sleeping on rock hard floors in heatless homes. It strikes me how as Westerners, we have no earthly idea how graced we are to live in a world where everything is done for us. And yet we complain all the time that we are not happy!!! I am stunned and astonished by these people, and when I am lucky enough to catch their eye, I nod in silent acknowledgement of these gentle souls.
Wow! It's been a few days since I've been able to update, and what amazing sights, smells, sounds, and feelings I've witnessed. After another crazy, crowded, beer laden overnight train journey to Lanzhou, we board a bus for a 6 hour journey to Xiahe, which is home to Labrang, the largest Gelupka (Yellow Hat) Tibetan Buddhist monastery outside of the autonomous region that we now know as Tibet.