BONUS : be the witness of a sky burial !

Trip Start Jan 01, 2010
Trip End Jun 30, 2012

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Flag of China  , Sichuan,
Thursday, June 16, 2011

It is early morning, in Litang, a remote area of Western Sichuan. We are not far from the town, only a few kilometers, but we are hidden among the hills. The vultures are already here, waiting patiently.

A monk arrives, performs some prayers. A stake of wood is pitched into the ground. What is this all about ? A little bit later, another car arrives. The trunk is opened and something is thrown on the floor, into a white linen.... This is a body.

The body is attached to the stake of wood. The tomden (religious master of ceremony) sharpens his large knife and then slices into the body. He cuts the flesh into large chunks and steps away. The vultures race and eat the body. The tomden chases them away, smashes the remaining bones and brain, mixing them with barley four. Again he steps away, and vulture have another feast. At the end, nothing of the body remain.

It is a tianzang (sky burial), an ancient Buddhist-Tibetan tradition, and one of the most amazing thing I had the chance to witness during my trip.

Warning : the pictures and videos shown here can be shocking, especially for children or untrained husbands... I believe it is not going to be long before the administrators of the website remove then. However, before making an anti-democratic decision, I encourage the moderators to understand the context these videos and pictures were taken.

According to Buddhist beliefs, the body is merely a vehicle to carry you through this life; once a body dies, the spirit leaves it and the body is no longer of use. Giving one's body as food for the vultures is a final act of generosity to the living world. Vultures themselves are revered and believed to be a manifestation of the flesh-eating god Dakinis.

This form of burial also provides an ecologically sound way to dispose of bodies in a region where wood is scarce and the ground is often frozen solid.

The Chinese banned sky burials in the 1960s and '70s. It was not until the 1980s, as Tibetans regained limited religious rights, that the practice was once again legalized.

In Lhasa, tourists require official permission to attend a sky burial, but in this remote area of Sichuan, however, we were told we could witness it. Many people think that Tibetans will be offended if travelers capture this moment on camera or show up without being invited. On the contrary, people encouraged us in shooting the funeral, did pose for pictures, and even asked us to help them chasing the vultures away when the tomden was working on the body...

In this conditions, I believe it is not an offense to publish this pictures. For more information on sky burials, you can visit the Wikipedia web-page :
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Victoria Matuszczyk on

I am amazed you have witnessed a sky burial, I think you always will be the only person I have known too. X

Tibwiz on

As a Tibetan Buddhist, that is my wish too, making an offering of my body, back to the nature that nurtured all living thing.

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