The grueling bus rides, the near death experiences and massive vehicular breakdowns were totally worth it. We reached the top of the world and walked back in time – a time of coyboys and indians, pioneers and loose labor laws.
Litang is home to gorgeous women with long colorfully braided hair and beautiful long aprons. They walk past you praying and twirling prayer wheels, on their way to the large monastery or the birthplace of the 7th Dali Lama. Tibetan coyboys with long black hair and amazing bone structure rage through town on their motorcycles or home-made tractors. And little children with runny noses and ruddy cheeks run after you waving peace signs and asking for photos. What’s not to love?
I found it to be the most colorful, vibrant, and soulful part of our trip so far. While the government presence in Litang is very (VERY) visible, the local Tibetan population is permitted to live a traditional life style and practice their deeply felt Buddhist beliefs.
That said, it was DAMN COLD! Litang is nearly 2.5 miles above sea level (400 meters higher than Lhasa) and in November there is certainly a bite in the air. We soon found that the entire city had no running water. Our room was unheated and we were given a bucket of water in order to flush the toilet (guess how long it took to figure that out…)
The big thing to do in Litang is to attend a sky burial – basically a local funeral. It’s a macabre thing for a tourist to do and I wasn’t entirely certain that I wanted to attend. First the “cutter” deconstructs the dead body and mixes it with flour. Then vultures then fly from the top of the mountain to eat the remains of the body. We arrived at 8:30 to find that no one had died recently. Reprieve!
The views from the sky burial site were stunning.
As the sun hit and the city began to warm up, we discovered why Litang is called the wild west. Just walking back from the sky burial we ran into every manner of farm animal – pigs, yaks, chickens and dogs. The animals meandered down the street right next to women in long gloves doing laundry crouched over a stream, or a huddled around a spicket. I could only sympathize with their cold hands and think to myself “Why bother!” The water was terribly polluted and it was so cold outside that clothes don’t get very smelly. (Take it from me: no running water means two more days of not showering or changing clothes. The running total is now at 5 days.)
We grabbed breakfast – fried dough and dumplings – at a street market where a 14 year old boy made and delivered our food. Even the most banal meal was made interesting, all we had to do was look around. At the market we saw raw meat hanging next to vegetables. Men were smoking and women were haggling over prices, wearing their hard won goods on their back in large bamboo baskets. Kids were working, or playing. Everyone thought it was perfectly normal to sit outside in 25 degree temperatures to work, eat and talk.
It truly felt like we had walked back in time to the early frontier days in Denver, Colorado.