So far the journey had been amazing. I saw some of the coolest and prettiest places I have ever seen before, but I think this town was my favorite. The village is divided by the border between Sichuan and Gansu province, so half of the town is in one province, and the other half is in another province. I'm pretty easy to please.
The village has one road that runs through it, and only half of it is paved (if that's what you call it). We had taken another bus to get here. Once we arrived, we wanted to sit down and eat! However, the boys took it upon themselves to choose the hostel. Again, mistake allowing them to take charge. When making a hostel decision in a small village like Langmusi, the important things are the bathrooms and showers. We entered 3 different hostels before the boys chose. Did they ask to look at the rooms? No. Did they ask if the hostels had showers? No. Did they scope out the bathrooms to make sure they were decent? No. To this day, Molly and I still have no idea what made them choose the one we stayed in. We would walk into a hostel, ask if they had a room, and then leave. Eventually, Jake and Spencer said "we'll stay here." The price was good...about the same as the other ones. However, the bathrooms/showers were absolutely disgusting! I know that I'm in China where the bathrooms are usually less than clean. I know that on top of that, we were in a small village so the chances of having a nice bathroom are pretty much non-existent. But come on... This is the restroom area. Yes, that is meat drying. To the left were the showers, to the right was were we did our laundry (right under that drying meat), directly ahead is where the trash is stored and where they heated the water for the showers in the evening, and behind to the right were the toilets. They really knew how to utilize space! Eventhough the toilets and trash were in the same area, the putrid smells that filled the air pretty much came from that meat. I asked the lady if they would be using that to cook with, and she replied with a chipper "yes!" Needless to say, we avoided eating meals at the wonderful hostel the boys chose.
We had planned on only staying here for a day, but Molly and I decided to stay for three days. Although it was such a small town, it was so beautiful and relaxing. It was nice to be able to hike up into mountains without stairs being carved out for you or a lovely constructed boardwalk so you don't go off the trail.
Our first day Molly and I sat on this mountain for about an hour just taking in the beauty and breathing in the fresh air. This Monk decided to sit with us for a bit. This is where my obsession with Monks began...
At dinner, we met a group of people who were sitting next to us. They were Chinese tourists sitting with one of the local Monks. I began talking to one of the men, and he was translating for the Monk and I. During this conversation he, invited us to the skyburial the following day. While in Songpan, a Russian couple had told me about this...I was totally stoked to get an invitation; however, Spencer and Jake thought it was quite morbid.
A skyburial is a Tibetan funeral ritual that involves burning of clothes, chopping up of the human remains, and vultures. I know it sounds really bad that I was so excited to see this, but it wasn't near as freaky as it sounds. First of all, I wanted to go because this is a raw cultural experience. Secondly, we were not allowed to be close enough to the area where it was all happening to see anything too graphic. Here's how it went down...
Molly and I woke up at 5:00am to get dressed, leave the hostel, and meet Winnie and Rowan at their hostel to make the trek up the mountain. While getting ready, Jake changed his mind and decided to go. Once we all met up, we entered the temple area and hiked up to where it would take place. At first, it was hard to find. We weren't sure exactly where to go, so we wondered about for a bit taking photos of the gorgeous scenery.
(The photograph at the start of this blog is also taken here.)
It didn't take us too long to get to the top, but because of the high altitude we all ran out of breath pretty quickly. Eventually, we found where the burial would take place...it would be hard to mistake it for anything else.
These are the tools that are used during the ritual (you can even see the leftover blood from the last person). While I took other photos of remains left around this area, I am not going to post them for many reasons. We found this at about 6:45am, and the skyburial was supposed to have already started. Since it hadn't, we thought maybe we had mixed up the days. So, we wondered some more and took more photos.
When we returned to the site there were other people beginning to show up. We soon found out that we would be present for the burial.
It may seem morbid that we wanted to be present for this ceremony, but we were kept far enough away that it was not a graphic scene. It began by men burning the clothes of the deceased person. As soon as the smoke started to rise, vultures from miles away started flocking over the mountains toward us. It was absolutley breathtaking. It was a perfect photo opportunity, but I had already put my camera away in respect of the ceremony; however, there were plenty of Chinese tourists with camera lenses the size of telescopes that I'm sure got some pretty graphic photos by the end. I was able to take a few of the vultures though:
As they arrived, they sat on the side of the hill that we had just hiked up...waiting. After awhile, the men then emptied a bag of human remains onto the ground around the burning clothes, and hte birds immediately attacked. They knew exactly what was going on, and when it was time to feed. For quite some time, we could see them eating something. You could see things fall out of their mouths as they would hop or fly away to eat their share, but it wasn't obvious what it was even though we knew. Then there comes a certain point when the men scare off the birds again and begin to use the tools in the above picture. Apparently, if not all of the flesh is eaten, the person is not lifted up. There is a stragic way to chop up the body so that everything that needs to be eaten is consumed by the vultures. This part was a bit more gruesome because you could hear the chopping. We couldn't see anything, but the sounds were awful because we knew what was being chopped.
These men who do the chopping are highly, highly respected within the community. However, they are feared. They are not exactly apart of the community because of the fear they bring the other people. In these Tibetan villages though, the choppers are necessary and very important. To become a person who does this job, you have to be in the bloodline. I find the so interesting. While these people are so respected and so important, they are shunned from everyone else because of their occupation. So, is it an honour to have this job?
This basically took up our whole morning. Well, until 9:00am (it felt like it was much later). We didn't do much of anything else but have lunch, chill out, and hike into the moutains for the rest of the day. It was nice to relax.
We spent quite a bit of time in this little cafe. Although we didn't eat here, we sat and read our books, wrote in our journals, and I took a nap. It was quite comfortable, and the vanilla latte was tastey.
We also spent some time outside of Winnie and Rowan's hostel. Along the road was a mote-like canal. As we sat on the porch, we watched the employees dipping water out of the canal with buckets and splashing it on the street. This was to keep the dust down. It didn't look too hard, so I decided to hop in and help out a bit.
Appaently, this is not common for people to help out with this. The workers found this absolutely hysterical at first. But it did not take them long to start giving me instructions to move down the road. Even though the water was less than clean with the food waste streaming down from the restaurants up the road, I had a blaste helping out.
The workers were not the only ones getting a large charge out of me helping out. Chinese tourists had also stopped to take photos. I didn't even realize it until later when we met two men who had stopped to take pictures, and they told me over drinks.Wang and Wang Di. The man sitting down is Wang Di, a famous water-color painter from Qingdao. He comes to these areas once a year to get his inspiration for his work. Although he did not speak a lick of English, the man standing up, Wang, spoke really good English.
Molly and I had made the decision to leave early the next morning, but Wang and Wang Di invited us to a Tibetan horse race and archery festival. This is a traditional festival dating back at least 500 years. Even though we didn't know what it was exactly, we decided to join them.
We had to be up at 5:00am again. We all met in front of Winnie and Rowan's hostel and piled into two cars that Wang and Wang Di had set up for us. Our idea of an arrow festival was that we were going to see arrows being shot and what not, but it was not at all that. It was large, hand-carved, wooden arrows that individuals stuck in the ground. Then prayer flags were draped along them in hopes and thanks for good harvest for the year. Prayer confetti papers were thrown everywhere while people chanted and continously walked around the center stone or road their horse to the highest spot.
It was really noisy at the top of this mountain with all of the chanting, but we stayed very quiet. It was nothing like anything I had ever experienced. I just wanted to take it all in. I watched the way people concentrated on their prayers. I watched little children bare-backing a horse on the top of a mountain while throwing up prayer cards. I watched the arrows be stuck in the ground strategically so the prayer flags could be wrapped around them. There wasn't much socializing....just worshipping and praying. How some of the motorcycles got up this steep hill is beyond me. I wouldn't feel very safe riding up or down this thing. It was hard enough hiking up it.
Eventually, this part of the festival came to an end, and everyone headed down the hill to the horse track. We all sat in the grass lining one side of the track and watched in awe as these men bare backed racing horses.
We only stayed for two of the races, but it was pretty cool. One horse didn't negotiate the turn right and ended up galloping into the audience. That was a sight! People running and screaming...glad we weren't further down. However, the horse made it back to the track and finished the race in last place.
We thought that this was the end of our adventure for the day, but surprise! it wasn't. Wang didn't tell us that they were taking us to another village to some natural hot springs. There were two hot springs. We weren't going to get in because we didn't have our bathing suites, but we allowed our bras and underwear to suffice. This was the only photo we took since most of the women in the water were totally naked.
Sitting in these hot springs are supposed to be really good for your skin. It was neat to sit right by the mountain where the water flowed out from. It was so hot I was sweating. It felt like a scorching bathtub. We had been in a hot spring in Yanshou earlier on in the vacation; however, after experiencing this one, I am pretty sure that one was fake. They were more like hot tubs.
After sitting in here for about 20 minutes or so, we headed back to Langmusi where Molly and I packed up and headed out for the last major stop of our journey.
Next stop, Xiahe!