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China
A slice of Tibet in China
Tagong, in China’s Sichuan Province, is a slice of Tibet in China. Here the air is thinner, the number of people and houses fewer and the quantity of prayer wheels considerable. Our digital postcards capture an afternoon in the town and our offbeat encounters with a nun and a monk.

The bedroom is hallucinogenic, with vivid shades of orange, pink and blue colliding to form scenes from Tibetan culture. This is not a place of tranquility, it feels like we’re inside the head of someone mid-acid trip. Although technically still in China, we’re most definitely in Tibet now.

 

 

Escaping the kaleidoscopic bedroom, we step outside and into the cobblestoned main square which is in bathed in a hazy afternoon glow. This is Tagong, in the Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. A slice of Tibet in Sichuan province, minus the need for any permits or guides.

 

 

At the centre of the small town sits Tagong Lamasery. Throughout the day devotees circle its outer walls, walking clockwise and turning the cumbersome, golden prayer wheels with one hand as they go.

 

 

Their other hand kept busy with prayer beads, methodically slipping each of the 108 stones through their fingertips. The women are dressed in long skirts and embroidered overskirts, while the men wear heavy, full-length coats called chubas and felt hats.

 

 

Prayer wheels are part of the landscape here; from the ornate versions, inscribed with prayers, that surround the monasteries, to those on the top of houses making use of the ample winds sweeping across the grasslands, to those in the rivers, where the rapid water ensures they turn endlessly. Good karma spins out from all directions in Tagong.

 

 

Just a few hundred metres south of the main road that stretching through the town centre leads us to vast open spaces.

 

 

Those picture postcard scenes of Tibet; where the the vast blue sky and the felt green hillsides seem unending, where nothing dare blight the landscape.

 

 

In the distance mountain peaks, shrouded by clouds peep out to say hello, pulling us towards them like magnets.

 

 

Upon the horizon Lhagang Monastery comes into view. A speck in the vast boundless panorama that surrounds it, basking in the shadow of Mount Yala.

Small dwellings sprinkle the land next to the monastery building, low, stone houses and simple red huts; part of Ani Gompa, a small settlement for the nuns and students who worship here. The hill behind Ani Gompa is filled with fluttering white flagpoles and stone slabs etched with prayers adorn the stupa below.

 

 

The clouds above us look threatening and an almighty thunderclap shakes the sky. A young nun carrying a pail of water starts gesturing towards us, at first we think she’s telling us to leave, but she beckons us over, pointing up at the sky. We follow her towards one of the small huts and she ushers us inside, ignoring our protests and continuing to gesture towards the thundery sky.

 

 

The hut comprises two rooms, with three beds and a small kitchen area. The walls are covered in bright and busy, patterned wallpaper — red, like the exterior of the hut. Outside the clouds are emptying and lashing the tin roof above our heads.

 

 

The nun places some biscuits, candies and mugs of hot water on the table for us and we sit in silence. We try using our phone app to ask her some questions in Chinese, but she doesn’t understand. We can’t translate Tibetan so we begin a game of sign language, but she is very shy. We don’t even know her name.

 

 

After 30 minutes or so the rain stops. We thank her for her hospitality and start the long walk back into town, taking the less scenic route on the main road in the hopes of hitching a ride.

The route is lined with grey stone houses, all with colourful window frames, yaks grazing in the fields and locals working in the yards. A gleaming white 4×4 jeep stops for us and we’re more than a little surprised to open the door to see a monk at the wheel. Shaved head, burgundy robes and a plush beige leather interior.

 

 

He welcomes us into the car and agrees to drop us at the Lamasery, that’s where he’s headed too. Chong speaks a little English and asks if we have Facebook, his two iPhones have VPNs set up meaning he can bypass the Chinese Firewall to access the site. He shows us his page and then add us to his 4000+ friend list.

 

 

Confused and astonished we thank Chong for the ride and emerge from the comfy car and back into the main square again. From nuns living in the simplest conditions to monks driving brand new cars, Tagong is certainly interesting.

 

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