National Geographic : 1946 Aug
The National Geographic Magazine officials, we rode out with Major Gloyne and his honor guard toward Lhasa. They escorted us a short distance before turning back; but Dr. Humphries stayed with us. Due for re turn to India after long service in Gyangtse, he readily obtained permission to visit the For bidden City. The Anglo-Indian doctor amused us and all the Tibetans by riding, instead of a horse, the smallest mule he could find. The court of the Dalai Lama had sent two soldiers, a sergeant and a private, to escort us to Lhasa. With pronged rifle across his back and a large silver prayer box slung from one shoulder, the sergeant rode ahead, usually on the best pony he could requisition from the village. His mount was bedecked with ornaments and bells. Had there been any bandits, they would certainly have heard our approach well ahead of time. When Caravans Meet By always preceding us, the sergeant added a great air of dignity to our procession, some times roughly making approaching caravans get off the road to allow us more room to pass. Tibetan custom rules that if a traveler sees what might be a more important caravan approaching, he stops within a few hundred yards, gets off the road, dismounts, takes off his hat, and stands while the party passes by. The party, in turn, must greet the dismounted travelers most politely. Somehow, after leaving Gyangtse, we had the feeling of getting deeper into the real Tibet where the influence of the outside world is negligible. The trails had been worn through the centuries by caravans carrying merchandise from northeast China and India. Although we had to cross several more passes on our way, the terrain was not difficult. We were meeting more caravans, now mostly of yaks, carrying barley, salt, and wool. It was easy to see that they had been on the trail for months. From this point on we stayed in Tibetan houses, which often were vacated by their occupants for our overnight use. The headman and owner of the house usually would bustle about and try to make us comfortable, constantly bowing, bringing up the thumbs, sticking out the tongue and hissing-Tibetan ways of showing respect. The higher the station of the person ad dressed, and the lower the station of the one who addresses, the lower the latter must bow, the more he is to stick out his tongue, and the more constant must become the hissing, done with quick little intakes of breath. After a while we got used to this and almost did it ourselves. Although we resorted to saluting as an official or any other form of greeting, we often found ourselves bowing while saluting. In the little village of Ralung at the base of the Ningohi Kangshar mountain, we stayed in the large house of a Tibetan nobleman. Curtainlike pieces of cloth with little cutouts to admit light were the typical Tibetan sub stitutes for window glass. The only heat came from charcoal burners, which used yak chips for fuel instead of charcoal. These burners were lighted outside and brought in glowing hot. We got the sensation of heat by sitting almost on top of the burner. By keeping all our clothes on indoors, we managed to make the entries in our log; then, undressing as quickly as possible, we got into our sleeping bags for the night. The yak chips used in the poorer houses are burned right in the room, which consequently is filled with an almost suffocating smoke. From Ralung we toiled up to Karo La, alti tude 16,000 feet, one of the most dangerous passes because of frequent snowfalls. The animals were tired from the long, tedious climb, and we paused overnight beyond the pass in a Tibetan mail stage shack. It was a windy and bitterly cold night. All of us huddled into a tiny windowless room, filled with the smoke of burning yak chips, while the animals were huddled together outside in a small yard. Sandup's wife and baby daughter amazed me by their indifference to the discomfort of the trail. I never heard the baby cry, and she was sick only once-then, I think, from some of our candies. She would ride usually either in the arms of her mother or in the saddle in front of another rider. From Karo La we descended to Yamdrok Tso, near which is situated the small but important town of Nagartse Dzong, with its striking hillside fort guarding the narrows of the valley. The "Diamond Sow," a 5-year-old Abbess We remained in Nagartse Dzong an extra day to visit the famous Samden Gompa, which is headed by an abbess known as the "Dia mond Sow." She is abbess over male monks. The first Diamond Sow abbess dates from 1717, when the monastery was besieged by a band of Mongols. It was a nunnery then. After a long siege the abbess is said to have opened the gates at the monastery yard, turn ing all her nuns into sows at the same time. The Mongols were so impressed with the miracle that they laid down their arms and retreated. The museum room of the monastery contains large quantities of those weapons.