National Geographic : 1949 May
A Woman Paints the Tibetans BY LAFUGIE I WAS a girl in Paris, barely out of art school, when I grew bored with painting cows in meadows and flowers in bowls. The Orient tugged with such fascination that I resolved to paint its peoples, no matter what the handicaps or dangers. My devoted parents, both conventional French people, considered their ambitious daughter mad. Passport officials, upon learn ing the forbidden places I wanted to visit, laughed at me. Nevertheless I went. Since the day I left home, I have pictured the racial types and costumes of Ceylon, India, Tibet, French Indochina, Burma, Siam, China, Japan, Java, Bali, Borneo, Iran, Iraq, Trans-Jordan, Pales tine, and Syria. I have traveled by foot, automobile, bullock cart, yak, donkey, ele phant, pirogue, and bamboo raft. Though I went armed with nothing more than a paint brush, no Oriental bad man molested me. Kibitzers Watch the Artist Paint My safety, I am convinced, I owe to the tools of my profession. My brushes, pencils, and pigments, when applied to canvas, ply wood, or paper, disarmed the suspicions of the ignorant and whetted the benevolent curi osity of the powerful, making friends every where. Let me set up an easel in jungle or desert, a crowd appears as around a sidewalk artist in Paris. If I have a model before me, my audience tells him what I am painting by pointing to their own faces, limbs, or garments. Three years of painting India's maharajas left me weary of their marble palaces, golden dinner services, and silver-trimmed automo biles.* Forbidden Tibet, behind its closed doors, sounded the call of the unknown. English officials were shocked at the idea of a woman traveling alone in Tibet. Just as I was beginning to despair, I received permission to go, with the understanding that His Maj esty's Government declined all responsibility for my safety. To visit the places I wanted to see, I was compelled to make three expeditions into lofty central Asia, setting out each spring when thaws opened the mountain passes and return ing each autumn before snow blocked them. From Srinagar, capital of Kashmir, I made my first trip to Ladakh.t Politically, Ladakh is a part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, of which it occupies the eastern section. In everything else the two parts of the State are as far apart as the poles. Kashmiris, predominantly Aryan and Moslem, live in a green, watery vale. Ladakhis, Mongoloid and largely Buddhist, dwell in a cold, lofty waste (map, page 661). Ladakhis acknowledge the Dalai Lama of Lhasa as their spiritual leader; they speak a Tibetan dialect and dress in Tibetan style. In Srinagar I hired as guide and interpreter a Tibetan boy who knew Hindustani, with which I was familiar. To meet expenses, I packed a chest with silver rupees. I bought blankets, folding cot, sleeping tent, kitchen tent, and food for seven months. In addition to such staples as potatoes, dried beans, flour, tea, coffee, canned meat and milk, I selected jams, cakes, and chocolate candies-and very useful these sweets proved to be. My last preparation was a haircut, man fashion, a precaution taken for sanitary rea sons. Leaving dresses behind, I set out in boots, riding breeches, a man's shirt, and coat. Later, many a native of the Himalayas never could puzzle out whether I was man or woman (page 688). Shikaras, Srinagar gondolas, ferried us up the Sind River to Gandarbal, where we hired porters. Supplies, packed in skin-covered crates, were lashed across the backs of five little Tibetan pack ponies. Our caravan set out one April morning, and did not pause until sundown, a routine we followed thereafter. Eating lunch was not as important as making rest camp before dark. I learned to limit the midday meal to a few crackers munched in the saddle. Ponies Bog Down in Snow-clogged Pass At Sonamarg we confronted the western Himalayas, which divide Kashmir into two parts. The gap through this range is the 11,580-foot-high Zoji La (la means pass). Winter's barricade of snow still lay in the pass. Soon our ponies, floundering in snow up to their hips, could carry human cargo no longer, and I proceeded on foot. Where our horses stalled in deep drifts, the porters pulled them out by head and tail. Each icy stream compelled us to pack and repack. Snow bridges trembled above deadly *See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Feudal Splendor Lingers in Rajputana," by Volk mar Wentzel, October, 1948; and "In the Realms of the Maharajas," by Lawrence Copley Thaw and Margaret S. Thaw, December, 1940. t See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "The Idyllic Vale of Kashmir," by Volkmar Wentzel, April, 1948; and "House-Boat Days in the Vale of Kashmir," by Florence H. Morden, October, 1929.