Reading foreign news reports about the Yushu earthquake, it was clear that large numbers of Tibetan monks had participated in the rescue efforts in the aftermath of the disaster. If, however, you had only relied on the Chinese state media, you would never have known they were there. In a classic case of Communist style photo-shopping that would make Mao proud, the Tibetan monks have been airbrushed from the picture. In the Chinese media, you can only see Han Chinese rescue workers and the Peoples’ Army, rescuing hapless and grateful Tibetans from the ruins.
To add insult to injury, the government is now actually ordering the monks out of Yushu, for fear that these burgundy-clad heroes might become too popular in an area where 97% of the population is ethnically Tibetan. Most of the monks have come from the neighbouring province of Sichuan, from the huge monasteries of Serxu/Serchul and those around Ganzi. These monasteries are known for their devotion to the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Something we witnessed last year.
The pity is that the earthquake might have served to bring about a better understanding between the Han Chinese and the Tibetans. Instead, most Chinese will never know that the monks where there helping, and the Tibetans will again feel that the Chinese are now going to move in and control the area even more tightly than before.
There have been very few personal accounts of the tragedy in Yushu. But Losang, the creator of the Land of Snows Website, has written a first- hand account of how he and his family were caught in the earthquake.
Yushu (Qinghai) to Serxu (Sichuan) is an epic high altitude journey. I could see the doubt in the driver’s eyes. Either he thought Christmas had arrived early, or, more likely, he was contemplating some grim and rapid end to his life. What we had proposed was the following: Yushuto Manigango in a day, with stops at Serxu Gompa and Dzogchen Gompa. His reservation: his claim that Sichuan Tibetans were not honest like the Tibetans who lived in Qinghai. The word ‘Manigango’, he repeated it several times with distaste, evoked some kind of hellhole from which you’d never return. “Bandits, the lot of them; what if I just drop you at Serxu?”, he protested. His incentive: The 1,000 Yuan I was offering, plus food and accommodation in Manigango.
I pointed out to him that we had been to Manigango in 2004 and found it quite safe. Even though we too had heard numerous stories of pillaging bandits around Manigango, these seemed to belong to an era long gone. Still, I remembered that Manigango had felt like a real Wild West frontier town in 2004.
The main problem was that I had no option: the altitude sickness was playing havoc on my body; five days without sleep and the Tibetan medicine and the oxygen tank were having little or no effect. Serxu, at 4,200 metres above sea level, is another 500 meters higher than Yushu; lingering around, counting on dodgy bus schedules, didn’t appear to be the best option. So, basically, the upshot was: “Either you take us or we’ll have to hire another car”. The first leg of the journey
Price agreed and the driver’s mind set somewhat at ease, we set off at 6.00 am.
The road followed what was now familiar territory, passing the Mani wall, Domkar Gompa, the turn- off to the Leba gorge and finally Continue reading “Yushu (Qinghai) to Serxu (Sichuan)”