Glimpses of Tibetan life

Inside a Tibetan house

The two small boys stood watching me solemnly, standing against the wall with their mother a brief distance away. We had stopped in their village to take photos of the yak dung covered walls, drying in the sun so that later they could be used as fuel for the fire.

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Yak dung covered walls

I walked up to the boys smiling but their solemn expression didn’t change, they were wary of me, one of four strange looking foreigners who had alighted from a van. I had two bright juicy oranges that I wanted to share with the boys. After a nod of consent from their mother I gave each of the boys an orange. Their faces broke into smiles and they clutched their gifts tightly. We stood there smiling at each other for a while then I wandered back to the van assuming that we were about to depart, however our guide, who knew of my  desire to see inside a Tibetan house, spoke with the boys’ mother and she invited us in.P1100757 (2)

From outside the house appeared of good quality and quite a substantial size, two storey and rectangular, typical of the houses in the area.

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We were led past the calves to the front door, the boys again solemnly watching.P1100744 (2)

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The downstairs area was a barn which is typical of Tibetan houses, apparently the body heat of the stock helps to warm the house on long winter nights.

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Up the staircase we entered into an open air courtyard with rooms around it.  The mother had quickly run into the lounge room to do a quick tidy up, just as I would have done if unexpected visitors descended upon me.

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The lounge was quite large with brightly coloured walls and furniture. A spinning wheel was propped in one corner near a bundle of yak wool.  A tray of religious offerings was perched on the counter ready for use. There was a television and the boys placed their oranges next to it. The benches around the room doubled as beds for the family.

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Next we were shown a small Buddhist prayer room and the family’s day started with offerings to Buddha, remembering the ancestors and meditation.  A pile of bedrolls was in the corner but according to our guide no one would sleep in this room as it was a sacred space.P1100773 (2)

There were two kitchen rooms with stoves fueled by yak dung.  I could not imagine creating a meal in these primitive conditions, and they seemed a stark contrast to the outside of the house.  The only “modern appliances” were a solar reflector in the courtyard, which when directed at the sun provides enough energy to boil a kettle and a twin tub washing machine.  There was a kitchen tap, but there were no sanitation facilities in the house.

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A bent old woman, great aunt to the boys and an ex nun showed us her yak butter which is kept in an urn in the courtyard. Our guide guessed her age as about 65 years old.

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This visit was a precious moment as while I enjoy the history and the scenery it’s the understanding of the day to day lives of the people that I love. I wonder what those two little boys made of the visit and I hope that if anyone wants to look over my house in Brisbane I am as gracious as this mother was.

A long cold night

On the drive to Namsto Lake we noticed that the landscape was dotted with plain white buildings with a blue trim, some with protruding stovepipes. Unlike Tibetan houses which are beautifully decorated outside these buildings looked austere and utilitarian, much like a “donga” or the sort of hut you would find on a construction site.  We learned that these huts provided accommodation for Nomads, and were often covered by large black tents which absorbed the sun during the day, provided insulation and kept the snow off the huts.

Namtso Lake is a pristine and sacred lake on the pilgrim and tourist route.  I like a tour which offers me a greater understanding of the lives of people in the country I’m visiting and relished the opportunity to stay in a guest house for a night, but this was way out of my comfort zone!P1100912 (2)

Our “guest house” was a row of the austere white huts, catering to Tibetans and tourists alike, and we spent an excruciatingly cold night, in a bleak room, in below freezing temperatures. We slept in many layers of clothing and huddled together in one single bed for warmth, placing some of the bedding underneath us as the damp seeped up from the mattress. The Tibetan guests were better outfitted with many layers of clothing but I doubt that they slipped into a silky negligee on retiring to bed.

I bet we all slept with our clothes on
I bet we all slept with our clothes on

The only facilities at the guest house was a very dilapidated, poorly maintained pit toilet and a tub of icy cold water for washing. The Tibetans used the open areas around the guest house to toilet in and splashed the icy water on their faces in the morning. The tourists firmly clenched their bladders and bowels and missed the daily ritual of teeth brushing and body washing.  This night gave me an unpleasant insight into the robustness and hardiness required of the Tibetans who live and work in these conditions.

 Live in accommodation

At two of the hotels we stayed in it became apparent that the staff slept in the public areas.  When we checked out early there were bodies snuggled up in bedrolls on the benches in the reception area. I can’t imagine how I would handle the lack of privacy and personal space of these shared work and living arrangements, which I assume is driven by financial necessity.

3 thoughts on “Glimpses of Tibetan life

  1. Megan 03/06/2015 / 6:20 am

    Hi Anne

    This is fascinating. When I look at the photos the locals don’t appear too rugged up. Were the day time temperatures much warmer or were they just hardier and more used to the climate. Is yak wool the predominant yarn used on clothing. Did it look felted once woven and then created into garments or were they knitters and weavers. Was the food quite simple with little variety? Lots of questions I know as Tibet is not a place many people I know have been to. Megan

    • Anne 03/06/2015 / 12:55 pm

      Food was simple with little variety. Much warmer during the day though the locals have lots of layers and I suspect they dont remove their clothes often. Didnt see felt and the knitters I saw looked like they were using commercial wool. Very impoverished.

      • Anonymous 03/06/2015 / 8:05 pm

        Yes they looked impoverished and prematurely aged. However a marvellous opportunity to meet and interact with people who Iive a hard and not materially rewarding life and yet not miserable looking. You seem to have captured a window on humanity and are the richer for the opportunity. there seems in both blog posts such diversity in such a small area. I am really enjoying your window on the world.

Hi, I'd love to hear what you have to say.