Category Archives: Tibet

Tibetan Sky Burial vs. Hindu Cremation

Outside Lhasa, Tibet we visited the Phabonkha monastery home of the Sky Burial – the preferred burial by Tibetan Buddhists. Here, the deceased are delivered early in the morning by a carefully chosen undertaker to be dismembered, meat separated from the bones and placed out for the vultures to eat. You are considered to have good Karma if all that remains are the bones which have been picked clean. The remaining bones are then crushed with large homemade sledge hammers and mixed with tsamba (a mixture of barley, sugar, salt and butter tea – consumed daily by Tibetans) and offered again to the vultures. (We did not witness this burial.)

In Kaathmandu on the banks of the Bagmati River, which flows into the sacred Ganges River, we witnessed cremations at Pashupatinath, the holiest Hindu Shrine in Nepal. In a city of 4,000,000 the Shrine is busy 24 hours a day with families saying goodbye to loved ones as they are cremated. Cows and monkeys waded in the river unaware while painted, hippy Hindu Holy Men sat at the Stupas on the shore hoping for quick cash in exchange for a photo, priests handed out blessings and family members picnicked on the steps.

Separate concrete platforms line the Bagmati – each family occupying a space. The local bodies are not embalmed and can be cremated within 3 hours of dying. Our guide’s mother died at 12:30 am and was cremated at 3:30 am. A coffin also was present, most likely flown in from Malaysia.

The deceased is carried clock wise around the stack of logs 3 times then placed upon the stacked logs. The sons step down to the river to perhaps sip the river water, cleanse their hands, place water upon their heads and return with handfuls of water to be placed on their father’s head.

The eldest son sets fire to the mouth first as they believe that the spirit of the deceased leaves the body from the mouth. The undertaker steps in to place river-soaked straw on the body to ensure the proper amount of smoke and keep the fire hot.

A body can take 2 to 5 hours to burn. Birth records and citizen documents are burned with the body (no need for this in the afterlife). Finally all remaining ashes are swept into the river for it is sacred.

It was surreal and serene but inexplicably we felt detached for no one was crying. Apparently that was because the dead were all old. With an unexpected death there is wailing.

The photos are of Phabonkha…





Everest Base Camp

After spending 3 nights in Lhasa we took the next 3 days making our way to Everest base camp and 2 days making our way to the Nepal border.

Hotels with either no showers or baths in the room, dirty sheets just smoothed out by the hotel staff to make them look clean and no heat made us once again appreciate civilization.

Unmatched was the terrific scenery and village life that unfolded out our van windows and on our frequent bathroom stops.. Since being advised that drinking copious amounts of water would make it easier to adjust to the altitude we were able to stop every 30 minutes or so.

The brown treeless mountains were reminiscent of those in Baja and Palm Desert however they had a life of their own with every color of brown swirling around with reds, oranges, black and grays thrown in. Goats, sheep and Yak dotted the Valleys and Mountains like spilled pepper on a white table cloth.

The common mode of transportation is a tractor much like an oversized rototiller with a seat and wagon in tow full of people or their necessary wares for the day. Secondary is a horse and buggy. Men and women are hunched over at the waist working the fields with rakes made for 3′ people. Women squat washing clothes in a bucket or garbage ridden stream dirtier than their clothes.

The maximum altitude we achieved was 17,296. We felt as if we were walking with cement boots with a elephant on our chests – slow steady calculated steps were required.

Rounding a turn on the Gola Pass, through the dry brown mountains, Mt. Everest magically appeared! Karma was on our side for it was a clear day. We all felt younger, giddy with excitement – wide smiles and a few tears. It was stunning. This magnificent white mountain stood out even more against the muddy brown horizon -awe inspiring to say the least.

By the time we reached base camp hours later the clouds had started to settle in. We sat and tried to soak it all in while watching the mountain draw in the clouds until it disappeared like a magician’s rabbit.

Here are a few photos…


Fascinated with Tibetan Buddhism

Our guide is somewhat of a Tibetan Buddhism scholar; knowledgable, curious and practicing.

We have learned about Songtsan Gampo, The Lord Buddha, Compassion Buddha, Longevity Buddha, Horse Buddha (helps you sleep), Protector Buddha, Wisdom Buddha, 1st thru 14th Dalai Lamas, the Panchen Lama, Mandalas, etc. – ours heads spin with a plethora of information.

The architecture of the Potala Palace, Jokhang and Deprung Monastery rank the highest of all of our travels to monasteries, pagodas and temples. However, the most exciting part to see is every day life taking place.

Monks are in every room going about their daily business – filling candle drums with wax (not so much Yak butter used any more), sorting through the scarves, collecting and sorting the copious amount of yuan left by the followers, chanting, singing…..

Pilgrims walk the Kora with prayer wheels and beads in hand saying the mantra over and over. A handful of pilgrims prostate themselves for days, weeks or even months.

Their faces are worn by the harsh cold and sun of the Himalayan Mountains. Every person wears a hat, from toddlers to the old. Most are dressed in Indigenous clothing, colorful and worn – showers or baths not high on the priority list. The old or not so old’s faces tell a story of a hard life – skin leathered and wrinkled, teeth missing or blackened.

Tahshi Delek is shared when our eyes contact theirs. They take a swift moment to pass us good fortune but resume their kora as if time is running out.

Lhasa is hot, cold, wet and dry all in the same day.

Photo opportunities abound.