Tibetan Studies: Unveiling ÜtsangBeijing, Spring 2012

(This is the second post in a three-part summary of the Contemporary Issues Tibetan Studies long trip to the Tibet Autonomous Region.)

The middle of our class trip to Tibet consisted of camping and a village homestay in the Ütsang region – something that, being Americans, not all of us were entirely prepared for. Luckily, our camping experience overall was pretty luxurious, allowing us to appreciate the places we saw and the topics we were studying.

We divided our six nights away from Lhasa between three campsites and one village – if Tibetan places mean anything to you, then we stayed near the Dorjeling Nunnery about an hour away from Yangbachen, a campsite beyond the mountain pass before Namtso Lake, below the Drigung Monastery, and in a village near Ganden Monastery. Obviously, these places reveal a big part of our trip – a window into monastic life in Tibet, and the choices that people have to make when they consider this lifestyle.

Most of the places we saw were holy in some regard, even if they weren’t an actual monastery or nunnery. Namtso, for example, is one of the three holy lakes in Tibet, and the number of prayer flags we saw strung along the lakeside showed us its importance as a site of pilgrimage. Similarly, a huge number of Tibetans were visiting the upper hot springs near Dirdrum Nunnery (near our Drigung Monastery campsite) while we went.

Overall, our trip into rural Ütsang showed us a lot about how Tibetan society has adapted to being in such a harsh environment. Most of the people we met herded yaks and had a small amount of agriculture – usually barley, if anything, and subsisted off of household-generated products and labor. One household near Drigung Monastery that I interviewed for my final paper said that they were able to sell yogurt and butter to tourists, but other than that, they had no real source of income. Industry is not yet a big thing in rural Tibet.

Obviously, being away from the city and meeting villagers, nomads, and monks/nuns allowed us to learn a lot more about Tibetan society than just staying in Lhasa. While Lhasa showed us where Tibet might be going in the next five or ten years, seeing the tiny villages and open space showed us where the region came from, and some of its roadblocks to modernization today.

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