Mike's China by Mike Dixon - HTML preview

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9 Tibetans


I've met a few memorable people in my life and one was the Tibetan guy who organised the logistics for our climbing trip in the Himalayas.  I injured my foot early in the proceedings and spent a lot of time with him while the rest of my party was away in the mountains.  We knew him as Kangri.  His parents called him by a different name.

Kangri's family lived a nomadic life, grazing yaks in the highland pastures of northern Yunnan, near the Tibetan border.  It's a tough way to make a living and he had some remarkable stories about his childhood.

One was a horrendous incident when he was at toddler.  A lion dog took his head into its mouth.  His scalp was ripped open.  His mother fainted and his uncle stitched him back together again.  Kangri pulled back his hair as he told the story and showed the ugly scar that remained from the ordeal.

The Tibetan lion dogs get their name from the main of long hair on their huge heads.  His family kept them to guard their herds from wolves.  They lost calves to the wolves and had to be on guard for the wolf packs that followed them around.  As a teenager, Kangri spent long hours with his father, lying in ambush, waiting for the packs to come within range.  They had telescopic sights on their rifles but the wolves were cunning and very difficult to shoot.

When he was thirteen, Kangri went to a boarding school run by Buddhist monks.  There, he learnt about strange people who lived in the West.  They had yellow hair and blue eyes and didn't like the Chinese.  The blue-eyed people spoke English and Kangri decided he was going to learn English.

The nearest place to do that was India.  The Dalai Lama had established a college in the foothills of the Himalayas and Kangri resolved to go there.  At the age of nineteen, he set off with two friends.  Leaving Tibet was strictly forbidden and they had to travel at night.  The journey was by foot and took over two months.  Towards the end, they exhausted their money and were forced to beg.

Frontier guards patrolled the main routes.  He and his friends had to use high passes to escape detection.  In many places the track was no more than a crumbling ledge, cut into a cliff face centuries before.  They got frostbite and couldn't feel the rocks cutting into their legs as they hugged the cliff in the dark.  Kangri pulled up his trouser leg and showed the scars he had accumulated on the journey.

The young men eventually reached India and enrolled in the Dalai Lama's college.  Kangri learnt English and could have emigrated to America but felt homesick.  He made enquiries and found that the Chinese authorities would let him back.  In time he obtained a licence for tourist activities.

Kangri speaks Tibetan, Mandarin and excellent English.  While my people were away climbing he decided to visit his family.  He invited me along and we set off in his 4WD vehicle.  It was an awesome trip.  Kangri changed into Tibetan clothes and I put on my climbing gear to stay warm.  We carried extra fuel and a box of spares.

Finding his folks required patience.  Kangri talked to people en route and followed their leads.  It took four days and we finally found them encamped in a shallow valley.  A large herd of yaks was grazing on the surrounding hillsides.  The family had ponies and two large vehicles.  They clearly weren’t poor.  Kangri's brother was there with his wife and children; he spoke Tibetan and no other language.

The two brothers had led very different lives.  Kangri was a man of the world and his brother was a herdsman whose big ambition was to visit Lhahsa one day.  Kangri's mother asked me if I could find a nice girl for her son.  Kangri was clearly embarrassed by the question but undertook the translation.

He was now in his late twenties and clearly wanted a "nice girl".  His problem was to find a Tibetan girl who shared his outlook on life.  There were some "nice" farm girls but their view of the world was far too restricted.  Then there were the university girls.  He'd introduced me to some and made it clear that he didn't like them.  I suspect that when he finds the lady of his dreams, she will be a way-out character (probably a Westerner) looking for a way-out guy like himself.

Kangri was the inspiration for Tenzin, a leading character in my latest book, The Emerald Buddha.