On the Move

Today, people tend to forget how much we, homo sapiens, have always moved from one place to another. Migration, which happened ‘en masse’ for millennium is no new phenomenon. In Tibet, all across the Plateau, it was and still is a part of daily life. In the era with no phones, postal system, roads or motored vehicles, people had a culture particular to predicting a traveler's return. Journeys from one end of the plateau to the other could last months. Monks came from thousands of miles to study in the great monastic learning institutions in Lhasa braving winters and robbers. Merchants travelled regularly on horse to India and China, buying and reselling everything from Stetson hats to Italian cloth. Mystics wandered beyond borders to seek knowledge from a distant teacher or let their minds travel the path to enlightenment from the depth of a cave. Ordinary laymen regularly engaged in lengthy pilgrimages, family affairs that children found wildly exciting, visiting holy sites near and far.

A holiday for a Lhasa dweller meant packing up a cartful of household goods transferred to an elegant tent pitched in a beautiful spot near a river. Travel is still endemic to the Tibetan disposition. Lhasa is the best example; in winter, it fills with pilgrims come from North and East while the more privileged Lhasa dwellers spend the coldest months in balmier fog of Chengdu. Nomads in Kham and Amdo spend their summers in remote high altitude camps, now exchanging news on group we chats. They use solar energy to charge their phones and even have small generators for their television. Every month or so, they move camp, finding fresh pasture for their yaks and sheep. They herd on horses but ride load their belongings on ‘blue camel’ three wheelers and ride their bikes to town for supplies. In winter, the more privileged amongst them flock to Lhasa and its surroundings, either flying or by train. Some choose the slower route, a full time occupation, prostrating from remote regions of Kham or Amdo and taking several years to reach their destinations. Lamas now travel in cars, though on important occasions, are often accompanied by horsemen.