Category Archive 'Tibet'

23 Jul 2021

Sakya Monastery’s Hidden Library

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Library of Sakya Monastery, Tibet. (Click on image for larger version.)


A huge library of as many as 84,000 scrolls was found sealed up in a wall 60 metres long and 10 metres high at Sakya Monastery in 2003. It is expected that most of them will prove to be Buddhist scriptures, although they may well also include works of literature, history, philosophy, astronomy, mathematics and art. They are thought to have remained untouched for hundreds of years.

24 Oct 2016

Tibetan Musical Notation


Tibetan musical score – notation for voice, drums, trumpets, horns and cymbals.

18 Aug 2011

“Summer Grass, Winter Worm”

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Eric Hansen, in Outside magazine, profiles the fungus growing out of the head of deceased caterpillars, used in Chinese medicine and prized in Asia as an aphrodisiac, which has become in recent years the primary cash-producing export of the Tibetan plateau.

Yarchagumba looks like a shriveled brown chile pepper and is coveted as an aphrodisiac and medicinal cure-all. Literally translated as “summer grass, winter worm,” it forms when a parasitic fungus invades the burrowing larva of a ghost moth, transforms the ­vital ­organs into a cobweb-like mess, and then sends up a wispy sprout through the dead ­insect’s head. The grisly process plays out across the Himalayas and the ­Tibetan Plateau but only at the beginning of the monsoon and only on reclining slopes of grasses, shrubs, and milk vetch at the dizzying altitude of 10,000 to 16,500 feet. Thanks to a spike in global demand, mostly by Asian men looking to enhance their virility, a pound of yarcha­gumba now sells for as much as $50,000, more than the price of gold. ­Profits from the fungus have transformed entire ­villages, vexed government regulators, and even helped bankroll a communist insurgency. Nepal’s former Maoist rebels admit that taxing (read: ­extorting) yarchagumba pickers was their main source of income in their decade-long war against the country’s monarchy. …

While Himalayan herders have snacked on the mummified larvae for centuries, the ­modern yarchagumba craze can be traced back to 1993, when three peasant girls from northeast China stunned spectators at the World Championships in Athletics, in Stuttgart, Germany, shattering numerous long-distance-running records. Asked how he could explain what Sports Illustrated would later call “the most astonishing breakthrough in the history of track and field,” the girls’ coach, Ma Junren, attributed it to a tonic of turtle blood and yarchagumba. Even though many of his athletes would later fail some of the world’s first tests for performance-­enhancing drugs like EPO, the astounding feats put yarchagumba on the world map.

In the beginning, the major consumers were Japanese, Hong Kongers, and Singaporeans, who would pay $100 at high-end restaurants for a vegetable soup with three yarcha­­gumba floating turd-like on top. Now China is the largest market. Believing that the effects are cumulative, consumers ingest it daily. Nouveau riche Chinese have their cooks roast the mummified caterpillars with duck, or infuse them with rice wine, or simply pulverize them and sprinkle the dust atop breakfast cereal. At high-class dinner parties in Beijing, yarchagumba has reportedly replaced champagne as the preferred gift. In Tibet, the flavorless delicacy is the bribe of choice. As China’s GDP has risen, so has the price of yarcha­gumba, including a ninefold increase in the past decade alone. As with rhino horn or bear gall bladder, yarcha­gumba’s outrageous price tag carries its own appeal. “For most Chinese consumers, it’s all about status and impressing people,” says ­Seattle mycologist Daniel Winkler, the world’s foremost yarchagumba expert.

Now Westerners are growing curious. A 2003 article in Nutritional Wellness, a quarterly for licensed chiropractors, suggests that the Cordyceps sinensis ­fungus, which some believe is the key component in yarcha­gumba, contains a host of compounds that “stimulate the human immune system,” among other ­effects. Capitalizing on this belief is a Cordyceps-infused energy drink called ­Steven ­Seagal’s Lightning Bolt and a company called Aloha Medicinals, in Carson City, ­Nevada, which sells Cordy­ceps grown in near-freezing, oxygen-­depleted greenhouses intended to replicate growing conditions in the mountains. (One bottle of 90 capsules: $19.95.)

In the actual Himalayas, all that demand has spurred a gold rush. Villagers in Tibet, ­India, Bhutan, and Nepal can now afford to send their children to proper schools, pay down debts, and even start businesses with the ­so-called spore money. In Tibet, where the vast majority of yarchagumba is ­harvested, yartsa gunbu, as it’s called there, now ­accounts for 40 percent of annual cash income in rural areas, or $225 mil­lion. The Nepali harvest only a fraction as much, mostly in western districts, but the effects are just as dramatic: during the six-week harvesting season, a Nepali can earn upwards of $1,500, more than his parents could have expected to make in a lifetime.

While the yarchagumba trade is now legal and only lightly taxed in Nepal, early regulations discouraged compliance. In 2001, the government implemented a per-piece levy that was higher than the actual market price. A few months later, it required that yarcha­gumba be steamed before export, which ­effectively turned valuable dry yarcha­gumba into worthless mush. Now villagers might pay local taxes, but few bother with the second tariff imposed by the federal government. According to Ramesh Kharel, a former chief of Kathmandu’s metropolitan police, only 20 percent of all Nepalese yarcha­gumba is sold legally.

Smuggling routes are well established. Tibetan brokers hike over the border, buy directly from villagers, and return with mule trains of semilegal yarchagumba. After dodging the few manned border checkpoints, they sell their crops to brokers in Lhasa, who in turn sell to larger middlemen in the bustling markets of the central Chinese city of Xining, who sell to retailers in Beijing. The biggest black-market deals go down in Kathmandu, the main smuggling hub for Southeast Asia, where powerful dealers consolidate enormous quantities, forge permits and tax ­receipts, and sell directly to Chinese dealers. “We have very few entry points into Kathmandu, and we manually inspect trucks and shipments,” says Kharel, “but we don’t have sophisticated equipment such as you have in the U.S.”

Wikipedia article

Hat tip to Fred Lapides.

23 Jun 2011

Tibetan Sky Burial

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Eurasian Griffon aka Griffon Vulture aka Old World Vulture, Gyps fulvus

Wikipedia article on Tibetan Sky Burial.

These pictures are just lurid images of vultures consuming a human corpse and some Tibetan funerary practices which are actually rather worse. Looking at these will give you nightmares, so do not click on either link.

I did warn you.

Hat tip to Fred Lapides.

29 Mar 2008

Yahoo and MSN Help China Apprehend Tibetan Protestors

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France24 The Observers:

Yahoo! China pasted a “most wanted” poster across its homepage today in aid of the police’s witch-hunt for 24 Tibetans accused of taking part in the recent riots. MSN China made the same move, although it didn’t go as far as publishing the list on its homepage.

Yahoo indignantly wrote France24 saying: “Yahoo! isn’t doing this. It’s Yahoo! China*.”

*Yahoo had to accept a Chinese partner, and Chinese control, to gain access to China’s market.

Hat tip to Matt Brown Hamlin

24 Jun 2007

China Building Highway to Mount Everest

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The Chinese government has announced the planned construction of a blacktop highway to Everest base camp to facilitate the carrying of the 2008 Olympic Torch to the summit of the highest mountain in the world.


China plans to build a highway on the side of Mount Everest to ease the Olympic torch’s journey to the peak of the world’s tallest mountain before the 2008 Beijing Games, state media reported Tuesday.
Construction of the road, budgeted at $19.7 million would turn a 67- mile rough path from the foot of the mountain to a base camp at 17,060 feet “into a blacktop highway fenced by undulating guardrails,” the Xinhua News Agency said.

Xinhua said construction, which would start next week, would take about four months. The new highway would become a major route for tourists and mountaineers, it said.

An official from the Secretariat of the Tibetan government, who declined to give his name, confirmed the project was planned, but refused to give any details. Tibet and Nepal are the most commonly used routes up the mountain.

In April, organizers for the Beijing Summer Olympics announced ambitious plans for the longest torch relay in Olympic history—an 85,000-mile, 130-day route that would cross five continents and reach the 29,035-foot summit of Everest.

Taking the Olympic torch to the top of the mountain, seen by some as a way for Beijing to underscore its claims to Tibet, is expected to be one of the relay’s highlights.

09 Oct 2006

A Train Ride With Oxygen

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Suzy Bennett, in the Telegraph, takes the ten-day Beijing to Lhasa rail tour.

The final 15 hour, 710 mile (1143 km) stretch from Golmud in China’s western Qinghai province to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, was only opened last July 1st. The carriages are pumped full of oxygen, and a supplementary supply is available by tube, since the route reaches a height of 16,640ft (5072 meters). As Bennett writes, breathlessly:

There are no crampons or ice picks in our gear. Instead we – a band of 77 rail enthusiasts, retirees and foreign journalists – have crammed altitude-sickness pills, painkillers and oxygen supplies into our bags in the hope of combating the effects of our journey across the roof of the world. We are the first group of Western holidaymakers to take Tibet’s new Sky Train and, although carriages will be pumped with supplementary oxygen, no one – not even the doctor who is accompanying us -knows whether it will be enough. At best we have been told to expect breathlessness, tiredness and headaches; at worst, pulmonary oedema or death.

If the railway causes a headache for its passengers, it has proved a chronic migraine for the engineers. A constantly freezing and melting permafrost along the route has meant that a network of pipes has had to be driven into the ground to pump liquid nitrogen and cold air beneath the track to keep it frozen all year round. Just four weeks after the line opened, the Chinese government admitted that global warming had raised temperatures faster than expected and that the foundations had begun sinking into the permafrost. The day before our group boarded the train, one of the dining cars derailed 250 miles from Lhasa. No one was hurt, but it sparked fears about what would have happened if the oxygen supply to the 600 passengers had been cut off.

04 Oct 2006

Chinese Shoot Tibetans at Nangpa La

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An anonymous source in the Mountaineering community reports a massacre of Tibetans by the Chinese Army on September 30th.

Early morning of September 30th, I walked out of our dining tent to gaze over towards the Nangpa La pass. I saw a line of Tibetans heading towards the start of the pass – a common sight, as the trade routes are open this time of year.”

“Then, without warning, shots rang out. Over, and over and over. Then the line of people started to run uphill — they were at 19,000ft. Apparently the Chinese army was tipped off about their attempted escape, and had showed up with guns.”

“2 people were down, and they weren’t getting up”

“Watching the line snake off through the snow, as the shots rang out, we saw two shapes fall. The binoculars confirmed it: 2 people were down, and they weren’t getting up. Then more Chinese army swarmed through Advanced Base Camp.”

According to the climber, Tibetans on the mountain later said that up to seven people might have been shot dead, their bodies then shoved into a crevasse not far from Cho Oyu Base Camp.

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