|Statue of king Gesar, with "long live the unity of (China's) ethnic groups" written in the background|
|A Khampa man selling ornaments|
|A lady at the market wearing Turquoise ornaments in her hair. Tibetans believe turquoise has spiritual properties.|
|A statue of the "four harmonious animals", Qumarleb|
|The monastery guesthouse where I stayed|
|A view of the whole area, with the monastery up above and the temporary campsite in the valley below|
|The monastery's new hall, about to be inaugurated|
|The biggest statue of the Buddha inside the hall|
|Apprentice monks taking part in a basketball game|
|The stone platforms where dead corpses are broken up and fed to the birds.|
|Pictures of the Song-ze Gyanak Mani Wall|
|Pile of Mani stones on the side of the street in Nangchen|
That afternoon, we drive to see a memorial to the Yushu earthquake on the outskirts of town. Next to the memorial, a collapsed building has been kept in the state it was in immediately after the quake, with metal beams holding it up. It's terrifying to think of people being trapped in there. This is very literally the only building still in this state that I see anywhere in the entire prefecture. Both Amala and her sister have terrible tales of the quake's aftermath, of walking through streets reduced to rubble and seeing death and destruction. They both insist the official death toll of 2698 people is vastly underestimated.
|A building preserved the way it was after 2010 earthquake|
That evening I take a stroll into town to find something to eat. The town is a similar size to Yushu, but it looks far less developed and prosperous. The dusty streets, unfinished buildings and numerous cows meandering about remind me strongly of India. The town centre is a little more lively, but still looks quite impoverished, and unsurprisingly everyone stares at me. Yushu may get the odd foreigner, but here you get none, especially nowadays. I find what looks like a reasonably big and reputable restaurant with the sort of menu you might find anywhere in China, and I have a large dinner. On the way back, the driver offers to take me to Gar Temple for less than what the other guy offered. We agree on 400 Yuan.
|Flats in Nangchen, with the open-air balconies favoured by Tibetans|
|The main square of Nangchen|
|Village outside Nangchen|
The next morning, the same driver comes to pick me up and take me to the temple. Gar temple is a two hour drive south of the town, and the only way to visit it is to rent a taxi for the day. The driver and I try and chat, but he is Tibetan and his Chinese is so bad that going beyond the basics proves impossible. Half way to the temple, we stop at a checkpoint. As expected, I have to get out of the car and go inside the police station, where I have to register by filling in a form. I begin to realise how lucky I was that there were no police checkpoints when I went to the monastery with Amala's family. I have no idea how we would have explained what I was doing and where I was going to stay. I suppose checkpoints are more common when you travel towards Tibet proper, and here we are almost at the border.
After another hour we reach the temple. It is indeed very scenic, perched on the side of a mountain that reminds me of the Alps. There are blue sheep milling about and Tibetan monks walking back and forth, and also a smattering of Han Chinese tourists taking photos. I walk up a staircase to the top of the temple for a better view, and my altitude sickness almost gets the better of me. Walking up 20 metres of stairs causes me to gasp for breath for a full minute. I wonder if my body could ever get used to living at these altitudes.
|Gar monastery, with two flags of Buddhism fluttering at the front|
|The whole monastery seen from a distance|
On the way back down to the valley below, we see three men sitting in a field picnicking. My driver stops and beckons me to get out. It turns out the men are his relatives, and we are going to join the picnic. They kindly offer me some of their food, and start chatting with me. One of the men speaks Chinese well enough to have a proper conversation. He asks me if I'm married, and when I say I am not, he says "You should marry one of our Tibetan girls. You'd have a great life. She would cook and wash your clothes for you, you could take things easy."
I make an attempt to explain that where I come from we believe in equality of the genders. He says "oh, there's nothing unequal about it, because in Tibet the men go out to 干活 (work, make a living), while the women do the housework, so it's fair". Amala had complained to me that Tibetan men tend to be sexist in this way, expecting their wives to do all of the housework for them. Later she tells me that men from Nangchen are well-known in the region for being particularly patriarchal.