Life in the rhythm of prayers
Our next and longest stop on our 40-day China trek was the small Tibetan village of Lángmùsì, Taksang Lhamo in Tibetan, situated on the border of Sìchuān and Gānsù, at 3345 meters of altitude. Situated in a spectacular grassland mountain scenery in the middle of nowhere, it must have been incredibly remote and rarely visited some decades ago, before a new built, modern highway and government investments brought in tour buses, migrant workers and – how could it be different – the construction boom. But fading out the sounds concrete mixers and welding machines, Lángmùsì still is a jewel of a Tibetan village.
The old part of the village is quite small and merely consists of two lines of two-story houses lined up along one main road. The main road curls in between the two monasteries hosted by the village, Kerti and Serti Gompa (the Tibetan word for monastery). The geographic separation between the two gompas has also a profound political background: according to what we heard and read, while Kerti was the original monastery of Taksang Lhamo, Serti was built with the support of (and is still sponsored by) the Chinese government. Knowing this, it is quite easy to discern the differences from pure appearance, as the structure of Kerti’s houses seems to be older and decrepit at several points, while colors in Serti are more resplendent, with golden roofs and freshly painted wall ornaments. To us, however, both were equally beautiful.
With over 50% of Tibetan population, life inside the village goes in the rhythm of prayers. At any time of the day, you will be able to see people walking the kora – the pilgrimage path around the monasteries – swinging small prayer mills in their hands and turning the prayer wheels.
Rush hour time for the kora seems to be however by dusk, as every day around 6 to 7 pm we could see crowds walking up from the monastery. They always walked in groups, both women an men, sometimes both sexes together, sometimes separate. In any case, walking a kora doesn’t seem to necessarily be a process of quietness and devotion. We saw some people walking like immersed in thoughts, murmuring prayers. Most Tibetans, however, were chatting with each other while turning the wheels, as if they were going on a Sunday afternoon walk with family and friends.
We also saw some women performing full body prostrations, the extremely devotional form of Tibetan pilgrimage, where the person alternately walks two or three steps and prostrates herself to the ground. Obviously, performing a kora by full body prostration brings higher merit than mere walking. A kora is destined at accumulating religious merits, where the degree of the merit varies according to the circumabulated place and also the way of moving. Sacred places for the kora are typically monasteries and natural sites – mostly sacred mountains, the most distinguished among them Mt Kailash in Tibet -, but also holy persons.
Another curiosity we observed when strolling around the village was that practically all male children were dressed as monks, up to their late teens. We couldn’t figure out whether it was a rule that male Tibetans had to live in a monastery for a certain time or if in general school education was responsibility of the monks, but there had to be some general social rule about it.
We were very luck to visit Lángmùsì off the season, so village was practically deserted of foreigners and only few Chinese tour buses hit in each day. The downside of it was that the search for accommodation turned out to be a pain, as hotels and guesthouses seemed to be closed of in the process of renovation, and some of the ones listed in the guidebook simply didn’t exist anymore. After checking out practically ALL options around town, – among which most or had only Asian style toilets or a totally manky Western version – we found a cold but clean room at a friendly Tibetan lady’s, who didn’t speak any English – we didn’t expect this anyway – but was happy to manage the conversation with gestures, a calculator and a smile.
Our first day in Lángmùsì was our whole trip’s half-time and we were greeted with fabulous sunshine and warm temperatures. As the following day we were going to set off for the horse trekking, we took advantage of the light to stroll around Kerti Gompa and continue hiking the trail just behind the monastery into Namo Gorge. We still felt our lungs and hearts struggling a little with the altitude, as the trail leads further up into the mountains. But the marvelous scenery simply blew us away and if it hadn’t already happened before, it was not later than on that trek that we knew we wanted to come back to this place.