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Tibetan Sky Burial (Part 1)

In July 1998 attending a sky burial in Lhasa was off limits to foreigners, Han Chinese and government officials. At a downtown café I meet three Chinese tourists, the two women of whom are better dressed for the mall than stone streets at perilous altitudes. I skeptically accept the offer to join them in their quest to glimpse the ritual, leery that their handbags and heels don’t make them the most stealth of folk.

A half hour later we approach the ceremonial site, which is a vast pebbled expanse. Beyond this and to the left is a hill of boulders, and on the right the rocks partially plateau. There are a few people gathered around a bonfire, they are too far to make them out or what they were doing, but I guess this is part of the ceremony. A dry dirt road from the right slowly rises to them from the hazy distance, and I barely discern two or three others approaching the incline by foot.

As we stroll closer I instinctively meander toward the back of the group and lower my head, perhaps more aware than they that we are exposed in plain sight. One of the women bursts with the observation of bones scattered amid the rocks around us. And I start noticing them too though they are more like shards and really not identifiable.

The women then start snapping photographs. Two men from the raised expanse have already barreled down the gravel slope, the first one within moments away before we can react. And once he reaches us, without a word he forcibly confiscates the cameras before hurrying back. His companion is stopped and watching purposefully from the near distance. They then nonchalantly return to their party.

My three Chinese companions go back in the direction from which we came to complain. They don’t stand a chance. Continuing my nonplussed swagger, I saunter off toward the boulders thinking that there is another way out from around the left.


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