Tibet

Photographs by Shaun O'Boyle

There were many rather bleak looking settlements along the road, some were walled in Tibetan villages, and others barren concrete walled compounds. The bus pulled into one of the compounds after dark, it turned out to be a Chinese army barracks with guards guns and the watch towers. It was where we were to spend the night. A few of us found the kitchen and the cook wiped up some edible food. Then we were given a cot and a pile of blankets. We were at an altitude of around 17,000 feet, so it was mighty cold outside, and in the thin air it is difficult to breath, even at rest. Not so bad for myself, having been acclimitized from trekking at high altitude recently, but others were having difficulties and headaches.  

We traveled the entire next day, making occasional stops in strange small villages along the way. Places where the local people mixed with what seemed to be a mainland Chinese population.  No one looked particularly happy, and there didn't seem to be much in the way of amiable communication between the people we met. In fact everyone sort of stood apart and kind of looked the other way. The local Tibetans seemed on hard times, there was definitely a sense of class structure there, with the Chinese population appearing to see themselves above the whole place. Of course this was my impression from a very short visit to each place. 
Places such as this canteen were rest stops, where we would grab some food if there was anything edible available. Sometime it looked pretty sketchy and I would give the meal a miss, having had my share of food induced stomach problems earlier in my travels. Buy a package of crackers instead. We were something of a curiosity to the people where we stopped, and often a crowd would form and they would stand around and just stare at us unblinkingly. You get used to it.
Shigatse, Tibet. This place is an outpost, one of the more difficult places to get to on the earth, you don't stumble upon it, you really have to want to get there. There is a strange mix of Tibetans, who live in colorfully painted mud and wood houses, and the Chinese who live in concrete compounds built in a brutalist fashion.  Where the Tibetans live the streets are narrow and winding, the Chinese blocks are a grid with wide dust blown streets. I stayed in a Chinese hotel (the only one), more like a hospital with aqua tiles and florescent lit halls. Out the window was a truck stop, dust tornados spun across the largely empty lots. Large trucks pulled in from the 2 week trip from Chengdu loaded with the comforts of industrial China, canned foods, fabrics, plastic wares. 

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