Tibet

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Tibetan woman inside her home showing a computer in the background.

I am heading back to Mount Kailash and the western Tibetan Plateau to finish my next book documenting the rapid lifestyle and environmental changes occurring on the plateau.  Arranging for support and logistics for a trip into the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) presents its own set of challenges.  First of all in addition to a Chinese Visa, permits are required just to get into the TAR.  Once there depending on where you want to travel you will need a handful of permits to travel to your desired destinations.  In addition the permits it is necessary to find a government approved guide and driver and a properly approved vehicle.  A simple internet search will reveal several agencies that can put a package together providing you with the necessary permits, car, driver and guide.  I have had great experiences with both FIT in Lhasa and Tibet Connections in Xining.  This time I will be using Tibet Connections.

Finding a good guide is always hit or miss for me.  When I have arranged for a guide that I haven’t worked with before I always take him/her out for a day of taking portraits before heading out on a several week trip.  I’m mainly looking for someone that’s good with people.  They don’t have to speak perfect English but I’m watching how they interact with their own people.  This process will begin for me next week when I arrive in Lhasa.  I’ll try to keep up my blog posts to let you know how things are going as I begin my month long trip.

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Inigo de Angulo, a photographer from Spain, also accompanied me on one of my trips to Tibet in May. It was such a pleasure to watch Inigo interact with the people as he shot and gave Polaroids to his subjects. Inigo has been working on a long term project documenting many religious practices around the world. Here is his description of how the experience affected him.

“What impressed me most of the Tibetans was their devotion: they intensively live their faith at every moment. It is not something reserved for a special day in the calendar, but a constant presence in the way they understand their lives. From the way people greet you, humbly, with both hands together at the chest level; their chanting of the “On mani padme hum” mantra while spinning the prayer wheels; to the prostrations on the ground while circumambulating a temple.

And the most significant thing is that they not only pray for a better life for themselves or their family, but always extend their prayers to the peace and well-being of all the world. Before this trip, I saw some rituals of religions different to mine as something somehow weird and striking. Now I understand better that those rituals represent the way people live their faith, connect to God. I’m more open not only to accept but even to participate in them. I feel closer to the people and through them to God.” Inigo de Angulo

To see his full body of work on Tibetan Devotion go to http://www.enekoertz.com

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Over the years I have had many people ask me if they could assist me on one of my trips.  I’ve never been too anxious to do so because I felt it would be too disruptive to have more “foreigners” than necessary show up in a remote village or at a nomad’s tent taking photos.

On my last trip to Tibet in May I decided to take two photographers with me to help cover expenses.   I had met Stevan at one of my lectures at PhotoPlus and Inigo at one of my workshops in Los Angeles.   It turned out to be a great collaborative experience with me learning as much or more from them as they did from me.  My worries about having two extra foreigners show up vs one turned out to be unfounded.   Both Stevan and Inigo were great with the people.

Here are some images and a recollection from Stevan:

 

An early morning walk on the dirt paths of Langmusi (Chinese) or Taktsang Lhamo (Tibetan) revealed approximately 35 motor biking nomads.  These rough riding types rode over 100 kilometers to tithe to the Kerti Gumpa (monastery). What a sight to see these characters with camera phones.

They found me as much of a mystery as I did them.  They sat and prayed with monks in this village that straddled the border between Sichauan and Gansu.  The monks took their donation and draped their motorbikes with prayer flags.  In quick order the nomads sped away to place the flags at the highest peak of the village. The display of prayer flags on mountain tops is widely seen in Tibet.  It is an act of building merit and goodwill as the wind flutters the mantra stamped flags voicing the faith of Buddhism to the world.  It was humbling to experience the devotion of an unlikely group of men. 

It is one of those moments that will always stay with me.

To see more of Stevan’s impressive images visit  www.cielostudios.com