Thursday August 17, 2006 | 0 comments
Long before ships shuttled tea from Asia to Europe, the Tang-Tibet Road and The Tea-Horse Road were the main trunks of the tea trail which wound through Nepal, India and Russia into Europe. Modern highways, and the worldâ€™s highest railway (16,000 feet above sea level in some places) shadow the tracks of these ancient roads, but our tour group flew cross-country from Beijing to Lhasa, the spiritual and cultural capital of Tibet.
My adventure began on the plane when the director of Heifer Internationalâ€™s China-Tibet program happened to be my seat mate. Delighted to use his English, Dr. Huosheng, who has a degree in animal genetics, was thrilled to discover that my husband and I support Heiferâ€™s global programs to end hunger and care for the earth.
Flipping open his laptop computer, Dr. Huosheng shared photos of various projects. Many poor Tibetans still live a nomadic life following their herds of sheep, yak and dzo (a hybrid yak-cow) to steep mountain pastures. The Tibetan Autonomous Regional Heifer Programs focus on improving animal breeds, disease prevention and raising animals in ways compatible with the environment.
Participating families are given animals and taught how to keep them healthy. The gift is passed on to others in the community when the animal reproduces. Boys as young as ten are expected to care for goats, but the government is trying to enroll children in boarding schools to learn wood-working, sewing, reading, writing and math. As a weekend bee-keeper, I was especially interested to learn that bee hives have been introduced to replace the income lost when chicken and ducks were eliminated to prevent the spread of bird flu.
Every single photo showed rugged mountains sharp against an impossibly bright, blue sky. â€œThe sky in Tibet is horrible,â€ Dr. Huosheng exclaimed. â€œIt is so big and we are so small.â€ When I replied that I was looking forward to sunny skies after a week in dusty Beijing, he warned me that in Spring, the oxygen in the thin mountain air is 1/3 less than usual. To combat altitude sickness he advised moving slowly, eating several, small high-calorie meals, resting often and drinking lots of liquids. Chinese Red Flower and Tibetan tea would be readily available, he said.
Spring winds made for a bumpy landing, so the doctor stowed his laptop, but I was enthralled by glimpses of snow-covered peaks poking through the clouds. On the ground, our tour group was met by Tibetan guides who draped silk prayer scarves around our necks and helped haul our mountain of luggage onto a bus.