Tibet Blues

Tibetan Peasant Children (Alchi, Ladakh, 1981)

When I arrived in Tibet the first thing that happened to me was that I got arrested. I had just landed in Leh airport, which at the time consisted of a sand strip in the middle of rocky mountains better known as the Himalaya. I took out my camera, I mounted the most powerful telephoto I had, and I started watching the sacred mountains, in an ecstatic state of mind. I was in the land of the 10,000 Buddhas, I was under the deep blue sky right under the center of the Nirvana. In the midst of this mystical state of excitement, I kind of heard someone screaming, although I did not fully realized he was screaming at me. He was pointing his finger to me and screaming like crazy in a language that I imagined to be archaic Sanskrit or similar. I barely had the time to remove the camera from my eye and have a glimpse of the screamer when I felt lifted toward the blue sky and yes, I was floating in mid hair as some of the ascetic meditating monks I had read about. The difference was that my levitation was helped my two big guys in uniform that were holding me by my arms, and they carried me flying in a dark room in a mud house not far from where I was. The full distance was covered without my feet touching the ground once, literally. The room was small and empty, and the only furniture were two chairs and a desk. It did not promised anything good. I landed unceremoniously on one of the chair, while the screamer keep pointing the finger at me and screaming at the top of his longs. After a few minutes, another man in uniform, possibly from southern India, showing more decoration of the two lifters and hence a higher level in the military hierarchy , entered the room. The civilian screamer started to speak in a tumultuous way to the officer, which appeared calm. I can say I was tense and curious, more tense than curious. After a few minute, the officer addressed me directly, explaining in English that I was pointing my telephoto to the point in which the border of China, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan meet. One of the most sensitive place on the planet, he explained. And even though it was peaceful at the time, the officer expected it would not stay peaceful for long. He gently asked my film, which I gave him gladly, and he let me go with a few words of advice on traveling in the area. I did not take him too seriously at the time.

I spent about one month traveling in Tibet. I remember interminable columns of military, the Muslim in villages covered with posters of Khomeini, the kindness and rural poverty of the children and the peasants, the smile of induist holy men, the traditional dressing of the Tibetan women, the Buddhist monks. None of them aware they were entering a bloody infinite war started soon after I left. A war not over yet after more than 30 years of pain.

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