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Day 73: Yushu

Qinghai Province, Tibet 
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Meeting some monks at the Festival. Later they inveigled me into a game of football.
Michael Palin - HimalayaMuch jollier up at the parade ground today. The speeches are over, the big-wigs have gone and a holiday atmosphere prevails. Screeching disco music blares out from the PA system, boys race through on scooters with girls they've just met on the back, children are paddling in the river, horses are being washed, a lady wearing a post-SARS face mask sells fresh-made yogurt from a bamboo churn. Picnics are breaking out, an elderly monk is shouting into his mobile phone and horses are feeding from nosebags made from plastic footballs, cut in half.

We're quite an attraction. The children are particularly interested by my notebook and Nigel and Peter's arms, handwriting and bodily hair being an endless source of fascination.

Occasionally I look up and think what an English scene this is. Many of the women favour wide-brimmed straw hats, others carry parasols, making parts of the camp look like a sea of Eliza Doolittle's or Frith's painting of Derby Day, yet when I look on the map we're in the middle of nowhere with nothing for 1000 miles around. I suppose that's why these festivals, especially one on this scale, are so important. They bring people in from their tough lives in inhospitable places to enjoy, fleetingly, the seduction and security of the crowd.

In the arena, meanwhile, dancers and feats of horsemanship alternate. The Khampa horsemen who perform with such panache are renowned for being the toughest and most warlike of the peoples of Tibet, and the only ones to offer any serious resistance to the Chinese 'liberation'. Spurring their mounts into a full gallop, they ride in with ancient rifles, which they twirl around their heads, bring down to a firing position and aim to blow a hole in a 9-inch square of white paper sticking out of the ground. Others do handstands, bareback and at full speed, or hanging head-first down from the saddle try to grab as many scarves off the ground as they can while racing past.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 73: Yushu
  • Country/sea: Tibet
  • Place: Yushu
  • Book page no: 172

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