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Day 86: Lijiang

Michael Palin - HimalayaLater in the day, we witness a Dongba at work a few miles outside Lijiang. When the last light of day has faded on the ice turrets of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain behind him, he begins the ceremony. He's a sprightly old man, who I'm alarmed to find is only five years older than me, dressed in a long, mandarin-style, red robe and embroidered waistcoat with an amulet hanging from a cord around his neck. Wound round his head is a red cap with a headdress of five pointed leaves. He holds a drum in one hand and cymbals in the other, and, after striking the drum, he sets about purifying the area where the ceremony is to take place, which is unclean because of our presence here. With a handful of burning branches he moves around the courtyard and then the garden, chanting and passing the smoking branches over arches, walls and, finally, over all our equipment. Then, with ever-accelerating speed and more frenetic chanting, he races to the door of the building, runs out and with shouted imprecations hurls the branches away, casting out all the bad spirits he's collected from within the compound.

I must admit that there is an extra element of confusion, which is nothing to do with the Dongba, for at precisely the same time that devils are being cast out in Yunnan, England are contesting the Rugby Union World Cup Final in Sydney. While working flat out to set up equipment, change film, filters and lights when necessary, Peter has his mobile phone on and progress of the game is being texted through to him from a pub in England.

Meanwhile, we turn our attention to the Dongba's young assistants, who are preparing to sacrifice two chickens.

The birds have their legs trussed and, after being anointed with water, their necks are cut and the blood drained into a bowl.

'14-5, England,' hisses Pete.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 86: Lijiang
  • Country/sea: China
  • Place: Lijiang
  • Book page no: 201

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