Cross China Road Trip 08: Langmusi, Sky Burial Site

Langmusi: Part one of three. Please go >here< for Part 2

Langmusi 02

A few hours south of Xiahe you will find Langmusi. Though this is also a thoroughly Tibetan town there’s still a Hui Muslim and Han Chinese influence in the form of hotels, restaurants and shops. I guess being late September it’s really quiet though the occasional aging tractor clanking over the cobbled main street does break the ambience somewhat. Discharging dirty black smoke everywhere and overloaded with hay, the old farm machines are a sure reminder that this is definitely one of those ‘out there’ places.

Langmusi 01

What’s really interesting about Langmusi, is that the river denotes the border between the Sichuan and Gansu provinces therefore splitting the town right down the middle.

This means that there are two primary schools, one on each side and the kids go to different junior and senior schools. They use different electricity, different water, they have two different police stations and hospitals. Amazing hey?

There are also two monasteries complete with their surrounding communities. In the northern Sichuan side is the Sertri Gompa Monastery that slowly works its way up the side of a hill overlooking the town. To the south is the Kirti Gompa which occupies a river valley all the way up to the Namo Gorge. Honestly, if you’re ever in China and you can’t make it to Tibet, then definitely try and make it to Langmusi.

So on the first day, the Serti Gompa is at the top of the list as I really want to find the Sky Burial site. This is where the dead are cut up and fed to the vultures, their remains carried away into the sky and into the universe.

Nearing the burial site, to be honest I haven’t given it much thought as to what it’ll be like up there. Some playful kids take me up to there, but unnervingly won’t go the last kilometre, all of them looking decidedly spooked. As they leave, their absence shepherds a distinct feeling of self-consciousness which descends as noticeably as the darkened slate grey sky. Only the strong wind banging into my ears and the first few drops of rain snap me out of it.

Langmusi 03

In the fold of a steep incline a great mass of different coloured prayer flags snapping and rippling in the current reveals itself. This must be it. Then, to the left I spot the wheelchair. Some fellow travellers said that that’s the place where they perform the ritual though as I move over to take a look, the wind strangely drops. One could easily say that it’s just the imagination playing tricks but up here anything is possible.

The wheelchair is actually nothing more than a burnt out frame that sits tilted to one side in a circular fire pit. There is a large area nearby with two concave stone and wooden chopping blocks and small pools of water collected at their centres. Two old boxes lie open in the mud filled with well-worn knives and axes. This must surely be the place where they dismember the bodies and as the penny drops, I notice that the mud has transformed into a pink grey matter. An accompanying stench of purification takes me by the back of the throat and I instinctively make a grab for the cough sweets in my front pocket. Beyond the cutting area is a pile of a hundreds of bones supported by a single spine. Jaw bones, legs, ribs, an arm hangs out of the pile. A face looks up at me from the grass. Its eyes and skin are missing but the hair remains. A freshly picked skull lies to one side, fresh, pink and waxy; I have never seen the likes of this before. At an angle down the side of the hill lies a twisted torso. Skin and muscle remain hanging between the bones, solidified brown across its broken framework.

Without a second thought, I push my nausea to one side and pull out my camera and start to snap away. It’s an instinctive reaction fuelled by justification. I won’t get another chance and besides, the people I met yesterday had photos so what the heck.

The camcorder comes out next and I film at least five full minutes of the whole place before calling it a day. Some Chinese folk come up, wrapped up in their outdoor gear though they really look spooked and only take a couple of shots with their phones before vacating the premises sharpish.

Left to my own devices, as I slowly work my way down the track an overwhelming feeling of regret and fear quake through me slowing me to a snail’s pace. Mate, you shouldn’t have done that. That is some serious shit you’ve just done.

Wrestling with the whole thing I stop in my tracks. You total fucking arsehole!

As fast as I can I turn around, double-time it back up to the site and apologize holding up both cameras then delete the material. Not good enough!

I mean, what was I going to do with it anyway? Respect for the dead aside, what would the consequences of posting photos and video footage of a sacred Tibetan burial site on social media be? Not good that’s for sure. You just don’t do that and that’s all there is too it!

In an old abandoned house on the way back I cry in shame at my actions. The need to grab that impressive shot had cloaked my sensibility to the point of sub-human.

Langmusi 04

Making for the nearest temple I seek forgiveness in prayer though when I arrive the big doors are firmly locked with chain and padlock. The weather is grim, my boots now heavy with water. To another and another, each place is closed.

It’s like the Universe has deemed me unfit to enter.

Langmusi 05

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29 replies

    • Ha ha > I think they let me off. At the time I was worried the Land Cruiser would break down or I’d suffer some bad luck but in the end I came out alright I rhink 🙂 Cheers Lifecameos. How’s it going these days anyway?

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hey there LC > I’d like to add you to my RSS so I can see when you’ve done a new post. However, I just realised that after all this time I dont know your name other than Lifecameos. I understand if you want to keep to your blog name but would be nice to know as you always come and say hello 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Andy, my name is Glenys Doull and I live in New Zealand Yes, please do add me to your RSS. I haven’t really thought about names, and a lot of people did not use names on Tumblr where I started out on blogging. I find your articles about China really interesting. Dad was an auctioneer at our city vegetable and fruit markets back in the 1950’s and 1960’s when the market gardeners and orchardists came in to town to auction their produce every morning. Most of the suppliers producing the potatoes and lettuces which Dad auctioned were Chinese market gardeners, so his afternoon auctioneer visits to suppliers were to these Chinese growers. The auctioneers used to help the Chinese with their paperwork as many of the Chinese adults had little or no schooling in English at that time, and also their tax returns and other paperwork. This was much appreciated and we often had hams, lychees, and preserved ginger given to us at Christmas. That is all in the past now of course. From 1944 in our country all children of all races had to attend school until the age of 15, so few of the vegetable growers are Chinese now. The Chinese educated themselves into much higher paying jobs. I look forward to your future posts.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hiya Glenys. Its great being able to finally put a name to a blog ha ha. I did wonder where your interest in China came from. Anyway consider yourself firmly RSS’d with my other nearest and dearest. Actually if you ever fancy a chat drop by my RSS list at the bottom of the blog and check out anyone of them. Clare at ZuZu’s barn is always around for a chin wag and a cup of tea as is Sherrie 2chicks2go 🙂 Happy happy happy. Nice to be in touch 🙂

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  1. Sounds daft, Andy, but I just feel the urge to say thank you.
    Getting it wrong is human…realising we’ve got it wrong is a gift. Doing something about that is right action and comes from a deeper part of ourselves.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I think what got me was this crap desire to get some amazing photo. It always floats around when I’m on the road. Sometimes I get to the point when I just cant stand taking any photos at all. Then of course I get home and kick myself for not taking enough photos LOL

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      • I know that feeling. I never move without a camera, but as you said in your video, some things were never meant to be photographed…and some moments are just between us and the gifts of earth and sky too.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh you saw old teary me in my video ha ha. You’re the first to mention it Sue. I actually lost 1000 miles worth of footage when the camcorder destroyed the memory card grrrrrrr I made sure I let it go instantly rather than get miffed about it.

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      • I have far more respect for a man who feels than one who doesn’t, or pretends he doesn’t, Andy.
        I’d be gutted to lose that amount of footage…but there is always a reason. Even if it isn’t evident when the air is going blue around you 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • I guess it means I have to write about it. I dont think Sony would care too much about it LOL. Its hard letting things go, but its one of those lessons that comes around a lot until you really dont give a damn about whatever it was. Even so , would love to have it all back just to recall the madness in more detail

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      • Big business seldom has a heart.
        It is hard letting things go, but harder still realising how much we have clung to them. The memories remain, though I can quite understand the wish fr the visual reminder.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Andy, just finished watching the video! Interesting to be there with you and hear your reaction concerning the Sky Burial site, and the Monks scene. Obviously, you are a compassionate and sensitive man! I think I would have done the same. In the high drama of the moment to film the Sky Burial area because of the extraordinary, unbelievable burial ritual. Then I would have deleted it out of respect. You did the right thing, and you will be forgiven. Nothing bad happened to you! I’m getting back to reading your chapters this week. Have had “things” happen to distract me from reading and from my own writing. Have a wonderful week! 💛 Christine

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hiya Christine > Its always interesting getting feedback from the YouTube posts as its all so new to me. I think I knew I was clear of anything negative after the trip as I had no major calamities or bad feelings for the rest of the trip. Phew. Maybe I got lucky. Any other burial site it may have been different, but Tibetans are so nice through and through. I’m slowly doing a letter to you in draft stages so it may take some time ha ha. Next month I’m going to be putting all of my hours into three days a week leaving four free so I can work on writing. What with blogging and YouTube I cant get near anything. At the heart of it all I really want is to be at the stage to write my fictional series. Anyway I’m rambling already so look forward to hearing from you btw re my draft. I re-read it myself and there’s an awful lot I’d cut out. David Cameron and the camping are but two LOL

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You didn’t hurt anyone, Andy, and you made the right decision at the end. We all get carried away with the camera once in awhile. You’re still an amazing talent with heart. That’s quite the unfinished hotel! Was your room with running water and a working toilet? I hope so! Excellent work as always. I’ll read the rest a bit later when I get the chance. Merry Christmas, Andy!! xo

    Liked by 1 person

    • Awwww Thanks Rose > I really appreciate that. I keep forgetting how close we are to Christmas Well that’s being in China for you. Yes my room was great thanks. Lovely view of the mountains and monastery. Yes, just in case I forget a Super Merry Christmas back to you mate 🙂

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  4. That was plain spooky and I shivered in the hot tropical sun reading that, I am on the porch catching up with your journey and here’s where I left off, what a re-entry! Sounded like you were writing a screenplay for a horror movie! Seriously Andy! Don’t do that again! Really spooked me, no joke! Death and burial is sacred to many Asian tribes and beliefs and it dictates life here. from the moment you are born, you are prepped to meet your end, the do’s and dont’s are drilled from young and the rituals we need to perform. But I am sure it must have also taken a toll on you walking down that valley. Like you left a part of you , you can’t reclaim. I avoid a lot of these burial rituals here if i can as i can’t recover from the effect it has on me. Or maybe i am just mad! Who knows. Anyway I am playing catch up today, finally got to settle down a little. Hope things are well with you and the family!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeeeeey Singledust. Its been ages. Actually I’ve been bogged down with everything so havent been on WP or YouTube for a while really. Trying to catch up right now. Honestly I was terrified when I went back down, especially when every temple was locked. Glad to see you again mate x

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      • Hi there friend! Knew you must have been busy – that’s cool – whenever you can just keep up with the comments – just my way of keeping up with your awesome journey and your amazing life – glad you are over the spooky parts. Glad to see you too. Have you been busy with teaching or planning your next adventure. Ughh I so envy you!!

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      • Well I squashed all of my hours into three days a week which leaves me exhausted for a day and then leaves me with time to get on with things. I’m writing another TEFL book and planning my fictional work …oh and doing YouTube and WordPress. Phew. How are you these days?

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      • Wow! Exhausting even reading it! But i think thats a good plan to get totally free days to work on the important stuff and not just work. But you do have a lot on your plate. Best of luck friend and if there’s anything i could lend a hand with please ask. i am not even sure what I am offering help for, but just so you know there’s someone cheering you when you are down perhaps. i have been trying to be busy haha – seriously with the kids and work there’s hardly time to do my own thing, but i have been trying to write as much as i can and maybe get all my teeny tiny stories into an e book or something 0 might take me a year but it will keep me out of trouble! Hope the misssus wont feel too neglected with all the projects you have going on. I enjoyed the youtube videos and plan to watch more as time permits. They are a lovely documentary though your eyes.

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      • Thanks Singledust. It all seems a bit hectic but really its not. I realised that it really is the process that’s to be enjoyed. Once its done its done and normally a let down. With the fictional book I’m going to let it take its time anyway. Thanks for the offer of support and likewise any help I can send with self publishing 🙂 No problem

        Liked by 1 person

      • will keep your offer in mind and might be the pain in your side when i do! But thank you. Enjoying the process – thats an idealist view but I agree its a must – there’s too much emphasis on a job done these days no one really bothers with the process, like cooking has become microwave menus, thanks for that moment when i stop and evaluate myself – really good to talk to you – if there was a coffee shop somewhere between here and there we would be talking up a literal storm i think. take care good care Andy Smart!

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