This practice involves a freshly deceased body arriving to a certain location on a hill. The body is sliced into pieces with a knife, the bones smashed with a hammer, and the meat mixed with ground barley. Vultures swoop down at take care of the rest, picking at the meat and essentially "bringing the remains to the heavens". In Tibetan Buddhism, the body becomes a lifeless entity, so one of the holiest things you can do is donate your body to the heavens; to the vultures to provide food for them and continue the circle of life. From a Western eye, this initially seems cruel and horrific. To the Tibetan eye it makes sense. The ground at an elevation as high as the Tibetan towns are found (Litang at 4,000 meters) is far too cold and tough to dig into for a "normal burial".
Onto a prettier subject now, the people of Litang. Aside from the normal spitting noise and "Hello, ____(insert nearby location here)" - an aim to sell you a trip to your next destination, the people here were incredibly friendly. Warm in that I was invited to talk with and even eat with strangers. People put their arms around me as though they had known me for years. I took a day and wandered into a Tibetan picknick, helping to create a tent for the friends I had made. I then wandered into the mountains and went with a young boy to his Nomad tent. Just outside Litang, there are people living in great poverty, eating and sleeping in these tents. I was brought into the tent and communicated the best I could. Keep in mind that no Chinese is spoken, just Tibetan so I now knew "Zhadidaleh" (spelled terribly incorrectly I'm sure) and aside from hello was left resorting to gestures. I ate some of the concoction that this woman whipped up, mixing this oil with yak butter and a barley type substance. It was quite delicious! So, I thanked her profusely, left her a $1 US dollar, and had to do something about her feet. They were peeking through the socks and in terrible condition, so I took mine off and put them on her feet, performing the charitable donation of the day. Although a small act of kindness, it was the least I could do for a free meal and I felt quite good after doing that.
After a few more days in Litang, it was back to Shangri-La, but not without an overnight stopover in a tiny Tibetan town named De Rong. This beautiful town was split in half by a river, and climbing a mountain provided a spectacular view! That evening I went out with my Tibetan friends to Karaoke (super popular in China!), or KTV as they call it and what a blast it was! Shangri-La was a one-night stopover before eventually returning to my home, Lijiang. I call it my home because I have been in and out of there so many times and kept my things there that it is like a house!
Two days later I went up to Lugu Lake from Lijiang. Small villages surround this beautiful lake and it was certainly worth the 7-8 hours of bumpy roads and jumping out of the seats! Some of the views from the docks and viewpoints are incredible. On a clear day we were able to see the sky's reflection on the lake - stunning! Now what makes this lake so special are the people living in the surrounding villages. Although I was told that in each village, there exists only 4-5 authentic Mosuo households, these people are quite fascinating. They are the last practicing Matriarchal society in the world. The society focuses on women: they do most of the work and raise the child. The father's main responsibility is actually taking care of and financially supporting his sister's children. On rare occasion a Mosuo man is wealthy enough to support his own child/children but this is seldom the case. The masculine article attached to the word "rock" makes it a "pebble" while the feminine article being attached turns this word into "boulder".
The concept of a "walking marriage" is what has brought a lot of tourism (especially male tourism). Bonfire parties take place every so often, and are a way for the Mosuo to meet one another; almost like a speed networking or speed dating event. If a Mosuo girl takes her index finger and rubs a guy's palm, this is an indication that he is invited to her room that night, but this is no easy task. He must go to the room, and sing a song and she must then respond accordingly. He must then climb up through her bedroom window and leave early enough in the morning as not to be seen by any relatives or friends. These relations are kept a secret until there is (if there is) a child born. 1 month after the child is born there is a ceremony officially recognizing the father. It is VERY RARE however, that the couple lives together. Normally the child stays with the mother and the father continues living with his family. The girl may begin practicing this "ritual" if you will once she reaches the age of 13 and receives her own room. This information was compiled mainly from a translated conversation at dinner with my friend and a Mosuo man, along with some information from the guidebook known as The Lonely Planet as well. I was lucky enough to randomly stop off at a museum on our ride back to Lijiang. There was a demonstration being given of how the Mosuo men manage to climb up to the woman's window. I was the only successful climber :)
I have just hopped off of a train to Dali now from Lijiang. It is similar in that it has an old time, yet differs in regards to the hippie vibe here. The old town is supposed to be nice, and I will have an opinion on that once I explore! After here to Kunming!!