email a friend iconprinter friendly iconMy Life in Forbidden Lhasa
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A maid fled, screaming as if pursued by demons. An incredible number of people crowded into the courtyard. Dogs barked, servants and family alike shouted. And every voice was crying: "Do not come! Do not come !"

Aufschnaiter and I could not budge. Gingerly I pulled off the remains of my homemade yak-skin boots. My feet were covered with broken blisters, bleeding, hot, and raw.

The throng stared, incredulous, at our torn feet. They forgot their fear of punishment for aiding a forbidden foreigner. A woman who had turned us away from her own home, then followed us in curiosity, offered yakbutter tea. The emulsion of rancid butter, boiled tea, salt, and soda tasted like nectar. Others brought tsampa, a parched barley flour that with tea forms Tibet's staple diet.

"From where do you come?" someone asked.

"From the Chang Tang."

Journey Astonishes Lhasans

The word spread through the courtyard and into the street. The crowd was amazed that we spoke Tibetan, even more astonished that we had crossed the Chang Tang.

The jostling group parted to admit an imposing Tibetan in red-wool cloak and violetsilk robe.

"Tell me, please, who you are." He spoke in faultless English.

At first he refused to believe there were only two of us. News of our progress through town had spread like wildfire. Officials had received so many reports of strangers stalking the streets that they had got the impression a minor invasion was under way.

The nobleman said he would take us into his house if the Government would permit it. He went to the magistrate to ask authorization. An excited woman identified our benefactor as Thangme, the Master of Electricity.

Permission was granted for our temporary shelter, and a servant led us to the nobleman's house. Thangme and his young wife greeted us warmly. Their five plump children gazed in wonder.

The next day the Foreign Ministry sent word that we could stay with Thangme, under house arrest, until the Tibetan Regent returned from a distant retreat. The Regent, ruler of the nation until the 11-year-old Dalai Lama reached his majority, would decide our future.

The Tibetans are, by nature, a generous and warmhearted people. Now that they could legally receive us, every luxury was heaped upon us. The Government sent us custom-made suits and shoes.

The Thangmes crowded themselves to give us a pleasant bedroom of our own. The sweet incense of burning juniper poured from its iron stove. This was a great luxury, for Lhasa has no forests, and wood is borne from great distances by yaks. Even noble families customarily burn only yak dung.

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