email a friend iconprinter friendly iconMy Life in Forbidden Lhasa
Page [ 5 ] of 17

"It has been our privilege," she smiled, "to give three sons to the Church. Our eldest son, Tagtsel Rimpoche, was recognized long ago as an incarnation. Lobsang, here in the robes of a monk, is destined to a celibate life and service as a Government officer. Another boy is in school in China. Our fourth son was found to be the Esteemed King when he was two years old."

A month later the Gyayum Chemo gave birth to a fifth son. He, too, was recognized as an incarnation.

Unconsciously, the Great Mother minimized the existence of two daughters, both living in the family home. Despite their happy dominance of the household, women have no voice in Tibet's public affairs.

Ruler Has Many Names

Tibetans, our hosts explained, never use the expression "Dalai Lama," Mongolian for "Wide Ocean." His subjects speak of the venerated ruler as Gyalpo Rimpoche, "Esteemed King." To his immediate family he is Kundun, "the Presence." Later, I also was allowed to use this familiar term.

Our hostess indicated that our interview was ended. She presented each of us with a 100-sang note, the equivalent of about $5.

"I have an order from the Kundun to help you in every way," she smiled. "Whatever you need, it is my wish that you tell me."

Aufschnaiter and I strolled home in an exuberant mood. Servants bobbed behind us carrying gifts: sacks of tsampa meal, skin pouches bulging with yak butter, and luxurious Tibetan wool blankets.

Soon after our visit, the Foreign Ministry sent word that we were free to roam in Lhasa. Immediately we learned the overpowering sounds, sights, and smells of the sacred city.* I explored shop after shop, a series of open cells in the thick walls of private homes.

I never ceased to wonder at the variety of goods available in Lhasa bazaars: brick tea, silks, and brocades from China; American cosmetics and fountain pens; aluminum and copper ware, luxurious furs, Swiss watches, yak meat and butter, and ornaments of the dark Tibetan gold that is still scratched from the earth with gazelle horns.

At dusk each evening I found everyone promenading around the Barkhor, a main street that encircles Tibet's holiest cathedral, the Tsug Lag Khang. I passed flirts and pilgrims, smelled sacred incense and barley beer. Laughter echoed with the cathedral's perpetual chorus of drumbeats, oboes, and deepthroated prayers.

Monk Offers Support

The fascination of our daily explorations could not erase the uncertainty of our position. First, we needed permission to remain in Lhasa. If that was granted, we would still face the necessity of earning a living. And then, one day on the street, a servant in a scarlet-fringed hat stopped us. He stuck out his tongue and hissed, that most surprising Tibetan gesture of respect, and announced that his master wanted to see us.

The Triinyi Chemo, one of the monk secretaries who supervise Tibet's priesthood, questioned us about our education. Aufschnaiter's experience as an agricultural engineer seemed to impress him.

Page [ 5 ] of 17