Dawu and Tagong, Tibet (China)

Tagong

From Litang, I caught a bus (again, through some stunning scenery) to Xinduxiao where I had to transfer to a share cab going towards Tagong.

The Tibetan Monastery in Datong, Tibet (China).

The Tibetan Monastery in Datong, Tibet (China).

Tagong is known mostly for its beautiful grasslands.

It’s a town that has become very popular with both foreign and Chinese tourists because of it’s relative proximity to Kanding, a small city that’s a day’s drive to the southeast.  One can easily arrive in town and set up a tour and home-stay with some of the nomads that live in the nearby grasslands.

I actually wasn’t planning on stopping in Tagong, but logistics forced me to overnight and I spent an afternoon and morning wandering around the town.  Tagong sits right on a highway that runs far up into the interior of Tibet.  In my few hours there, I noticed many fancy SUVs stopping just long enough for the Chinese tourists to jump out, grab a local Tibetan for a photo and spin the prayer wheels the wrong way (please always spin them clockwise!).  Unfortunately, I noticed a few foreign tourists doing the same things.  I felt that the atmosphere in town wasn’t very friendly.  It may have been because of things like this, or it may have just been me, I don’t know.

I talked to other travelers who said the the tours of the grasslands were quite lovely.  If I have the chance in the future, I would probably skip the town and do my best to visit them.  There are also many treks in the area and a nearby humongous holy mountain called Mt. Jara (5820 m).

Dawu (Daofu)

My goal was to visit the town of Dawu, a few hours north by share taxi.  I remember the Lonely Planet I was using only had about two sentences on Dawu.  It basically said that it was a small town on the way from Tagong to Garzê that you could stop in if you had to, but that most people just drove on by.  Sounds perfect to me!  It’s always nice to get off the tourist trail and explore something new!

The trip from Tagong immediately started off beautifully.  I was crammed in a share taxi between a Tibetan monk and a nomadic man who hadn’t had a shower in months.  In front of me were three more nomads, one with a chicken in a small cage (I shit you not) this is the stuff dreams are made of!

Upon arriving in Dawu, I asked around for a hotel and was referred to a sort-of home stay behind a restaurant.  Without a doubt, this was the best place I’ve ever stayed in my travels.  The owners showed me to the most ornately decorated room I have ever seen.  It seems that this place was usually used as a late night stop for Chinese tour groups and I had it all to myself any other time.  The owners were so happy to have a foreigner, they let me have my own private room, complete with 7 beds!

Self portrait in a very ornate hotel in Dawu, Tibet (China).

Self portrait in a very ornate hotel in Dawu, Tibet (China).

The town of Dawu itself doesn’t have anything that would attract the usual tourist.  There is only one “site”.  It’s a big stupa that really isn’t much different from the big stupas in other towns.  Even the monastery is fairly boring.  But once I dug a little deeper and tried to interact with the local people, I found that Dawu was really was special.

Unlike some of the popular towns like Tagong where the local people seem to be tired of tourists, I found that the people in Dawu were very friendly and willing to spend a long time talking trying to talk to a foreigner like myself.

An lush valley near Dawu, Tibet (China).

An lush valley near Dawu, Tibet (China).

I used a technique I often use in towns like this and I tried to do what the locals were doing.  This is always good advice if you really want to feel that you’re getting involved in the local culture.  In Tibetan towns, this means spinning prayer wheels and walking koras.

Spinning prayer wheels is easy.  Just walk past some prayer wheels and spin them!  It’s very, very important to spin them the right way.  Always use your right hand and you’ll spin them correctly… clockwise.

Large Tibetan Prayer Wheels like these might have a mile of prayers inside, bringing the spinner lots of good merit every time they spin one.  This Elderly woman has probably spent her whole life spinning wheels just like these.  Dawu (Dafu), Tibet (China).

Large Tibetan Prayer Wheels like these might have a mile of prayers inside, bringing the spinner lots of good merit every time they spin one. This Elderly woman has probably spent her whole life spinning wheels just like these. Dawu (Dafu), Tibet (China).

Spinning prayer wheels and a friendly Tibetan monk in Dawu, Tibet (China).

Spinning prayer wheels and a friendly Tibetan monk in Dawu, Tibet (China).

Walking a kora means walking in a big, clockwise circle around something holy.  You can walk a kora around a stupa, a holy mountain, a holy lake, a holy city like Lhasa… but they’re usually walked around the local monastery.

A woman walks a kora and spins prayer wheels in Dawu, Tibet (China).

A woman walks a kora and spins prayer wheels in Dawu, Tibet (China).

Tibetan Buddhists believe that spinning prayer wheels and walking koras help give you good karma.  This will give you credits in the afterlife and help you to be reincarnated as something good.  Tibetans also seem to appreciate foreigners who really do this.  In other words, you have to really put in some work and walk around the monastery a few times before shoving a camera in everyone’s face.

People often ask me how I get as many good travel portraits as I do.  They usually just want to know about the technical info: the camera settings, the time of day, etc…  But the truth is that if you have a comfortable subject that trusts you, they will look good in any lighting!

This elderly Tibetan woman is taking a break from walking koras - circles walked around religious monuments.  Dawu (Dafu), Tibet (China).

This elderly Tibetan woman is taking a break from walking koras - circles walked around religious monuments. Dawu (Dafu), Tibet (China).

Its very rare to see Tibetan Buddhist monks with hair, but some of then do have it.  Dawu, Tibet (China)

It's very rare to see Tibetan Buddhist monks with hair, but some of then do have it. Dawu, Tibet (China)

I think that, because I used the techniques mentioned above, the locals really started to warm up to me.  I found them to be some of the most friendly people I’ve ever met in my travels.  It felt great to feel like I was really learning about a culture from the inside and not watching it from the sidelines.  I ended up staying in Dawu for a few extra days… just hanging around and doing what the locals were doing…

This is the Third article on my travels to Tibet.  The next will be about Ganze, just to the north.  The last was about wild Litang.  The rest of the articles can be found here.

Cheers,
-neil

Bookmark and Share

Advertisements
Categories: PHOTOGRAPHY, Tibet, TRAVEL | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Post navigation

14 thoughts on “Dawu and Tagong, Tibet (China)

  1. I love koras. One of the most incredible experiences I’ve had was doing koras with the Tibetans during pilgrimage season in Bodhgaya.

    The portraits here bring to mind Steve McCurry. Great work.

    • Thanks Craig,

      I really enjoy doing them too. If you do them around the local monastery, you often get great views of the town as the monasteries are usually on a hill side. It’s also great when the locals want to walk with you even though you can’t communicate. Walking in silence with someone can be very powerful.

  2. Your photos do look pretty stunning.

    Makes me want to get a camera.

  3. Love these pictures, Neil. I am so impressed with your photography and your travels, keep posting.

  4. Pingback: Weekly Links – August 6, 2009 « The Daily Bubble Tea

  5. travellingdarren

    Really nice set Neil. My favorite is the sixth. The colors are great in all of them.

  6. Really awesome! Like the white light between the lettering on a page, the silence in a moment tells more than one might think.

  7. Thanks everybody! I’ll try to do another post on Tibet before the end of August. But first, I’m going to have one on lighting.

  8. Pingback: Litang, Tibet (China) « Neil Wade's Photography Blog

  9. Pingback: Ganze, Tibet (China) « Neil Wade's Photography Blog

  10. Damon

    Does anyone know why the buddhist monk has long hair .. and why he is allowed to have long hair? ive been contemplating being ordained for various reasons and i love my hair.. even though i know that i would be looked at as selfish or materialistic in a sense; but I was just wondering, i definitely could let my hair go however.

  11. tashi

    Beautiful pictures. I was born in Tagong and left the country at every young age so, these picture really makes me want to visit Tagong.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: