Sky burial – humans and trucks.
Sky burial is a grisly Tibetan ritual in which the bodies of the deceased are chopped up at the burial site. The flesh is sliced off, the bones are crushed and fed to the vultures. Some see the vultures as heavenly messengers that carry the “souls” of the dead to heaven. But in Buddhism, souls do not exist. I see the ritual as an act of merit-making. When one has no use for one’s body anymore, he gives it up for the benefit of another sentient being. The concept is similar to organ donation before modern medicine.
In this video, Mr Shi went in search of a sky burial site near Kangding in Sichuan Province. There was no ceremony on that day, but the tell-tale signs of what went on was everywhere – vultures overhead, hammers and blood-stained mortars, bleached bones scattered everywhere.
Tibet is often touted as a top tourist destination with an exotic culture and stunning scenery, but the things we see in advertisements are often very different from what we see in reality. Off the tourist trail, travel in Tibet or in Tibetan areas is often difficult, uncomfortable and dangerous as Mr Shi’s video on China National Highway G317 would show. The famous 18-bend road on G318 is just a very well-maintained showpiece. Even the number is so auspicious. The rest is but a hair-raising, irksome reality.
I have personally witnessed similar scenes and situations on roads in Sichuan and Yunnan towards the Tibetan border. Weather is seldom good. Cloud and fog prevail most of the time. Advertisement videos were shot during narrow window periods which may only turn up after waiting for many days. In summer, rockfall, landslides and washouts are commonplace. The “workmen” here are actually scavengers and traders. They would trek down the ravine to dismantle engines and other valuable parts from vehicles that had plunged down. Winter is especially dangerous as the roads would be icy. Some drivers cannot afford to chain up their wheels.
Mr Shi likened these men to the vultures at the sky burial site. They are scavengers for ill-fated vehicles.
Tourists are often greeted by hosts and dancers in resplendent Tibetan garb. While this can be quite enjoyable, one should not lose sight of the reality of the harsh conditions and abject poverty that is still found in most parts of rural China as many of Mr Shi’s videos would show.