The Last Frontier of the Tibetan Cowboys

The arctic wind twirls, lifting the snowflakes up high in the air, before lazing them back toward the ground. Only minutes ago, the sun was pounding mercilessly. Then, as if turning a switch, the sky darkened to a somber gray. In the distance, a bell clangs amid the creaking prayer wheels. The scent of incense trails the breeze, further and further away over the hills In the valley below, the villagers continue their clockwise circumambulation of the monastery, undeterred by the weather. The march must go on, prayers must be mumbled, wheels turned, releasing their hopes of a free Tibet into the universe.


In Tagong, in the Kham region of Tibet, little has changed during the sixty years of Chinese occupation. The shops may display signs in Mandarin characters and a few Chinese may have moved in, but overall the small town is virtually untouched. They still speak only Tibetan, dress in their typical long-sleeved jackets, ride horses, support the monks and eat yak meat only once the animal has passed away of natural causes.  Luckily for them, Tagong is too distant and insignificant for the Chinese to destroy it. Yet.


In the other areas of Tibet, like Amdo and the so called Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), entire neighborhoods have been systematically demolished, Chinese workers have moved in and armies of soldiers stationed; anything to dilute the essence of Tibetan culture. The ancient village of Takster, where the Dalai Lama was born is being completely razed and replaced with ugly modern block houses. Similarly, the Tibetan capital of Lhasa is getting a facelift, which means it will soon look like a typical Chinese town full of shopping malls and Mao Tse-tung memorabilia. As a deliberate slap in the face, the Jokhang Temple, Tibet’s most sacred site, will now house a parking garage. How appropriate.


Still, the common Chinese does not understand why hundreds of Tibetans have self-immolated since 2009 in protest against the occupation. Fabricated history sources claim that Tibet was always part of China. The propaganda affirms how the Tibetan serfs and slaves were peacefully liberated by the Chinese. In fact, so happy are the Tibetans, that they have the highest Happiness Index of all regions in China. And anyone who tries to tell the truth has obviously been brainwashed by the evil Dalai Lama Clique.


Propaganda Painting in Kanding Temple, Kham

Unfortunately, it’s all lies. Despite decades of Chinese tyranny, the Tibetan spirit refuses to die. Every single Tibetan we met on our travels in Amdo, Kham and TAR expressed their yearning for sovereignty. They will never become “one of them.” They will neither befriend, date or marry the enemy. If at all possible, they desist learning Mandarin. Any Chinese flag is countered by hundreds of prayer flags. Photos of the Dalai Lama may be illegal, but almost everyone carries their personal copy. And when given the chance, they whisper their secret hopes to strangers: one day Tibet will be free again, and the Dalai Lama will return from exile as their rightful leader.


But their oppressor does not listen, and does not play fair. While Western politicians may support a Free Tibet in private, they all clam up when face to face with Xi Jinping, the president of the People’s Republic of China. Therefore it is the travelers, with no financial interest in keeping their mouth shut, who become the only bridge of hope of these elegant, kind and generous people. It’s our responsibility to spread the word and defy the  propaganda trolls who lure all over comments sections on online foreign news sites.


“I’m from Tibet. In the region of Tibet.”

The words echo all over the country, from small children to old men. The fire in their eyes emphasize what is left unsaid. Whatever the Chinese say or do, even if their occupation lasts for another hundred years, Tibet will never ever belong to China.