Sky Burials and a Black-Necked Crane Sanctuary in Eastern Tibetan Plateau, China

One last day in very interesting Yushu with a few sights on the agenda before hitting the road again into Sichuan Province. Noodles for breakfast and I never got tired of watching the cook miraculously create a batch of noodles in minutes from a lump of dough. Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone making noodles, steamed buns and mo-mos every morning for breakfast? Or, concocting little dumplings filled with vegetables or meat? Oh well…one more week and it will be back to my Total cereal…

The Terrace of Celestial Burial is the most holy place in the Yushu area. We were hoping that this time we’d be lucky enough to actually see a traditional Tibetan burial ceremony unlike the “non-burial” we hiked up to in Langmusi two years ago. The Tibetans bring the corpse of the deceased to the nearest sky burial spot where hundreds of vultures feed on it. Yonten (our Langmusi guide) explained why they do sky burials. “… the Tibetans eat many animals and birds and this gives something back to the animals and the souls of the dead are brought to heaven.”

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Surprise…the big celestial sky burial site is no longer in use. The Chinese Government turned the area into Yushu’s new airport! The new, smaller one was of no interest to us especially since no sky burial was taking place today. To fill the morning, Mr. Wang drove us 80km/50mi into another grassland valley to visit Longbaotan Black-Necked Crane Nature Reserve. Black-necked Cranes breed in much of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau and even winter here. There were exactly two Black-necked Cranes…View image…and one frog…View image… (lucky to see any, I guess). Took a short walk through the boggy area, laden with wildflowers…View image and yaks…View image… before heading back to downtown Yushu for a semi-“unusual” lunch.

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grassland on the Eastern Tibetan Plateau, China stretches as far as the eye can see

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Black Crane in the sanctuary, China

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walking through the bogs of Black Crane Sanctuary in China

The enterprising Tibetans themselves operate what is called “holiday villages” throughout the plateau. You’ll see gaily decorated white tents in a circle for tourists to stay overnight along with meals. Very inexpensive and good for a “hokey” Tibetan experience. FYI:“Jiegu” but always referred to as just “Yushu.”

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Tibetan holiday village, China

Lunchtime. Mr. Wang escorted us into yet another local eatery and proudly announced (via Dondup’s translation) that this family raises their own chickens and they are very fresh. Fried chicken came to the table along with many other dishes and we all dug in until ex-Marine whispered, “What do you think about the chicken head?” Oblivious me hadn’t even noticed that there was a deep fried chicken head tastefully arranged on the plate!

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Who was going to eat the chicken head? China

I sat, waiting to excuse myself and barf if either Mr. Wang or Dondup bit into the chicken head, but no one touched it. I’m still not clear if we, as the honored guests, were supposed to eat it or not and if we erred, at least a chicken head never appeared again during the rest of the trip.

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