June 21: Touring with Botanists in Tibet
September 28, 2006
Today we drove out to a platform built into the side of a mountain overlooking a valley. It was a clear day giving us a good view of the mountain range that stretched off into the distance. Being made up of botanists our group was less interested with the view and more concerned with climbing down from the platform to examine all the local flora. It was a great opportunity to learn from the group members about the different trees and plants in the area.
The entire group gathered back on the platform and we had an impromptu lecture by several of the group members about work they had done in the area and the geological history of the region. We spent much more time here than our guides had scheduled but it was over too soon.
We drove down the valley into a heavily forested area to see the Cypress King trees. The oldest of these trees is dated at 2600 years and stands over 60 meters high. These are the oldest trees in Tibet and are considered holy by the locals. As a result there are stone paths and shrines throughout the area. The vegetation was quite different here than on top of the mountain and I had another opportunity to learn from the experts about the flora.
Finally we drove down back to town but there was still some time before supper so Bill and I went down to the central market. The market here was much more of an authentic affair, not nearly as geared for tourists as the one in Lhasa. Many of the shops sold home supplies, produce, spices or meat. We found a gigantic indoor area that sold clothes, shoes, old stuff, watches, and generally stuff that would interest Bill and I. Bill was most interested in the large basket of dried flying lizards and the fact that fish were swimming in the bloody slime that drained the butcher’s portion of the market.
We would occasionally see people trading what looked like twigs, which I later found out were caterpillars. Apparently there is a fungus that infects caterpillars and eats them alive from the inside, leaving a well preserved caterpillar with a 'stock' coming out the end. The fungus is closely related to the kind that causes Saint Anthony's fire, aka Ergot, and has some medicinal properties. Apparently they are quite collectible and there was even one area at the market dedicated to trading these caterpillars.
After supper I went for a long walk through the town, watched a little soccer and went to bed.