Tibetan Houses at Miyaluo - J.H. Wittke

We arrive in Miyaluo after a fairly smooth ride up a beautiful valley embraced by wooded mountains. Dusk is falling and the rain has stopped, leaving a fresh scent in the moist evening. Gray stone Tibetan houses sit solidly amid green fields planted in neat rows outside of town. These structures have three stories. The uppermost floor, which we learn is a shrine, consists of an open room with a peaked roof that covers half of the flat roof space and opens into a balcony. Windows pierce the second-floor walls, encased in beautiful carved and painted wooden frames. Where shutters would hang in a Western house, whitewash has been applied. The Chinese part of town is less attractive; the road narrows, like a diseased artery, clogged with a plaque of storefronts and rundown buildings. Pedestrians and vehicles jam the dirty street.

Anne and I wander out of town along the road, escorted by a half dozen school children who are walking home carrying their books. They shoot us shy glances as they take turns rolling the top of a tin can down the road, laughing as they rush after the spinning metal disk, which clatters noisily down the patchy pavement. They are careful never to get far from the fascinating foreigners, but one by one, withdraw to go to their homes, finally leaving us alone in the cool evening.

Prayer flags at Miyaluo - Anne Barton Wittke


There is an area by the river planted with poles bearing prayer flags - lung ta in Tibetan - which are a very practical method of generating prayers. Tibetans believe that when the wind blows, the mantras and sacred texts printed by woodblock on the flags sail heavenward, the wind carrying their positive energy. Mantras are sounds or words that, when spoken aloud or silently, aid in connecting with the deeper layers of consciousness. The most common mantras are those of the three main bodhisattvas of Tibetan Buddhism (Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri, and Vajrapani) and of the long-life deities (Amitayus, Vijaya, and White Tara). The flags may be made in the five symbolic colors: yellow, green, red, white, and blue (or black). These represent earth, water, fire, cloud, and sky or space, respectively. Erecting prayer flags at high places protects against hostile forces and assists in the generation of good fortune; flags at mountain passes help safeguard travelers. The damp flags on the poles have lost their color, fading to a gray-white, and hang limply, lending an air of neglect.

After dinner, we collect flashlights and coats and walk to the Tibetan village, where we have been invited to a performance of folk dancing. We enter the house through a door protected by prayer flags and faded square banners printed with guardian deities. Our flashlights reveal the bottom floor is a single large room about 15 m on a side, used as a stable in the winter. A steep ladder-like stair in the corner ascends to the main living space, which is lit by bare electric bulbs hanging from the ceiling. The room has a smooth floor made of close-fitted wooden beams, darkened by smoke and traffic. A cast iron stove with a black pipe flue sits on flagstones in the center of the chamber. Another stair-ladder ascends to the roof-top shrine.

Tibetan Dancers at Miyaluo - Anne Barton Wittke

During the next 30 minutes, other raven-haired ladies from the village arrive dressed in beautiful traditional garb (right). Most of women are young and all are beautiful; smiles light their faces. They wear bright vests and aprons embroidered with gold thread over long skirts with tassles along the hems. Jewelry and multicolored woven belts studded with brasswork complete their effulgent ensemble. Finally seven dancers have gathered and all is ready.

Dancers at Miyaluo - Anne Barton Wittke


The women dance energetically, stamping their feet in unison with the music (left). Their obvious enjoyment is infectious and everyone wears broad smiles. The dancers spin and move clockwise around the stove. Their jewelery, long embroidered skirts and colorful aprons are lit by flashes from cameras.

Free Tibet!