Tibet is…

Today I have a special present for you all: a guest post by the redoubtable Tessa!

Tessa is one of the authors featured in Baggage, which will be launched at Borders, South Wharf (20 Convention Center Place), Thursday 2 September 2010 1-3pm. Having read Tessa's contribution to the anthology (several times) I can promise it will be bursting at the seams with literary goodness and well worth your time.

Tessa offers the following introduction for the blog post:

After hearing about Deb's experiences in Mongolia, and the observations she made of the land, I pondered my own experience in Tibet. It led my thoughts down some interesting paths, the general gist of which is here.

So without further ado!

The road between Lhasa and Mount Kailash knows no trees. No bushes, shrubs, low-lying growth. There are rocks. The ones of any size tend to be embedded in mountain flanks. The mountains themselves are of dimensions that defy adjectives.

The land there is eternal. The mountains of such stature as to forever redefine what I think of as 'mountain'. Between them are valleys of equal span, long graceful crescents carved out by glaciers of such size that the memory of their ghost still makes me shiver. Between the Himalayas — a sight that you cannot imagine or begin to imagine, something I can say with authority now having imaginings both pre- and post-Himalayas — and the Trans-Himalayan Range are vast stretches of nothing. Dust and rocks, dust grinding rocks down to sand, sand dunes worked by the wind down to a fine dust. Without trees and buildings hemming the horizon in, the sky is bewilderingly limitless.

The whole place just did my head in.

I have spent my whole life in one style of terrain; the suburbs. Specifically old and outer northern Melbourne suburbs, an area that was settled early, that is full of huge blocks of land and was developed when space was less of an issue. It was bushland originally. The trees were not uniformly razed, as seems to be practice now, the area is still quite dense bush. I fear a fire going through the place. In my childhood home alone there are seven massive gum trees, and we cut a couple down over the years. I’m used to a sky filtered through leaves, always broken and shifting.

Hills too. I’m not accustomed to flat land. Not only in regards to slopes, but terraforming too; roads tend to fit themselves to hills, and so I am not used to straight lines of sight for any real length.

My life is one of close horizons. No horizons at all, in fact. With all the trees, curves and slopes, my sense of distance is heavily skewed. I assume, not wrongly when in context, that if I can see it, it is in easy walking distance. Half an hour max.

Tibet fooled me over and over. Distance and size conspired to slap my suburban assumptions upside the head every time I gazed at the world, which was all day, every day.

One moment I distinctly remember was admiring a particularly elegant moraine smoothed in a mountain ridge. It eased its way between two peaks, a beautiful even slope that, in the middle of all the jagged cliffs and furious rocky outcrops, was like a slow sleepy roll over.

It would be a great walk, I caught myself thinking. All that flat ground with no rocks, an easy stroll to the top. We could stop the 4WD right here and start now.

And then my perspective shifted: the mountains and moraine were actually miles away, and yet despite the distance managed to fill the entire car window so that I had to press my face against the glass to see the tops, and that gentle slope only looked gentle but was actually, now I was seeing things for what they were, massive and steep and attempting to climb it – as it would be a climb, not a walk – it would whup my posterior.

When you experience such realisations every day for days on end, it tends to shift the ground you stand on internally.

Tibet is not easy, and while it is not actively out to kill you, it will do so any way. Australia has the same potential within it; the deserts, the myriad of animals that will poison you for looking at them the wrong way, issues with water. Being a child of the suburbs, I recognise that, but have absolutely nothing to do with it. Other than never walking outside in bare feet, I can safely assume that the world I live in is easy, and conquerable, and I will come to no harm.

I cannot see for any great distance, therefore, the world is not so much bigger than I.

Tibet would not let me be anything other than tiny and insignificant and fragile. The land is simply so vast, everything so majestic, I could be nothing at all amidst its grand and yet subdued glory. Any sense of ego and importance, all of the personal rights we decide we have when navigating our private lives, these things too are rendered small to the point of pointlessness.

It is said that the Tibetan people are the friendliest and most charitable in the world. I hesitate to approach such a statement, as it is in danger of becoming a cliché. They are people, and as individuals each has the capacity to be only human, and flawed as humans are.

But as a people, as a culture and as a religion, I can see how the land they live upon has shaped their character. There is a humbleness and lack of presumption about them that can only be shaped by a world that is much larger than them, and pays no heed to them at all. A gentleness and generosity born of an understanding that to live in such a world, such characteristics are fundamental necessities. And lastly, a playfulness that comes from being surrounded by wonders and miracles, and not taking them for granted.

I am a child of the suburbs. Sitting here at my window, I can see down to the train line, as far as the stretch of trees on the other side. It’s a five minute walk, an easy victory not even worth the conquest, and full of small miracles and wonders that I so take for granted I cannot even see them.

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