Posted by David Pugh on May 14, 2013 at 6:05 AM

Kangding (Darsedo in Tibetan) is very much claimed as a Tibetan town and is the capital of the Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in western Sichuan, although it has a dominant Han Chinese presence. It’s noisy and dusty, the dust quickly turning to mud in the frequent rain. It’s on the main road to Lhasa and then on to Nepal and India, so there is a continual stream of trucks heading both ways. It’s an overnight refreshment stop with good food, cheap alcohol and a large choice of prostitutes lining the main street. There are a few discreet brothels with pink lights, leaking through gaps in otherwise anonymous shuttered shop fronts. The girls seem to be mostly Chinese, though there’s a much harder, cynical and more practical outlook amongst the Tibetan women here, than the ones I’ve known in India and Nepal. The monks as usual seem to have a very comfortable life and spend a lot of their time in the rather expensive Tibetan tea houses. They can be seen at night eyeing the street girls and envying the open bargaining between the girls and the Tibetan and Chinese men. Most of the freelance girls occupy the same spots every night and seem to have an arrangement with the local shopkeepers, to provide them with chairs and open fires on the colder nights. The town seems to work well enough; most people seem happy enough with their lot but the majestic mountains cast long shadows and emanate a sense of claustrophobia. We have befriended a young Tibetan mother who runs a traditional bridal boutique in Kangding, a former English teacher who couldn’t find enough people in the town interested in learning the language. “Mary,” as she styles herself had wrestled with the idea of leaving for India and then on to Europe but decided to stay with her family, learn Chinese, run a business and change the country from the inside. Like most young people though, she wishes she had had the big adventure. I was fortunate enough to run into a young Tibetan man named Namgyal, who had been to India and Nepal but couldn’t earn enough money there. He had returned to Tibet to run a mobile disco as the locals like to have a good party. He was very happy to find someone to practice his English with and although he was very much a Tibetan, he really appreciated the freedom a Chinese passport gave him. It all comes down to how you interprete what it means to be free. To end on a happy note, the monks at the Anjue Si, town monastery had a portrait of the 14th Dalai Lama as a young man, with two more recent photos of HH under the glass and on the side altar of their gompa. There is plainly more freedom here than there used to be but I did comment on the portrait to a monk in his fifties, who spoke a little English. His reply was, “Shhhh!” with a finger to his lips, I left him my green dress shoes as a gesture of support.

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