August 11, 2005
Serta is one of those cities with a variety of names depending on which map you consult. For the record the people here say Serta. We came up from Ganze on a road not listed on any of the maps but here we are.
Outside of the city are tall towers and bus sized rocks absolutely covered with prayer flags. The city itself is oddly modern with stoplights (the first we have seen since Chengdu), nicely paved roads, and a store labeled "Chain Store." Modern streetlamps line all the roads. There are scores of new unoccupied buildings. At odds with the modern town are the townspeople wearing a variety of styles of Tibetan clothing some of clothing styles are archaic even for Tibet and are rarely viewed outside of 19th century photography collections. A shepard chases a few stray yaks through the large center square. People find my leather aviator's hat amusing (it fits tight over my skull), odd since each person is wearing outrageous headgear.
The drive here from Ganze was easy... We left the city and headed through vast fields of wheat and barley all being harvested by hand... men and women with sickles cutting the stalks and bundling them up in neat bunches. Gradually we climbed up the valley to the plateau and crossed a few passes. At one mountain hundreds of local people had gathered for a festival. They were circumambulating the mountain, men, women, small children all making the hike (and seeming to have a great time) in the thin mountain air. Just hopping out of the car and walking up the road for a few photos left me out of breath.
Eventually we came to an ancient monastery town clinging to the side of a mountain where we stopped for a tour from some friendly monks who were busy rebuilding the place. Surprisingly pictures of the Dali Lama were all around. We continued up some river valleys through some heavily logged forests and finally down a river to this wide valley. The flag covered towers along the way were the first sign that we had crossed out of Khampa territory to something else all together.
The first order of business upon arriving was food. For me: delicious yak and potato skewers seasoned with cumin, chili, oils, and soy sauce and roasted over an open fire. I could eat this stuff every day.
We haven't had much time to explore yet, but wanted to check email in case the power failed. The internet place is another Mad Max sort of operation in a dark room with about 20 kids hunched over screens playing Warcraft, Counterstrike, and Dance Dance Revolution.
Now it's time to log off and hit the town.