Ya Qin Wujinchalin


See images here.

I never looked for Ya Qin Wujinchanlin. I found it by accident. Or perhaps I should say “my journey led me there.

I’d been trekking on the West Sichuan Tibetan border for a few weeks and had formed a good relationship with the Chinese guide I’d hired to take me into the Eastern Himalayas. We’d been walking in some of the area’s remote valleys, enjoying their peaceful tranquility, staying with Yak herders in their tents, drinking cold, clear water from the glacial rivers and capturing the glorious autumn colours under blue skies. A place of sublime beauty, it was impossible to travel in this area and not be overwhelmed by the piety and exuberance of the Tibetans and the gigantic landscapes surrounding you.

I needed to experience more of this, as remote as it was possible to do so within the constraints of my budget. I asked my guide where I could find it. She said there was a special place she knew, high on the Tibetan plateau, inside the Chinese border, a place as Tibetan as one could ever imagine. Take me there.

Following the Tibetan protests against Chinese rule in March 2008, and parallel protests in West Sichuan around government plans to build a tourist chairlift to the top of one Tibetan Buddhism’s most sacred mountains, the Chinese government made it impossible for independent travel by foreigners within any of their Tibetan cultural areas. By pure chance, restrictions had been relaxed, but not publicised, in the weeks before my arrival. I drifted in, unimpeded and unaware of how lucky I was.

After a complicated journey over three days weaving between small towns on the infrequent mountain transport network we finally made it to Ya Qin Wujinchanlin in a minibus with two nuns and a monk whose mother had recently passed away and who wanted to speak to one of the High Llamas there to help him overcome his grief. It was a cold clear day. Winter was arriving, and this world would soon be covered by snow and darkness.

We stayed in the pilgrim’s quarters with the grieving monk with whom we’d travelled in the minibus from Degen. In adjacent rooms were wild looking visitors from across Tibet, many from different ethnic subgroups, with their own distinctive languages, dress, and jewelry.

At 4,500 metres, in a place that is on no map, 15,000 female Buddhist monks live in a state of remote solitude in basic conditions. They have no running water, no electricity, little access to health care, and in the winter can be exposed to temperatures of minus 30 degrees Celsius. By day they busy themselves studying the scriptures, meditating, and listening to what the elders have to say to them. By night, they sit quietly in their huts made of rags and scrap wood, amongst sisters and surrogate families. Their lives are hard, but they are happy.

I spent days there wandering around, communicating non-verbally with these charming people who though incredibly shy did their best to be warm and open towards to me. I had no goal or aim other than experiencing place, reacting to the will of the people and of the land underneath and surrounding me. These photographs are a record of things I saw during my walkings some of which I understood, most of which remains a mystery.

My time there left an indelible mark upon me, a key set of experiences within my own Logic of Becoming. Whenever I look at these photos, I have but one thought: “I want to return.