Despite the local Tibetan bus being loaded to the hilt with humans, luggage and livestock, the tight squeeze was no deterrent for the passengers’ energetic spirit. As we ascended the ever increasing passes toward the town of Yushu, the passengers cheered and sprinkled pink confetti across the grassy plateau passes.

Witnessing the spectacle could have been one of those rare captivating moments; had it not been for one angry soul dispiriting the rest. The bus driver, in total disregard of his fellow citizens’ humble attitudes, preferred to focus on keeping the floor clean. He persistently ordered all rubbish to be tossed out the window rather than litter his floor. Not stopping there, he also demanded the passengers do something about the accumulating piles of chicken shit. Taking matters into his own hands, the driver pulled over by a water well to wash the floor. He fed a garden hose though the passenger window, and with everyone still onboard, sprinkled water from one end to the other, waving the hose around quite carelessly.

The tolerant passengers made no protests as they struggled to keep themselves and their belongings dry. Once all the cigarette butts, gobs of phlegm and fruit peel were washed away, the passengers patiently reshuffled all the cargo so that the chickens were in the puddles, and not their belongings. Unfortunately the bus driver should have paid less attention to the floor and more to the motor, because soon after the bus stalled dead on the highway. Word spread that the bus was beyond repair and a replacement was coming to pick us up sometime in the distant future. Rather than tackle another Tibetan bus, I chose to hitch a ride for the remaining 250km to our destination.

Three traditionally dressed Tibetans offered a lift. The man introduced himself as Tashi, while the two ladies, although quite friendly, didn’t wish to reveal their names. We shared none of each others’ language, but they managed to convey that they were dedicated Lamaist Buddhists, and were making a pilgrimage across
Tibet and China.

Unfortunately, the younger lady suffered from a chronic case of carsickness, and was continually ill. This was a remarkably unlucky ailment to have, considering the colossal pilgrimage she had undertaken. Nonetheless, in order to keep her spirits up, the other two recited a number of cheerful holy songs and laughed all the way.

As we drove past a monument marking the beginning of China’s longest river, The Yangzi, Tashi suggested I step out to take a photograph. As I did, the engine roared and the car sped off with all my belongings. ‘You stupid idiot Hugh! How could you let a bunch of monks get the better of you?’ I cursed. Just as I was in the midst of a frenzied gravel kicking tantrum, the car returned with three delirious Tibetans, laughing at the sheer genius of their practical joke. When they saw me they cackled even more as they had never seen a white man so white-faced before.

The joke was at my expense, but it momentarily cheered up the carsick lady so I didn’t mind.

Tragically, in the afternoon a small sparrow flew into the grill of the car and was instantly killed. The Tibetans were devastated and we stepped out to pay our respects. The sparrow was moved to the grassy meadow and the ladies chanted a few sacred verses. When the brief sermon was finished we quietly returned to the car.

The Tibetans recommenced their singing, but following the sparrow incident the songs were far more solemn. It was a sad day for the pilgrimage.