"Ferrymen" for foreign pilgrims in Tibet

Mt. Kangrinboqe, with an elevation of 6,656 meters, is located in Burang County, Ngari Prefecture, southwest China's Tibet, and it is the main peak of the Gangdise mountain rage.

It is a holy mountain for Hinduism, Tibetan Buddhism, Tibetan Bonismo, and Jainism. Every year from April through September, pilgrims from Tibet, inland China, India, and Nepal come to circumambulate the mountain.

Pilgrims' luggage as they circumambulate the mountain must be carried on their backs or by pack animals.

Gangsa Village in Barga Township, located at the foot of Mt. Kangrinboqe, established the Yak Transport Team in 1981, using yaks and horses to provide conveyance services. 

Today, of the 1,056 villagers, those aged 16 to 50 who are able to work can join the transport team.

Gyurmey Dorje, head of the Gangsa Village, has been guiding foreigners around Mt. Kangrinboqe for 20 years.

In his opinion, compared with walking the 54 kilometer circumambulation in three days and carrying pilgrims' luggage on his back, the most strenuous for him is talking with the foreigners.

" (Once) one Indian pilgrim rode on the back of a horse, and he was holding up the pinky finger of his left hand at me. I thought he was telling me I was terrible."Recalling this experience from 10 years ago, Gyurmey Dorje feels embarrassed. "Only after someone translated this for me did I realize he was asking to use the toilet."

Gyurmey Dorje said, "Not understanding a foreign language creates barriers."

In order to make up for this, every winter, the village organizes English language lessons for the young people of the Yak Transport Team. The Yak Transport Team also gives 4,000 yuan (605 US dollars) as an allowance to each of the villagers who study.

"Mounting and dismounting; the road is hard to go; do you have any altitude sickness? How many kilometers shall we still have to go?"These often-used phrases are taught during the English class.

In addition, Gyurmey Dorje carries with him a small notebook with Chinese, Tibetan, and English words written inside with their corresponding pictures during each circumambulation.

"If we don't know the word in any of the three languages, then we can use the pictures to communicate."

Gyurmey Dorje said, "Recently, we have been preparing for a new English language class in order to get ready for the new wave of foreign pilgrims who will come after spring of next year."

He said that he hopes to act as a "ferryman" for more and more pilgrims.