Today we continue with Mini Story Monday. The simple goal of MSM is to tell a story in just a few short paragraphs – an ongoing attempt to break down any story to it’s bare essentials. Telling better stories requires telling stories. And that’s my aim.
Midnight, January 1st of 2006 I was stuck in a car somewhere on the Tibetan plateau headed towards Lhasa. We arrived in the capital city around 3am and were forced out of bed early the next morning for a scheduled private tour of the Norbulingka – the Dalai Lama’s summer palace. The Dalai Lama’s old grounds keeper was giving us the tour – an opportunity you don’t get twice and one worth the trouble of being stuck in a car on the Tibetan plateau on New Year’s Eve.
We meet him at the front gate of the Norbulingka. The groundskeeper was a short man wearing a standard Chinese work coat. He had a kind, but reserved smile. As he lead us from building to building I was struck by the artwork – huge, elaborate paintings. Every wall was covering in something. Prayers, murals, histories, linages.
When I mentioned to the grounds keeper how impressed I was, he said “Ah, you need to come with me. I want to show you something special!” We wound our way through the Summer Palace. Past the Dalai Lama’s personal automobiles, carried by hand from India and assembled in Tibet in 1928. Past the cinema Heinrich Harrer built for him , now a dusty museum piece. Finally we arrived at the Dalai Lama’s old personal quarters. Once inside, the grounds keeper proudly showed us a room that was covered from head to toe in the painted history of the Tibetan people. I was blown away. The history of a people, painstakingly painted on a wall. I meticulously followed the entire history from it’s beginning to it’s end, understanding very little of what I saw but fulling comprehending it’s importance. It was akin to being inches away from a masterpiece: The Creation of Adam, The Last Supper, The Mona Lisa – but not cameras, plexiglass, or over zealous security guards.
From then on in my travels through the Himalaya I have taken note of the walls – very few are left blank. It seems that here an unpainted wall is simply wasted space. The walls, standing as proud and colorful as the people, all carry a portion of that important history, culture, and livelihood.
Walls in the Himalaya are filled with secrets. Consequently, I’ve spent a lot of time, undoubtedly looking silly, pointing my camera at a wall.