I distinctly remember waking up and seeing Lhamo on our first day. I had held onto high expectations for this place but I woke up and was shocked by the scenery. Our hostel is set between two streams that are constantly rushing with water. As you walk out of the hostel, you turn right and see a monastery with a backdrop of combined jagged and kind-looking mountains. Monks are always wandering up and down the street and can be ask young as 4-years old.
One of our first surprises was observing the monks. The town consists of a population with what I would guess would be about 40% monastic monks. When they are out of the monastery they are plastered to their smart phones and their robes cut off at their extremely hip-looking skater shoes. On my first day it was difficult to resist taking photos of the monks but oddly enough it seemed that they were equally fascinated with us.
Sometimes I would find myself working alone at a table when I look up to find handfuls of monks staring my way and pointing. Other times they sit across from me and stay upwards of an hour chomping on snacks – or even pulling out watermelons to share. In these situations I have to try and focus on whatever I am doing and normalize the situation at hand.
The first day we got acquainted with the town as well as the altitude. We walked up to our construction site the long way and were completely out of breath due to the lack of oxygen. We went through the main road of the town that is now catered towards tourists selling Tibetan garb or offering food. When we finally reached our site we found that it was on the top of a hill and had vistas of all Lhamo’s mountains. Again, my expectations of the construction site were far exceeded. The site consists of a beautiful library, a hostel, and a home. The completion of all the structures will create a place for tourists and locals to enjoy and a true community center.
We also saw firsthand how important a secondary objective of our project was – to preserve traditional Tibetan architecture. In conjunction with Lhamo recently opening up to tourism, a newly built highway that leads straight from Chengdu to Lhamo was constructed. Since these two events occurred, Lhamo has drastically grown and in just one year the structures of the main road have more than doubled. In growing so quickly, traditional Tibetan architectural style is being replaced by quickly-built identical concrete structures. So one of the concepts of the project is to utilize traditional techniques and materials to ensure that locals and visitors can expose themselves to traditional Tibetan architecture.
After we saw the sight, we continued to explore. We set our eyes on a gazebo in the distance and decided to hike up to it. The altitude made me feel a pulse in my eyeballs but we couldn’t help ourselves because of the vast beauty of the surrounding area. As we walked up the stairs to the gazebo, we heard monks chanting to the setting sun and we were all so overjoyed by the great potential of the project and to be in such a lovely place.
That night we had dinner as a group. We were first exposed to Tibetan food. I. loved. It. Most memorable of the meal was the fried yak meat pizza, spicy sliced tomatoes, stir-fried eggs and tomatoes, and the flavor of vegetables sautéed in yak butter. After this perfect first day, we all went to sleep to get ready for our first day of work.