Book Excerpt: Vanished Kingdoms

Still another has a museum in it, horrible, rather than attractive. Badly stuffed wild beasts loom up in semi-darkness between pillars on which hang old Tibetan guns. A live lynx moves nimbly among them. Butter lamps drip endlessly on beasts and rugs and the floor. Sulky lamas opened the door against their will for us, driven and threatened by our Muslim guide, a great bearded veteran of the Mohammedan rebellion, long exiled among the Tibetans, and now supremely powerful over their fate in the Labrang region, because of his post as official interpreter at the mayor' office in the town.

Generally, the lamas are indifferent enough, as far as visitors are concerned, though a few years ago, they almost murdered a missionary who tried to photograph the Temple. This praiseworthy change of heart dates from a thrashing administered by the Mohammedan general at Sining, who rules this whole border. Thanks to his vigor, peace reigns as far west as the Tsaidam. A strong Muslim garrison has stayed at Labrang. The garrison is now about three hundred stro n g, and has been further reinforced at the time of our visit. A Mohammedan official made the lamas ke ep quiet while we photo graphed the great Chanting Hall, and forced an entrance for us into the museum.

At the conclusion of their visit Janet wrote to her mother, "The village is always alive with Tibetans, and the color of their costumes would delight you. The women's headdresses are gorgeous, with silver, amber and coral ornaments. They are all so full of merriment, and the peals of laughter from the square as the women bargain and sell their milk, butter or fire wood, are delicious to hear — quite a contrast to the subdued Chinese women. We were very comfortable in the Mission house with two young married couples, Americans, and very nice. The officials in the town were most courteous to Freddie, and had all sorts of places specially opened in the temples for him to photograph. His pictures are splendid. Labrang is the most important Lamasery in N.E. Tibet, and it is a magnificent group of buildings in pure Tibetan style. Only no photograph can give you any idea of their picturesqueness."

Excerpted with permission from Vanished Kingdoms: A Woman Explorer in Tibet, China, and Mongolia, 1921 - 1925 by Mabel Cabot, Aperture, Copyright May 2003.

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