Dianneaigaki's Blog

Travel with Dianne to Tibet and on her Motivational Speaking Tours

The Dream of the Turquoise Bee–Tours to Tibet

The Vision of the Dream of the Turquoise Bee Tours to Tibet

The Dream of the Turquoise Bee Tours is an eco-tourism partnership with Tibetan villagers living in Eastern Tibet (Kham).  It began as a conversation with villager from Oh Szang during one summer when I was in Kham working on my botanical illustration project of 108 wildflowers growing at 11,000-18,000 feet on the Tibetan Plateau.

 

Solanaceae Hyoscyamus niger

Bignoniaceae Incarvillea grandiflora

Papaveraceae Meconopsis quintuplinervia (The Harebell Poppy)

Since 2004,  I have been coming to this area, traveling into the mountains with guides, searching for medicinal plants, the strange and the beautiful in flowers–dedicated to completing a documentation that could be a new way of telling the “Tibetan” story–a way of telling that goes beyond the political and human rights issues.  Not a Disneyland perspective on “happy Tibetans”, but the real story of a peoples’ hopes, dreams and struggle for cultural survival. A way of telling that may draw in a new audience who may have never heard of the Tibetan Plateau or the issues that confront the people who live there in the 21st century.

Papaveraceae Meconopsis integrifolia

 

Orchidaceae Spiranthes sinensis (Lady Tresses Orchid)

Orchidaceae Cypripedium tibeticum (Lady Slipper Orchid)

My goal is to exhibit these paintings (there are now 47 painted over a five year span) and show that Tibet is alive and well–a culture and environment worth caring about and fighting for. The project brings new information and focus to how global warming is affecting the Tibetan Plateau and how Tibetan nomads and villagers are faring fifty years after the Chinese occupation of their homeland.

Despite the environmental destruction of the Chinese occupation on the Tibetan Plateau (thousands of acres of forest logged out and rivers polluted with factory waste are only two of the problems), it still enjoys one of the most diverse and richest expanses of flora in the world.  From late May until September, wildflowers carpet the hills, meadows and mountainsides, a river of purple, white, blue, orange, magenta and every color in between. Many of these plants are rare and endangered or have been used for centuries in traditional medicines to treat illnesses such as asthma, arthritis, cancer, blood pressure, parasites and a plethora of other diseases and illnesses.

The conversation that evolved into the tours centered around the fact that this particular year, in 2007, the villagers were watching their crops wither and die in the fields.  There was no rain–a situation no one could remember having experienced before.

 

Lush Pea Fields at Oh Szang Village on June 27, 2006

Same Pea Field Exactly One Year Later on june 27, 2007--Now Drought-Ravaged

Lush Barley Field at Oh Szang on June 27, 2006

Same Barley Field Exactly One Year Later on June 27, 2007-Now Drought-Ravaged

We talked about global warming (they, naturally, had never heard of the concept) and I told them how people all over the world were concerned about this phenomenon and how it would impact people like themselves–subsistence level farmers who grow crops that feed their animals and their families and are used to barter for other goods.  No rain-no crops-no food-no medicine-no school.

The question was—what will happen if you can no longer rely on your crops for your survival?  We talked about the possibility of bringing Westerners to Tibet to be part of their lives–to witness their lives.  We made lists of activities the tour guests could participate in–including botanical illustration sketching and painting classes, visits to monasteries, nunneries, and festivals, and yak herding. The villagers laughed at the idea that anyone would want to come along and herd yaks all day or churn butter, but I knew I loved it and others would, too. We talked about how the Tibetans could be guides, teach about medicinal plants (Aku Soega, one uncle, is from a long line of traditional doctors/medicinal plant experts) help with the tent camps, and cook. The children would have the chance to be around foreigners, learn new languages, and expand their world.  After a long night of discussion, questions, laughter, we made commitments on all sides.  It was a go.

The Dream of the Turquoise Bee eco-tourism project had begun.  I would go back to the West and make it happen.  The Tibetans would be ready to do whatever was needed on their end.  The eco-tours started out as botanical illustration journeys and quickly evolved into journeys for photographers, landscape artists, botanists, and outdoor enthusiasts.

Why the Dream of the Turquoise Bee?

We named the tours after the VIth Dalai Lama who lived in the late 1600’s.  He was the only Dalai Lama who refused to be ordained as a monk, and instead spent his time leading his people, becoming an expert archer and writing love songs and poetry—wherein he referred to himself as the Turquoise Bee.  He had a deep connection to nature, and made many references in his poems to the wildflowers of Tibet.

About the flowers that fade in the fall
The Turquoise Bee does not grieve
It is the fate of  lovers to part
And I, too, shall not lament

His story is one that every Tibetan knows (even those who have never been to school can recite his poems and love songs from memory) and his final poem (he was assassinated by Mongol invaders at the age of 23), symbolizes the hope for a return to a homeland—one that refugees around the world share.

White crane,

Lend me your wings

From Litang

I shall return

For me, the tours connect to the hope of Tibetans everywhere that they will one day be able to return to their homeland.  Recent articles in international press indicate that the Chinese intend to move 100,000 Tibetan nomads and villagers off of the Plateau into Chinese cities.  If this takes place, it will be one more affront to Tibetan culture and the traditional ways of life which have been sustained for hundreds of years. The eco-tours take this threat seriously, giving guests the opportunity to be in the pure, clear air of Tibet while spending time with the people who make their homes there.

For me, the tours connect to the hope of Tibetans everywhere that they will one day be able to return to their homeland.  Recent articles in international press indicate that the Chinese intend to move 100,000 Tibetan nomads and villagers off of the Plateau into Chinese cities.  If this takes place, it will be one more affront to Tibetan culture and the traditional ways of life which have been sustained for hundreds of years. The eco-tours take this threat seriously, giving guests the opportunity to be in the pure, clear air of Tibet while spending time with the people who make their homes there.

May 24, 2009–Leaving for the PlateauA Few Steps Ahead of the Guests

After months of ordering microscopes, GPS systems, solar chargers, books on Tibet, Tibetan language dictionaries, solar showers, herbal altitude sickness remedies and corresponding with guests summer, I am actually leaving this morning to do the final stages of recon to make sure all is happening with our Tibetan partners in this venture. I am accompanied by my long-time friend, Barbara Morse.  She and I have traveled to many countries in the world over thirty years and she is game to take this on and be the “in camp” support for the tours—despite knowing no Tibetan language and never having been to Tibet before.

We’ll fly into Chengdu, spend a day checking out the traditional Tibetan tents we have had made for the tours, and then travel west to the Tibetan Plateau. The goal is a simple one—go through all of the predicted up-front logistics on our own, so that by the time the guests arrive on June 19 in Chengdu, the tour is running seamlessly—and no one will be the wiser for what we have gone through to make it happen.  HA!

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May 24, 2009 - Posted by | Dream of the Turquoise Bee Tours to Tibet | , ,

1 Comment »

  1. What wonderful work! 2 years ago I went to the Dzachu Valley to Kilung Rinpoche’s monestary and passed through Ganze and Litang etc. I sould so love to come on the botanical tour. I have spent a year painting the things that grow on a half mile trail into the nearby woods here in North spokane Wa.. One painting for every week in the year. Kham seemed like home and many of my teachers have come from there. Please put me on your list for updates. Thank you, Judy

    Comment by judy patterson | December 1, 2009 | Reply


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