TRAVELING IN TIBET
SASKIA: Going to Tibet was never in our original travel plans. We met a 60-something-year-old backpacker from Germany while in Western China (also not on our original plan––that change was driven by our desire to get out of all the large cities on the eastern side of China) whom we met at breakfast one morning. We were discussing where we were off to next and she couldn't believe we had made it this close to Tibet but weren't going. She convinced us to go as it was changing so rapidly and we had to see it now before it was too late. So we did! We will forever be grateful to her for that advice.
SCOTT: We arrived in Lhasa after an over-the-Himalayas flight from Lijiang, China (also known as Shangri-la to Chinese tour operators). We stayed in town for a few days before joining in with some new friends on hiring a 4x4 with a local driver who took us around Namtso Lake, the monastery in Shigatse, and a few other holy sites. Again we returned to Lhasa for a spell, during which Saskia befriended Tenzin - the famed turquoise dealer outside the Jokhang Monastery. Setting our eyes on a journey west, we hired another driver with a new set of friends and hit the road. Along the way we left the main roads and drove up to the Rongbuk Monastery at the base of Mount Everest. We walked (incredibly slowly because of the elevation) up the glacial valley and spent the night at the first base camp for prospective climbers. Unbelievable views. The heights behind us, we set off for the border of Nepal, where we experienced one of the most amazing drives of our life - descending from the high mountain desert of Tibet, through the clouds into the green, fertile valley of Nepal below.
SASKIA: We went to a hostel and looked up on the bulletin board and found Jenny and Kelsey who were traveling together and needed more people to fill their car. We connected with another new friend named Max and the five of us drove all around Tibet to monasteries and into the mountains and even the base camp of Mount Everest, where the air was so thin I couldn't walk a hundred meters more to see the actual start of the path! We even stayed in a cave with Tibetans who played mahjong all night while we tried to sleep in the same room.
WHY WE LOVE TIBET
SCOTT: Spirituality flows like the water through this awe-inspiring land. This is a country of extremes–– “The Roof of the World” where sunburn and frostbite both attach at once. 90% of Asia's water comes from Tibetan glaciers, yet the land is parched and barren. If gods walk the earth, their feet would walk Tibetan roads, and the people who make their lives add here know that. Despite this harshness, Tibetans are the most welcoming, friendly and kind-natured souls you will ever find.
SASKIA: The people! Because of the climate many Tibetans have very rosy cheeks, which only adds to the big smiles we received from friendly faces and warmth we received from so many strangers––along with the giggles from nuns who thought I might be one because of my shaved head that matched theirs.
SASKIA’S TIBETAN APPRENTICESHIP
SCOTT: Saskia always talks with everyone. Sometimes we would be about to catch a bus and I would find her deep in conversation with new friends or playing with a passing child. I know this must have been the case at the Jokhang monastery. I think I was walking around looking for a beer, when I found her ogling Tenzin's turquoise and telling me about her upcoming apprenticeship.
SASKIA: I noticed a very pretty knot on many of the string necklaces that were sold in the marketplace around the Jokhang monastery, the central meeting point of Lhasa. I asked one vendor if he could tell me more about it, but he didn't speak English. I asked him to help me find someone who did. He took me to Tenzin, whose excellent English allowed me to ask him if he would be willing to teach me to make the knot. Each morning for the next four days, I met him in the marketplace and between making sales, he and his sister taught me several traditional Tibetan knots. Then one day, out of nowhere, he said he wanted to take me somewhere. I had no idea what we were going to do but I trusted him. (This is so important when traveling--if you say yes to invitations you get exposed to so many gems you wouldn't otherwise as a regular tourist.) He took me through some backstreets, and we ended up in a marketplace void of all the western tourists and filled only with Tibetans. He took me to his friend who had the most beautiful turquoise I had ever seen. Smooth, large and with so many green and blue colors I had never seen in turquoise in the US. This was, without me knowing it at the time, the very beginning of my business.
OUR FAVORITE MEMORIES OF TIBET
SCOTT: We had found a place to spend the night at a sort of monastery with some monks. There was a young monk and an older one. I had just helped them cook scrambled eggs (apparently not a Tibetan dish) and I decided it was time for a stretch. Apparently, yoga is also not a Tibetan thing, because they were both hugely intrigued by the poses. We ended up spending a half hour sharing some basic moves, after which they decided yoga really wasn't their thing and went back to the eggs.
SASKIA: Our driver took us all over Tibet, and even brought us to his family home where we met many of his relatives. He played lots of Tibetan music in his car. Nam Tu Yo was my favorite and always made me sing and dance around. Once we came back to Lhasa, I went to a vendor selling CDs and sang the song for them asking if they had it. The reaction on their faces when they heard this western girl singing a Tibetan song left them speechless. But once they recovered, they played for me and we sang and danced around to it. We still listen to that song today.
MEMORIES OF TIBET
SCOTT: I will never forget singing Kyab Su Chi by Lobsang Tsetan on the drive through the Tibetan mountains. We still listen on road trips.
SASKIA: Or the smell of incense coming from the monasteries and the sound of the Tibetan prayer flags on the mountains. The variety of landscapes was amazing. We drove and saw mountains, lush rivers with green and an icy cold lake up high in the mountains all in one day.
WHAT WE DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT TIBET
SCOTT: The extent of Chinese occupation was a real surprise to me. Tibet is essentially a police state, and China does all it can to occupy and assimilate. A beautiful land with beautiful people who are systematically oppressed.
TIBETAN INFLUENCE ON OUR DESIGNS
SASKIA: The Mantra necklace uses beads from many places but the intention behind it comes from the inner peace and calm I learned from the generous Tibetans on our trip. The idea behind this necklace (which I designed along with reflection) is to remain calm and collected in hectic New York. The definition of mantra is a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation. My favorite one I learned there is Om Mani Padme Hum and I have a turquoise pendant with those symbols on it.
SCOTT: Namtso Lake hands down is my favorite piece connected to Tibet. The color of the necklace is the exact color of the water - which seems unbelievable until you see the water. Almost a milk blue.
SASKIA: It might be a tie between Mantra and Namtso Lake because it feels so special to have seen the blue waters of the highest lake in the world and then to find a stone with the same name and to be able to name the necklace after that place.