A Fluffy Piece of Tibet
“You can’t see air,” my translator said, stopping to catch a breath, “but you can sure tell when it’s getting thinner!” This made me laugh, and we both paused atop the ridge, the full splendor of Tibet spread beneath us. From the tiny town of Lhatse, our home base, we’d trekked uphill nearly seven miles, and, now, with our destination finally in sight, we felt entitled to enjoy a view not afforded to many.
Twenty minutes later, in the monastery courtyard, we were greeted by Lobsang, an elderly Buddhist monk known locally for his medicinal brew, prolific writings, and weighty insight on the nature of human consciousness. He grinned, bowed slightly, and mumbled something to my translator.
“He wonders why we didn’t just take a taxi up here.”
“A taxi. He says it would have been faster.”
Remembering the treacherous, pothole-filled mountain trail—no more than a few feet wide and nearly vertical in places—I realized Lobsang was joking. He let out a chuckle and motioned for us to come along. We slipped through a side door, crossed another courtyard, and then entered a small room adorned with traditional Buddhist curtains, rugs, and statues. It was here that we laid eyes upon them: five tan and brown balls of fur. They ran to us, licking, panting, sniffing, curious about the strange new visitors. I couldn’t help but pick one up.
I turned to Lobsang as my translator readied himself for action. “So this is the infamous dog of the Himalayas?”
“Yes. For two thousand years. As Tibetan as Buddhism itself.”
“Two thousand years?”
“Yes. Two thousand. It’s an ancient breed.”
The fluffy creature squirmed in my arms. “Do you worship them or something?
Lobsang laughed and shook his head. “No! They’re companions—and watchdogs, too. If burglars come by, the dogs make noise.”
After enjoying some tea—tea spiked with traditional herbs believed to counter the effects of altitude sickness—and discussing meditation, Nirvana, and the Chinese occupation of Tibet, we shook hands with our host and turned to leave, but he wasn’t done with us yet. “I have something for you,” he said.
I looked at my translator. “Well, we have plenty to carry already. Is it light enough for—?”
Ignoring my question, Lobsang bent down, retrieved one of his prized canine possessions, placed it in a small, wooden box complete with air holes, and grinned.
“We can’t say no,” my translator said in English, hoping Lobsang wouldn’t recognize any words. “It’s a traditional gift signifying friendship. Refusing would be highly offensive.”
I valued his generosity, but tried to stay levelheaded. “What about the flight?”
“We’ll figure that our later. You can’t say no.”
I took hold of the box, glancing at my translator again. “Well, I’m going to say this was your idea.”
If you’re interested in the ancient Far East and happen to be a dog-lover, then the Tibetan Spaniel—an affectionate, loyal, pint-sized fluff ball native to the Himalayas—just might be the perfect companion for you. Originally bred by Buddhist monks, this lovely little breed has been revered for millennia, serving as a watchdog, monastery companion, and diplomatic gift for much of its history. It wasn’t until the late nineteenth century, however, that the Tibetan Spaniel made its debut in the West, reaching Britain in the 1890’s and arriving in the United States some decades later. In 1984, the breed was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club as a member of the Non-sporting group.
For more information on the breed, visit the Tibetan Spaniel Club of America website at wp.tsca.ws.