Twenty minutes later the first glimpse of the glaring Tibetan sun shined its face through the window. "AHHHHHH!" I heard lots of movement coming from the construction ridden courtyard. I glanced out the window. Something quite strange caught my eye. "What is that?, I thought to myself. It was laying in the middle of the courtyard unattended. The homeless dogs approached it, took a look, sniffed and moved onward. It was covered in a white cloth about 3ft high and 2ft wide. It appeared to be a bit contorted and strange. "What is that!?", I thought. I went back to breakfast, it sure tasted good. The Line of the Week !! – Sky Burial | Unofficial Networks

The Line of the Week !! - Sky Burial

The Line of the Week !! - Sky Burial

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The Line of the Week !! - Sky Burial

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The Line of the Week

Drigung Til, Tibet

Sky Burial

My career as a photographer began on the other side of the world. Traveling has always been my source of inspiration and the events and run ins I’ve had have shaped my photographic eye. Some recent artistic introspection has led me back in time. This week’s line is a blast from the past. It may not be a line but it’s pretty wild. It is taken partially from a journal entry years ago. Some of the events that happened I was not allowed to photograph out of respect. It’s amazing what lies out in the world…

The night was colder then most. As if I didn’t have enough on my mind. The water bottles froze and darkness reigned. The only sight I had was of the constant vapor of each difficult breath. The monastery was perched high at nearly 15,000ft in the high desert plains of Tibet. In December the sun rises at about 9:30am and heat doesn’t exist until 11:00.

It was at about that time when I decided I could not pretend to sleep anymore. I rose and took a piss off a 1000ft mountain side. I believe it froze instantaneously. I went back to my cold, empty room in the monastery and ate what was left of my food, one piece of frozen Tibetan bread and a can of tuna in olive oil (compliments of the Peoples Republic of China). I did not look out the window for another 20 minutes.

Twenty minutes later the first glimpse of the glaring Tibetan sun shined its face through the window. “AHHHHHH!” I heard lots of movement coming from the construction ridden courtyard. I glanced out the window. Something quite strange caught my eye. “What is that?, I thought to myself. It was laying in the middle of the courtyard unattended. The homeless dogs approached it, took a look, sniffed and moved onward. It was covered in a white cloth about 3ft high and 2ft wide. It appeared to be a bit contorted and strange. “What is that!?”, I thought. I went back to breakfast, it sure tasted good.

A few minutes later I noticed about 15 monks making their way to the courtyard. They sat down in a semicircle with the unknown entity in front of them. The Lama of the monastery then followed and sat in front of the other monks, and began to mumble prayers in Tibetan. I took a closer look at the thing in the white cloth and noticed it was bound in two places. I then realized that it was a human body bound in the fetal position. There was one rope around its neck and another binding its legs in the fetal position. The prayer being mumbled by the Lama was the prayer for the dead.

I realized then that I was indeed witnessing the Tibetan funerary practice known as Sky Burial. The body was left in the courtyard for about half an hour and then a procession was led up to the top of the mountain to the sky burial site. I followed up the mountain, past the settlements of the monks, past herds of yaks to the top where the site was absolutely amazing. Prayer flags completely covered the area. There were bones of various sorts scattered around. I had trouble blinking. At the center of the site was a stone circle. I looked around. In all directions all I could see were vultures of incredible size. They were about 3ft tall and numbered in the hundreds, absolutely stunning. As I looked a bit more I could see that they were waiting. They knew more about what was to occur than I. They new that soon enough they would be fed.

The body was carried up the mountain by a friend of the deceased. The body had been soulless for three days. The Tibetans believe that the soul moves toward rebirth and the body is merely a casing for the soul. With this in mind the sky burial is merely a way to dispose of a soulless human body.

I walked forward through the gates and into the site. I was followed by about twenty Tibetans on their pilgrimage. They are encouraged to watch the sky burial in order to accept death as a process of life. The body was laid in the center of the rock circle and the monk in charge put on a white smock. He was wearing a red monk outfit and a crazy, pointy hat. He had a whisker moustache and goatee and a wild look in his eye. The vultures came closer. A boy with a flag ran back and forth so that the vultures could not come too close. From a bag on an alter the monk unleashed a massive knife and a smaller dagger, he approached the wrapped body with two other men dressed in a similar fashion (also with large blades).

Next thing I know they are cutting the covering and skinning the human body, right in front of my eyes. No fucking joke!!! Literally skinning the feet and everything. My eyes could not believe the sights in front of them. The pilgrims cringed, the nuns wept , and I freaked! My jaw dropped and I stared in bewilderment. When the body was merely meat, looking honestly like meat hanging in the butcher shop the monks backed away. The boy stopped waving the flag and instantaneously the vultures screamed and attacked.

Hundreds of huge, hungry vultures devoured the entire body within minutes. They fought terribly over the flesh, leaving only a skeleton and skull! The bones were then mashed into bits and thrown in a pile. The vultures devoured the bones. It was all gone! One by one the vultures started making strange noises and prepared for flight. The took off over the majestic Tibetan mountains and for a second their hundreds of bodies eclipsed the sun and the sky grew dark. Needless to say I had a lot to think about.

See the World !!

I currently have an exhibit at Syd’s in Tahoe City.

To view more of Ryan’s World Travel Photography, check out some of the travel links on:
http://ryansalmphotography.photoshelter.com/gallery/World-Travel-Portfolio/G0000jux54ujeJ48/

The Line of the Week is a weekly photo piece by Ryan Salm featuring some of Tahoe’s finest athletes doing whatever we deem rad. We will be using the term “Line” loosely to describe anything resembling chutes, big airs, pointers or any general madness. All images are the property and copyright of Ryan Salm Photography. All images are only to be used in conjunction with the Line of the Week. Any other usage must be cleared in writing by Ryan Salm.

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