In my previous blog post – Journey to the Roof of the World – I shared my travel experiences while visiting the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). Here, I will talk about my visit to one of the Tibetan teahouses found throughout Lhasa.
A teahouse in the Himalayas is quite different than the concept of a teahouse in Japan or Europe. For instance, in Japan a teahouse is a place reserved for Japanese tea ceremonies also known as chashitsu (tea room). In the Himalayas, particularly in Nepal, the concept of a teahouse is the Guangdong (Cantonese) style teahouse where they serve dim sum and other small plates, which are often enjoyed with tea.
The Tibetan teahouse I experienced did not involve an actual tea ceremony nor was it a pretentious place for small intellectual talk. Rather, it was a very welcoming and hospitable environment; definitely the type of place where you can go and relax after an extraneous sightseeing walk and enjoy a nice meal with friends.
This particular Tibetan teahouse was a small family-owned establishment. It provided a cozy atmosphere to anyone walking through their doors. We were first welcomed by a hostess who brought us some hot tea. No menus were needed as this teahouse offered us a selection of dim sum and other small plates including Tibetan’s specialty’s fried yak meat dish and the famous Yak-Butter Tea.
My favorite drink was Lhasa Beer, which is brewed and bottled in Lhasa and less pricey than Tibet Spring Green Barley Beer. Lhasa Beer is a light beer made from barley and well known in Tibet.
After about forty-five minutes of eating and talking, we were politely interrupted by a group of entertainers. Some of them happened to be part of the service staff.
Dancers, men and women wearing Tibetan traditional dress, performed a combination of Guoxie Dance, Xie Dance, and Guozhuang Dance. Guoxie Dance, I learned, is very popular in rural Tibet and the most common dance in Tibet. Men and women hold hands, forming a circle while singing in rotation and dancing.
Next, there was a version of Xie Dance. This type of dance in Tibet is the major and most elegant form of dancing. Xie Dance is typically performed accompanied with stringed instruments. This dance has origins in the east of the province of Tibet and it’s also known as “Kham.” This dance is typically directed by one person at the head of the dance formation playing a stringed instrument made of ox horn. In this case, the performers played an instrument which resembled a guitar, called a Dramyin or Dranyen, but I cannot say for certain that it was made of ox horn.
During the Xie Dance the dancers sing to each other and express their feelings by waving their sleeves while turning. This part is what makes Xie Dance unique and different than any other form of Tibetan Dance. And this is the part that makes Xie Dance the “symbolic posture of Xie.” Although the performance I watched was a short version of this type of dance, I can only imagine how beautiful and breath-taking it might be to watch a full version of Xie Dance. This is definitely a must-see for my next trip to Tibet.
Lastly, close to the end of the performance, the dancers introduced us to another form of their Tibetan cultural dance, Guozhuang Dance*, which is popular among farmers and herdsmen in eastern Tibet. It involves singing and dancing in a circle. The tempo starts slow and as the song progresses the tempo speeds up. The performers end their performance by shouting “Ya!” But in this case the show was not over yet as all of the sudden a giant looking black thing started coming out of the side of the main stage; it was a hairy yak! I should’ve known what it was since the wild yak plays such an important role in the everyday life of the Tibetans that there’s even a folk dance named in his honor!
For me, this was the best part of the performance as the dancers left the stage and walked towards the audience encouraging everyone to stand up and walk with them back to the stage. Once everyone was standing facing each other in a circle, one of the dancers proceeded to place a white scarf called a kathak (prayer scarf) around our necks. We danced a Tibetan version of the ‘conga line’ while the giant Yak was leading us into a Tibetan style circle dance. We danced with the performers to the tune of their stringed and drum instruments.
Tibetan dance is graceful and joyous and is able to convey the qualities that Tibetans possess: light-heartedness and friendliness. Women and men dancing attire are very colorful and vibrant which reminds me of the cultural folk dances performed in the festivals of my native Mexico.
Of all my memories from Tibet the visit to the Tibetan Tea House was an unforgettable and special experience. These types of cultural dance performances allow someone outside a culture to learn a great deal about a country and its people. There is no doubt cultural dances will continue to be the best form of cultural expression throughout the world.
* The following is the best YouTube video I found of Traditional Guozhuang Dance https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUrguRrbCCQ
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