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Old Ferryboats in Tibet

Time:06-09-2018 This Article is Composed by BudgetTibetTour

According to Tibetan historical documents, as early as the Tubo period, sailing activities were recorded on the Yarlung Zangpo River and Lhasa River. According to Biography of Padmasambhava, he once crossed the Yarlung Zangpo by wooden boat with a horse's head to reach Samye Monastery; murals in the Samye Monastery, Potala Palace and Borbu Lingka record this.  

Boat with Horse's Head

Early Wooden Boat with Horse's Head . According to the illustrations in Tibet's Civilization written by Prof. R. A. Stein, this might be the earliest Tibetan wooden boat containg about 20 people.

Mid-period Wooden Boat with Horse's Head . According to murals in Samye Monastey, wooden boats with a horse's head emerged during the Tubo period able to carry about 30 people. This was much more advanced than early square wooden boats in sailing that had such disadvantages as low speed and inflexibility due to the large resistance from the square structure.

Late Wooden Boat with Horse's Head . There is no clue about the profile of later wooden boats in the murals, but it is presumed they emerged after the decline of the Tubo Kingdom.

Early Wooden Boat with Horse's Head
Foursquare wooden boats with horse's head as a symbol; there were iron-sheet decorative designs inlaid on the outer sides; there was a door on the left side towards the rear; paddles were fitted on both sides, and there was a wind-horse flag pole inserted on the back of the horse head.  

Mid-Period Wooden Boat with Horse's Head
There were iron-sheet decorative designs inlaid on the outer sides and an exit door on the left side of the front-half of the boat; the bow had a wooden-sculptured horse's head with wind-horse flags inserted on the back part; two paddles were fitted on both sides of the front-half of the boat, but no boatman steering the boat was seen at the stern according to the murals.

Late Wooden Boat with Horse's Head
The boat body was square, the bow was changed into the shape of triangle, the bottom of bow of bow was rounded, which greatly reduced the resistance from the water and improved speed and flexibility. The horse's head and wind-horse flags as decorations on how were still there. One paddle was fitted on each side of front-half of the bow, and it required 4 to 5 people to paddle powerfully; there was a big paddle on the stern for steering, and one door on each side of the middle part. There were iron-sheet decorative designs with reinforced wooden boats on the outer sides and four corners of the boat body.

At the end of the 1960s, this sort of boat was still available at the Nyanggu Ferry at Zetang Township of Shannan district in the middle reaches of the Yarlung Zangbo River. With the opening of the Sichuan-Tibet and the Qinghai-Tibet highways, and the old wooden boats were replaced by wooden power boats. But boats with horse's heads retain their charm.

An old boatman aged over 70, living in the village by Nyanggu Ferry, Zetang, Shannan, told me that this sort of boat was about 10 meters long and five meters wide, containing about 200 people or 70 to 80 yaks. With the help of the old man, we copied a model of the boat one-tenth size, which is presented in the Hall of Folklore of the Tibet Museum. 

Today, the boats are square power wooden boats with a round bottom, but small boats with men padding away can still ocassionally be seen at every ferry of the Yarlung Zangbo River and the Lhasa River.

However, since 1959, with many rivers being spanned by bridges, the ferries gradually disappeared.

Yak Hide Rafts
The materials for making yak hide rafts are very simple, mainly timber and yak hide. Timber with good tenacity should be selected to make the frame. Four pieces of yak hide softened in water and with almost all the hair removed, and sewn together. The wet yak hide is then stretched tight over the wooden frame and tied with yak hide rope; it is left to dry in the sun, after which great deal of yak and goat grease is applied to the hide to make it waterproof. The raft can then be launched with a pair of paddles operated by one boatman.

Travelers' Questions Might Help

The questions raised by our past customers can help you get a more clear picture about tours to Tibet, read them or tell us your own questions please contract us, our specialists will reply you within 24 hours.

Mr. Ul*** from: Mount Kailash Weather & Mount Kailash Temperature
September 15, 2019 05:31

Hi Nancy

I want to visit in Oct 2020 and do the Mt Kailash tour. I want to bring two of my grandchildren - aged 8 and 10 years old. Do you think it is possible?

Thanks

Answered by Nancy
September 15, 2019 07:06

Dear Mr. Ul***,

Greetings from Nancy at Budget Tibet Tour, thanks for visiting our website and sending your inquiry. I think it will be no problem for you to bring your grandchildren to do the trekking, as we had clients before who took child less than 4 years old did it, and they hired porter to carry him for some part. If you like, you can hire a horse and horse man to carry them to save the energy there. And also I recommend you to arrive in Lhasa1-2days earlier to make the children adjust the high place better if you have enough time. And I will send you the tour details, please check it by email. Best regards.

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