Near Manigango, a small town in the depths of eastern Tibet, there is a sacred lake called Yihun Latso. While I was on a “reconnaissance” trip accompanied by a Tibetan woman, a nomad from Amdo who helped me find information from her people, I decided to go around it. The lake is beautiful, mani stones (1) emerge from the surface of the water. It's one of the most inspiring places I've ever seen. Tibet. We pass a ford which leads to the base camp of a mountain. The water level just allows it. Then we arrive at a hermitage known to the locals, inhabited by a monk who is supplied from time to time by the good souls of a village located ten kilometers away. But from there, there is no path, just a forest that stretches out on the side of the cliff in front of us. We go up, we go down...
A meeting of the 3rd kind
Kyi Tso, my guide, advises me to stay in the heights, I listen and comply. The forest is thick, I take off my hat, put my camera in my bag and bend over to push aside the brush. That's when we hear a growl. I reassure my worried companion: "a sheepdog of course..." A few seconds later, on a rocky platform, a monumental animal comes towards us, at a gallop. "Name of a dog", I say to myself, but it's a bear! My hands grope for my camera to capture the encounter. 'Name of a bear', I said to myself again, 'he's running towards us, he's attacking us! From that moment, my memories are very vague.
I forget the photo and find myself arms in the air screaming at the top of my lungs. The bear makes a first U-turn, then comes back to the charge. Three times, we frighten him in a spontaneous and inspired way, without thinking, by shouting, gesticulating and believing our last hour has come. The bear leaving us a few seconds of respite, I look at Kyi Tso's legs which are shaking like I've never seen legs shaking. Without wasting time, we discuss the tactics to adopt to get out alive. I want to turn back so I don't go into bear territory. Kyi Tso, she decrees that we must continue straight. The seconds go by. I end up letting go just as I hear a big growl behind us. Neither one nor two, we take off and run like crazy to the road. There, we hitchhike to return to the village of Manigango.
Put into perspective
A little later, I mentally replay the scene. The bear was not a black bear - the collared bear of Tibet - with its V on the chest. My research led me to discover the presence in the region of a brown bear, a grizzly bear, called the Himalayan blue bear or “Dom gyamuk” by the Tibetans (2). This one, from two to 3 meters high, can weigh up to 550 kg and would be partly at the origin of the myth of the Yeti. Extremely rare, there would only be a few hundred, or even perhaps only a few dozen individuals, we don't really know. Some even think that in the wild they have all disappeared. I can assure you not.
We had believed to live an attack by an adult bear, whereas it was only a young animal eager to play with us.
Later, I had confirmation of his presence in the region while I visited the monastery of Dzongsar and its school of philosophy. Beneath a courtyard were four huge stuffed yaks with an immortalized blue bear beside them, almost the same size as the yaks. Thinking once more about the scene we had experienced, I understood that we had been “attacked” by a young person who wanted to play with us, because his height did not exceed that of a man. The growls we heard as we fled were probably those of the daddy or the mummy bear that we hadn't had the “lucky” to see.
Anyway, one thing is certain, I'm very happy to be alive to tell this story, even if I don't have an image to illustrate it. And, above all, I took away a lesson that helps me on a daily basis: we thought we had experienced an attack by an adult bear, when it was only a young animal wanting to play with us. It is therefore important to fight our inner demons and our fears in order to see more clearly in the situations we experience.