Cover Photo: Illustration by Sirin Thada for Catapult
Illustration by Sirin Thada for Catapult

My Great-Grandfather’s Saddle Rug Helps Me Remember a Tibet That’s Gone

I borrowed a bicycle and explored, in the same way my great-grandfather had gone about on his pony sixty years earlier.

In my study is a Tibetan saddle rug woven in a mandala pattern, the faded red felt border enclosing concentric squares and, at the center, a circle of geometric patterns. “S. W. L.”—the initials of my great-grandfather, Sonam Wangfel Laden La—is written in white on the blue backing. Often I wonder if this is one of the saddle rugs my great-grandfather used when riding his pony from his home in Darjeeling to Tibet. He died in 1936, and the family members who could have told me about the saddle rug are gone. But inheriting the rug feels like being given the story of his travels in Tibet; it inspires me to trace and retrace his—and my own—journeys there.

axis mundi

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May the gods win!

A longtime resident of Tokyo, Ann Tashi Slater teaches at a Japanese university. Her work has been published by The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Tin House, AGNI, Granta, and the Huffington Post, among others. www.anntashislater.com