Monks wearing face masks set ablaze piles of the blanket-wrapped bodies of China's earthquake victims on a mountaintop today, as necessity forced Tibetans to break with the tradition of leaving their dead out for vultures. Hundreds of villagers sat on the hillside, watching as the flames leapt skyward, while monks chanted and prayed for the dead. The death toll from Wednesday's quake rose to 1,339, with 332 still missing.
Tibetans in the region traditionally perform "sky burials," in which bodies are chopped into pieces and left on a platform to be devoured by vultures. But a monk, Zewang Jimei, said the large number of corpses made that impossible. "There are not enough vultures for all these bodies, so the bodies will become very dirty and it is not good for the souls to rest in peace," Zewang said. "Therefore, we think the mass cremation is the best funeral for all these earthquake victims."