China's long been on our travel list and we finally made it happen in September of 2019. This post is the third of a four-part series for China and Tibet. It might be the third stop on our adventure, but it was most anticipated one for me. And it didn't disappoint!
Welcome to the "Roof of of the World."
New hotel amenity, oxygen
Some Basics for Tibet:
1. Tibet is part of China as an "Autonomous Region", although Tibetans dispute China's rule. China's presence is palpable.
2. It's really high. Lhasa is at 12,000 feet and the Himalayas rise up to 29,000 ft.
3. 80%+ are Buddhist and they speak Tibetan, not Chinese.
Tibet - "Place of the Gods"
Tibet is a world apart, both in terms of its unique culture and phenomenal landscapes (heard of the Himalayas?). We landed in Lhasa, capital of Tibet, for a way-too-short 3 day visit.
I took a LOT of photos...so get a cup of coffee, Diet Coke, or glass of wine and get comfortable.
One of the first things one notices are all the monks and the richly decorated doors.
temples and monks
There are 30+ temples in the Lhasa area and we visited more than a few. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed inside so I got a few catch shots of the interiors, usually from the doorway.
Monks can be seen everywhere, going about their daily business but reports show that the number of monks has declined dramatically from about 110,000 in the 1950s before the cultural revolution to 46,000 today. (as reported by Reuters)
Monks use long and narrow texts with pages printed from a single piece of carved wood. On the left is a sample of a page and right are shelves and shelves of religious texts at one of the monasteries.
walking the Streets of Lhasa
Any guesses as to the common element in these photos?
Gold star if you guessed correctly - Yak! tibetans drink yak milk, use yak butter as candle wax, sell it on the street, and it makes a delicious yakburger. who knew?
Sera Monastery Monks
The Sera monastery is famous for its debating traditions which date back hundreds of years. The monks debate daily and getting the chance to watch is considered a "must see" while in Lhasa. The monk standing asks a question and claps loudly to send forth the question with power, those sitting respond. In the images that follow, the highest ranking monks are those wearing the yellow headpieces.
We had a fabulous dinner at a Hot Pot restaurant, where you cook your own dinner (similar to fondue, but with LOTS more options and ingredients we'd never heard of - like goat's throat). We didn't have a clue how to approach the whole thing as there were soooo many choices, and no one spoke a word of English. Lots and lots of hand gestures, Google translate fails, laughter, and finally the chef himself having to come out and help us (but he didn't speak English either...), we had a delicious dinner! Wish they had Hot Pots in the US!
How many people had to help us order and cook dinner?
about 5, including the chef himself.
No visit to Lhasa is complete without a visit to Potala Palace, winter home of the Dalai Lamas from 1649 to 1959, when the current 14th Dalai Lama was exiled to India. According to Wikipedia, "The Palace contains over 1,000 rooms, 10,000 shrines, and about 200,000 statues." It's really big. And again, no photos allowed inside.
OK, OK, I took one photo as we entered, but that's all, I swear.
outside the palace
The locals were out and about the morning we visited the palace. Many were showing their devotion by performing their morning rituals of honoring the shrines and walking around the palace three times. Most were in deep concentration as they walked, prayer beads in hand and prayer wheels spinning.
lhasa's Old town
Old Town is, as the name implies, the oldest area of Lhasa and centered around a large town square surrounded by shops, restaurants, temples, monasteries and residential areas. I could have spent days there. The woman below is showing her deep devotion by repeatedly prostrating herself as she circles the town square.Note the pieces of carpet on her hands.
tibetans from the high country
According to our guide, it is very very rare to get to see a family from the high country (above 12,00 feet, that is!). It's likely they were visiting Old Town's Jokhang Temple, considered the most sacred and important in all of Tibet. I don't know the name of the tribe and if someone does, please let me know.
just hanging around
there were many ladies "striking a pose"
Saw a great many ladies getting their makeup done and what looked to be professional photos taken. Not quite why, but they were gorgeous and having a great time!
I could have stayed for days. tibet, may i return again one day.
"“My heartfelt wish is that my story may create some understanding for a people whose will to live in peace and freedom has won so little sympathy from an indifferent world.”"
—Heinrich Harrer, Seven Years in Tibet