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Harmonious Transmissions From A Small Blue Planet Inspirations, reflections, creations, and spontaneous ramblings as my soul permeates all time and space.

A View From The Roof of the World

CHINA | Sunday, 13 January 2008 | Views [1185] | Comments [1]

Have you ever visited a place so surreal, it seems each passing moment is that of a dream? My imagination conjures up places like Yosemite Valley, the Olympic rainforest, the boulder forest of Fontainebleau, and the underwater world of Dahab...and now I can add one more place to that list...Tibet.
A list of superlatives come to mind when trying to describe Tibet...the skies are the deepest blue, the air is the freshest (and thinnest) in the world, the water is so clean, one can see for dozens of meters below the surface. And if you are into photography, you would be pleasently surprised that almost ever Tibetan you'll meet could make an award-winning National Geographic cover. Maybe it was a lack of oxygen, but I felt on cloud 9 for two weeks in Tibet.
Disembarking from the marathon train ride from Beijing to Lhasa, the blue skies and fresh alpine air immediately erased the beauracratic mess of organizing the permission permits into Tibet (which unsurprisingly, you never actually use). And like any good road trip, I was pleased that the 48 hour hard seat journey climaxed in altitude and scenic splendour for the last 12 hours across the Qinghai plateau. Tibet also marked a major transition in my travel adventures, as my travel companion and best friend, Jake parted for his return to the US to start a new dream.
Traveling solo now, I am constantly seeking my own personal adventure and inspiration. The first of these being a 5 mile hike in pitch darkness under a blanket of morning constellations to the Drepung Monastery for the Shoton Festival (literally the yoghurt festival...yak style). Scents and not so subtle sounds were intensified as I hiked through the darkness...Tibetan chatter echoed from seemingly deep in the forest while strong smelling herbs burning by the bushel illuminated the path up. Knowing my 5-month travel companion was now thousands of miles across the Pacific, I felt more isolated in this strange environment than any other place on the trip yet. But I also felt exhilirated and surprised by my own tenacity to continue on my way and to immerse myself even deeper into the unknown. After scramling up a hillside to the perfect boulder perch, I had an amazing view overlooking a sea of thousands.
Pilgrims from all over the world congregated for this festival highlight...burgundy and gold clad Buddhist monks mingled with colorful and animated backpackers easily recognized by their neon quick-dry travel tees. And the traditionally dressed Tibetans are pure photogenic inspiration. The men dress with a sort of cowboy-businessman fusion, with their John Wayne hats and pin-stripe 3-pieces worn simultaneously. And the women dazzle the amateur photographer with crowns of turquoise stone, green braids tied into their hair, pink and purple long dresses, gold teeth, and a permanent smile glued onto their faces.
The light grew and stretched a swirling pink-orange-purple haze across the mountains opposite the valley from where I sat. An eerie fog also slowly crept towards the crowd as it ran away from the sun. There was magic in the air...and also electricity as the soft chatter of the crowd grew into a rock concert roar synchronistically with the sunrise. With the main stage set in the center of the valley and the multi-colored crowd surrounding, I felt like the scene transformed into some kind of psychadelic Buddha-Bonnaroo. And the main event...the unveiling of the giant hand-painted Sakyamuni Buddha...the Indian prince who traveled through Asia in search of enlightenment. The tangka (traditional Tibetan hand-painting) covered half the moutainside and quickly dwarfed the thousands-strong crowd that surged with emotion with its unveiling. The culmination was a deafening crowd roar and ecstatic barrage of white silks being thrown to the Buddha in homage (possibly just as mad and rowdy as an underwear homage to Axl Rose at a GNR show). I felt so rewarded to have made the morning adventure seemingly alone, eventually realizing that I was only one of the many pilgrims to share the collective energy of this sunrise celebration.
As the Shoton festivities continued, I met many new friends...including friendly Phoebe from Wuhan, who invited me along with her friends for a day of Tibetan opera and dumpling eating...It wasn't your typical night out with Pavarotti, however...it was more of the 6-hour epic history of Tibet-style opera...complete with masks, two-person elephant costumes, sword battles, and royal lineages. The songs captivated the audience...enchanting them with sometimes haunting, sometimes jubilant melodies. The songs were constantly evolving, a solitary voice would be powerfully joined by an angelic chorus that tickled goosebumps across my body.
The culinary traditions of Tibet can be summarized as hearty, comforting, and of the yak variety...(insert Bubba's voice from Forrest Gump): yak stew, yak dumplings, stir-fried yak, yak yoghurt, etc. It wasn't so surprising to learn that Tibetans regard the yak as a cultural relic...it's their primary food source, farming tractor, clothing source, and fertilizer supplier (among other uses)...and one of the only animals burly enough to live and roam on the inhospitable Tibetan steppe. My zoology lesson for the day: The yak store most of its body fat just under the skin instead of in the muscle tissue, in order to keep warm in the cold climate...the good news for us carnivores is a lean, tender meat perfect in a simmered stew with potatoes and carrots. On the stranger side of the spectrum, there's the salty, oily yak butter tea. Admitedly, I was a little turned off after my first sip, but after a long hike in the cold, rain...it's the perfect spirit lifter when sipped slowly and quietly by a warm wood furnace.
It would be hard to choose which aspect of Tibet I found more inspiring...the people or the landscapes. Actually, it would be more true to the spirit of Tibet to consider them a singular unit. They've co-existed harmominously with each other for centuries. The temples seem as part of the countryside as the mountains. Along many roads, one can observe the migrating pilgrims...prostrating themselves at regular intervals for hundreds upon hundreds of kilometers...all for the lifetime dream of catching a glimpse of two of Tibet's most sacred relics in Lhasa, the captivating Jokhang temple, and the royal Potala Palace. Upon arrival, the pilgrims become satellites of the temples, revolving around them tirelessly from sunrise to set.
And no trip to Tibet could be considered complete without at least a small taste of the endless expanse of its rugged mountain scenery. I was extremely fortunate to meet Danielle, my good friend from Chengdu in the Sichuan province of China. We hopped on some local buses together (which would have been impossible for me without her Mandarin) and explored a little piece of a truly virgin land. The silence and beauty filled my soul, and every moment contained within it a cleansing presence of emptiness and timelessness...the crystal blue waters sculpting the same boulders for millenia and the ceaseless winds playing the music to make entire forests dance together in jubilation.
Tibet is a place that naturally heals oneself...but presently it also needs some healing of its own. I earnestly hope that autonomy returns to the people of Tibet. Sadly, I fear the people recieve only a small fraction of the economic benefits that current development and tourism is bringing. However, history shows that the people of Tibet are, above all else, resilient. They've survived Mongol invasions and Chinese assimilations. I hope and pray the Dalai Lama returns to his rightful place in Potala. Every Tibetan keeps him close to their hearts, and I can't think of a more fitting leader for their nation. How inspiring that they can patiently await his return, while the wave of complete social and political transformations are threatening their existence. The Tibetans choose to follow a leader exiled in another country thousands of kilometers away...Love knows no political boundaries...The Spirit endures...I offer my thanks to the people and spirit of a land which have encouraged me to also follow my own leaders, Truth and Spirit.

Tags: adventures, tibet

Comments

1

i see picture your in blog ,can you send for your pictures ? i want see .when do you go where remerber phosto say for me. now i happy when know you will come back.you will send mail for me ,i will to wail ,soon.happy new year.
i love you
my dung

  my dung Dec 27, 2008 2:03 AM

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