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Lolo's Travels

The Tibetan Side of Town

CHINA | Sunday, 26 March 2006 | Views [1306] | Comments [1]

At Sera Monastary ~ it was a gorgeous day, and I fell far behind everyone else as I stopped to take pictures of everything.

At Sera Monastary ~ it was a gorgeous day, and I fell far behind everyone else as I stopped to take pictures of everything.

Hey guys.
(hey ray, i added you in....so we can stay in touch!!)
So, on a whim, I booked a flight from Chengdu to Lhasa ~ and here I am, in Tibet. Staying in the Tibetan home in Songpan really made me curious as to what it would be like here ~ and knowing that the Chinese have completed a railway connecting the rooftop of the world to the rest of China, I get the feeling that Tibet will be changing even more than it already has in the very near future.
The flight was short and sweet ~ only 2 hours, and they served a meal! I had been concerned about the change in altitude, and was fully expecting to be nursing a headache for the first few days....but apparently, the 5 days in and around Songpan helped acclimatize me. I've been feeling great since we got here!
On the drive into town from the airport, I felt mildly disappointed ~ it felt like anytown, China. But all of that melted away as the bus drove past the Potala Palace. It really is a beautiful building ~ dazzling white, and there are Buddhist pilgrims walking the kora (holy circuit) around it, spinning personal prayer wheels and murmering mantras. These people are hard to look away from.....wrapped in long coats and skirts, with striped aprons ~ weathered faces tanned nut brown from the strong sun, and the kindest eyes you have ever seen.
We jumped off the bus and checked in at the Yak (yes, YAK!!) Hotel ~ dorm beds are Y20/night ~ then headed out to grab some great Indian food and relax. Even though I managed to avoid getting a headache, the high altitude still meant I felt exhausted after a short walk. The restaurant we chose overlooked the Barkhor Square ~ a Tiananmen-style square out front of the holiest structure in all of Tibet ~ the Jokhang. The awesome viewpoint allowed us to sit and eat and stare at all the action for a few hours ~ monks, pilgrims, filthy Tibetan beggars with even filthier babies strapped to their backs....children running and playing. All the while, some crazy Tibetan pop music played out over the crowds..a song that has gotten into my subconscious unfortunately, as they play it over and over and OVER.
In our dorm room, we also have two Chinese tourists, and 2 guys from Sweden ~ Mats and Carl. Along with Chontelle, we have fallen into a nice 'routine' of breakfast on a rooftop terrace overlooking the Barkhor, then some sightseeing.
The first day, Chontelle and I walked the Barkhor Kora ~ a circuit around the Jokhang thats lined with vendors selling prayer wheels and flags, singing bowls, beautiful painted mandalas, and tons of turquoise and coral and silver jewelry. Well, actually pretty much everything ~ you can also find yak coats, all kinds of clothing, and tons of tibetan trinkets. You kinda get swept up in the crowd of pilgrims walking around ~ I had been there only 5 minutes when an old lady grabbed my hands and began rubbing them to warm them up ~ all the while muttering in Tibetan, and smiling the biggest, toothless grin you have ever seen. The people here are the warmest so far on this entire trip ~ they just seem to radiate goodness. My face hurt from smiling so much at the end of that afternoon.
I've also made it out to the Sera Monastery, which is about 7km north of Lhasa. The chapels and universities within the monastery walls are incredible...dimly lit, with intensely colourful murals and the thick smell of yak butter candles burning in huge golden urns. The pilgrims and devout tibetans top up these candles with small pots of yak butter; spooning a bit into each urn as they pass. Just standing in front of the statues at the front, listening to the murmering of the people as they pass by on the clockwise circuit of the chapel, is incredible. Especially since this is a low season for tourism in lhasa ~ so there are so few foreigners around. Most times, you feel like the only outsider in these chapels, and the people make you feel incredibly welcome. One old woman grabbed hold of my arm and started talking to me, smiling all the while ~ and the old man with her smiled at me and then stuck his tongue out ~ I was giddy. Apparently, this is an old tibetan form of greeting which signifies that you mean well....the devils tongue is always green no matter what form he takes!!! It definately drove home the point that I was in another country. After walking around the grounds a bit, we did the Kora surrounding the monastery, accompanied by quite a few tibetan people. The climb was steep and fairly exhausting, but so amazing as we walked by strings of colourful prayer flags, rock paintings, and other religious altars made of precariously balanced stones. Some of the piles were topped off with yak skulls for whatever reason ~ I must remember to find out why.
We were kind of wary of inadvertantly stumbling upon a sky burial site ~ the tibetans are understandably offended by tourists who invade these sacred sites. The tibetans perform sky burials as the ground is often far too frozen for a regular burial, and the scarcity of wood or other fuels for fires makes cremation a logistical nightmare. So, as an alternative, the body is chopped up, and the brains/organs mixed with tsampa and yak butter, and then the whole messy package is left out on a high altar for the vultures to eat. Smart way of solving the problem, I think.
Anyways, luckily we wandered past nothing of the sort ~ instead, we waded through a sea of goats, as the herd was bottle-necked into the same passageway as us. They are GASSY creatures, for sure! But wandering along a dirt path, amidst goats, heading alongside a whitewashed monastery wall, is surreal. The skies are deep blue, and the mountains surrounding lhasa look like something painted onto a backdrop. I have a huge giddy grin in all my self-portraits, which makes me laugh when I look back at them.
Finally, yesterday was the Potala. Its quite a hike up to the entrance, but worthwhile ~ the place is full of statues and paintings and yak butter candles and praying tibetans and monks and cats and tombs that literally stop you in your tracks. I've never seen so much gold and precious stones amassed in one place before in my life. The tombs of the Dalai Lamas are definately awe-inspiring. Afterwards, we walked the Potala Kora and I spun what felt like a million prayer wheels in honour of my cousin Matthew ~ in hospital in St. Johns, NFLD. It was a sobering afternoon, and afterwards taking a few photos of the Potala was the only thing stopping me from relaxing with a pot of masala tea and my journal.
Anyways, today has definately been a rest day ~ my head is feeling a bit fuzzy (i'm sure its the altitude) ~ so i'm taking it easy. Tomorrow, my last day in Lhasa, will be spend at the Jokhang and then hopefully out at another monastery...we'll see how that goes.
Hope everyone is doing well, hope to hear from you soon.
xoxo Laura

Tags: lhasa, mountains, tibet

Comments

1

Good to read something current about Lhasa.
I have read so much of old stuff. Been to some parts of Tibet but not wehre you are right now.
Have a blast.
Are there any photos?

  Ezee123 Mar 26, 2006 9:14 PM

About lolo

Me at CKS Intl. Airport, very bored.  I was there from about 12midnight until my flight to Singapore, about 7am.  Ha ha, and also ~ you can see up my nose!  (but I still like this pic....)

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