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The Stunning Adventures "Not all those who wander are lost." Tolkien

On Top of the World in Lhasa

CHINA | Thursday, 1 November 2007 | Views [2114]

Some monks at the Jokhang

Some monks at the Jokhang

We finally made it to Tibet, despite the lack of information, misinformation we kept running across in China. We arrived on the 28th of October, via a 44 hour train ride from Chengdu. Being the clever, sneaky little duo we are, we made it into Lhasa without a permit. We believe that the ambiguity on the permit situation is to keep travellers out of the-know, and to keep people purchasing the permits--which, never matierialize in anyone's hands but supposedly put you on some kind of list, in some government office, in Tibet. We did hear of a couple who went to arrange some travel within Tibet who admitted to the agency that they did not have the permit to enter Lhasa. They were fortunate, instead of getting the boot, they were asked to write official apologies to the Chinese government. So wild. So we risked it, and have had no problem. We are pleased that we were able to make it without putting any more money in the government's pocket...I should probably tone this down as I don't want this computer to suddenly explode.

Despite the Chinese "influence" that is spreading all over Lhasa, we still find ourselves in awe of the Tibetan people and culture. Our "hotel" is in the Tibetan quarter, and so we are amidst nomads and pilgrims constantly. By far the majority dress in traditional clothing. The women have long braided hair (as do some of the men), which is often times decorated with chunks of turquoise and Coral. Most of the men have long hair as well, which is swept up on one side, twisted over the top, and brought down the other side to either hang, or fastened in the back. Both men and women often times have colorful swaths of silk string woven amongst their black braids. As we mentioned about the people in Mongolia resembling Native Americans, we find a likeness in Tibet as well; not just their appearances, but also many things about their culture.

We went to the Potala (the palace where the Dalai Lama used to live), and hundreds/thousands of pilgrims are circling around daily, spinning their prayer wheels, vocalizing their prayers, and prostrating in front of the building. Apparently, pilgrims are only allowed in for free on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but when we went on a Thursday, we were happy to see some Tibetan workers there, usher pilgrims inside without paying the ridiculous fee instituted by the government. The Jokhang (the most religiously revered temple in Tibet) was another incredible sight to see. The building's history and architecture, amidst sloping mountains was amazing enough, but again, the pilgrims were what really impressed us. As travellers, we were lead inside via a different line, and found ourselves inside while thousands of pilgrims were squished together moving slowly from chapel to chapel. We slowly found ourselves feeling a bit uncomfortable moving in front of pilgrims as we picked and chose which chapel to enter (always being ushered in by a giant warm smile and "tashi delek" from a nearby pilgrim). So we eventually just joined the pilgrims in line and moved slowly through with them. There were even tiny children, who had barely learned to walk, reverantly placing there heads against statues. We are in awe of the unwavering beliefs shared amongst so many in this culture. We did get to speak to some monks there, one of whom was brought to tears on several occasions when the current political situation, and the exile of the Dalai Lama, were very briefly touched upon (he was the one that brought it up). We are constantsly impressed by people here that carry on with such strength and positivity.
We also joined in circumabulating the Bharkor Circuit for the auspicious 3 cycles. The circuit, like the Jokhang, was chock full of pilgrims that had come from far and wide, spinning prayer wheels as they walked along for hours. Aside from the spiritual aspect of the circuit, there are an incredible number of shops an merchants lined all along the square that spread down tiny, twisting little alley-ways selling everything from prayer flags and incense to masks, knives, and jewelry. The Bharkor was definitely a highlight of Lhasa where there was such a confluence of many aspects of Tibetan culture that come together and mix and flow in such a beautiful way. It was quite enjoyable to quietly walk amidst the throngs and take it all in.

We also went to visit Sera Monastery which is just a short bus ride of out of town. One of the most interesting aspects of the monastery was the debating hour. This is when all of the monks join together in a pebble filled courtyard/garden and debate in small groups about, what were told, their Bhuddist beliefs/teachings. One person in the group would "take the floor" while standing up, and posit his opinion to another monk or a group of monks, who is/are sitting down. When the speaker had made his final point, he would make a huge clapping motion, hit his hands together, and after a big "crack", one of his hands would go shooting off in front of the other to emphasize his point. They all looked like they were having a marvelous time; many of them laughing, and playfully taunting one another. We even witnessed a lighthearted wrestling match. We thoroughly enjoyed sitting on the side and observing these debates in a language we could not understand, in the slightest.

We spent over a week taking in the sights and what we could of the culture in Tibet. From our experience, despite the cultural genocide that is taking place, we felt that the "souls" of Tibetan people were still thriving through it all. Lhasa was an amazing place.

Tags: culture, tibet


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