I published this a few years back and it was considered one of the more controversial stories on Boots n All Travel. That said, this is how I saw Tibet.
At close to 12,000 feet, oxygen or Chinese herbs are helpful if you hope to sleep, eat or visit the incredible Potola palace and various temples. And after a day or two the odors will have permeated your clothes and lungs making you immune to your smell.The abundance of barren mountains surrounding the valley are home to both the kaleidoscope of fluttering prayer flags and old plastic bags tossed out with other refuse.
The white-faced monasteries present themselves majestically with their red and gold accessories as they protrude from the side of the sunburned hills. Their semi-hidden sky burial sites rest above the valleys below offering a beauty that contrasts with the seemingly brutal tools used to “break up” the deceased before submitting the body parts to the birds.Numerous monks, dressed in auburn robes and yellow scarves add even more color to this simple portrait of a land that is literally translated as “the place of the gods.” Catching the monks on cell phones certainly complicated this vision of innocence.
The village adobe homes that hug the countryside are rudely interrupted by looming government edifices that speak loudly without any words. Workers, both male and female, exhibit a happy attitude while performing their manual labor, sometimes singing and dancing. Westerners are usually greeted by them with a big “hello” followed by giggles and delight with their multilingualism.
The traders bring their wares to markets near and far, and are eager to barter or bargain. The phrase “just lookee” is politely hurled at passerbys. As I was in need of a new watch featuring an alarm, I struggled with my communication. Settling on a “ding, ding, ding” as I pointed to my wrist, I both amused and confused the salesman.Frustrated by my inability to convey my needs, I smiled and walked away. Within a minute, I felt a tug at my sleeve, had a plastic wrapped watch thrust at me and we agreed upon a price. I was most enchanted with my purchase as not only did it cock-a-doodle-doo on command, but when pressed, it would say the time in Chinese. Unfortunately, it broke before I returned home.
In Lhasa, the Barkhor market surrounds the Jokhang Temple creating another conflicting cultural experience as many of the locals spend their time walking clockwise around the temple, meditating and praying while others utilize the same space to sell their products. On one side of the temple, people are prostrating themselves causing the shoppers to step over or around them. Everything is on sale here from prayer wheels to jewelry, from cheap tennis shoes to real leopard skinned coats.
Years ago this country was peopled with fierce warriors and they were a dominant force in Asia. As early as the 8th century however, Buddhism was introduced. In spite of opposition to this practice, it still defines Tibet today.
Three of the most spectacular monasteries of the predominant Gelugpa lineage are in the Lhasa area.Sera is the site of the monks debating each afternoon in the courtyard. Gandan was completely destroyed during the Chinese invasion but has been rebuilt on a smaller scale. Drepung, was known as the largest monastery of any religion in the world and housed the Dalai Lama. It was the foremost educational center with probably more than 15,000 monks before 1959.
Tourism is progressing from the usual backpackers to sightseeing groups arriving by plane from Chengdu or by the new train that now crosses China. More hotels are opening and upgrading and there are restaurants that cater to the Western palate, even though the burgers and steaks are Yak meat.