Tashi dele (hello in Tibetan),
Our plane ride to Tibet from Chengdu was unlike any of us had ever experienced. Never before had we felt that the mountains were following us while flying high in the air. It was a breathtaking site to see the Himalayan Mountains at such a close range and witness the sun reflecting off of the ice caps as the sun rose in the sky.
Tibet, “the Rooftop of the World”, offers the bluest of skies, flapping prayer flags, an abundance of historical monuments, and a fascinating culture. We have discovered the locals to be polite, religious, curious, superstitious, and extremely kind. Since we seem to be the only foreigners in Tibet (it currently is the off season) we tend to draw a lot of attention from the locals; however, the locals don’t seem to mind to be up close and personal with us in order to figure out who we are and where we are from.
On the first day we had to get acquainted with the high altitude which meant a short walk in the market and a long rest in the hotel. The next morning we had a full day tour which included climbing 380 stairs to the top of the Portala Palace (the winter get—a-away for the Dalai Lama). This astounding structure has over a 1,000 rooms and is divided into three sections: the yellow (library), the white (living quarters), and the red (the religious halls). “Pilgrims murmuring prayers shuffle through the rooms to make offerings of khatak (ceremonial scarves) and liquid yak butter.” In addition to the pilgrims (locals), are over 500 monks worshipping or cleaning the palace. They are easy to distinguish from the other pilgrims since they all wear reddish robes with yellow belts. If they are not studying or worshipping, they don’t seem to mind to say hello and give a friendly smile (and if we are lucky, they will let us take a picture with them).
For the next day and a half we visited the Summer Palace, the Tibet Hospital, the Sera Monastery, and the Jokhang Temple. Inside the Summer Palace courtyard were the two separate palaces for the 7th and the 14th Dalai Lama. Here we saw where the 14th Dalai Lama slept, studied, worshipped, entertained, and gave speeches. The Tibet Hospital was an educational surprise since one of the Doctors taught us about the traditional styles of Tibetan medicine, Medicine Astrological Study/Research. Even though he spoke quickly, we learned that Tibetan medicine focuses on mind and body equilibrium. The Sera Monastery is the place where the monks attend college and begin their journey of their pursuit of knowledge and spiritual devotion. Not only was the monastery gorgeous, but the surrounding town was a site to behold. The white-washed buildings, the ornate doorways, the gold-plated prayer wheels, and the mountainous rocks painted with the Buddha and other protectors were only a few of the sites to see at the Sera Monastery. The Jokhang Temple was flowing with the local people (pilgrims) showing their respect and loyalty while praying to Buddha. We really enjoyed interacting with the locals since their outfits were so different from ours and their smiles were larger than life.
The time in Tibet opened our eyes to the extensive history, trials, and the everlasting strength of the Tibetan Buddhist faith. We witnessed the pilgrims giving their offerings of butter, money, or incents, we tried our bargaining skills in the Bhakor Street/market, and ate lots of Tibetan food (which was a wonderful change of pace after 10 days of Chinese food). And to complete our visit, we experienced a cultural show with traditional Tibetan dancing. All in all, we all agreed that Tibet is a respectful and delightful region and we all wish to return at some point or another.
Kale Shoo (goodbye)
*quoted from Lonely Planet, China Guide 2007