For the past few days we have been doing a tour of Lhasa and surrounding areas, including a visit to the sacred Namtso Lake. I have to say, Lhasa is everything I expected and more. For the first time in the whole of my trip to China, I can really see people devoutly following their religion, but then again we are not in China, we are in Tibet! In this case its Tibetan Buddhism and its reminded me of India in many ways. We have seen crowds of Pilgrims circumnavigating the Jokhang temple and the Potala Palace; Then there the devotees prostrating themselves around the same circuits; Mantras being chanted by every day people in the morning; People doing their business around town with prayer wheels spinning in their right hands; A splattering of monasteries with monks going about their daily routines, including time for meditation. It's really is a spiritual place.
Pilgrims on their way around a monastery, nr Lhasa
I have also decided that Lhasa is the holiday playground for the Han Chinese. And there are allot of them here too. Here the Chinese can roam around on their holidays without any restrictions. Unlike the Tibetans who need a permit to travel in restricted areas and also have little chance of obtaining a passport. Our guide speaks four languages. He is hoping to learn a fifth in order to help his case to get a passport as an international guide. He is also not allowed to accompany us to the Nepalese Border ... he needs to renew his permission. In China, everyone is not equal ... hardly a communist ideal ?
The Jokhang, Lhasa
We took a tour of the Potala Palace which I have to say, is awesome, but I am sure a shadow of it former self prior to the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959. During our trip we were treated to some cake by a curator stations inside the Dalai Lamas quarters. He was actually a monk, but the staff of the Potala Palace are not allowed to ware their habits, instead they get a government issued blue overall. He very nicely treated us to some tea and cake while streams of Chinese tourists filed past. We got talking and at one point he told us he like's foreign tourists as they understand the plight of Tibetans. He offered up that that the Tibetans miss the Dalai Lama and that he personally wished for him be allow to return. I was left thinking that it was quite bold for someone to talk about this in the chambers of the Dalai lama when he is considered a terrorist by the chinese government. Pictures of the 14th Dalai Lama are banned and talking about him in public could get a Tibetan into some hot water.
Many of the monasteries near Lhasa are being rebuilt after being destroyed in the Cultural revolution. The was evidenced by the Buddha statues at one end of the monasteries, all of which appear to be all newly made. Apparently at one point almost all of the monasteries in Tibet were closed by the Chinese government. However times have been changing since 1982, with the gradual liberalisation of religion in China. Its is good to see the Tibetan culture, so much of which is based on Buddhism now in resurgence.
The trip to Namtso lake was extraordinary. It was a grueling four hour ride, in which we got to know our driver well, a Tibetan and a real pro in his land cruiser. His array of English made me smile which his many simple phrases he has learnt along the way, all spoken with a thick lashing of a Tibetan accent. But when we arrived, I was impressed. Very. Namsto Lake is an incredibly surreal and photogenic place. It had the bluest water and skies that have ever seen, which considering that Namsto is the highest saltwater lake in the world, some 5km above sea level, is not surprising. Shame about the cheesy Chinese tourists posing for shots on tops of Yaks, both hands up in the air, giving a Winston Churchill's V for Victory signal. And they paid 20 Chinese Yuan for the privilege.
Cheesy Chinese Tourist ... She had to pay an extra 10 RNB to get a picture with the Yak in the water !Finally a note about Spanish guy; He's turned out to be a Joker. I also reckon he must be half Japanese, given the way he is alway late for the landcruiser, last seen wondering off with camera clicking in one hand. I am having allot of fun speaking Italian to him and then trying the understand the Spanglish response. But its hard work.
Next stop is Shigatse, 350 km from Lhasa. I am looking forward to the trip.