I've realised one of my traveling dreams today. I have arrived in The Forbidden City, Lhasa.
Its an incredibly photogenic place. It feels great, despite the high altitude. Lhasa is situated on the Tibetan plateau which hovers an average 4000m above sea level and has the Himalayas protecting it from the savages of the monsoon. I've enjoyed plenty of sun with the odd splattering of cloud. I like Lhasa. Allot.
That said, its pretty obvious since I arrived in Tibet that I am traveling in a police state. The People's Committee for the Tibetan Autonomous Region, aka the 'Chinese Government' has built a massive monument opposite the Potala palace to celebrate the 'Liberation' of Tibet. Looks quite like Tiananmen Square to me ... and in the process concreted over the holy lake outside the Potala Palace. I am a fan of progress to modernise the world, but isn't it quite sad to destroy a holy lake for a square to reinforce 'that we are a totally awesome communist state".
I also struggle to understand the concept of the liberation of the Tibetan people by the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) when the PLA is station on every street corner. The official line is this is needed to protect the Tibetan people. I smell a rat! It look more like a necessity to create an aurora of dominance and control, as well as to keep any Tibetan independence feelings at bay. I have never seem so much military presence anywhere I have travelled.
Probably the most boring job in the world ? ... Just one of many Soldiers keeping watch over Lhasa.
Which reminds me of Spanish Guy. He took a photograph of a platoon of soldiers walking next to the Jokhang temple, the most important of all the Buddhist temples in Lhasa. The platoon ran over to him and tried to confiscate his camera. Thankfully he had a chance to delete the photo he took as the ran over, which, armed with some spanish charm, he managed to avoid his camera being destroyed, or even ending up with a short spell in the nick.
As you've probably guessed, Spanish Guy is on form. After the endless debate which frustrated the staff as Sim Cozys (as well as Sarah and I), he booked his trip for Tibet to end in Katmandu. He did this with a confident air that he will be able to reorganise his itinerary in Lhasa. Alas, we just found out this is not possible in Lhasa. Poor Spanish Guy, he has to carry on into Nepal.
I have enjoyed the last couple of days in Lhasa. I once again feel like I am in India. People go about their lives with Religion being the driving force. Just like India, it has probably not changed for hundreds of years, despite the ravages of the cultural revolution. That said, it is obvious that in the last couple of decades there has been a huge influx of tourists as well as an influx of Han Chinese who have migrated for economic purposes or on assignment with the armed forces... there are plenty of them in Lhasa.
Thankfully the cultural revolution is now thing of the past. Long may Tibet and the Tibetans continue to thrive, rebuild their culture and practice their religious beliefs. In or out of China.
We are off to Namtso Lake tomorrow. I am looking forward to getting outside of Lhasa to see more of the rural tibet. I just hope that I won't see a Chinese tour party being led by an umbrella !