After four days in Lhasa, we commenced our road trip across the Tibetan plateau and on to Kathmandu, Nepal. This was going to take us across the Himalayas, which is one thing I have always wanted to do, apart from being pressurised at 35'000 feet!
For this journey, Sarah, Gennaro, Spanish Guy and I travelled in the relative comfort of a Toyota Land Crusier, which I have to say, I rather like compared with a Land Rover. This was made all the more comfortable by the handling of our Tibetan driver, who is a real pro and adequately armed with a good sense of humor dashed out with a spluttering of English phrases. Our Favorite, "No Problem, Toyota" was uttered every time we hit some rough ground, forded a stream or edged down a steep bank. What impressed me the most is the first hour of every mornings journey. As a devout Tibetan Buddhist, he chants a mantra from the Dalai Lama, even if he starts the day cruising along in the Toyota full of foreign tourists.
Mantra's in the morning, Chigatse
Leaving Lhasa for rural Tibet presented quite a change. The change from a Chinese dominated world to a Tibetan dominated world is quite marked (although your still not far away from the auspices of the police and military, most of which are not Tibetan!). It is also a much more friendly place ... here people are really pleased to see you and want to spend a little time to understand you and your culture. This was nicely summed up when we drove across a very rarely used dirt track on top of a large pebble strewn flood plain. We saw some chaps running towards the track ahead of us. As we drove on, we realised that these chaps, were actually young boys and they had no clothes on! In their eagerness to meet a passing 4x4, then legged it over, ignorant to their lacks of clothes which were removed following a dip in the nearby river! Thankfully Gennaro offered up some balloons, which when fully blown up, gave these chaps some measure of dignity.
Balloons bring Dignity
A little later into the journey we stopped by a small hamlet of three or so houses. Gennaro and Spanish Guy have been keen to stop at a small village to sample really rural Tibetan life. I must admit, I wondered how we would be welcomed by just turning up at some random persons house to meet, greet and take a few photos! It must be a strange experience for four foreigners to turn up, share some tea and take a load of photos.
However, within minutes of stopping, we were quickly invited in by the family of the nearest house and offered butter tea, Chang (rice beer) and dried Yak's cheese. We entered the house and Spanish Guy's camera started clicking away, at which point the grandmother of the house asked our guide a question ... which she translated ... "Do you have a picture of the Dalai Lama ?" came the reply ... I was taken aback and hesitated ... I didn't have a picture and I also realised that the Dalai Lama is a banned man in China, along with photos of him. I was also a little taken aback that our guide translated this question !
A few moments later, thanks to a strict upbringing as a gadget freak/geek, I got my iPhone out, googled the Dalai Lama and within five minutes I was able to present the Grandmother of the house a full screen picture of the Dalai Lama on my iPhone. The thought of the data roaming costs did not even enter my mind. Neither had I thought about how well Big Brother might be watching.
The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso ... and this was the Photo I found thanks to google
She looked at the picture, pressed the picture against her forehead and then started to cry. It was abundantly clear from this old ladies face and emotions, that this was the first time she had viewed the Dalai Lama for a very long time. Probably decades. I would imagine that she and her husband grew up with the Dalai Lama as their spiritual leader, watched him flee into exile when the Chinese government invaded Tibet and then during the cultural revolution, had to destroy all images of the Dalai Lama as well as refrain from any public signs of reverence towards the him. This must have been the first time she had seen an image of the Dalai Lama for 40 years.
Shortly afterwards, the Grandmother and he Husband asked if we could take alms and a silk scarf to the seat of the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala. I could not refuse, despite having been there only a couple of months ago. I'm not going there anytime soon, but I agreed in the knowledge that we'll find a way, somehow, to fulfill this promise. If anyone going to Dharamsala soon, let me know - my good Karma bank account is at risk !
Later in the trip we visited Everest Base Camp, which, understandably is the EBC from the Tibetian side! We were very lucky with the monsoon weather, so thankfully, I am the now the proud owner of a front and back picture of Everest. Maybe I should get a cheesy front and back T-shirt made up ! I did feel as if the journey in Tibet was somewhat cheating ... a couple of days in a landcruiser as opposed to two weeks trekking in Nepal.
We are going to spend some chill-out time in Kathmandu followed by a hop to Bangkok and then a trip to Myanmar. Sarah and I have thought long and hard about if we should take a trip into Myanmar given the political situation. My encounter with this family in Tibet has made me realise that not only will the tourist dollars help, but you can give people an insight into our world, which may one day may help them to change their world. I am also deeply sceptical about the effectiveness of a tourist travel boycott, especially when this is ignored by so many Asian countries like China, Thailand and Taiwan for example. Never-mind the staggering amount of US DOLLARS in trade that goes to the Burmese government, thanks to China. More on this in a later blog.
NOTE: I have carefully tried to keep anonymity of some of the wonderful people we met in Tibet in this blog. Our Big Chinese Brother may be watching.