After years of dreaming about it, I finally arrived in the Himalayas today. When I set out on this trip, the three places I knew I absolutely wanted to see were Tibet, Nepal, Australia, and New Zealand. Now I've finally reached one of the four. And Nepal's just around the corner.
Hardly able to contain my emotions, I wandered around Lhasa, checking out the Barkhor Kora (pilgrimage walk around the Jokhang Monastery) first. Lhasa...the aroma of incense, burning butter oil, cow dung from pilgrims fill waft from every direction. Snow-capped mountains surround the city and then there's that awe-inspiring, iconic building of Lhasa: Potala Palace. I can hardly believe I stood in front of it.
Tibet reminds me a lot of Mongolia. Indeed they share a spiritual and historical link. They're both mostly nomadic cultures built around Buddhism mixed with rich local tradition. Both Lhasa and Ulaan Baataar have a similar feel, both filled with monasteries, both serving as the outfitting hub for adventure-seeking tourists, both serving as the capital of their state. The jarring difference, of course, is the undeniable, obvious, insulting presence of the Chinese in Tibet whereas Mongolia relishes in independence and democracy.