Breathing Tibet

Trip Start Nov 02, 2007
Trip End Jan 2008

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Friday, November 16, 2007

A warm greeting from Lhasa!

It took 48 looong hours on a train to get here, but finally we are in Tibet. We were in the same compartment with a very cool Aussie couple (Hugh and Kim) who we had previously met at the guesthouse in Beijing and helped to get the Permit to Tibet, another coincidence... The top beds took some very complicated acrobatic moves to get into to! Next time we're getting bottom bunks. (The ticket cost 1200 Yuan for a soft sleeper, top bunk)

Despite a head-splitting headache and a couple of sleepless nights, I couldn't be happier to be in this sacred city on the roof of the world.
The altitude really makes it difficult to enjoy this amazing, spiritual place. After 10 steps I am panting and if I climb more than 10 steps my head begins pounding. But maybe all of this "suffering" is just part of the experience.

On Tuesday we went to meet our guide, Mr Pu Bu, who in the end turned out to be of little guidance... He booked tickets to the Potala Palace for us for the following day and then told us we had a free day. So together with Kim and Hugh we went for a walk around the market and bought some more souvenirs.  At 6.30pm we went to the Jokhang Temple, and little did we know that the devotees would be so many and so fervent! I stood looking at them prostrating themselves repeatedly and I could really feel the devotion in the air. Then I saw a boy looking at me and he smiled. I felt so moved that I cried a little. I have a picure of him which I will cherish.

On Wednesday me and Marina got a room upgrade, from a freezing 5-bed dorm to a lovely Japanese style twin room: excellent! And for the same ridicolous price of 30 Yuan per night (approx. 3 euros). We were especially happy because we didn't sleep well at all due to the cold and noise.

In the morning we visited the Potala Palace, where the Dalai Lama should be, instead of India. We couldn't help but be reminded of this while walking around the beautiful rooms. It took a lot of effort to reach it because it's on a hill and it's very tiring to climb up against the altitude. But it was of course worth it. It's forbidden to take pictures inside the palace so I'll try to describe it to you as best as I can: Imagine a dark, wooden palace flooded with soft yellow-orange light; full of carvings, paintings, tapestries and statues of buddhas amd gods; with strong smells of incense and candles burning in every room; monks chanting and people praying. On its terraces, amazing views of Lhasa and the surrounding mountains. Just beautiful.

After lunch we took a taxi to the Sera Monastery, where 500 monks live and study. We saw some Buddha statues, usually 3 together: the Buddha of Past, Present and Future. Mr Pu Bu explained to us that the Buddha statue always has a coloured flag: the blue stands for the sky, the white for the clouds, the green for water, the yellow for earth and the red for fire. 
While walking around we could hear some loud voices with sounds of clapping. We practically ran to the courtyard to see what was going on and we witnessed the monks practising the morning's lessons. They were all spread around the courtyard, some sitting and some standing. The standing monk would ask the sitting monk a question, accompanying it with what I can only describe as a kung-fu move. He would then clap his hands in different ways if the answer was wrong or right. I stood there watching them amazed. It was really quite a sight.

Today, believe it or not, Mr Pu Bu announced we would have a free day again. So me and Marina took advantage of the situation to do some shopping at the market. I also wanted to go inside the Jokhang Temple because on Tuesday we saw it only from outside. After all it is the most sacred temple in Tibet. It's like a labyrinth, and the view of the square from the terrace is really good.

While walking around we would often take pictures of people (as you can see). Sometimes they would ask us to take their picture and whenever we asked permission we got some very happy faces in reply. You can't help but love this people and feel warmth towards them.

I must conclude that the Tibet Permit was not necesary, but I guess just a way of controlling foreigners' access to this autonomous region. I don't know if I would have come without it, but nobody has ever asked to see it.

We leave tomorrow for Chengdu. We decided to skip the 48-hour rain ride this time and booked an Air China flight (for the same price, but it takes 2 hours. It wasn't a hard decision).

That's it from Tibet. It's been amazing.



I would like to take this opportunity to wish my cousin Arianna a happy birthday!TVTTTTTTTB. I hope you like the little present I got you, you will have it in February ;o)
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