Tibet as it should be

Trip Start Jul 29, 2008
Trip End Sep 01, 2009

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Flag of China  , Xizang,
Monday, August 10, 2009

The Tibetan old town beckoned. We had made a decision to support the locals is to not purchase anything from non Tibetan vendors. Chinese traders fill the square with Tat stalls, which fortunately are easy to bypass. We walked around the Temple in a clockwise direction as one is supposed to, with the Tibetan Pilgrims as a show of support. The Chinese tourists walked the opposite way, in order to get better pictures as they shoved their long lenses in the faces of the pilgrims.

Later we all wandered through ancient medieval streets heading away from the square until we reached the Muslim quarter. It was quite a surprise to see a Mosque in the middle of a Buddhist Town, but then again Buddhism respects other religions, in fact Buddhism simply lives alongside whatever religion you might be currently practicing. Worth a bit more research.

We took a left to find Dropenling Centre somewhere in the depths of the old town. The Chinese tourists had disappeared and all we could see were local Tibetans going about their business. The centre was established to preserve ancient Tibetan crafts such as carving, metalwork , weaving, dying and tent and fabric making.

The workers had left for the day so we wandered off into deeper and darker Barkor backstreet into real Lhasa. This is a fascinating place, with the most amazing smells, not all of them good. Glen and Chris talked us into trying the local street food, deep fried vegetables and even hot chips, although the chilli salt was a killer.

Just in front of us was a place the Lonely planet says is very difficult to find, but we had just walked up to it. The Tsanking nunnery is home to about 80 nuns, all wearing the same red robes as the male monks and strangely with the same shaven heads. We were invited inside to a courtyard full of flowers. They use the flowers for medicinal purposes and are a centre for healing. The girls all headed of to the shop to buy the nunnery's necklaces and bead bangles, while the boys sat outside and watched the passing parade.

Life continues on under the Chinese rule and although the Tibetans do not understandably like it, things are a lot better than a ten years ago. Many old buildings in the quarter  are being pulled down as structurally unsafe and are replaced with the Tibetan facades and modern insides. Having been inside both types of buildings the newer versions are a lot better.

This is a source of much debate internationally, but I am forced to simply bow to the inevitable. Time spent in old Tibetan towns is not good. Chinese towns are sterile, but then again, if we look around at our own modern cities, there really is not much difference. We keep special areas like the Rocks in Sydney, or Parnell or Ponsonby in Auckland and then replace the rest. Is the western version any different. (Ok we don't have army guards marching around in groups of six with Riot Shields and and Tear Gas guns).

Lhasa finished the following day with some quiet time writing blogs, while Fiona and her buddies shopped around the Tibetan Dropeling Arts and Crafts institute. This is a non profit organisation setup to preserve traditional crafts and got a good chunk of the holiday gifts budget. Couldn’t be a better place.

The evening allowed a short walk down to the Plaza in front of the Potala palace to watch the water fountain and listen to a wide variety of Chinese music. Think Olympic Games and you will be close. The video attached is what welcomed us. It was nice to see tourists and locals just hanging out together, although it was very difficult not to burst out laughing at some of the oh so serious poses the elderly and middle aged Chinese men used for their holiday snaps.

For those interested in an update on the elderly  Americans , and the big bust up. Well nothing happened. They threatened to leave, wasted a lot of the guide and crews time trying to organise transport and permits for them, but as usual they lacked the courage to actually do anything except moan some more.

The following day we loaded the truck and a grumpy set of six  people  (the bleaters) and a very happy set of the "normals" set off for Shigatse and then Everest. The bleaters had not yet finished causing trouble and we had some exciting times to come.

Camping would follow at 4700 metres. Yahoo.

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