How to describe Tibet? I have heard it called "Shangri La", and I have heard it called "The Rooftop of the World", but there is really no accurate way to describe this amazing and mysterious place in a few simple words or even paragraphs. It is an absolutely amazing place that time seems to have forgotten. It features some of the most breathtaking man-made, and natural sites in the world. Its culture
is amazing and Tibet has the friendliest people I have ever met. They seem to smile and laugh more than any other people in the world. The sky in Tibet is so blue, and seems so low, that if I stood on a chair, I felt like I could have touched.
The inspection tour that I took to Tibet was with China Odyssey Tours last year, simply put, was a life changing experience. I know it seems a bit melodramatic, but this place really lives up to all the hype.
The first site I visited, and the one which I was most looking forward to visiting, was the Potala Palace. It stands in the center of the city of Lhasa and it took my breath away. I was surprised at how big the whole complex is. The bottom half is painted half, with red buildings on the top. It looks like a giant fortress. It was the home to Tibet's Dalai Lama. It was packed full of people, but because they limit the amount of tickets sold each day, it was not overwhelming.
I'm glad I had a guide, because if I was allowed to wander alone, I'm not sure they I would have ever found the way out. It seems to just keep going and going. It is like a huge labyrinth. It is full of unbelievably beautiful treasures. Every square inch seemed to be decorated. Even the ceilings are incredible. Everything seemed to have secret meanings. I'm sure that place could be studied for decades and never be fully understood.
I also checked out Jokhang Temple. My tour guide Lois told me the legend of its creation and I thought it was pretty bizarre.
Supposedly the temple was built on a lake. They had tried to build the temple a bunch of times, but each time it collapsed. A local shaman woman said that the geography of Tibet was like an old
woman, with the lake at the heart. In order to build the temple, she suggested that they kill the old woman by filling in the lake. They were supposed to use 1,000 sheep to carry the soil. Those must have been some pretty strong sheep! The temple is really cool though. It is actually a large complex, and it was filled with pilgrims that had come from all parts of Tibet. There is a long passageway that had paintings showing the temple being built. I tried to get some photos of it, but they didn't turn out too well because of all of the people.
After we visited Jokhang Temple, our guide took us to visit Barkhor Street. It wasn't a far walk, because it is a round road that surrounds the temple. I had a lot of fun there. It was packed with tourists, Buddhist Monks, and pilgrims. It was a really neat mixture of peoples. Many of the pilgrims were crawling on the ground. Apparently, on their pilgrimage from their homes, they walk two steps, then prostrate themselves on the ground, then walk two more steps, then prostrate themselves on the ground. This is repeated for hundreds of miles, until they reach Lhasa. Talk about dedication. Many others were spinning prayer wheels.
The street was lined with stalls selling all sorts of stuff. It was a bit of a tourist trap, and the prices were very high, until I started bargaining. I found that if they won't meet your price, and start to walk away, they'll usually relent, and you get your price. It didn't always work, but most of the things I saw could be found at other stalls, so I would just try again somewhere else until I got a price I was satisfied with. There were some really beautiful arts and crafts, and of course some touristy things. Most of the objects for sale were Buddhist related. I saw a lot of pottery, and tea shops there. I think my favorite things they had for sale there were the Thangka paintings.
These are religious Buddhist paintings. Some of them were really beautiful, and the details on them are amazing. I watched a man painting hair on a creature's head. He was painting them one by one. I can't imagine how long these paintings take to complete.
On my second day, we went to Norbulingka Park. Apparently it is the biggest garden in Tibet. This place was gorgeous. Even though it was filled with people, it was actually quite peaceful. The park actually isn't a park, but the old summer palace of the Dalai Lama. It was quite large, with a lot of water, and wooded areas.
Every wall in every building was covered with murals. After the park, we went to the Sera Monastery. This place was packed too, but with monks in their red robes who were having a debate. We were told that monks often gather here to have debates on the Buddhist scriptures. I couldn't understand them, but it was really fun to watch them, and I could tell they really took it very seriously.
We saw the highest mountain in the world, Everest. It was really beautiful.
It was covered with white snow, and seemed to be the pillar that holds up the sky. I took so many photos of it. It could be seen from almost everywhere we went. I don't think I'd like to attempt climbing it, but I really did enjoy looking at it.
I think my favorite part about visiting Tibet, was the evening we spent with a local family. Ours was a small group, so it was a really nice intimate visit. The family we visited lived in a traditional wooden home, which was beautifully painted. It was very colorful, and had religious decorations everywhere. It didn't have all of the modern conveniences, but it was really beautiful, and I felt really comfortable there. They wore traditional Tibetan clothing.
I asked if it was just for our visit, but they said that they wore it every day. The family was so sweet. I got the feeling that they were just local folks, and the language barrier didn't seem to matter. Of course I did have my guide to translate, but I could tell that this was a truly loving family. The father gave us a tour of the home, while the women prepared dinner. It was all local food
. At first I wasn't sure I liked it, but after a few bites, it really seemed to grow on me. We had what they call Tsamba. It is a kind of dough made from barley.
They had it plain, but offered some sugar and butter for me to mix with mine. I tried it both ways and defiantly liked it better when I added the extra ingredients. I was told that this was a staple, and was eaten at every meal. We also had beef stew, steamed duck, and beef jerky. I was offered Tibetan vodka, but I am not a big drinker, so I politely declined, and they did not push it. After dinner we had Tibetan butter tea. I had heard about it, and was told that most visitors don't like it, but I liked it. It really filled me up. I can see why they drink so much of it. It really seemed to instantly warm me up and give me energy. I watched the woman prepare it, and asked her to teach, because I'd never seen anything like it.
They put boiling tea, salt, and butter into a thin churn, and then churned it all together. It took some work, but was worth it. After dinner, they showed me some of their local dances. They wanted me to join in. At first, I wasn't comfortable doing it, but seeing how much fun they were having I decided to give it a go. We were all laughing so hard, that we could hardly dance. I really hated to leave. It was a really wonderful experience.
I had been warned by many people about altitude sickness. I was concerned about it, but didn't have too much of a problem. I did experience headaches for the first few days, but that was it. Our guide suggested we drink a lot of water, and that really seemed to help a lot. Something to do with dehydration I think.
Tibet is truly an amazing place. We were only there a week, and I hated to leave. I felt I could spend the rest of my life exploring this amazing province. Sadly, with my limited writing ability, I cannot even come close to describing it. It felt so mysterious, yet welcoming. It is a place where ancient religious beliefs mix seamlessly with modern life. People live as they have for thousands of years, and it seemed to me that they do this by choice, not by necessity. Every place we went was packed with people, but it did make for some really cool photographs. The diversity of people there was really kinda cool. It was a wonderful experience, and I really hope I can return one day.