Saturday, January 23, 2016

Part II: Tibet: A Dream... Revealed

After Beijing, we flew to Tibet, landing in Lhasa. On the way into town form the airport, we got our first look at Tibet. Beautiful.

Tree-lined streets and folks on scooters. 

We were greeted with tea at the Shangri-La Hotel.

Where our fellow guests included a Buddhist monk!

The room was wonderful.

As was our view.

We could even see the Potala Palace from our hotel!

We spent our first afternoon in Lhasa just acclimating to the altitude by wandering around, checking out local shops and the like.

Lhasa is a strange mix of the modern (Chinese construction) and the ancient (Tibetan tradition).

Though sometimes they meld well, as with this hotel we came across during our stroll about town.

We now want a Tibetan artist to paint and decorate our front door.

Altitude is a real issue in Tibet, where our hotel had oxygen tanks in the hallway and an "oxygen bar", a pressurized room where guests can go when the altitude gets to be too much. (I used it when I started getting a terrible headache.)

Again, the influence of modern China... (read the English on the bottom of the sign.)

The Potala Palace! Fantastic. Magnificent. And other lofty descriptors. And truly, a holy site. It felt like we were the only visitors there who were not on some sort of pilgrimage.

The Palace itself, at least the white washing, is kept up by volunteers whom we saw everywhere.

And there really were quite a few Tibetans in traditional garb who we believe had trekked in from rural villages.

Because it is a holy site, we could not take pictures while inside. This was true for most of the temples and monasteries we visited in Tibet.  The view from this resting spot on the outside of the Palace was breathtaking, though.

As were the edifices wherever we went.

Prayer wheels abound in Tibet, and people use them religiously. No pun intended.

Traditional garb. That blue is turquoise.

The city center of Lhasa.

One of the most captivating aspects of Tibet were the faces of its people.

The brightly colored restaurants were really good, too; and thanks to our guide, I ate well. Kathy ate a lot of yak meat and butter tea.

Apparently, monks can be tourists, too.

Here we are approaching the Jokhang Temple in the center of Lhasa.

Where we found quite a few Tibetans actively and quite fervently engaged in prayer. Even if one or two were distracted by their phones...

Courtyard inside the Jokhang Temple grounds.

Upstairs, where we could get a closer look at the gold roofs.

And pose with the bells.

Kathy tried some street food.

And then we went to the Sera Monastery. Look at the detail on the entrance! Even more glorious than what we had seen in Beijing, and more colorful.

Inside the monastery grounds, a stupa and prayer wheels.

Monk on a cell phone!

A mandala. Yes, completely made of sand. (The glare is from the glass under which it was protected).

The artwork on the walls of Buddhist temples is impossible to describe. It is everywhere. It is intricate. It is colorful. It is often enormous. And it all tells a story...

Had to buy a Tibetan rug.

And eat more Tibetan food in another colorful restaurant.

Where I broke my rule about not eating in restaurants with a type of meat in the name. Even though this one was called Tibet Steak House, they still catered to a vegan really well!

We drove from Lhasa to Shigatse, where we admired the starkly beautiful countryside.

Which was dotted with monasteries.

And which featured no few yaks.

And rivers that ran green.

And more monasteries.

The Tibetans try to keep it looking like this:

The Chinese come in and make it look like this:

A typical Tibetan farm house.

Another restaurant.

Where again this vegan ate remarkably well!

A street in Shgatse.

A woman selling jewelry in a street lined with artisans selling their wares. I could have spent all day there. (I also could have spent a great deal of money there. So much cool stuff!)

A monastery in Shigatse, where the white on the mountainside in the background is actually thousands of prayer flags!

More magnificent Tibetan Buddhist art.

On the monastery grounds.

Again with Tibetans dressed in traditional clothing.

And monks.

And exquisite buildings with so much detail to admire.

Like this one statute on the corner of one building. (It is actually in the previous picture if you can pick it out.)

Best. Smile. Ever.

A lute.

A monk keeping the butter candles lit. (No worries - it's veggie butter.) The scents of butter candles and incense fill the buildings.

Monks with traditional butter tea. And a coke. (The butter tea was not vegan, so I never got to try it.)

Kathy, contemplating in a monastery courtyard.

Two women walking three times around a stupa. Clockwise, of course.

An elder monk and his young apprentice?

Small monk. Big courtyard.

Shigatse Hotel. Nothing can do justice to how it felt to be in that room, with all the color and detail. Overwhelming does not adequately describe it.

We wandered about Shigatse a bit in the evening, where local shop workers moved themselves out into the sun.

And where I made a new friend.

We continued cross-country. Tibet is mostly rural, and mostly subsistence farming. Lots of field sand livestock.

And of course monasteries, too many of which were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.

Vendor at a roadside rest stop.

Wherever we stopped, there were prayer flags. Thousands and thousands of them!

Another traditional Tibetan house.

When we arrived at Sakya Monastery, we discovered that there was a celebration taking place. This included a parade of monks.

And, for us, lunch. Those are our driver (far left) and guide (next to Kathy).

Tibetans of all ages were participating in the celebration.

The main courtyard was filled with Tibetans who had come in from the surrounding countryside to gather, celebrate, and receive blessings.

We toured the monastery, admiring its statues.

And we were actually able and allowed to take pictures in some parts of the monastery.

Where massive statues and colorful tapestries filled our eyes.

And monks kept the candles lit.

But the most moving moment was in a room where we were not able to take photographs.  In there, on long lines of benches, were dozens of monks chanting from their prayer books, beating drums, and playing magnificent horns, two of which were well over ten feet long. Their sounds actually reverberated across the courtyard outside.

It looked and sounded something like this:

An we were all taking it in as seemed right.

Including the nuns who arrived as we were leaving.

We stopped on our way to Tingri for our first view of Mount Everest, which is known locally as Qomo Langma (CHOH-moh LAHNG-mah), or Mother Earth.

Then we continued cross country.

Until we reached our hotel in Tingri, which had no heat in the rooms despite the freezing temperature (well below 32F at night).  Thankfully, our room did have an electric blanket!

This is the lobby of that hotel.

We arose pre-dawn the next day.

Saw a spectacular moon.

Stopped in a mountain passes to watch the sun rise on Mount Everest, complete with a star over its peak.

We were at about 5200 meters (approx 17,000 ft.) there.

Then we went to Everest base camp (Tibet side), which was largely deserted at that time of year.

But what a view!

There was even a village nearby. I cannot imagine what it must be like to see that mountain every day.

We stopped in a small town for lunch afterward, where we met this woman.

Then, on the road again, we saw these wild goats scampering up and down mountainsides.

We visited a traditional Tibetan home, where people live upstairs.

And pets and livestock are kept downstairs, where our driver stayed clear of the guard dog.

Inside, such vibrant colors!

Especially in the prayer room.

A quick visit to a local tea house.

Then on to Palkhor Monastery.

Where we saw many more prayer wheels.

And monks. Doing laundry.

Volunteers repairing a temple.

The same temple from a distance.

And a woman just walking by.

More magnificent statues.

Described by our guide.

Or just admired by me.

A young Tibetan in traditional clothes. So cute!

More of the Tibetan countryside.

Its green water.

A glacier.

A sacred lake.

Motorcycles are far more common transportation there than in the U.S.

So stunningly beautiful.

Panoramic. (Download this one so you can see it full size.)

And this dog!  Its head is the size of Kathy's torso...

Alas, our time in Tibet had to end. If you get the chance, go.

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