I think the one thing that strikes you about Lhasa (apart from its freezing!) is that its not what you expect at all when you envisage Tibet, it truly is a lovely and quite modern city. It has wide streets, looks really well maintained, there is a Chinese part and old Tibetan part which is where are staying, it is a true blend of old and new and works really well. Its very clean and surprisingly modern (well, its got burger king!) especially compared with the likes of Bhutan which was definitely a lot more rural. The roads and infrastructure are very good, the first thing I noticed was 3G roaming on my phone (not had that so far on my trip so it was certainly a surprise!). The second thing to notice is the use of electric motorbikes (although you can’t hear them coming!) and lack of pollution, its a stark contrast to Kathmandu that is for sure.
Our first stop is the Dalia Lama’s winter palace, it is a magnificent structure built and added to over many years and its is the focal point of Lhasa to be honest, and opposite that is the imposing square with the Chinese Government smiling faces and huge structures. Its a steep climb up and lots and lots of steps (just what we like!) so with the altitude, steps, burning incense we take our time walking up getting some photos (sure I now have hundreds of this building!).
We go room by room, through the monks living quarters (now government officials quarters) and there are only a few monks still around to keep the place running, I think 100 vs. the 999 there used to be. It seems as well that everyone pitches in each year to whitewash the walls of the palace and help the monks, with a mixture of honey, flour, and white paint apparently! Here are the tombs of the previous Dalai Lama’s, 5-13 with the current being the 14th. Apparently we need to google no. 6 because he was a very naughty boy!! used to sneak out to go to visit his many women in town, so will check that out at some point.
In each area we pass through the clothes of the Dalai Lama are shaped as if being warn and in a seated position, a spooky headless representation, symbolic of the devotion of this nation and they are devoted that is for sure. Everywhere you turn there are swarms of people circling temples, or the city, or the palace all clockwise, chanting, spinning their prayer wheels, or turning their prayer wheels, performing their prostrations its phenomenal to watch. There is a huge industry in these accessories alone! You have to be careful as its easy to get in the way and be swept along as this mass of people move together, some crawling literally their way around these spiritual places.
We soon notice that although we are visiting a tourist attraction, we too are a tourist attraction, apparently a rare sight at this time of year, we notice photos being taken of us as we take photos of the palace. Lots of children and adults all saying “hello” and “welcome” and waving at us.
We take in the temple in the main square and see some traditional dancing, we are fortunate that the time we are here there is a huge festival on and so get to see people in national dress and they all have barley beer with them as an offering. There are hundreds, or more likely thousands of people and you can see why it was impossible for China to stamp out buddhism in Tibet it is pure and simply their life day in day out.
We head to the Sara Monastery and more queues of parent with children getting the Horse god blessing, apparently it stops all the crying. Sonam was telling us she had to go there all the time with her son for many many years!! All the children exit the temple with a black line down their nose to symbolise the horse god blessing and hopefully the parents will get some sleep again tonight!
I have to say, I am not a spiritual or religious person but I am moved by the level of humble devotion that the people show and what they put themselves through to cleanse themselves so to speak, of impurities in life on their mind, body and soul. Sonam speaks to some of the young women (in their 30s) outside the temple to ask how many prostrations they will be doing, and they come back with 100,000!! That many full-body-to-floor prostrations I imagine is pretty difficult, but definitely great yoga. They will be very healthy after you finish for sure!! and I guess when you see this people walking for hours and constantly moving that is part of it all as well, it keeps people healthy in body, spirit and mind.
Despite being freezing (I think I just about have enough layers with 2 thermals and a fleece to cope in the evening!), the sun is blazing hot and thankfully I am not suffering too much from the effects of altitude, sore eyes (next time eye drops to compensate the dry air), static everything!! dry skin, and a tiny bit of sunburn! Thankfully not too much as I do have sunscreen on.
In the evening we try to find our way to the recommended Tibetan Family Kitchen but pretty sure that was closed as we went down a back alley and there were no lights whatsoever, maybe they are circling the temple still!! So we try Snowlands for dinner instead. Not great really, but then neither I nor Nora are particularly hungry after our Pizza lunch. I know, not very Tibetan but as well as being templed out, I am a bit noodled and riced out, so pizza was great. Although it was my first broccoli, carrot and cauliflower one at King of Food near the Sara Monestary!!
Altogether, I am really loving Tibet.