After a 4 hour flight delay leaving Shanghai (That involved us leaving our hotel at 5AM), we finally
got into Lhasa, Tibet (via Xi'an), one of the highlights of our trip. We arrived about 5:30pm (all of
China is on China time so it's the same time zone) and our guide and driver were waiting in the car park.
Our driver was strangely a woman, and was wearing a cowboy hat, big sunglasses, and sang to the radio.
Our first stop was at a large Buddha statue that was carved in the rock in 1100AD. These are ladders
that help one get to heaven.
The mountain sides were covered in prayer flags. The area around Lhasa has big dry mountains and 2
rivers, one of which no one eats fish from since one of their burial customs is to cut the person up and
put them in the river for the fish. Weird.
We got to our hotel (great location, but definitely 3 star) and I began feeling pretty rough. Either
altitude sickness or a reaction from the airplane food meant that I yacked everything out of my system
while Natalia was wandering looking for dinner. The headaches and system achiness continued through the
night and Natalia woke up about 3 unable to sleep with a major headache. We almost resorted to the oxygen
we have in the minibar but instead pounded through some water, opened the window for cooler air, and used
face cloths to cool Natalia down. I think it could have been either altitude (Lhasa is at 3500m) with her or
possibly the same bad pork meatballs from the plane. Yuck, here's hoping the rest of our trip is better.
I woke up to a purply-black tongue that I don't know how to explain. I still don't feel amazing
but I feel better than I did last night. I'm going to chalk up the tongue thing to not brushing my teeth
last night, but I still think it's weird. Ok, Natalia informs me that it's very likely the bismuth in the
Pepto Bismol I took last night. Good call. So neither one of us felt great this morning with Natalia reporting
her body coming in at a 3/10. This looks to be altitude sickness and I'm hopeful it's all gone by tomorrow.
We started the day with an interesting breakfast in the hotel. I tried tsanka (some kind of powder mixed with
yak butter tea and sugar) for the first time which I would say tasted sweet and good although it wouldn't be
something I'd try to find in Canada.
One of the major landmarks in Lhasa is the Potala Palace , which was the home of the Dalai Lama
until the 1959 Tibetan uprising.
A good look at one of the walls around the palace, which is now a museum.
Some of the ridiculous number of stairs going up to the Palace. As it turns out, having altitude sickness
doesn't bode well for climbing stairs.
Natalia and I at the Potala Palace on the way up.
One of the thangkas (woven rugs) on the wall of the entrance.
Quite intricate painted woodwork can be found throughout the Potala Palace.
Thirteen stories of buildings containing over 1,000 rooms, 10,000 shrines and about 200,000 statues
soar 117 metres (384 ft) on top of Marpo Ri, the "Red Hill", rising more than 300 m (about 1,000 ft)
in total above the valley floor. This is the main entrance to the top of the palace, called the White
Palace and where the living quarters of the Dalai Lama used to be. This bit was built in 1649 and it
contains the golden stupas (tombs) of eight Dalai Lamas along with libraries containing the most
important Buddhist scriptures - the Kangyur and the Tengyur.
The view from the top of the palace looking into modern-day Lhasa.
This shows some of the Red Palace, which is completely devoted to religious activities.
This is a great door knocker, along with some braided cloth.
Here are some locals working out in an outdoor gym.
Local pilgrims turning prayer wheels around the palace area.
This is a sheep grazing in a town square.
I enjoyed these posters on the light standards calling out the 'celebration of the 60th anniversary
of the Liberation of Tibet'. As though Tibet needed to be liberated. More like the '60th anniversary
of the annexation of Tibet'.
Some locals taking photos in front of the Potala Palace.
More of the Yuan tour of China, here we have the 50 RMB note.
Randall and the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet.
A good shot of the palace from up on a hillside near there.
This site had been on my 'must-see' list for quite some time. I was glad to have made it,
even if I wasn't feeling 100%.
Seeing a Chinese flag on top of the palace as well as the swarms of Chinese army, police, and guards
everywhere tells you what kind of place we're in. The Lonely Planet mentioned that the Chinese now
outnumber Tibetans 2:1 in Lhasa and most of those have arrived in the last 10 years. With the train coming
in 2006, it's clear what the Chinese government's plans are. If they can't simply squash the Tibetans,
they will Han them out. We also heard that Lhasa has changed more in the last 10 years than in any time
period in the last 10,000.
Here's a guy on his bicycle carting meat around.
Norbulingka - The Summer Palace
We then went to the Summer Palace and walked around the 14th Dalai Lama's summer home, which he got
to use for 3 years before escaping to exile in India. Here, we found young girls playing Chinese
skipping rope. This one was dancing and having a hoot.
We saw some really nice flowers and plants all around the gardens.
Natalia along with some beautiful gardens. Norbulingka park is considered the premier park of all
such horticultural parks in similar ethnic settings in Tibet. During the summer and autumn months,
the parks in Tibet, including the Norbulinga, become hubs of entertainment with dancing, singing,
music and festivities. The park is where the annual Sho Dun or 'Yoghurt Festival' is held.
Natalia at Norbulingka. I tried to get Dolma (our guide) to talk a little bit about the past government
prior to 1951, the 'liberation' of Tibet and those celebrations and also the uprising in 2008, but she
really wouldn't talk. It's clear that she's very scared of the government and the army here. I did get her
to say that she'd love to be able to have the Dalai Lama return to Tibet before he dies, but she said even
that very reluctantly. Dolma is not a Han Chinese, she's Tibetan.
Touring around Lhasa
This is a big golden yak somewhere in the shopping area around Lhasa.
This guy had modified a tractor to pull a cart. I like his dust mask.
We went to the Sera Monastery (2nd largest in Tibet with more than 1000 monks) and Dolma showed us
around and jumped a few lines for us so that we could see what some of the pilgrims were coming for.
Here are a few of the local monks. More about the Sera Monastery is HERE .
The monastery has a large gathering place with a fire burning some type of incense and they line up to
have the monks place ash on the kids' noses. From another travel blog, I found this description:
"It was interesting though to sneak past the queue of patiently and happily waiting pilgrims to view
the main statue of a powerful horse-headed protector deity. After hours of waiting in line the pilgrims
were allowed to stick their head under the statue of a frowning demon with the donkey from the "Shrek" movies
sticking out of it's head to receive a blessing. They would then be yanked back by a "bouncer" monk and
sent blissfully along their way. Kids would get a dot of soot dabbed on their noses as a bonus."
Dolma said it's what parents do to keep their babies from crying and to help them sleep but older
kids do it too for 'protection'.
The Sera monastery is known for its Monks' Debates. Debates among monks on the Buddhist doctrines are
integral to the learning process in the colleges in the Sera Monastery complex. This facilitates better
comprehension of the Buddhist philosophy to attain higher levels of study. This exemplary debating
tradition supplemented with gestures is said to be exclusive to this monastery, among the several other
monasteries of Lhasa. Visitors also attend to witness these debates that are held as per a set schedule,
every day in the 'Debating Courtyard' of the monastery.
Video of monks debating
I got a big kick out of watching the debates. It reminded me of extemporaneous debate in engineering school.
In this case, it involves 2 monks with one sitting and one standing taking turns making points and counter-points
about the faith. Always a good way to learn. The taking turns was kind of like old Italian men in a
coffee shop though, which was funny.
Here's a kid riding on the back of someone's bike. The vehicle in the foreground was pretty similar
to a lot of what we saw around Tibet.
This is the view from our rooftop patio at our hotel. While it wasn't an amazing hotel by luxurious
standards, it was well-situated near the Jokhang Temple and had a nice rooftop patio.
Some Lays chips with flavours Hot and Sour Fish Soup and Numb and Spicy Hot Pot flavours. Yummy!
This guy was driving around on what looked like a garbage truck bicycle.
We were on our own for dinner, so we sought out the top TripAdvisor-listed restaurant - the Snowland
and had a great dinner of naan, biryani, and cheese momos (or dumplings). Here I am enjoying a
Lhase beer, which was actually cold.
The next morning I was up way too early so I went for a wander around the Jokhang temple area.
Here you see the empty vendors' stalls, but also the army presence with guns. This area was the most
heavily patrolled area of the city since this is where the monk uprisings have started from in the past.
I was surprised to find literally hundreds of pilgrims outside the temple waiting their turn to get in and
be blessed. It turns out (I found out later from Dolma) that the 8th of the month in the Tibetan calendar
is a big day for pilgrims. I was also shocked by the 50+ army members walking around with the pilgrims with
fully automatic weapons, zip tie handcuffs, and fire extinguishers (not sure about that one). I was also
surprised to see the number of people prostrating themselves and the number doing the circle around the Temple.
Sunrise this morning was quite beautiful so I'm glad I was up.
Video of Barkor Street in Lhasa, Tibet
Video of Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet
A sign as we enter our hotel area. Welcome you the presence indeed.
Dolma picked us up and surprised us with a 'bonus' monastery (Drepung I think) that was not on our itinerary.
It worked out well though that even though the Buddhism portion was another session of TMI, the views from
the top were amazing and I enjoyed seeing the hillside prayer flags and the monks gonging at midday.
Here are some of the hillside prayer flags strung out around Lhasa. More about this monastery HERE .
We then went back to Lhasa and had lunch, or were supposed to have lunch, at a little Tibetan restaurant.
After 45 mins of waiting and Dolma trying to hurry them, we gave up and Dolma took us, reluctantly, for a
traditional Tibetan lunch. She thinks it may have been the first time that restaurant (no signs outside the
courtyard where it was, no menus at all) had ever seen Westerners. We sat with all women since the men side
was smoking up a storm and playing cards. We had yak momos and some manner of yak noodle dish that I added
chilis to. Both dishes were actually quite good and we also tried sweet tea for the first time (better than butter tea).
A few of the older ladies stuck their tongues out (greeting) and also gave us the open-handed gesture, which
apparently means hello/welcome. Dolma explained that she was quite nervous about us arriving since she looked
up the 'Pac' in Chinapac (our tour company) and thought it was a political action committee. Once we explained
that it was short for Pacific, she got quite a bit more open, at least at the restaurant.
Once we were back out in public, she had her guard back up and we even saw a few guys who were obviously
following us around the Temple after lunch. Here is a pilgrim walking to the Jokhang Temple. As we were walking
around the Temple, she also pointed out the different outfits/costumes of the various Tibetan people and she also
identified a few of the nomadic people still wearing hides and furs. Dolma confided that 80% or more of the
businesspeople in Tibet are now Chinese, a fact she clearly resents. It's sad that the Chinese are effectively
diluting the Tibetan population and controlling the province that way, but it seems like their approach in Xinjiang
as well with the Uygurs.
Natalia at the Jokhang Temple. Since the Jokhang Temple was going to be ridiculously busy and since
there wasn't anything in there we hadn't seen, we instead wandered around the outside of the Temple with
the pilgrims and wound up seeing another monastery ( Meru Nyingba ) just behind the Temple that had virtually no people in it.
Dolma seemed to understand that the Buddhist aspects were way over our heads and instead focused on what was
more interesting and different.
Video of the area and Muru Nyingba temple
We then meandered around and looked at knock-off outdoor gear (I even found Arcteryx!) while we waited to be hungry for dinner
The shop where Arcteryx knock-offs were being sold.
I thought the fact that they not only advertised the good coffee but also the great bathrooms was funny.
Two things are funny about this photo - 1) The kid's haircut and 2) the fact that he's on a leash.
Possibly a third is that his mom has a facemask on.
A nice shot looking up to the snow-capped mountains. Lhasa was about the only stop in our entire tour
where I actually found the temperatures reasonable. We still needed AC to sleep at night though.
Our last morning in Lhasa both Natalia and I had again very poor sleep. I've been attributing this to the
altitude so far, which is producing (in me) stomach and head aches that aren't easily solved with Advil or Pepto.
I'm sure I could have tried oxygen, but I just think that it's more suited for acute cases. There were also some
tablets in our mini-bar, but the fact that the tablets suggested they resolved 'head ache, dizziness, nausea, and
anorexia due to mountain sickness' worried me just a little. I went for a walk around the temple again, careful not
to wake Natalia. Here are some of the nomadic peoples walking around the Jokhang temple.
Here is one dog giving it to another dog. This is funny on its own, but funnier when they're both wearing bells.
Some of the volume of people around the Temple. I saw a Tibetan midget selling things in the market
but I couldn't get a good photo without being creepy.
We had a little reading session on the roof of our panoramic cafe.
The young boy is trying to show the young girl how to skip.
Natalia and our really cool driver. As we made our way to the airport on a brand new road (the opening coinciding
with the 60th anniversary of 'liberation') we saw a few yaks, which was really cool, as well as some reminders of
wheat production in Sask in 1900, as there was no mechanization anywhere and the farmers were picking
the crop by hand and making wheat piles.
Here is Natalia making her way to the China Southern flight. Again, they don't really use jetways anywhere so we're often
on buses out to the plane and then walking onboard to Beijing, via Chongqing. After a long day of traveling, we were pleased
to get to Beijing Capital airport. As we went down to the baggage claim though, things began to look bad. One guy with a small
cart of bags started to yell 'Lhasa' and there was a substantial commotion of people running up to this guy. It turns out that
only 14 bags made it to Beijing and the rest were somewhere else or damaged or something. Unbelievably, both my bag and Natalia's
bag made it in one piece. Nati's bag was pretty destroyed though, and after some time spent in crazytown with the baggage people,
we got 300 RMB and were on our way. I still can not believe our luck! Our new guide Sisi and driver in a leather VW Passat picked
us up and brought us to our '5 star' hotel. It was likely a 5 star hotel sometime in 1982 since that's when the bathroom and
bedroom were last renovated.