I am writing to you now from Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, following several days spent east of here in areas little visited by Westerners. We arrived here this afternoon and it is definitely a change of pace from the quiet places we’ve been in recently.
I’ve only been here a short time, so I’ll write about the few days that transpired since my last message. I last wrote from Bayi, a fairly new town with a high percentage of Chinese in the population. From there we went to Lunang, where we spent the night in the home of a family in a small farming village. It was very interesting to get an idea of how the local people live. The family has four generations living together. Our hostess was an elegant, middle aged woman named Karma, and she lives with her mother and her 87 year old grandfather. The grandfather had a big unruly head of grey hair that made him look like a Tibetan version of Albert Einstein, though when he put on his sunglasses he looked a bit like John Lennon, too! Karma also has two teen age children who were at home on a school vacation, though most of the year they are off at school.
Yesterday was a fairly quiet day without too much driving. From Lunang we continued norht and west and spent the night next to a beautiful lake called Draksum-tso. There’s a little temple that we visited late in the afternoon. On the way we stopped for lunch in a town called Bepa, where I walked around for a little while taking photos of the people there.
Today was a busy day. We had breakfast on the road at a Chinese restaurant where we were each served a bowl of flat noodles. I felt like I was having linguini for breakfast. Lunch was fun. Our guide gave us the choice of eating at a Tibetan restaurant that didn’t have any vegetarian dishes, or a Chinese restaurant serving Sichuan cuisine. We didn’t want anything spicy, so we went for the Tibetan place and just had baked bread (like pita bread) that we covered with peanut butter and honey that our guide, Pemba Tashi, gave us. Everyone else had a good laugh as I tried in vane to contain the honey that was dripping off of my bread (though thankfully I managed to avoid getting any on my clothes!).
More seriously, today was an exciting day as we were heading to Lhasa after nearly a week in the countryside. It was a long ride of over 200 miles. On the way we saw some pilgrims heading here to Lhasa by prostrating themselves along the way. They lay out flat on their stomachs, get up and walk one body length and then lay out again – and they do this all the way to Lhasa, perhaps taking months to complete their spiritual journey.
We also stopped to visit with a nomadic family in its tent made from yak hair, but the high point of the day (quite literally) was a stop at the Kongpo Bala Pass, 5013.25 meters above sea level (which I think is more than 16,000 feet). The view from their was absolutely spectacular, as is much of the landscape scenery here in Tibet.
We finished our sightseeing for the day with a short walk to the Jokhang Temple. As Jerusalem is a holy city for Jews, Mecca for Muslims and Rome for Catholics, so Lhasa is a holy city to Tibetans – and as the Western Wall is the most sacred site for Jews and the Grand Mosque at Mecca for Muslims, so the Jokhang is the most sacred place for Tibetan Buddhists. We walked around the temple seeing Tibetans, many of the spinning prayer wheels, in all manner of dress. This is a festival time here in Lhasa – the Shoton festival going on now – so the number of people here is greater even than normal.
It looks like I’m able to upload some photos again, so here are two landscape images from today, a sign outside a restaurant here in the Tibetan quarter of Lhasa, and a view of the Jokhang Temple. As always, these digital photos are grab shots not intended to be great works of art.
As always, stay tuned.