Saturday, January 29, 2011


March 26, 2007 TIBET

No one slept very well in anticipation of that 5 am wake up call….most were up and ready long before the calls arrived. We arrived in the dining room at 5:30 expecting to be the first and over half of the group was already there. The hotel had graciously agreed to set up a continental breakfast for us to eat before our scheduled departure at 6:30 am.

We loaded our carryon bags on the bus for the trip to the airport. Sabrina gave her goodbye speech and sang us a farewell song: Edelweiss. She could win on American Idol we all agreed. Our large luggage is being held at the hotel in Chengdu until we return from Tibet. At that time we’ll have a five hour bus trip to the Yangtze River before we can get into our large suitcases again.

Our flight left right on time from Chengdu Airport; so far all of the airports that we’ve been to in China have been very modern and very impressive. We had a two hour flight over the Himalayas Mountains; no views of Mount Everest but many snow covered peaks to keep us peering out the window….yes our first window seat on this trip.

We arrived in Tibet, high in the Himalaya Mountains, and immediately put on sunglasses and a hat; the sun is extremely bright; the sky is blue and weather is cold enough for jackets. Our Lhasa City Guide is named Tassi (also known as Curley Tassi) and our driver is Lahda. Tassi speaks very good English and is easy to understand. He taught us our first Tibetan word: tassi delek; the Tibetan greeting. He then presented each of us with a white scarf that we may either keep as a memento or leave as an offering at the temple when we visit.

The bus trip from the airport to Lhasa took about an hour thanks to a new mile and half long tunnel under the mountains; it took two hours to go around the mountain before the new tunnel. The highway that was built at the same time is in wonderful condition and it was a smooth trip. We stopped midway to take photos of the domestic yaks that were grazing in the fields. Tassi continued to give us a Tibetan education on various customs:

1) Marriage: It is very common for all of the brothers in a family to share one wife to keep the land in the family out in the countryside. The oldest brother is the father and the younger ones the uncles. Other families have one father and multiple wives. And becoming more common is the monogamist practice of a single husband and wife.

2) Divorce is happening among the younger ones but not very common yet.

3) Burial is by earth if you are a criminal as you will not be reincarnated if you are placed in the ground.

4) The belief is that the spirit doesn’t take anything with it to the afterlife, and in order to be reincarnated they have their burials the following ways:

Water: prayers by the Lama and after three days the body is taken to the river cut up and fed to the fish.

Sky: prayers by the Lama and after three days the body is taken to the mountains cut up and fed to the vultures.

5) Since the train system was built in Tibet; more and more Hun Chinese are coming to live in Tibet. It takes about forty-eight hours from Chengdu to Lhasa.

6) The economy is rapidly changing and modernizing in Tibet since 1959 when the Dalai Lama left Tibet and the Chinese government took over full control of the country. Young people today are receiving a formal education and speak three languages: Chinese, Tibetan and English, but at the cost of the lost their traditions as they become homogenized.

When we stopped to see the Yaks we were still all walking pretty well. By the time we reach the hotel in Lhasa; Dhood Gu Hotel, at about 12:30 pm, we were all very wobbly and walked like we’d been on a ship at sea for at least a week. We were not allowed to carry our hand luggage to our rooms on the second floor. No elevators in our hotel so we were all happy that we were not on the third or fourth floor. So far other than weak knees and headaches we’re all doing pretty well. A few are taking altitude medicine but most of us are working through the acclimation process with drinking lots of water and taking Motrin. We ate lunch right after arriving and have been advised not to drink any alcoholic beverages and to move very slowly. Had Yak meat for lunch and it was very tasty. No chopsticks in view. The hotel staff is extremely attentive and very helpful. After lunch we went to our rooms to rest. A few hardy souls went walking in the nearby streets; but I took their advice and took a nap! Jim washed out some laundry and then climbed to the fourth floor and took some wonderful photos of the Potala Palace.

Our hotel is located in the center of the old city and we can walk to nearly everything…once we get our sea legs! The altitude in Lhasa is 12,000 feet; on the third day we will all walk up to the top of the Potala Palace, another 400 feet. Hopefully we will all be acclimated by that time. The population of Tibet is two million and growing rapidly even with the limit of two children per family in the city and three in the country. The traditional Tibet is disappearing as China provides funds for improving the economic lives of the Tibetan people. Many of the Tibetan nomad population have migrated to the cities and wander the streets as beggars, sad, but a part of life here in China’s newest frontier. Another big change is the reduced number of monks. Even the largest monasteries are limited to six hundred monks. Parents do not like to give their only son to the Monastery and the influence brought in by the television and Internet has caused many to leave as they get older. Up until 2005 parents sent their sons to the Monastery at the age of 7 or 8; new laws mandate that the sons cannot enter until the age of 17.

At 6:15 we all gathered in the conference room and had an hour long lecture by a Tibetan college profession regarding the political issues, customs and beliefs of the Tibetan culture...the basis for my previous information. She looks to be about thirty and was educated in Chengdu. She teaches British and American Literature in College.

By 7:30 we’d set down to dinner and then toddled back to our rooms for the night. Tomorrow we will have a walking tour to the Jokhang Temple and local Barkhor Bazaar.

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