Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Lhasa, Tibet - a personal story

(Our original hotel with all its "couleur locale" that I had chosen)
(Second room after toilet problem with heater- notice door lock)
(Beautiful Tibetan toilet door)
(When climbing into bed shivering we found the electric matress - yummy we should have stayed)
(This is the impersonal 4 star hotel we ended up in - owned by a monastery)

I had, against the advise from my travel agent, booked a Tibetan 3 star hotel in the old town section, because tripadvisor rated this "Tashitagke hotel" higher than the hotel I was advised to book. As you all know, in exchange for having Sandee travel with carry-on only, I promised to lodge her in places with private bathroom and wifi. Well, after entering the place and struggling up the stairs gasping for air, she managed to exclaim: "from the sublime to the ridiculous"

(Yak meat on display along the road in downtown Lhasa - would maybe pass health inspection as the weather was bitterly cold)
(Local restaurant interior)
(Typical shopping street view)

(Beautiful passage way between streets)

I am at a loss, why she was complaining, although we had to change rooms, as the toilet was not functional, maybe because we had not timely read a sign instructing that the "used paper be deposited in a nearby wastebasket".

(Most of the time picture taking cost money but here are wall paintings I did not pay for)

There was an extra never before mentioned element she was objecting to: the fact that there was no central heat in the room. There was an electric heater, but the radius of heat covered only a third of the room.

(Highest point on the Kampa La pass to Yamdrok lake "littered with colored ribbons", another way Tibetans revere nature especially on high spots)
(Showing off at that height - actually we were surprised how good we could function with the reduced oxygen content. We are sporting the only warm clothes we bought along the way - Sandee her possum vest acquired in New Zealand, where possums are a national pest, thus doing the Kiwis a favor and I a US$42 coat from downtown Lhasa, bought under duress)
(Below the national protein provider, as well as clothing provider, as well as milk and butter provider and finally as heating source provider, the indomitable Yak, who by the way is also the national tractor)

The room key activated power to the room, so off it went whenever we exited the room. So a new defrosting was required upon each re-entry. It must be said however, that the double bed in the new bedroom we were relocated to, had an electric blanket, and very heavy warm covers. I reminded her that we grew up in rooms like that without electric blankets and she said "speak for yourself". Obviously, it wasn't a winning argument since we moved the next day. Although I should have known at $40 a night some give would be required, just didn't know it would be heat!

(Glass culture has found its way into Tibet)
(Found often in and on top of monasteries: deer absorbing wisdom as the gaze at the wheel of time)

Ah well, we moved to a huge 4 star hotel, owned by a Buddhist monastery, with central heat and a room that was twice as large, where, because it was not tourist season, we and a young guy from Singapore were the only guests, meeting each other in the huge hotel restaurant for breakfast every morning.

(Discarded leaky cooking vessel behind the monastery kitchen covered in yak butter dripped on it by pilgrims, who consider many objects in monasteries sacred - apparently also this one)
(Just an alleyway picture in a monastery)
(Lhasa downtown map can be found on any street corner regularly used by passerby's like us)
(caterpillars dried to be sold as medicine for 100 Yuan each or US$16 each - compare that with my coat - think about it all this money outside on the street being dried for sale. We were told families keep children from school to catch them, since they seem to be better in finding and collecting them)
(Nythang Lha Chenpo or Curved Image of Buddha found on a wall of rock along the road side in the 11th century by a pupil of the Great Teacher and since colored in)
(Below a wall section of a monastery - Colored twigs that never rot but give roofs flex to survives the stress of ages)

As you may know we are controlling our weight counting calories daily. We found in this 4 star hotel a scale in our room, although the battery had died. We asked for a new battery, only to be told they had none. We requested a working scale and got one from a different room, that also did not work. An exasperated desk clerk told us that we had to forget it, but they would keep looking for it. So we bought a battery and after installing it, they brought us a non electric scale, found somewhere. That is 4 star service after three days turmoil created by "difficult" guests. End result, we got to weigh ourselves.

(My simple way of telling you all about the Potala Palace)
(Tibetan streets are beautiful, lined with ornate buildings)
( a kid on his first pilgrimage and his father "hello-ing" me)
(Typical Tibetan street view)
(A pasta maker at work as seen from the street)
(Another monastery wall painting of a protector)

In the evenings we strolled through the busy neighborhoods in search of restaurants. Yak meat is actually very tasty, but be warned to stay away from Tibetan tea, a salty milky/buttery substance. One needs to order "black tea" if available or "indian tea", the sweet milky variety, as one will learn fast.

(Lunch with Tashi our guide out in the sun)

Since Chinese written menus do not really work for us, we found restaurants with picture menus. You point at a picture in the hope that you have correctly identified the content. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Part of the adventure of travel.

(Entrance to the Sera Monastery at the edge of town - notice Chinese military)
(The wheel of life with in the core circle 3 animals depicting human basic traits - snake or hatred, pig or ignorance and cock or desire - from which radiate outward illustrations depicting the human road to enlightment)
(Cans of buttermilk for sale to be poured all around the monastery where butter lamps can be found)
(A Yellow Hat monk - the main Tibetan Buddhist Sekt)
(I could not get enough of the roadside buildings in old Lhasa)

Lunches were easier as we had our guide tell us what our choices were. In general you will find no high cuisine here and rice and noodles are the main staple. Potatoes are a vegetable here and Bokchoy often the favored green. The protein on the plate is the smallest component of any chosen dish.

(Spices for sale on a down town corner)
(Sandee asking question after question after question on her quest for "enlightment")
( I can not resist showing more street scenes)
(Yak butter for sale)

But then again, we were here not to delve into high cuisine, but to witness the Tibetan Buddhist culture and learn all about its proud history among which, about reincarnation and sky burials.

(Buddhist monks in discussion flanked by listening pilgrims)
(Pilgrims resting on the stairs going up and up and up)
(Holy image, laid stone by stone on the mountain side beyond the Sera monastery)

Did you know that still today, - and our guide in his thirties vowed to go that way too-, Tibetans offer their body up to the vultures as a "last giving back to nature act". There are holy sites high up in the mountains, where the final remains are offered up, and we were told, that nothing remains, not even bones after the vultures are done with you.

( backside of the Potala Palace and below two kids in their Sunday best following their parents up the steps to the top)
(Still climbing)
(Impressive side view)

The seventeenth century rebuilt Potala palace towers above Lhasa and defines the city as sky towers and giant ferry wheels do elsewhere.

(The new train station we entered to ride down the mountain to the Chinese city of Xining)
(We were the only foreigners in the waiting room for foreigners or when visiting, for Chinese dignitaries)

A few interesting English notices that may need interpretation:

(Base camp coffee - think about that a little longer)
(This shop is boasting about its wares)

(What does this mean and what do they sell?)