You are in for a treat today because Agness, who makes up half the duo at eTramping.com, will be sharing with us a truly special place that few people ever get to visit…Lhasa, Tibet! Agness is a passionate traveller who always looks to connect with the places she visits is a genuine way. I look forward to meeting up with this girl at some point along our travels. Now let her transport you over to Tibet.
I was travelling in Lhasa from June 4th till June 12th 2012. I remember it was extremely difficult to get the travel permit due to Chinese government restrictions, which actually made our travels there extremely exciting. I will never forget the day when I finally received all documents and my passport with the stamp allowing me to travel in this extraordinary place. Me and travel companion- Cez – had to book a tour with one of Chinese travel agencies as independent travels are prohibited in this area.
Why was Lhasa so special?
During my whole stay in Lhasa I felt like it was my place on Earth. I felt so connected with everything surrounding me and really would like to settle down here in the future when Tibet eventually gets entirely free. Things I loved in Tibet:
By going to Tibet by train we could admire the beautiful and extraordinary scenery which simply made our days and took our breath away. The reflection of crystal clear sky and Tibetan mountains in the surface of water were simply unreal! The words can’t really express the beauty of this place.
2) Tibetan locals
Unfortunately, travel regulations in Lhasa limited remarkably our interactions with Tibetans. I faced the tightest restrictions regarding our contact with locals from all the countries I have ever travelled to. Me and Cez were forbidden from visiting a Tibetan home, have a proper conversation with Tibetans (including monks) or even have a dinner with them. According to Chinese authorities, it has been done for our protection but we knew they didn’t want us to sympathize with Tibetans or witness the political tension.
Nevertheless, despite all these restrictions we were still able to get to know some Tibetans visiting local tea houses, monasteries and being introduced to locals by our travel guide. I learnt a lot about Tibetans and noticed how they differ from Chinese in terms of language skills (almost everyone was able to speak English), manners (no smacking while eating, spitting, etc.), knowledge (they know so much about European countries, customs and world’s history) and personality (they are much friendlier than Chinese).
Based on my observation I could say Tibetans are extremely hospitable. Despite Chinese oppression and a ban on talking with foreigners they still wanted to get to know us, say hello, whisper something to us, welcome us to their homeland and wish us a great time in Lhasa. Moreover, they are very religious and extremely friendly.
When we visited local tea house we were offered highland milk tea and some yak soup by the host. People were extremely nice to us; talking, cracking jokes and telling us various Tibetan stories. We have been also explained what the main principles of Buddhism religion are and how Tibetans live by these rules. We were all sitting at the big table and drinking a large amount of Tibetan tea having some snacks :). Locals seemed to be so polite.
While being in Lhasa, I could see how strong Buddhism religion is in both monastic communities and among Tibetan people.
There are many religious activities in Lhasa such as pilgrimages which are extremely popular here, and during which Tibetans constantly reaped prayers holding rosaries in their hands. There are also a lot of different festivals and important ceremonies such as funerals or public prayers.
What I liked the most were the prayer flags coming in sets of five, one in each of five colours (blue symbolizes sky, green air, red fire, white water and yellow earth). Tibetans write their prayers there. Thanks to these flags Tibet looks so colourful!
Tibetan architecture is a mix of Chinese and Indian styles expressing a deep Buddhist approach. I loved how colourful the doors and windows could be.
The most unusual thing is that most of monasteries, houses and building are being built on elevated, sunny sites facing the south. They are mainly built with cement, rocks and earth. I was blown away by the power of Buddhism and the design of Tibetan temples and houses. Tibet is simply the most colourful and magical place on the Earth.
5) Local food
Traditional Tibetan cuisine is mainly based on dairy products (yak milk and cheese), yak meat and barley. What I have noticed is that vegetables and fruits are scarce in such a high altitude and street drinks and snacks, in contrast to China, are rarely available. You can dine out in restaurants instead enjoying their beautiful Tibetan design.
Momos are traditional dumplings (very similar to Chinese jiaozi or baozi) filled with meat or vegetables. You can get them fried or boiled depending on your preferences. They are served with oil and pepper sauce, yummy! The best drink for momos is salty milk tea.
Lhasa Beer is considered to be the first Tibetan beer available to the world. It is made with the finest ingredients such as Saaz hops, yeast, Himalayan Spring Water and Tibetan barley.
Our itinerary was divided into 3 parts:
1) Visiting Lhasa Street
When I got to the Barkhor street continuously starring at these extremely religious people and suddenly… I simply stopped for a while, turned my camera off, sat down on the ground and carried on watching them thinking “I’ve never ever in my life been so godly”. It blew me away. Believe me or not, but these people inspired me in some way and I had tears in my eyes while looking at them. That’s something you can’t really describe.
2) Visiting Lhasa temples (Jokhang Temple)
We spent nearly all day exploring local temples, starting from Jokhang Temple where our travel guide took us. The Jokhang Temple is the holiest site in Tibetan Buddhism and one of the World Heritage Sites.
3) Exploring Potala Palace
One day was reserved for exploring Potala Palace. There was limitation of the number of tourists entering the Potala Palace every day. The reason being, it is made with clay and wood and it becomes too fragile and it isn’t able to carry too many people at the same time. The visiting time was limited too.
Observing Tibetan monks pray and debate in their monastery was one of the best Lhasa experiences for me. They were talking really loud, laughing and jumping like crazy using their hands to explain things. This was my first time to see a monk so I will never forget it.
The Sad Truth about Tibet
During our stay in Lhasa we were surrounded by police. Cordons of guards in uniforms, army men and most likely some officials in their civvies. They’ve been standing everywhere we looked and seemed serious. Too serious for the centre of religious and tourist destination. They were not looking for us, they were looking for lighters. The little things you use to light up a cigarette if you smoke.
Only few days before our arrival two young Tibetans chose self-immolation over the constant oppression. Can you imagine the pain they’ve gone through? If so, imagine they have chosen it. They did it for a reason, for a manifest, for a protest. Statement so bold that it shouldn’t be extinguished by ignorance. All of the officers are equipped with fire extinguishers and have some water and blankets nearby at their disposal. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not to save the lives of those who choose to die. They are there to safeguard the image of China in the eyes of international community.
My website: http://etramping.com
Agness is a Polish vagabond who, after graduation, left her comfort zone and set off for a journey of her lifetime to China in 2011. She has been constantly travelling the world since then (slowly, but surely as she says), living like a local for less than $25 a day. She became a photography passionate and adventure blogger sharing her life enthusiasm and travel experience with everyone around.