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.
Really lovely, large frame photos. Quite enjoyed it. Thanks. And the people… you can just tell from the smiles this is a place not to be missed.
Which means, I need to add it to my list.
Thank you! People were amazing 🙂 You can tell it when looking at the photos.
Tibet has always fascinated me, although I think that is now a Tibet of the past. Still, I have wondered what it would be like to go there, so I really enjoyed and appreciated your personal post and all the pictures. It must be a very special place. Thank you:)!
It is a special place and it also fastinated me a lot 🙂 that’s why I did all I could to get there 🙂
I wish I could get back there. This post brings back so many great memories!
Great post, Agness! I love the pictures too. I never made it to Tibet. When I was living in China it was closed to foreigners most of the time and when I went back last year I ended up not going because I was really getting annoyed with the government constantly closing different areas seemingly at random. A lot of the Tibetan places in Sichuan and Qinghai kept closing right before I could get there; and once they even closed a city while I was on the bus. I arrived and they refused to let me into town, so I had to stay on the highway and wait for a ride to anywhere else.
So I just gave up and went to Xinjiang for the second time instead. The Uyghur people there have a lot in common with the Tibetans in that they’re being treated very similarly.
Yeah, it felt so frustrating when Chinese government was closing, then opening and closing again the border. The Tibet travel regulations were constantly changing and it made us mad!! That’s a pitty you didn’t make it, ;-(
These pictures are absolutely incredible.
I really like them and do want to get there now!!
Thanks for making me traveling with your amazing pictures.
Thanks Pierre. I’m so glad you like the photos. Can send you some on your e-mail :):)
I would love to go there, I bet its such an amazing place. At the same time I think it would make me sad to see what China has done! Imagine going there before China took over…would be magical!
I get you. When we came back from Tibet to China we felt so sad about what we saw in Lhasa 🙁 but we couldn’t talk about it with anyone.
What can I say about Lhasa, its such a magical place. Just get blown away by looking at these amazing photos of the place. I cannot say anything about the beer but those momos look too amazing to me. I love these traditional dumplings.
Beautiful photos and what a special place to visit, lovely post!
Thank you Becky! It is indeed a lovely and special place to explore.
Thank you for sharing Agness! I loved the stories and the photos. The people often make a trip, don’t they? x
They do! I keep saying “I doesn’t matter where you are, it matters who you are with!” 😛
Great story. Really enjoyed it. Beautiful photos. The one of Cez showing a camera to a local woman is my favorite 🙂
Would go to Tibet anytime, but the issues with getting travel permit hold me from doing it…
Tibet is one of those places I’ve dreamed of visiting from as far back as I can remember. The closest we’ve gotten to Tibet was working with Tibetan refugees in McLeod Ganj in Dharamsala, India (unfortunately when we visited China in March 2010, Tibet was closed off for two months due to the anniversary of the 2008 protests). Your photos and stories brought back so many happy memories of our time their teaching and have made us want to make it to Tibet even more! Thank you! x
These are seriously gorgeous photos! I’ve really been wanting to visit Tibet, but the restrictions around travel there are a bit intimidating to me. It’s encouraging to know that you had an incredible experience in spite of some of the limitations that are in place.
If you really wanna go somewhere, nothing and nobody can stop you, but I agree – the restrictions around travel there are intimidating.
WOW! This is impressive. Seems like you really captured the feeling of the place – great photos!
Thanks a lot! It’s not me, it’s this amazing place, scenery and the atmosphere.
Great Post and Photos! 🙂
We haven’t been to Tibet yet, these photos and your experience makes us wants to go!
I’m glad. Hope you guys can go there one day! 🙂 Absolutely worth it!
I still remembered the day when we went for tibet tour.. there almost everyone so helpful and so kind. love to visit this place again.
Wow, I actually (embarrassingly enough) had no idea it was so difficult to visit Tibet. What an incredible, incredible looking place.
It must be tough living under someone else ideology and politic. How can the world ignore the simple fact that we are all born free and we should know how to live and let it live… This was a very inspiring post. The pictures are amazing
My wife and I really enjoyed Tibet as well, but the oppression the people there endure is staggering. On one hand you have the unmatched beauty of the Himalaya, Buddhism, and the friendly people; and then on the other, soldiers standing on every corner in full military attire with shields and weapons. I got altitude sickness pretty bad while we were there and my wife ended up venturing out in the streets alone… only to return because she was so intimidated by the military. Crazy stuff. I wrote a blog about it myself and managed to snap some pictures of the guards everywhere. http://www.danandholly.com/index.php/2010/10/potw-the-darker-side-of-tibet/
These are fab photos! I’d love to get to Tibet one day, especially as the people seem to be so friendly and the colors are just gorgeous.
Wow! The photos the photos the photos! I never made it to Tibet, only went as far as Yunnan. I was travelling just before the Bejing Olympics and the authorities were going crazy because of the Free Tibet movement. Even in Yunnan you were being carefully watched. Anyhow, yeah, glad you made it and woah! The photos! I love the one with Cez and the local ladies : D That’s one of those pictures he’ll be showing to his kids! : D
Looks like an intriguing place to visit. The scenery looks amazing.
Lhasa is a beautiful place which has a nice weather along with beautifulk monastries. The other best thing about Lhasa it’s food which will probably interest first-time visitors the most. Local favorites include thukpa (noodle soup), momos (dumplings) and bo cha (Tibetan tea). Lhasa has a great mix of cultures its streets bustling with a diverse mix of people.
Terrific read! I knew little about the current state of Tibet so this photo essay gave a beautiful face to the people of the country. Wish I could go, too!
Heartwarming and sad at the same time. Brilliant article. I had dreams of studying spirituality in Tibet, I hope I can achieve that in the future.
Thank you for the great insights. I am going Lhasa in 3 days’ time and am extremely excited about it! It’s nice to hear that Lhasa is such a wonderful place and at the same time know about there plight. Wish you all the best in your future travels!
Really nice read and great photos!
I’m not dying before I visit Tibet. I visited Dharamshala, in India, where a lot of Tibetans and the Tibetan government in exile reside.. but I’m eager to see “the real deal” sometime!
Seems you have been to many places. I like this post about Tibet and it brought my memories back. Thanks for sharing this piece of words. I have seen your destinations but seems haven’t been to Nepal yet. You must give it a try, it’s one of the greatest destinations for backpackers.
It’s sad how such pretty places have such heartbreaking pasts. Whats more sad is that the past still taunts them. I hope to visit Tibet. A similar feeling I had on my visit to Ladakh.
Hej Agnieszko 🙂 Miło wiedzieć, że ktoś z naszego kraju podziela zainteresowania! Planujemy z przyjaciółką podróż po Azji, przydałby się ktoś doświadczony kto mógłby udzielić dobrych rad. Czy mogłabyś skontaktować się ze mną mailowo? Z góry dziękuję!
Maja z Krakowa 🙂
Tibetan Buddhism is fascinating, and it’s non-violence foundation stands in stark contrast to the Chinese invasion and oppression. The Potala Palce is where the Dalai Lama used to live and from where he presided over the Tibetans. I wonder if he will ever see it again? He is one the people in the world who I admire the most.
I have longed to visit Tibet for many years, and I hope I will go there some day. The Tibetans are so strong and I admire them for staying compassionate and peaceful while being occupied, which is what they really are. The Potala Palace is where the Dalai Lama lived before he was forced to flee.