Trip through Tibet in September of the 2010

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Trip through Tibet in September of the 2010

@ Photos and travel story sent by Antonio Panadero, you can see much more of him in http://www.flickr.com/photos/tonipanadero/

Our stay in the Autonomous State of Tibet consisted of a five-day stopover that was part of a larger trip that several people took to China for almost two months. The group was formed by five friends, who after visiting Tibet and several days in Lijiang, we separated in Yangshuo, my wife and I continued to Macao, Hong Kong and Shanghai, while the rest returned to Spain.

Entrance permit and views of the Himalayas from the plane upon arrival in Lhasa
Entrance permit and views of the Himalayas from the plane upon arrival in Lhasa

Before flying to China we prepare an itinerary from home with the route we wanted to do, collecting information from guides, specialized magazines and of course the internet. We organize everything on our own, we had to pre-book hotels in almost every city (http://memarchodeviaje.com) and internal flights whose dates would mark the days of arrival and departure, including round trip Lhasa, capital of Tibet. It was a short visit but with long bureaucratic procedures. First we ask for visas at the Chinese embassy in Madrid, and then an entry permit that is mandatory to be able to fly to Tibet. Westerners have been banned for many years because of the political conflict that exists in the area, so we decided to take advantage of the opening made by the Chinese government recently, although this considerably increased the economic budget of the trip. However before going there, you have to make sure that the situation has not changed. Both at the end of the 2010 and today the Chinese government tries to prevent anyone from traveling to Tibet on their own .// //

To get permission we had to pay a tour, because nobody gets it if you do not hire them, without a tour contracted with a defined itinerary there is no permission. Obtaining it was not too difficult, you just had to give a series of data, dates and pay for a tourist package to a travel agency. We decided on one that among other things did not include lunch or dinner, so we could walk freely through Lhasa and have lunch or dinner wherever we wanted. We contract with Sims Cozy Travel A package for about 800 USD per person for five days that included: transportation, guide, driver, jeep and accommodation with breakfast.

Tibetan buildings located on the road from the airport to Lhasa
Tibetan buildings located on the road from the airport to Lhasa

It depends on the needs of each one, you hire more or less services with the agency to save costs, for example if you are only going to visit Lhasa you do not need a jeep, just guide, because in addition to the fact that hiring is mandatory, you can only access the temples if you are accompanied by one of them.

They are usually local Tibetans with an average level of English, who thus obtain economic income. Once you have hired the whole package, the agency sends you an email with all the detailed itinerary and with the things that the service includes or not. We already had the TTB (Tibet Entry Permit) to enter Tibet.

The booking of flights according to our travel forecasts was also managed by the agency. The one-way flight (3 hours) was from Xian, Chengdu scale, and cost 200 USD per person, while the departure flight was to Lijiang and cost 235 USD with discount included according to the mail they sent us. There are multiple low cost airlines in China (Sichuan Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, China Western Airlines, among others), we fly with Air China.

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It is obvious that traveling to Tibet is not cheap, to be five days we had already paid a thousand euros without having yet left Valencia. It should also include expenses for meals, dinners, tips, etc. We booked a basic package, our main interest was to get to know the Tibetan people and culture, their religion, see the former residence of the Dalai Lama and ultimately observe the life of the Tibetans.

We ruled out hiring trekking through the Himalayan mountain range, getting to know more remote towns or going to the Everest base camp as other travelers do for practical reasons of time, our trip was all over China and not just the Tibet region.

In addition, the personal priorities of the group were not inclined towards this type of activities regarding the trip. Despite the impressive nature of Tibet is inseparable from its culture and religion, we hired a one-day excursion to see lakes, mountains, yaks, etc ...

The fact of not being able to travel on your own smears the spiritual and mystical image that we all have to a greater or lesser extent of Tibet because of its history and the cultural references that show it to us as a semi-sacred place. However, it did not make us lose the illusion or give up the trip, it was worth doing the added effort.

El Best time to visit Tibet in my opinion is between mid-September and October. The weather is mild considering the height we are, and it is not too cold or too hot, the sky is clear, clean, sunny and allows you to see the mountain ranges of the Himalayas.

FLIGHT TO LHASA

After about 45min. In a minivan we arrive at Xian airport at 08.00 in the morning. After showing the passport in the luggage check-in line and saying that our destination was Lhasa, two policemen separate us to a different queue, claiming us passports and entry permit. After check it all three times and one more just in case we fill in a document with questions like profession, reasons for the trip, hotel where we are staying, etc… they check the luggage and make sure that we are not a team of incognito European journalists who try to record a clandestine report on Tibet.

The activity never stops on Backhor Street
The activity never stops on Backhor Street

They ask if we carry professional recording cameras, right now I'm glad I filled out the form with a fake profession (administrative assistant), and not as a journalist working for a Spanish TV network, and thus avoid possible bureaucratic problems. Then a policeman asks me to accompany him to an attached office to sign a document of responsibility of the group and in which you claimed to have no political or journalistic intentions on your trip to Tibet. Finally after almost half an hour they return the entry permit and we access the waiting room of the flight. We are all somewhat excited and anxious, in a few hours we will be in Lhasa.

The flight leaves on time, runs quietly, after the tension of the airport everyone sleeps except me, from my window seat there are spectacular views of the Himalayas, you can see perfectly the languages ​​of the glaciers and the lakes that dot the slopes from the empty mountains of vegetation. On this air route we did not pass near Everest, however a few months later on a flight between New Delhi and Kathmandu (Nepal) I was lucky enough to see it and even take a picture of it.

Until September of the 2013, the Gonggar airport in Lhasa was the only way to enter Tibet by air, recently travel pages published that the Changdu Bangda airport, located at 4.411 meters of altitude, the highest altitude airport in the world, has been inaugurated . It is located in the Tibetan province of Sichuan and flights depart from Chengdu, just like if you fly to Lhasa. This new route opens up new possibilities on future trips to Tibet.

ARRIVAL IN LHASA

At the exit of Gonggar airport Our guide for Tibet was waiting for us with a sign in hand, after the initial greetings he accompanied us to the minivan to introduce us to the driver. Both were local Tibetans, as almost always the driver doesn't know any English and just takes the wheel. They presented the typical image, thin, short, black hair and skin obscured by the intense sun. Almost all seem quite older than they really are due to deep wrinkles and faces quartered by the sun. The guide told us his name was Norbu, he wore secility, dark cloth pants, dusty black shoes, white shirt and red cotton vest. Formal appearance but poor image.

Street stalls on Backhor Street where to buy souvenirs
Street stalls on Backhor Street where to buy souvenirs

They loaded their bags in the van and then welcomed us with a Tibetan style ceremony putting on each one the Khata. Norbu explained to us during the trip to the hotel that the Khata It is a traditional scarf typical of Tibetan culture, which symbolizes purity and compassion, although in our case in particular it represented the principle of our relationship or friendship with him. They are made of silk and are white to show the pure heart of the one who offers it. While they put it around your neck they say the expression Tashi Delek (good luck). We will not stop seeing them in many places during the next days in Tibet. It is the equivalent of Aloha and the Hawaiian flower necklace.

El Airport is located about 70 km from LhasaWe had almost an hour's drive until we reached the hotel. On the way Norbu began to give us a series of tips for our stay in Tibet that we had to keep. Although his English was quite correct, the accent he had made it very difficult for us to have a fluent conversation with him, some things he had to repeat several times and together we tried to translate them, sometimes we directly smiled without having any idea what he had told us. Anyway it was very clear that no photos to the Chinese police and military in Lhasa, and it was no joke. They could even take off the camera.

In the rest of China there is usually no problem in photographing police or soldiers on duty in the main tourist monuments of the country, I had done several in the surroundings of the city Forbidden in Beijing, but this warning made us realize that here the situation was very different. After gaining confidence with us, he denounced us the social and cultural invasion that the Chinese government is carrying out against his people, the transformation that Lhasa is turning into another Chinese city, identical to the rest, of gray and monotonous buildings, thanks to a policy expansionist that encourages internal immigration from the rest of the Chinese provinces, trying to end the universal referent of Buddhism, with the peculiar feature, typical of this country and its people.

Prayer flags and scarves anywhere in Tibet
Prayer flags and scarves anywhere in Tibet

I also advise on the bad height, Lhasa is at 3.500m high, and when arriving by plane there is no progressive acclimatization as if you arrive by train. You are advised that the first day do not make efforts, do not shower until the next day, fatigue is usually greater, it is good to hydrate, and better if it is with water. Some suffer from a prolonged headache, I only noticed a certain tachycardia or feeling some shortness of breath when lying in bed the first night, after that the remaining days were absolutely normal.

After a while of conversation about weather and other more trivial issues, he detailed the plan for that day and the next. We had the afternoon off once we stayed, to get to know Lhasa and acclimatize to the altitude. The next day after breakfast at the hotel he would pick us up for the excursion hired at Yamdork Lake.

During the journey in the van we were surprised by a very arid landscape, with little vegetation, only some poplar beside the river Yearlong Tsangpo It borders much of the road. Deserted mountains without trees, some with snow on the tops. The sky of an intense blue color, without any cloud. We cross very few towns, only solitary huts made of gray brick, many unpainted, others painted in white, without finishing, of a single floor, without any concession to the aesthetic or the ornament beyond the ubiquitous Lung ta or Tibetan prayer flags.

The roads in general are in good condition, especially compared to nearby countries such as Nepal, but driving is reckless As in almost all of Asia. Risky overtaking without full visibility or cornering, or three vehicles at the same time on the road, the one that advances, the forward and the one that comes in the opposite direction, trucks and buses between them. However, there is a lot of respect for speed limits for fear of fines, which means they don't go very fast. At the entrance of the city a police control forces to pass very slowly, the Chinese military let us pass without any complications after performing a visual check from outside to the occupants of the car.

Potala Palace front view
Potala Palace front view

We arrived at Lhasa Kangdro Hotel (Raosai First Lane-Raosai Yi Xiang), is located in the Tibetan part of Lhasa, in the old city, five minutes walk from the street Backhor and of the temple Johkang, the nerve center of Lhasa, and the main center of Tibetan Buddhism. Our hotel has three floors and is decorated in Tibetan style. According to the agency it is three stars, it must be scaled according to Tibetan quality, but although austere it is clean and beautiful. The staff consists of two or three local Tibetans with English proficiency and a lot of kindness and sympathy. We carry our bags up to the rooms several times and slowly, there is a private bathroom and hot water in each room and the decoration in red and orange colors, with Buddhas, flowers and all the Buddhist iconography is fantastic.

We checked in and they gave us some welcome tea bowls. The Hotel choice in Lhasa is essential, the western part of the capital resembles all the Chinese cities we had seen before, with an architecture of identical concrete blocks and shops and without any grace at all. However, in the center you can breathe the atmosphere of an ancient city, it is closed to road traffic, and you have the main temples within walking distance, it is undoubtedly the best possible option. There is a wide offer of this type of Tibetan hotels, all very similar in price and aesthetics in this area of ​​the city.

We said goodbye to the guide until the next day at 09.00 in the morning and left the hotel for Backhor street. We have had luck with Norbu, he has no interest in accompanying us around the city, he will only be with us on excursions and visits to the temples, so we can go to our own air as long as we do not leave Lhasa. The city center remains intact despite the advance of Chinese government architecture, it is composed of narrow streets with Tibetan architecture that form a large market where you can buy fruit, meat, almost everything. They are street stalls, sometimes no more than a cart. You can observe the traditional Tibetan people and culture. The Yak's butter smell is very intense, it permeates everything and take a while to get used to it. Light and telephone wires swirl around the poles and street lamps.

View of the Potala Palace from the distance
View of the Potala Palace from the distance

We bought some bananas from a Tibetan woman, who still uses the old manual scales to weigh them. The pieces of beef and yak are exposed without any sanitary measure, on top of a wood that makes an improvised counter, and without any refrigeration. Most of the women we meet are wearing a hat to protect themselves from the sun and a mask in their mouths, which I couldn't figure out what they were wearing for. They have an austere dress, with dark clothes, but always with some elements of an intense color, almost always red, the wrinkled skin of the elderly contrasts with the smooth and pink skin of the little ones, the looks are very deep and the sincere gestures , or at least that was our first perception.

After walking five minutes we access Backhor street down an alley. The image leaves us all shocked, suddenly we are in the middle of the Tibetan religious epicenter, hundreds of pilgrim devotees walk clockwise through the outer periphery of the Temple of Johkang as they turn their Prayer Wheel. The next day Norbu told us that they must go around the temple three times before entering, many come walking from remote and very remote regions of Tibet, in addition many make their way here by falling down on the ground in prayer every three steps. Some of them walk clockwise from dawn to darkness.

Surround the Temple of Johkang, they are praying while they walk completely outside the westerners who observe them astonished, after about ten minutes in shock we decided to go around the temple (in the same direction) and we started to take some pictures. There are pilgrims of all ages, elders with white and sharp beards, with a stick like cane and orange tunic, who seem to have come out of some TV series, women with children in their arms, some barefoot. We stop just like them in front of the temple of Johkang to see how they lie on the floor to do their prayers. The atmosphere has a strange force of spiritual magnetism, the reverential attitude of the pilgrims in front of the temple as it begins to get dark creates an intense moment.

Views of the Muslim quarter in Tibet
Views of the Muslim quarter in Tibet

All this magic is broken when we begin to realize that almost all the roofs of the houses are taken by Chinese military posts in a warlike attitude, with weapons in hand and an obvious tension. The attentive and menacing military gaze of the Chinese army is present in all places of Lhasa. Patrols of four or five soldiers kick the streets or change the guard following the protocol of passwords, something very indicative that for the Chinese government this is a pre-war zone. This contrasts radically with the Tibetan devotees who roam around Backhor street. At that time we were aware of the repressive and restocking policy that Beijing It takes place in this area of ​​the planet.

The pilgrims do not stop Spin your Prayer Wheels, this golden metal tube is a sacred object for Tibetan Buddhism. A roll of paper on which a mantra is written is mounted on top on a stick, turning it clockwise is as if they were reciting the mantra. We also see that there are many Buddhist monks making the turns around the temple. We walk around the esplanade in which the Backhor street In front of the temple. There are two or three large furnaces or burners where smoke comes out continuously by burning incense as a form of prayer, we see many pilgrims praying next to the flags, there is a large crowd of people, large wooden masts of more than 15 meters crowned with fabrics with the colors of Tibet stand out in the sky of the square. The houses are all the same, of one or two heights, painted white with a red roof finish and the adornment fabrics in the windows with the usual colors. They all have a branch on the roof with colored flags with the sacred Buddhist texts.

Details of Johkang temple
Details of Johkang temple

After a while we look for a dining room, in a corner of the square Backhor we see the New Mandala restaurant, a two-story restaurant, and a terrace with awning with very good views over the square and the temple Johkang at the bottom. It is a Nepalese restaurant that is entered through a small side door, up the stairs, the restaurant is on the second floor, the interior is decorated with mandala murals. We found no place on the terrace, we sat at a table inside. We take a look at the menu in English. It is noted that it is a popular restaurant among tourists, there are quite a few people, some of them locals. After a quick glance you realize that the New mandala is Typical Asian restaurant with a variety of dishes, Indian, Nepalese, Chinese, Tibetan cuisine, international dishes, generous portions and popular prices for tourists. Friendly service but clueless and somewhat disorganized, there are continually girls going up and down the stairs with trays full of dishes, in general there is a little lack of hygiene from the Western perspective and some baths as almost always disastrous.

We decided to share all the dishes, we ordered curried yak with white rice, chicken masala, lots of nan, vegetable curries and dumplings. We see a bottle of white wine in the display and we decide to ask for it, first we tell it to a girl who looks at us surprised, she talks to someone behind the bar and shows us the bottle, we ask her for an equal but fresh and she tells us that she can't Being, who is the only one that has it, we then ask for an ice bucket, he leaves and a third different girl comes in a minute and tells us that he can't sell it to us because it is ornate or exposed, or something like that we think we understand In the end we ordered some beers for everyone. The Food is reasonably good, without great display, but correct. Of six to twelve euros on average It is usually the price of this type of restaurants. We have tea and we walk to the hotel, looking up to look for stars in a clear sky with little pollution, the streets are empty and silent, it's not too late, maybe nine o'clock at night. Exhausted for the whole day we go to bed.

YAMDORK LAKE

We get up and 24 hours later we can finally take a shower again. We went down to breakfast and Norbu is already waiting for us, the breakfast is European, based on eggs, potatoes, toast and coffee or tea.

Yamdork Lake
Yamdork Lake

We leave Lhasa in a minivan, at the exit of the city, after passing in front of Potala's palacein Jiangsu Road We have almost to stop to dodge some cows that walk freely along the road. We leave the city, just after crossing the river bridge, we are struck by stairs painted on the rock walls of the mountains, it seems to be a symbol of the spiritual ascent to which Tibetan Buddhists must surrender. Later we stopped with some lung ta o Prayer Flags, which are those rectangular pieces of colored cloth, which are often found in hilly passages and Himalayan peaks. They were in a small mound beside the road with several Tibetans selling souvenirs and fruit. We take some pictures and continue on our way to the lake. At the time of travel when asking for a service the guide points us smiling all the extension of nature that we have in front of us, we lower all the men, bad luck for the girls.

Almost two hours after leaving the hotel we come to lake Yamdork, to get here you have to climb a road in good condition although somewhat narrow, which winds its way up the slopes of the mountains.

The lake is quite wide, it is almost 5.000 m high, the Water is a turquoise blue and reflects the clouds like a mirror It was. It is one of the three sacred lakes of Tibet, is considered as a God by the Tibetans. On the other side of the lake you can see a small town with three or four houses on the side of the mountain. We went down and immediately two or three girls approaching trying to sell us water or some soda. This is common in places where tourists appear, but at all they are aggressive, or very heavy, as is the case with their Chinese compatriots, in fact in Lhasa nobody approaches you to buy anything, they are on their stalls and when you are interested in something already establish contact with you.

The surroundings of the sacred lake of Yamdork
The surroundings of the sacred lake of Yamdork

There are a couple of families, and two or three booths, many yaks lying on the shore, some Tibetan mastiff and many Prayer Flags. They offer you a barge ride or take pictures with them, or with kids that girls use as pets. We took the typical photos on the back of a yak, there was a misunderstanding with the price, the discussion went to adults, not for the price but for the attitude of the owner of the animals, after a bitter discussion, he did not charge the money that I was waiting and I think I would take a spit on my back. However it is an anecdote, the vast majority of people are infinitely friendly and kind.

Tras un an hour and a half trekking around the lake area We went back to Lhasa. We arrived mid-afternoon and said goodbye to Norbu and the driver until the next day. We tried to tip them for the tour, but they insisted that if we wanted to give them something, it was at the end of the trip, the last day. We went for a walk around the city. To the east of the alleys of the old town you find the Muslim quarter of Lhasa, in a couple of streets the smell of yak butter has disappeared, the faces are different, without such marked Tibetan features, men and women dress according to Muslim custom, they have their own markets and businesses, they do not seem to live on tourism, nor have any relationship with the rest of the city, we see women working with their sewing machines in the street, butchers (or as close as possible) and even waiting for parents to leave the children's school, as in any city in the world .

Let's go to the new part of the city, the street Beijing Dong Lu It delimits the old area in the north of Lhasa, this street is open to traffic and there is a lot of noise from the horns of the endless motorcycles. The devout and ceremonial environment of the surroundings of Backhor disappears quickly. Here we saw tourists, local people, Chinese from other provinces, some Buddhist monk carried on a tricycle, mothers with children in their arms going or coming from shopping. We were very struck by the fact that the pants worn by babies or still small children have a slit or opening from top to bottom in the area of ​​the middle of the ass, when they have a need, the mothers squat them on the floor , the opening is wide by dropping everything to the ground, when they finish, up and keep going. No doubt diapers are underestimated throughout China.

Beijing Dong Lu It is full of shops and bars in Western style, We enter the Dunya balcony & bar, restaurant on the first floor, has a magnificent terrace in the pub on the top floor. We had huge coffees on the terrace overlooking the street enjoying the rest. After we entered another place in an adjacent alley with a great inner courtyard, we stayed until dusk taking some gintonics. Back to the hotel walking quietly, in an alley we see how they stretch some wool threads of more than 20 meters, amazing everything they do with very old rudimentary machinery or tools. Exhausted we arrived at the hotel wanting to sleep, but they are doing the Singapore F1 Grand Prix for Chinese TV and we stayed in a room all to see how Alonso wins.

VISIT TO THE JOHKANG TEMPLE

We leave the hotel on foot, in five minutes we arrive at the Backhor street, we approached the temple with Norbu, friendly and helpful as he always begins to tell us things like that is Unesco's cultural heritage, when it was built, etc ... The surroundings are the place of concurrence of merchants, in Backhor street there is a whole street market on the sidewalks and behind these stalls there are more stores. Its circular layout, surrounding the temple of Johkang, it becomes the meeting point par excellence of the city, devout Buddhists gather performing religious rites to fulfill their desires, sellers of ethnic crafts and people who fulfill the ancestral Tibetan customs.

Religion, culture, economy and tradition intersect in this street that is both a market and a holy place of prayer. A curious mix. He they sell masks, belts, shoes, jewelry, clothing, knives, coins, relics of Buddhist iconography and crafts in general. By night is transformed into a night market, the lights come on, food is offered and you can see the last pilgrims of the day, and the last stores to close that customers rush.

We queue while Norbu gets us the tickets, Tibetans of all ages from all over the country, concentrate around the entrance to pray, bowing his body again and again, continually whispering the mantra Om Peanut Padme Hum ("The jewel in the lotus" Buddhist mantra that purifies pride, envy and hatred) as they turn their Prayer Wheel. Once again we witnessed the extraordinary religious fervor that dominates everything in Tibet.

El temple of Johkang It has 4 floors with a splendid facade from which large fabrics with Tibetan symbols hang. Above the fabrics on the red-painted roof you can see the figure of two large golden deer representing the man and the woman, and in the center a large Dharma wheel. Both are characteristic elements of Buddhist temples, presiding over the entrances regardless of the country where they are located, Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, India, etc ...

Upon entering Norbu, he points out that there is a ceremony of monks that takes place on certain occasions, and that we are very fortunate to be able to witness it. It tells us that you have to remain silent and photos are not allowed during the ceremony We have Quickly accessed the temple by the queue of tourists, the line of pilgrims is a swarm compared to ours, some monks regulate the access of the pilgrims, who literally cram together next to the inner walls of the temple to deposit those present and make their prayers to the innumerable images of glazed buddha inside. In all Tibetan temples and monasteries, pilgrims leave offerings such as yak butter in large bowls with lighted wicks, also deposit notes at the foot of each of the statues of the different Buddhas and sometimes white cloth or even beer.

In the center of the room there are forty or fifty monks in the yellow hat sect sitting in a row on the floor (those giant hats with a very recognizable doormat spice) that sound Tibetan trumpets, a kind of copper horn of several meters long. It consists of several pieces that fit together. While they continually murmur the mantra, the Pilgrims deposit money in front of each of the monks. The sound they produce sounds serious, deep, you can almost feel it on the skin. The interior decoration is rich in gold and ornamental elements. The red color is the basis for countless images and floral details. The walls of the temple are a succession of chapels, rooms and various tabernacles.

We pass to an open interior patio, we go up to the roof, the view from the roof is awesome, you can see the whole square Backhor with the pilgrims in constant motion, with the Potala Palace in the background and beyond the mountains that surround Lhasa. Golden finishes stand out throughout the temple's roof. On the roof there are Prayer Flags and large golden pinnacles with written mantras. Also striking are all the golden figures in the form of Buddhas and dragons that surround the rooftops.

La Temple visit has been a great experience, we have spent the morning flying and we decided to go to eat, we said goodbye to Norbu on departure and we met for the next day for visit to Potala's palace. We eat in a restaurant near the back of the temple, it has a structure similar to almost all restaurants in Lhasa, a narrow entrance, access stairs and several floors crowned by a terrace. We sit at a table from which you can see how the pilgrims revolve around Johkang, the customers are all tourists, the waitress is helpful and quite young and beautiful, we ask for several dishes to share among all (dumplings, chicken curry, spicy vegetables and beer). We ate and made a long coffee table, then went to the hotel to rest, and maybe a nap. Later we went for a walk around the city to see the sunset, we bought some fruit in a street stall to dine in the room and returned to the hotel.

THE POTALA PALACE

We get up at 07.00 in the morning, Narbu picks us up in the minivan after breakfast and we approach the Potala's palace. After leaving us at the door, he goes with the driver to pick up some Russian tourists to another hotel. It is quite early and although the day is sunny, it is cool. Must get to the temple before it opens the doorsIn addition, you have to reserve the ticket and be on the access list, which the guide did. It is important to be early why only open two hours a day in the morning. I think I remember that the entrance cost about ten euros.

Located the Red Mountain, in the center of the street Beijing East Road, it is impressive to look up over this palace at the entrance, it looks like an immense walled castle of two colors. A compact fortress symbol of the Tibetan nation. It is without a doubt the dominant element of Lhasa, presides over the city from the mount Potakala, is the first thing that impresses you, which captures the first glances in the city. Norbu tells us on the way to the interior access door that was the official residence of the Dalai Lama until the Chinese occupation, which forced him to flee to India. We feel that Norbu's attitude is of complete reverence and respect from the same entrance. The main feature of the temple is its incredible dimensions, almost 120 meters high and 13 floors, and of course the two colors that make it up: the Red Palace and the White Palace. The interior is quite dark, there are multiple rooms many of them closed or forbidden access. You can only take pictures in the open interior courtyards, none inside.

The decoration is very ornate and the air is dense with strong smells of incense, butter and beer that is used for offerings to some Buddhas. Norbu tries to explain in detail the entire operation of the temple. He names us the innumerable gods or Buddhas and their functions, the sacred places we are going through, explaining each room and the meaning of everything we see, but his accent prevents us from minimally understanding, manages to exasperate us and although he has very good intention and he repeats everything several times, in the end we chose to give up his explanations, ask him to shut up and be able to enjoy everything we were seeing. If it would be difficult enough to assimilate such a large amount of information in such a short time in your own language, imagine without understanding anything they are telling you. There are Huge Buddhas several meters high, all gold, spread over a multitude of rooms. The Potala PalaceLike the rest of the main Tibetan pilgrimage sites, it is well stocked with riches, its presence behind the glazed urns is evident and we have not quite understood the contrast between all these riches and the misery and poverty of Tibetan devout people.

It seems that money is absolutely necessary for the Tibetan religious system to be maintained, and is achieved through the donations of the faithful to the temples and the monks. In Potala You can also see a lot of historical relics and sacred scriptures for Buddhists. Inside the colors are red, white and golden yellow, large Tibetan drums hang from the ceilings. The private quarters of the Dalai Lama remain intact because of the symbolic hope of a possible return, although it may not seem very likely. The visit takes between one and two hours to complete due to the enormous dimensions.

The exit of the temple is done from the rear, while you go down the stretches of the wide exterior stairs, stopping to observe the panoramic view of the new city. In the lower part of the temple the pilgrims who have descended from Potala They perform their prayers on the Wheels of Life that surround the palace. Often these wheels adorn Buddhist temples, describe suffering and rebirth, it is based on the very Buddhist idea of ​​reincarnation. They contain the sacred texts of Tibetan Buddhism and when they are turned, once more clockwise, the prayers are heard. We spend a lot of time observing people, who with traditional clothes and between continuous murmurs turns the wheels, many pilgrims stop in front of paintings of different Buddhist deities on the temple wall. There they make different offerings in devout attitude. We leave and take a walk around, in front of the palace there is a large square with a monument honoring freedom and the struggle of the Tibetan people.

We decided to walk back to the old area where we have the hotel, we eat something again in the New Mandala restaurant and we spent the last afternoon in Lhasa enjoying people walking through the streets without a specific destination.

TIBET DEPARTURE

We got up very early since the flight to Lijiang was leaving early in the morning, we had breakfast, we lowered our bags and after check out we said goodbye very sadly to the friendly people of the hotel, before we left we had to return the entry permit for Norbu to get it to the travel agency and this to the Chinese government. We took some pictures with the guide at the entrance of the hotel to immortalize the moment. We load the junk and finally we get on the minivan, we soon realize that we have done something late, we have miscalculated the time and we are very fair. We let Norbu know, who tells the driver, and this increases the speed and the “calculated risks”, we have a certain feeling of uneasiness due to the delay we have and driving, despite the early rises it is impossible for us to sleep during the I walk to the airport.

We take the opportunity to solve the pending issue of tips, both are grateful after receiving them. At the end we arrive five minutes before the flight closes, we run from the car to the check-in counters, while the driver unloads and enters the bags. The doors of the airplane access terminal are already open, for very little but we have arrived on time. We say goodbye to Norbu for the last time while we catch our breath and get in line to leave Tibet behind.
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