A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about lhasa

The 'Roof of the World'

Tibet is a land of stunning mountains and Monasteries, with smiling and friendly locals.

overcast 22 °C

Like everywhere in China, Lhasa has undergone dramatic growth in the last ten years. The time when you could once see the Dalai Lama's famous Potala Palace from anywhere in town has gone, yet there are patches where it still retains its ancient charm. In the centre of the old city is an important Buddhist Temple, to which Buddhists from across the country make a pilgrimage. They circle the Temple daily in great numbers, dressed in traditional garb and muttering the Sutras (Buddhist teachings). Many walk only three steps, prostrate themselves, then rise and walk three more steps - in all weathers. Oddly, this painfully slow and physically demanding mode of progress is not just for the temple, but strong believers will do this for their entire journey, no matter the length. Given that it may be many hundreds of miles, it takes not only several months, but also lives.

Tibet is where one gets to see a shadow side of China. Taxis, restaurants and monasteries are fitted with cameras and listening devices, and there are Chinese soldiers, police-checks, SWAT teams and watchers everywhere. We are constantly having our passports and permits checked (six times today), and many have told us how lucky we are to have got in -- there are few western tourists here.

Complete freedom is a well-dressed facade in mainland China, but there is not even a pretence here. Driving times are measured by a police checkpoint or cameras; if you leave your destination and arrive before the prescribed time you are fined. Any house on a tourist route must fly a Chinese flag, and there are propaganda posters of the great leaders of China decorating overpasses and walls. There is even a lush stage production that focuses on the role of a Chinese Princess who became a concubine of the Tibetan King. Chinese tour groups and Tibetan children are taught how the Tibetans lived in poverty and slavery, and were freed by the Chinese. We get a strong sense that the Chinese intend to rewrite history and dominate the Tibetan culture. As if to illustrate the way things are portrayed, were approached by a group of young Chinese women who expressed their surprise at seeing 'foreigners' here. Tony quickly responded, "oh, are you Tibetan then?". They immediately said "No, Chinese", to which he replied "So you are foreigners too?". They were confounded, we were amused.

There is substantial Indian influence here, with an overlap in the food, decoration and utensils. The gold earrings the locals wear are sometimes so heavy, that they have to tie a support for them around their ears! Our Hotel last night was the stuff of nightmares - the overly complicated and brightly coloured decoration on every bloomin' surface was like a bad trip. Our driver's gear stick is charmingly decorated with a frilly multi-coloured crocheted number with matching hand break piece.

The driving here is some of the worst we have seen, and all on mountain roads. Drivers seem to have no fear of death (damn reincarnation...) and casually passes on double yellow lines or seriously blind corners. It appears that one must pass anything in front no matter how dangerous, so the road is a high-stakes game of metallic leap-frog, with buses and trucks jumping in on the action. All is merrily set to the tune of tooting car horns and raucous truck blasts. Our driver, like so many, doesn't seem to know how to use the gears and we grind our teeth as we hear the car struggle up-hill in fourth, horn cheerfully blaring as he attempts to pass a bus on a blind corner without changing down.

Saw the amazing Mt Everest yesterday morning. We drove for an hour to catch sunrise, and were rewarded with a timely break in the clouds. So lucky!! The Himalaya were formed when India broke from Gondwana and careened into Tibet. The bump pushed what was then sea-bed, to the top of the world. The rocks have been under such pressure in places that the striations laid down by an ancient sea are now twisted and knotted like the burls on an old tree. The locals sell fossilised nautilus that they still find at 6000m!

Note regarding China's infrastructure growth: In the last couple of years, they have built 200,000 new bridges, and 1 million tunnels. They are now the most connected country in the world, surpassing the USA in roadage. More is planned as a means to keep up China's extraordinarily high rate of growth.

Not the T-shirt of the day, but a translation from entry to a Tibetan National Park (typos directly copied):

honorable guests
In order to visit your safety, please don' t listen to the staff outside the Strangers into the scenic area,beware of cheated
where by virtue of documents for the tickets, in person use the free of charge .
visitors to the scenic area one vote,the ticket is valid on the day.Sold tickets, no refund
please line up to buy tickets, to maintain the order of scenic spots

Posted by 2kiwisontour 06:59 Archived in China Tagged tibet lhasa potala_palace mt_everest Comments (0)

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