If there’s one magical spot on earth, I can now say without a doubt it’s the land of Tibet. This has been the most amazing experience of my life so far. You know when they say there are places where you feel the special energy, and I’m sure everyone of you have at least experienced this once while traveling. Well, the energy here is beyond everything you have every imagined.
My trip initiated with China, visiting sweaty, dirty, and full of contrasts Beijing. I will write for China in another post, because it really has nothing to do.
So we flew from Beijing to Lhasa and our guide Dhondup was waiting for us at the small and cosy airport with a “Welcome to Tibet” sign and 5 white silk scarfs which he placed over our necks. This is a local welcome tradition.
Since the moment I stepped on Tibet land, looked around in the vast landscape, at the clear sky, took a breath from the crystal clean air, I felt there was something extremely special about this place.
Our hotel, decorated in a traditional Tibetan style was located in the heart of the old city of Lhasa, hidden between the small streets adorned with all kinds of small shops and workshops.
I cannot describe Tibet in a post. Not even in a photo or video report. No one can. You just have to go and feel it. What I can do is just give brief and basic information for the curious and interested in going.
Tibet is a land where people still wear their national costumes and follow their ancestors’ aesthetics and traditions. It has remained one of the few places on earth where people’s values are based on honesty, tradition and religion. I’ve never seen more clean and pure human beings in my life. You can feel it the moment you see it. A 90 year old tibetan, smiling at you all wrinkled and teethless, for example. Or by the look in the eyes of the tibetan child, who’s offering you one of the two grapes he has left in his hands.
I’ve never smiled so much at people, while walking on the street. These people have nothing, but have everything. You just feel an outburst or warmth, love and humbleness.
This in combination with the powerful mountains and mesmerizing landscapes, rivers, waterfalls and valleys all over the country (some mountains are sacred and no one, even locals is allowed to step on them), monasteries with history dating since 7th century, sacred (and the biggest in the world) Buddha statues, thombs made of 4000kg gold and 10000 gems, gives you a feeling no other place can give.
Tibetans are very poor people, but they are happy people. They spend a lot of time praying to Buddha, either in front, around, or inside the temples and monasteries. They are happy with little, but maybe because that’s all they have and all they have seen and known. Most of them never left Tibet. It is very difficult (almost impossible) for them to have an international passport issued. If they do get it by any chance the waiting period is minimum 4 years.
They make money just enough for their basic food menu and as for my surprise to pay their rent. Yes, most Tibetans live on rent, as it turns out that estates are extremely expensive there. Quite a surprise for me.
They have small shops, workshops, stands on the market, or sell their homemade products in front of their house.
The whole city of Lhasa is build in small, short streets with lots of corners, type of a labyrinth. From souvenirs, local food pastries, yak butter stands, fur and mixed goods shops, to the typical two-table restaurant (mainly locals eating there and us 🙂 the city has this vibe and liveliness, but at the same time gives you a feeling of being in the country.
The food is healthier in terms of way of cooking than in China, and separate. A lot of bread products are consumed though, homemade fried potato stands tempting you at every corner, and yak milk cheese bites hanging on a rope like collars. There are many interesting things to try, especially if you go through the muslim market where you can definitely gain 5kg per day if you visit often (our hotel was located just a block away…ouch!).
Local people are extremely beautiful. And I’m not joking here. Their thick, straight, black hair made on a breed (or two), drawing a circle around the head, their perfect, soft, brown skin and extremely deep and beautiful eyes gives them a very special and different from any other nation look.
We were mainly visiting temples and mountains. Jokhang temple, built by king Songtsan Gampo in the 7th century, The Sera Monastery, famous for its monks afternoon “debates”. Actually incredible thing about this place is that there was another meditation monastery hanging in the middle of the rocky mountain above Sera monastery where monks would go up (by foot, no road or any other way) and stay there for 30 years – meditating, without going down to civilization.
We visited the Potala palace – Dalai Lama’s winter residence. Incredible building with very rich history and possesses some of the most important statues and the thombs of most of the previous Dalai Lama’s. These thombs were pure gold and gems. Something so big I’ve never seen in my life.
The Ani Tsankhung nunnery and many others among all that we visited have one thing in common – peace. I could just stay there, in silence, feeling the special air and atmosphere, observing the monks and their beauty and wisdom coming out of them.
Unfortunately taking photographs inside is strictly prohibited, but I assure you, the pictures will stay in your head for long.
The road trip we did to Shigatse was one of the most touchy days of my life. Driving with our mini van through “The road of friendship” to Nepal, we went through some of the most beautiful sceneries I’ve ever seen. (You need to book a driver and a guide, as there’s police stopping you every 30 mins on the road asking for permitions and documents).
The landscapes looked like photoshop retouched desktop pictures. Even my photos look surreal to be and made just by a click on automatic mode.
The lake Yamdrok with its turquoise waters, spreading widely between the green mountains, protected on the back by the higher white, snowy mountain tops and glaciers, the valleys in front full of wild Yaks and sheeps and some river or waterfall passing by here and there, creates a picture that makes you just stand there with eyes and mouth open in front of the power and perfection of nature and just leaves you breathless. Unfortunately mount Everest base camp was closed for tourists at the time of our visit and we didn’t manage to go as planned.
Stopping in little villages to eat in local restaurants and listening tibetan traditional music in the van makes the whole experience even more real and integrates you in the culture.
What can I say…even now when I started thinking about it again I remain speechless and see no sense or point in even trying to describe it. That’s why I’ll just stop here, and leave the rest egoistically for myself.
Dropping just a few photos before that, of course and I want to especially thank our lovely guide Dhondup who made all of this trip happen, being there 100% for us, providing us with the best information at the best spots! We will definitely cross paths again, very soon I hope!
If you are really planning to go there’s a lot of information you need to know before and you better start planning your trip at least 7-8 months in advance. Tibet is not an easy place to visit nowadays as its very difficult and almost impossible to get the permit for entry, but we got lucky. There are some periods of the year when they officially close it for foreigners, so if you’re interested in going you better just contact Dhondup who will give you all the information regarding the situation and what’s needed.
His webpage is: http://www.tibetanguide.com/ where you will find his phone number and email for contact!