Lhasa and the Tibetan Countryside
Well Tibet started with a bang. I headed to the Beijing West Railway station to catch the 48hr high altitude train to Lhasa. When I boarded I saw some other tourist and heard some English. Hoping for the best I headed to my cabin. Nope, my roommates turned out to be three older Chinese guys who didn’t speak a word of English. Over the next two days I gave them all names. Cliff was in the bunk below me and was the friendliest. Eugene was a little older than the rest and was constantly worrying. Larry was the party animal. I was on the top bunk and about a half hour into the ride Cliff tapped me on the leg. He motioned for me to come down. I obliged. He pulled out a bunch of flasks of baijo, a rice liquor. They yelled “Jambo” (which I assume means Cheers in Chinese) and we drank. This continued for a bottle and a half before the feast began. Cliff was packing. We had peanuts, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, roast duck, some sort of fish (which they made me eat the whole thing, bones and head included), and DUCK NECKS. I still haven’t gotten the taste out of my mouth. I had told Lauren I was excited to try some weird foods in other cultures, but I won't be having duck necks again anytime soon. Anyway, Larry pressed on hazing me like a drunken Chinese frat boy. Three flasks and two beers later the old, wise man Eugene put an end to the party.
The next morning I awoke with a slap on the back and a “Gud Murnin.” Cliff handed me breakfast which I’m still not sure what it was. Eugene grabbed my arm, took my blood pressure, then gave me some herbal supplement. They didn’t let me pay for anything the entire trip. They bought all my meals and kept sending me Budweisers. I met a guy named Kelvin who was of Chinese decent, born in Australia, from London, and living in NYC. He spoke Mandarin and English. At the end of the ride I asked him to tell them thank you for everything. When they found out he could translate they bombarded me with questions. It turns out they thought I was a 20 year old German student (guess the sunglasses worked).
The scenery on the train ride was absurd. Definitely the real China. I’d see nomad huts with prayer flags in the middle of nowhere. Saw a bunch of yak, antelope, hawks, foxes, and sheep. On the second day we crossed the 5,000 meter mark and I woke up to oxygen being pumped into the cabins to keep people from passing out. Surreal.
Our Oxygen Masks on the Train
Admiring the View
A Sampling of the View from the Train
Yaks Roaming the Countryside
My New Apartment in London
In Lhasa, I toured all the major monasteries. Most of them had the same sort of stuff with slight variations. Huge Buddha statues and brightly colored columns and tapestries were the norm. One weird thing is that all the candles in the temples are made from yak butter instead of wax. People would walk around with coffee cans of the stuff and scoop it into the oversized basins. Many of them were carrying prayer sticks as well.
An Old Man and His Prayer Stick Outside Sera Monastery
Stationary Prayer Spindles Surrounding the Monasteries
When they prayed they would drop to their knees (usually wearing kneepad), put their hands on the ground (with wooden blocks on them), then slide forward on the blocks until they laid completely flat. Then they would stand up and do it again. And again. And again. When walking down the street you had to be careful not to follow too closely as many of them would randomly fall to their knees and lay down. I actually almost tried to catch the first guy I saw doing it thinking he was falling. If you didn’t pay close attention you could easily fall victim to a prayer take down.
Step 1, The Crouching Tiger
And Step 2, The Superman Sweep
As for the other highlights, I managed to get lucky and found myself at the Sera monastery just as 150 monks started their 2 hour weekly chant. It was in the prayer hall, an ornately decorated room with long cushions that face each other. You weren’t supposed to take pictures, but I stole a couple.
This is only about 1/10 of the room
Drepung Monastery, previously the largest monastery in the world w/ 10,000 residents
The top of Drepung Monastery
At Potala Palace I got to see how Tibetans lay concrete. Not the most efficient things I’ve ever seen. They poured the slab, then a group of 50 or so workers danced in unison and stomped a stick with a weight attached to the end. I guess it works, the palace has been there since 637AD.
Potala Palace, used to be the tallest building in the world before skyscrapers were invented
A Tibetan Steamroller
A Tibetan Waterheater
I spent some time wandering around Jokhang market. It was interesting to see all the locals do their shopping and whatnot. During my wandering I came upon a couple of decent little restaurants and have tried yak chow mein, yak steak, and curried yak. All of those were pretty good, however I'd stay away from the butter yak tea if you can. If you want to see what it tastes like get a stick of week old butter and suck on it for a while, it'll recreate the experience nicely.
View of Jokhang market from the top of Jokhang temple
Cute candy saleswoman
Got lazy and took a rickshaw home one day
The last day I took a day excursion to Yumbulagang and the Samye Monastery about 4 hours outside Lhasa. I thought Lhasa was the real China until I saw some of the towns out there. The scenery would change from sand dunes to forest to lakeside mountain quicker than I thought possible. Oh yeah, instead of hiking to Yumbulagang I took a camel. Yeah, a camel. He looked stronger than the yak and the donkey combined.
The Tibetan Countryside
I was the only white person within probably 50 miles of this town
Looking at Yumbulagang Temple from the summit
A boy tossing prayer flags into the wind as an offering
The summitt above Yumbulagang
My Noble Steed
My Second Choice
At the Samye Monastery, The Last Stop
The Countryside Around the Samye Monastery
There were sheeps and yaks eating the leaves off these trees
Next stop is Mt Everest Base Camp!