Off roading in Tibet
Trip Start Nov 10, 2010
11Trip End Jul 31, 2011
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It ended up being a little of both. We started our day by visiting the Tashilunpo monastery in Shigatse. Being the history buff that I am I soaked it all in. The pilgrims walking around the Stupas at least 3 times, the yak butter offerings, Lamas walking around everywhere, pictures of the Panchen Lama posted everywhere. So Linda's history lesson of the day: Everyone knows about the Dalai Lama who is suppose to be the leader of the Tibetan people and is considered the reincarnation of the merciful buddha. However, little people seem to know about the Panchen Lama who is basically the second in command when it comes to the Lamas. He is the reincarnation of the buddha of wisdom. His monastery is suppose to be the Tashilunpo monastery where the tomnbs of almost all the Panchen Lamas lie. The most popular Panchen Lama is the 10th Panchen Lama who died after restoring the Tashilunpo monastery after cultural revolution in China left it in ruins with many holy statues and pieces missing from the monastery. The 10th Panchen Lama spent his life collecting as many pieces from the original monastery. After the restoration of the monastery he passed away quickly after. The Chinese government must have admired his work to perserve the culture because they built him a grandiose mausoleum in the temple with everything covered in gold and spent millions in doing so. There were a few questions we had about the 11th Panchen Lama as it was common knowledge between some people in the tour group that when the Dalai lama approved of the 11th Panchen Lama he suddenly disappeared within the Chinese government. Our tour guide adamantly urged us to stop talking about this issue. It is political and best not discussed. The Panchen Lama chosen by the Chinese government currently resides in the Lama temple in Beijing. As I am currently in China, I best keep any ideas I have to myself as blogs seem to be blocked left and right here. But I did have the chance to visit the Lama temple while I was in Beijing. That will be in another blog for another day.
Anywho, it was the pilgrims from all over Tibet that were amazing me. They were dressed in their traditional clothing and walking around with a focused stare while spinning their prayer wheels. From babies to old ladies, the faithful descended to the monastery with complete humility and devotion. I could see why because even though the Panchen Lama is the reincarnation of the Buddha his sitting area and studying area was quite humble. I know it's not the same but I would compare this to the Vatican in Rome and its so drastically different. Instead of significant money offerings it was large mounds of yak butter offerings to the giant yak butter candles to keep it burning was what seemed to be more important. The young Lamas at the temple spent their time spooning out the over flowing amounts of yak butter. I wish I could have taken pictures of these events but as a respect to the Monastery no pictures were taken.
Anywho, after the monastery tour we went off to have a quick lunch at another local spot. Of course another bowl of vegetable soup was served. I don't know what it was but there is an essence of yak in everything... EVERYTHING... I think it was my own mind being delusional but I craved a cup of noodles so badly..
On our way back to Lhasa our tour guide asked if we wanted the shortcut way back to Lhasa. We asked if it was a highway or off roading. Being confused, he said highway. For the thrill seekers and off roading junkies this would have been paradise but the weak stomach folks like me, were left with major motion sickness. What the tour guide forgot to tell us that to get to the highway you would have to off road for 2 hours through straight sand dunes and over rocky terrain. Oh boy that sucked but when we stopped to take another pit stop I had the chance to breath and well it did result in some pretty awesome photos. This was not for the faint of heart. And well, some other folks weren't feeling so great in the tour and they went at it with the tour guide. This basically made them feel sick to straight up crappy. Their stomachs were doing flips and they weren't the happiest campers. I could definitely relate to their misery but I also think it was just a lost in translation issue. What can you say but T.I.C .... This is China...
So passing by beautiful terrain of sand mountains, to rocky mountains, shimmering blue lakes, and potato fields, we end up at an incense factory. Here we learned the makings of incense by hand. I forgot the name of the town but this incense factory was special because this was the city where the man who brought sanskrit to Tibet and also the Tibetan language to the region. Names allude me but I could only understand about 3/4 of what the tour guide would say...
Anywho, on our way back to Lhasa, all the tour guide drivers suddenly stopped. Rising from the ground were a group of young boys who seemed to be walking every 3 steps and then bowing down to the floor while placing their foreheads and faces to the ground. You could see the large black spot on their forehead scabbed from the constant bowing. This was my first exposure to pilgrims who have traveled from homes in the mountains supposedly as far away as Everest Base Camp. They told our drivers they have been at this for over 3 months. Their goal destination was Jokhor temple in Lhasa. This was mind numbing to me. These young kids were beyond devoted to their religion they commit to perform a pilgrimage not required by them to the holy city of Lhasa. We asked our driver if this was an act to show respect after a miracle or for a miracle. Our driver said this was an act for humanity. These pilgrims separated themselves from their body and were doing this to show devotion to their religion and to do this for the whole world -- aka Mankind. This blew my mind. These pilgrims didn't get anything out of this. They weren't doing this because their mother had cancer or because their religion required it. They did it out of the selflessness of themselves. This was one of my favorite days of my tour. This realization of how little I knew about Tibetan buddhism or religion itself made me feel so small. I respected these people so much for their devotion and humility of thinking of the world above themselves. I knew in this stage of my life I couldn't do it. Even after the cultural revolution and a new government, their spiritual and political leader in exile, their other leader in Beijing, these people saw beyond all this and lived life through their religion. I know I'm just being over philosophical and emotional about this but that's just my personality.
We finally end up in Lhasa and our tour group has a lovely dinner at Makyame near Jakhor temple. One special thing about this place is that the 6th Dalai Lama was a resentful kid and didn't want to be the Dalai Lama. As a child he once saw a girl he fancied in the Makayame building. From then on he would write poetry about love and stuff after he saw her. FYI- Dalai Lamas don't get lovers (supposedly).