City in the Clouds
Trip Start Jan 28, 2011
51Trip End May 23, 2011
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Where I stayed
The flight to Tibet alone was a marvelous time. Chintan and I met in Kunming, Yunnan two days earlier, took a flight to Chengdu, Sichuan and then to Lhasa, Tibet. We flew over waves and waves of snow-capped mountains.
Arriving in Tibet, the sky was bright blue, the weather was sunny and breezy -- mid-60s, and the air was crisp. Chintan and I were a bit ecstatic and looking forward to our time in this dream destination spot. We met our guide, Tenzin, and the driver, and made our way to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet (later we were greatly amused by the fact that nearly everyone we met was called Tenzin).
We got situated at the hotel, and then started to get lost in the city. We walked toward the main area, and noticed many people walking clockwise in what appeared to be a large circle. Later I learned that this is a Kora, a pilgrimage of walking clockwise three times around a holy structure. We were intrigued by the crowd of people, many of whom were either spinning prayer wheels clockwise in the hand, or dropping to the ground in a coordinated motion to show devotion.
A little while later we reached Barkor square, a populated area filled with stores and the Jokhard temple. Fascinated by the spirituality expressed through physical motions, we joined the crowds in performing the movements that resemble yoga's sun salutations. Additionally, we were taken by the manner in which the soft breeze in the air elegantly sent a wave through the decorative mini curtains hanging in the surrounding windows. Given both the history and the presence of spirituality in the area, the stunning scenery of the surrounding mountains, and the crispness and tenderness in the air, it is hard to deny that there is not something special about the area.
On a contrasting note, we were disturbed by the military presence in Lhasa. Since China occupied Tibet in 1959, many struggles have gone on and continue to challenge whether the two societies can happily live together. After the protests that took place during the 2008 Olympics, China upped the number of military in the region. Our hotel was situated directly across from where a number of Chinese militia were residing, and at all times five guards stood in the street guarding their living quarters. Additionally, everywhere we looked we saw spirituality combined with snipers and militia in the background.
During our three days in Lhasa, we ate local food, sat in local tea houses, played the ever-so-popular billiards, visited the Lhasa Tasamkuhung Nunnery (a very moving experience!), Jokhung Temple, Ramoche Monastery, Potala Palace (location where the Dalai Lama(s) lived), and Sera Monastery. Further, we aimlessly walked around taking in all that we could of the paradoxes that we observed in the politics and spirituality, the ancient customs and modern lifestyles, and the lack of order with the presence of the militia trying to enforce control.