The Spoilt City of Lhasa

Trip Start Aug 06, 2007
1
24
59
Trip End Jun 03, 2008


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Monday, September 24, 2007

We got woken up at 6:30am in order to get ready and get to the airport on time.  After breakfast we took a minibus to the airport.  The flight to Lhasa was pretty eventless, only lasting about 1hr, but the view was pretty amazing: in between the clowds u could see mountain ranges stretching as far as u could see, including some peaks with snow on!  We landed at about 2pm, blue skies and strong sun beaming down on us.  We drove to our hotel in Lhasa, a 2hr drive winding through flat valleys in between mountain ranges, with rivers and other waters and trees of yellow and golden colour.

Lhasa itself however was highly disappointing and depressing!!  It kinda looks like Songpan had been enlarged to resemble Chengdu - the Chinese influence was startling, and glaringly obvious.  The group's plans were to take it easy for the rest of the day due to the high altitude (3700m), i however went for a wander round the immediate area, got some money out the wall etc.  In the evening we had a buffet dinner at the hotel followed by a traditional Tibetan dance show, which was cool for the outfits but went on way too long.

September 25th:

Woke up at 7:30am, breakfast, then we went to see the Potala Palace, former home of the Dalai Lamas.  The palace was split into two sections: the red and white palaces, dealing with the political and religious affairs respectively.  Inside were countless living quarters, temples, tombs of former Dalai Lamas and libraries - all unbelievably impressive, each decorated with the most intricate gold and wood work.  Also countless gold statues of various sizes of the various Bhuddas and former Dalai Lamas.  Photography was absolutely not allowed inside, with cameras everywhere and my words can never do the place justice.  However, nowadays most of the building is used by the Chinese gov as offices... and in front of the palace, where there once use to be a river and trees, now stands a monument in the middle of a concrete square celebrating the "liberation" of Tibet.

After lunch (where we went to a restaurant where i asked for chopsticks and they actally said they didn't have any.. i felt raped!) we went to see the Jokhang Temple.  Situated in the center of old Lhasa, an area filled with markets selling anything from the typical Chinese junk to Tibetan scarves, prayer flags, fruit+veg, pots+pans etc. etc. etc.  The temple itself was as impressive as the palace, with intricate woodwork filling the main hall, two tiers of wooden monkey statues lining the ceiling.  Also many golden statues of Bhuddahs, we even got to see one getting repainted with melted gold.  We got to see inside a monk's dorm, which was very basic, filled with books + pics of Dalai Lamas.  We continued up to the roof, which had intricate golden tops and an amazing view of the square below, filled with ppl circling the temple clockwise while praying.  Once finished we went back to the hotel, but i returned to wander the markets of Jokhang before heading for dinner with the group in the same restaurant as lunch.  This time we sat on the roof, overlooking Jokhang sq from the other side.  Once finished, we went to see Potala Palace lit up, and had a bit of fun trying to take photos amidst all the chinese tourists who were sometimes taking photos of us taking photos of the palace and stuff! :P

September 26th:

Woke up and had breakfast like yesterday... early! :P  We then visited Drepung Monastery, which is one of the three major monasteries of the yellow hat sect in central Tibet.  It use to house over 10k monks before the liberation!  It was literally like a small town set into the mountain just outside Lhasa.  We saw a small cave in the hill that was the home of one of the nuns - she had to hide her pic of the current Dalai Lama from the Chinese auth!  Afters we continued to climb up through this town of temples and libraries, all with the most intricate decorative work.  Our local guide even got us into one of the closed off sections, to see the Dalai Lamas bedroom.  We saw the kitchen that use to feed all 10k monks, which was still working but at near 0% capacity to feed the remaining monks.  We saw the monks rushing to serve butter tea to those praying in the main hall.  We went into the main hall to watch the monks praying, row after row, sitting on cushions, chanting, surrounded by golden Bhuddahs and Dalai Lama statues.

After lunch, to get a closer look at monks in action, we drove to the Sera Monastery.  There we sat in the main square, while the monks had an open debating session!  Apparently all monasteries have such sessions, but this is the only one that has it in open air and allows ppl to watch.  It was amazing to see how groups of monks sat on the floor, each group getting drilled with questions from that day's asker (they take turns apparently).  After they finished debating, they sat around a principal monk who led them in a prayer/chant and they burnt offerings.  The highlight of that was that we got to see them put on their yellow hats!  But the entire scene was inspiring, and we must have been watching them debate+pray for well over an hour, just mesmerised.

September 27th:

Today started same same.  We drove to see the Summer Palace, a place where the current Dalai Lama apparently liked better than staying at the Potala Palace.  It was easy to see why, the entire compound was covered in the most colourful flowers, most of which i'd never even seen before!  Inside the palace had an almost european feel to it, having much more light than the Potala or any of the monasteries we'd been to.  There were temples on small islands in the middle of a lake, with stone bridges connected them.  And we saw the stables that use to house hundreds of horses to cart the carriages of the Dalai Lama.  We also saw the gate by which the current Dalai Lama escaped at night from the Chinese.

Afters we were dropped off in the Jokhang area to spend the rest of the day as we wished.  While the rest of the group went shopping in the market, i went for a walk along the river, for like 2hrs there and back.  On my way back i went to the electronics stores near Jokhang to try and find another battery for my camera, since in the trek we'll be going for quite a while without having the option to recharge.  I went into one shop, showed them my battery and they went and got it for me from one of the other shops! :P but it was really cheap so i was happy.

Did very little the rest of the day, i was knackered after all that walking!  We had dinner in the hotel and packed our stuff since we'll be leaving Lhasa tomorrow morning.
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