So, this entry is probably going to be the hardest to post – WHY? Because Tibet profoundly affected me. The soul – energy – of the place seeps into your being and I’m anxious to go back and do it all over again. It’s a place so incredible – truly a once in a lifetime trip. Here goes my experience…
It’s Harder To Get Into Tibet Than I Thought
Leaving Beijing behind and starting to make my journey to Tibet through Beijing’s airport was the beginning of the control process of who and when you get to go to Tibet. What I didn’t realize is that there is a special permit you MUST obtain from the Republic of China to travel into Tibet. As a single female traveler, the raised eyebrows (which I’ve grown used to) were very blatant. I was stopped at every possible check point from the airline ticketing agent to each security guard at screening check points to again the ticket agent getting on to the plane. But, I kept the smile on my face and slowly made it through and I was on my way… I was going to Tibet!
Some 3+ hours later we were landing – my heart was beating because I had hoped my tour guide and driver would be waiting and because I was yet again in a completely foreign place where very few spoke English and I’m literally wandering the Earth. The comfort of seeing your name on the little piece of paper is a huge sigh of relief! I needed to rely on my planning – after getting through one more permit check I was unleashed from the Gonggar airport. But, I wasn’t in Lhasa yet! As soon as I see the sign with HOPKINS, I’m thrilled! I smile and am greeted with the traditional hada. We jump in the passenger van and we are off – my guide, Sonam, speaks amazing English and has a warm demeanor and my driver is a big man with an even bigger smile.
Home Of The Dalai Lama
We start driving and my eyes are glued out the window. I’m still a little jet lagged as I’m watching a completely foreign topography pass me by. Tibetan music playing quietly in the background and it finally hits me – I’m headed to Lhasa! I’m going to see the true home of the Dalai Lama! Just being able to see the monastery with my own eyes fills me with joy. About 45 minutes later, we enter what is the last of a maze of mountain tunnels and as we exit the tunnel I see IT in the distance and am awe-struck. I can’t believe it – I’m giddy.
Sonam asked for my permit and presents it. He begins to then tell me about the precautions necessary as it relates to traveling in an occupied country. It then hits me – Tibet is occupied by China. We then we hit the entry gates to the Lhasa. I sit in the van quietly thinking “Oh God, I hope nothing is wrong with the permit or my passport”… He comes back and it’s a “Let’s get outta here feeling!” We gas it and I’m finally getting closer. I start to notice a ton of development and it’s very Beijing-esque. The best way to describe it is that they are building a new Lhasa outside or around old Lhasa. Chinese flags and red are everywhere. I realize I’m being watched – they have a complete timeline of my time here. But I decide, who cares I’m going to make the best of it and enjoy every minute that I’m here.
A Day To Wander
There is no other way to describe but… there’s a road that literally lies in front of the Potala Palace. As we drive past, I’m glued to the window like a cartoon character. I’m told we are doing that on the last day in town. What??? Really – why?? Altitude sickness. LOL, I’m like yeah – whatever. About a mile down the street is the Kyichu Hotel, where I check in. It’s an old fashioned Tibetan family run hotel. My driver and Sonam bid me farewell until tomorrow and tell me to chill! I’m thinking, it’s only 2pm – what do I do all day long??
I drop my stuff off in the functional, quaint, cold hotel room and head downstairs to have an amazing lunch. After lunch, I realize I’m a little light headed and tired but that’s not enough to stop me. So, I take off… wander around for a couple hours. I have a rule, I have to be back at the hotel by dark, especially when flying solo. The best thing is, the hotel has a wonderful center garden and I enjoy dinner, have a fun conversation with other guests and drink lemon/honey/jasmine tea from a thermos til I can’t take any more in. I head to the roof top and peer over to where I know the Potala Palace is – and there it is as it has been, for hundreds of years. I’m WOWED, and I can’t wait!
Tibet’s Beautiful Monasteries
The next day we head to two different monasteries, one of which is the Sera Monastery. I also get to see monks training in the debating area which is funny to watch! I’m fully engrossed in what my guide has to say, I want to absorb as much as I can about the culture, religion, and people of Tibet.
I learn that my guide’s grandfather was part of the Tibetan military and he helped protect the Dalai Lama during the city’s siege. This is his land, his people, his culture, his life – I was so lucky to be there exploring his home. After three days, I’m officially acclimated – which was really funny because on day 2 I tried doing a few stairs and almost died because I couldn’t get enough air in!
Pause in the story – in between visits to local Museums and Monasteries I actually spent every lunch break in my hotel’s garden, quietly sipping tea, watching local Tibetan families come with their kids enjoy the weather, listen to the birds, and be fascinated by the architecture/décor. I learned to be quiet and simply enjoy it. Feel quiet, feel serenity. Very strange for me – maybe that’s why it had such an impact.