Tibetan landscape just outside the airport in Lhasa
Yesterday was my birthday. To celebrate, I am (finally!) sharing pictures from my travels in Tibet (see other photos in the Asia Tea Tour category). I had meant to get this post up yesterday, but I was too busy being distracted by black flowers from my sister. ;-) It was the big 4-0.
I hope you enjoy these photos over the next few posts. Coming soon will be the Potala Palace and Tibetan yak butter tea, among other things.
Cans of oxygen were provided in our hotel room because many people suffer from altitude sickness. I didn't get ill, but I certainly felt the impact of being so high. "But I've been over the Rockies and I was fine," you might say. It was explained to me like this...it's one thing to drive up and over a high pass. You would be at high elevation for a short period, and you're not being very physically active. It's another thing entirely to stay at high elevation for a few days and exert yourself (e.g., climbing the steps of the Potala Palace).
We flew directly into Lhasa with no slow acclimation and on the advice of physicians, most of us took anti-altitude sickness pills. I'm glad I did! Lhasa is at 11, 450 feet, one of the highest cities in the world, and we only went higher from there. It was interesting - our tour guide was very insistent that we not shower the first night. I experienced the altitude like having an extra downward push from gravity. I felt a little short of breath and heavy. A few in our party had severe headaches and some nausea, but fortunately none required medical intervention.
The politics of Tibet are complicated. China governs Tibet as an autonomous region. Prior to China's annex of Tibet in 1959, the Tibetans had for a long time used a theocratic arrangement, governed both spiritually and administratively by the Dalai Lama. In 1959, The Dalai Lama fled from China and set up the Central Tibetan Administration, based in India. It serves as a governmental arm and indicates that it will dissolve once "freedom is restored in Tibet" and allow for a secular government formed by Tibetans inside of the country.
I don't pretend to understand these politics. Nonetheless, it felt very much occupied to me. Chinese police presence was very noticeable (photo above). Our native Tibetan tour guide stressed that we must always keep our passports with us and not take photos of police. (Oops, I got that shot in before I knew better.) He also requested that we ask questions about politics and government only while we were on the bus, to protect his job security.
The photo above shows the mix of modern technology with traditional culture. Married women traditionally wear the striped aprons.
We visited the Dreprung Monastery, the largest in Tibet. I will share more photos from inside the monastery soon.
On the way up to the monastery, we saw this man drying local herbs and prayer wheels.
We were welcome to say a prayer while turning the wheels. The turning aids focus and reflection. It was an intense moment for me. I remember praying for peace, peace, peace.
The types of people visiting the monastery ranged from these traditionally-dressed women...
To these young men. The photo below is one of my favorites. I loved the young men's hair and modern style in the context of ancient traditions. They brought offerings of yak oil and money.
By the way, a back story to all of this spiritual and cultural learning was our tour group's hedonistic delight in finding chocolate! Through all of China, I saw only peanut M&Ms. We stocked up here!