Published: January 17th 2011April 15th 2010
TIBET: In Shangri-La once again
This third trip to Tibet, a land that has been quite enigmatic to me, is more like a passage with a purpose. I am actually on my way to Nepal, and I'm just stopping in Tibet to meet the 3 Tibetan kids with congenital heart disease who will have heart surgery sponsored to my small NGO, Helping Children Heal (HCH) (www.helpingchildrenheal.com), through the organization Touching Hearts Tibet.
Planning a trip to Tibet is never easy, but this being my 3rd time around, I’m now used to the procedure and miraculously I pulled it off with relativelly little time. ARRIVING IN CHINA:
The first stop was Beijing, but I just stayed at the airport. I knew this part of the trip was the easy one. The possibility of problem is usually in Chengdu, where you get your "permit" to enter Tibet. In the past, I have met guides with my name displayed upside down, just to inform me that I lost my connection and would be staying overnight, even when I still had time for the connection to Tibet. Thus, I knew there were no garantees until I actually got my permit and was
On the way to Lhasa
See how tall I look compared to the Tibetan women.
on the plane to Tibet.
During the flight to Chengdu I met three guys who work for Motorola: an Indian, an American and a Chinese. They were very friendly and helped the time pass faster.
I landed in Chengdu and the travel agent who was supposed to be there with my Tibet permit, wasn’t there. Bad sign! Luckily, my plane mates helped me, and after many phone calls and one hour wait at the airport, a flamboyant tiny Chinese travel agent finally arrives with my precious ticket and Tibetan entry permit to be used early the next morning. I was literally saved by my new friend, the “Chinese Motorola guy".
I headed to the “3 star” hotel by the Chengdu airport. What a decline in 4 years! It was dirty, there was no internet, as announced, and no one spoke English. It was a horrible first night.
Next morning I headed back to the super crowded and chaotic airport, where there were no lines, people were generally rude and not helpful. But, as always, there is a kind soul around, and a guy from Slovenia, who spoke English, helped me find my way around, and I boarded my
plane to Lhasa. TO LHASA I GO
By the time I get to the plane, I’m exhausted and with a migraine, despite taking meds. I’m not even at high altitude yet and I’m taking diamox!
I noticed that I’m the only western on the plane. The view outside my window is starting to change: mountains tops covered with snow announce the Himalaya is approaching and will soon greed me in splendid white. That was a comforting thought which soon turned into reality.
Arriving in Lhasa was different this time. The guides and other locals now stay outside the terminal waiting for the people arriving, instead of being allowed inside the airport! My guide was there with a sign with my name. She is a young Tibetan woman who speaks English fairly well and my driver is an older Tibetan man who doesn't speak English.
The 45 minute trip to Lhasa was very familiar to me. We stopped at a holy site, with its colorful rock paintings where I met a group of short Tibetan nuns heading to Lhasa. They were as curious about me as I was of them. LHASA:
Right from the entrance I could
notice the difference in the capital from five and four years ago. The city continues its metamorphosis process, sadly looking more and more like another Chinese city.
My guide checked me into the New Yak hotel, as international travelers are no longer allowed to do so themselves. Later I had dinner with the lovely couple who oversees the Touching Heart Tibet operation here in Lhasa. Next day I met them again at their office behind the People's Hospital. ESSENCE OF TIBETAN BUDDHISM
As I have done before, before sunrise I headed to the BARKHOR area to feel the essence of Tibetan Buddhism , around the sacred Jokhang Temple. In front of it, and around it, you can hear and see the spiritual heart of Tibet pulsing, and I was there to witness it once again, before my guide picked me up.
Hundreds of pilgrims performed their Koras (Pilgrimage circuit) around the Jokhang, the Potala, and the city itself, either walking with their prayer beads in hand while quietly reciting mantras, or spinning prayer wheels, or prostrating themselves.
After my meeting at the hospital, I visited the small and lovely Ani Sangkhung Nunnery
again, where we had lunch.
I felt like a tourist attraction!!!
A group of Chinese tourists asked to take pictures with me, one by one. Why????
I went to the area where the nuns work making prayer wheels and gave them photos I had taken of them years ago. they were surprised, happy and laughing as they recognized each other and themselves on the photos. The nuns are very welcoming. This is a very special place.
In the afternoon we went to the Mani Lhakhang chapel
, crowed with devoted Tibetan Buddhists like no other place in Lhasa, all chanting their mantras and spinning their prayer wheels. There wasn't any single other tourist there. Actually, they are all Tibetans, and I felt like I was intruding, although I tried to be very discreet and respectful. There is no place to "hide". The space is small, and I found myself right in the middle of it.
Outside the Potala Palace grounds, construction is going on. I just walked around it and again noticed major changes. There were hardly any pilgrims around the area at all!! Four and five years ago, there were so many of them, and now I spotted only a woman with a little boy on her back, spinning the prayer wheels besides a couple of older people!
I walked around the Barkhor
MANY Buddhists perform "kora" around the sacret temples of Lhasa, starting before dawn.
market area some more as the day ended and also went to a supermarket, which now is more upscale.
I see many changes. I feel many changes. But Tibet is still Tibet.
Let the pictures do some of the talking, and let the spirit of Tibet come alive.
P.S. This is a long overdue blog I promised many friends and blog followers who know I took this trip back in April but never took the time to make blog entries. I apologize for the delay, but here is one, and another should follow shortly.
There are more photos below