Published: September 9th 2006September 9th 2006
Yamdrok Lake in Tibet....
is one of the four holy lakes. The shades of blue from the lake's water rise into the shades of green of the farming terraces into the browns of the mountains.
Foreigner visitors to Tibet require a special permit, that must be issued by the local authorities in Lhasa. Tibet is considered an "autonomous region of China", and though it is possible to secure entry-permission as an individual traveller, booking with an authorized travel-agent makes the process simpler, less cumbersome, and "seemingly" worryless.
Arthur and I had negotiated with an agency in Beijing, who booked our itenerary. They made all our arrangements seem quite easy, though at one point Arthur did become un-easy about their "lack" of reputation, but we both realized quickly, that the worrries were unfounded.
On departure from the Trainstation-West in Beijing, 18 other travellers were waiting as part of our group to Tibet. Because we were in different train cabins and wagons, we had little opportunity to interact with one another, until our arrival in Lhasa, some 48 hours later. We were to become great travel companions for the next six days.
Most came from the city of Harbin in Heilongjiang Province. Harbin is so far north in China, that it almost borders the Russian Federation. It is better known for a bitter-cold winter. World-travellers enjoy Harbin for its famous Winter-Ice-Sculpture-Festival, ( similar to the
Potala at night
The lights of the Potala Palace at night compete with the musical water-fountains opposite, in the Peoples Park.
winter ice sculptures of Quebec City, Canada, only on a larger scale and much more extravagant).
After the week together in Tibet, we departed great friends, and promised each other a visit, and be their guests. Most were "very" successful business people, and they spoke proudly of their city of Harbin, and its economic growth and prowess.
As the only Westerner among them, they made me feel part of their family and we spent rewarding times in all sorts of conversations during delicious meals. They were generous, kind, curious and very inclusive. Our trip to Tibet was made more enjoyable being among them.
It is with great respect and thanks that their photos are included, and the pictures are offered as a tribute to the friends we have become. :-) :-)) :-)))
For all of us, including the train-crew, the breathing became difficult as our train climbed to 18,000 feet, across thousands of miles of the Tibetan-High-Plateau. Though I noticed few travellers making use of the Oxygen available near each bed, everyone's pace slowed noticeably.
The slightest exertion made it plain and simple to the lungs, that our train was travelling "the Roof
He took Peter as his English name, and never gave up, hoping to score some English conversations. It was an event for him, everytime he was able to communicate and understand.
of the World", where air is at a premium, and 'Altitude Sickness' affects ones demeanor in unique ways.
We all had this "Altitude Sickness", but spoke little about it, each being the "one", who didn't have it and most "in control" of it. We were all looking for the signs and symptoms of "Altitude Sickness" in the other, which permitted each of us to deal and cope with his and her own discomfort independently and descreetly.
At the newly constructed Lhasa Train Station we were met by our Tibetan guide. She placed white prayer-shawls around our necks to welcome us to her city. A comfortable, modern bus drove us to "her-suggested" and "her-arranged" and "her-pre-excused" accomodations!! .
The bus was ours for the duration, and we quickly appreciated the agility and skill of our driver, and we did so for the rest of the week's safe journey.
But the accomodations !! were to become a "bone of contention" between the guide and me. Though Arthur attributed my dismay and refusal of the hotel and it's taxi-dependent-location to the ever-present "Altitude Sickness", I was not about to have waited a life-time for my chance to visit Lhasa,
Arthur and I pose with some of our travel companions.
This mother and daughter team also became partners at the dinner table. At first they didn't know what to make of the crazy "Western-nut".
only to have my enjoyment and excitement limited by the "very uncomfortable" location and surroundings of a prison-like hotel, including its iron-window-bars and locked gates.
If the "Altitude Sickness" indeed increased my irritation, the outburst seemed to have made the proper impression. Arthur and I were re-located in a "promised" three star hotel, in a respectable, central location.
The rest of our travel-group followed and they were also re-settled the next day in the same hotel. Each realized the benefits of my emphatic dissatisfaction at our promised and anticipated lodgings. Arthur translated their appreciation for my "western" stubborness from the night before. The new hotel re-juvinated a positive attitude for the rest of our journey through Tibet, and we thoroughly enjoyed each other's company.
It was already night time, and as the bus made its way through the center of the capitol of Tibet, I was struck by the hectic activity through-out the city-center. The many neon lights distracted from Lhasa's jewel, the Potala Palace, as we drove past it.
For a first time visitor to Lhasa, the night-time activities and bustle around the holy sites, seems contradictory to being Buddhism's holiest place, in one of
Sheep share the road.
To get the prized and unexpected photos, I always took the seat next to the driver.
the world's most enigmatic locations. Soon I came to know, that pilgrim activities of "all kinds" have made this city vibrant for over fourteen hundred years. This has only become its more modern version.
The enterprise, the commerce, and the bargaining for even the smallest trinket or the minimal of "services", has changed little over all these centuries. Be it Pilgrims to Rome, or Pilgrims to Jerusalem, or Pilgrims to Mecca, there is little difference from what awaits them in Lhasa. Many have come and have remained here to drain every penny, in every possible way, from the gullable pilgrim.
But those who have come to this wonderful place, high on top of the world, to profess their faith, will remain true to what has brought them here. I saw thousands on their hopeful journey to "their" holy city of Lhasa.
Their faces, their determination, their demeaner, their sacrifices left no doubt, that this journey will bring them absolution for all the weaknesses of their daily life, and that their struggles and efforts to complete this holy pilgrimage will provide renewed strength, to help endure the sufferings, that are part of any Buddhist's life on the way
Our tour leader from Beijing is on the right. The young lady on the left is the guide from Tibet, who had to deal with my "Altitude Demeanor" and "Hotel Complaint" on the very first night. No more problems after that. :-)
Let me express deep gratitude for the heart-warming comments and personal letters so many of you have taken the time to write. It makes some of the more difficult moments of home-sickness easier, knowing that you think of me still, on the other side of the world. The kindness of your words make it often difficult to keep a next tear from running down the cheeks. Thank you to everyone. I include you in my thoughts, always.
As it is difficult to answer each of your letters promptly, it has also become somewhat more difficult to write the journal and post the photos. Our new fall semester has started at Taizhou Teachers College, and my new students are very eager to improve their English. The preparations for the 8 classes, (16hrs.), each with an average of 40 students, do take much time.
Over the next weeks, I'll continue with the postings of photos and commentary, and will also bring you the Panda- Bears of Chengdu. I'll introduce some of my college classes and some of my students, many of whom are on their way to the teaching profession, and all of whom greet you
entrance to holy lake
At some 15,000 feet altitude, we were greeted by the prayer-flags and tour busses on our way to visit Lake Yamdrok.
from Taizhou Teachers College in China.
There are more photos below