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Published: July 13th 2013
I would never forget the trip I and my cousins Nini and Dewi had back in May 2011 to Lhasa. It’s not like we had planned it for a long time, even though it’s on my high priority places to visit (perhaps, I was inspired by Brad Pitt’s movie “Seven Years in Tibet”). First of all, it was a challenge to match everyone’s schedule considering each of us worked. Thankfully, we managed to get our visa and Tibetan permit in such a short time.
We left Singapore at the wee hour with China Airlines (in hindsight, we should have flown with Singapore Airlines of which economy class seats were more spacious) and arrived in Chengdu at 7 am. We had to pick our Tibet permit in Chengdu as the tour agent in Lhasa didn’t have sufficient time to mail it to us. Thankfully, Mickey - a colleague from our Chengdu office - was kind enough to pick it up for us and meet us at the airport. Her helpfulness didn’t stop there as she even offered to take us around in Chengdu before catching our flight at 1 pm to Lhasa.
We had some free time to visit the
old town of Chengdu and explored the small alleys that were newly renovated turned into rows of restaurants and cafes. Unfortunately, we arrived a little bit too early to have breakfast in any of those cafes and ended up having our breakfast at a local food stall. Chengdu is famous for its laid back lifestyle and tea. After having our breakfast and spending sometime at the old town, Mickey sent us to the airport around 11 am (it was delayed to 1 pm).
Once arrived at Lhasa’s Gonggar airport, we were picked up by the hotel car. We’re quite impressed by the airport which was new and huge for a city with 600,000 population. The ride to the hotel took about 45 minutes on a smooth and 2 lane highway. We enjoyed the view and passed the scenic 551km Kyichu river, known as Mother River for Tibetans. It was a perfect weather as well as temperature was approximately 12-15c.
We were relieved arriving at St Regis as we had been on the road and air for almost 18 hours including the transit time in Chengdu. The hotel was indeed elegantly designed, overlooking towards the Potala Palace. The room
was spacious, sufficient for the three of us (with an extra bed) of which interior design had a local touch.
We had a complimentary dinner at the Tibetan restaurant as part of the hotel package. By around 10 pm, my cousin Nini started to feel dizzy and nausea from the high altitude sickness. Even though we had cans of oxygen in the room, she refused to open it until she could not stand any more about 4 am when her face turned white.
The next day, we were picked up after breakfast by our guide, Sonam, who suggested that we should go to 36 ha Norbulingka Park or the Summer Palace of 14th Dalai Lama. It is also one of UNESCO World Heritage Sites built in 1755. By then, thankfully, my cousin Nini had regained her strengths after taking Rosella herbs used by the Tibetan to cure high altitude sickness. We saw many Tibetan ladies in colorful costumes coming to the temples for prayers, and they looked happy (perhaps it's due to stress free life and dedication to God).
We had lunch at a local restaurant that served us yak beef BBQ at Barkhor Square and went
shopping afterwards. Barkhor Square is the central of activities in Lhasa and also the location of Jokhang Temple, where many pilgrims from all over the country came and did their prayers. Throughout the journey, the pilgrims practised prostation by standing up with both hands clapped on their head, kneeling, lying their face down and stretch their arms and leg till they reach the ground, stand up, and take one step forward - and repeated the process until they reach theired destination.
Barkhor Squre is such a busy place - we can see monks, nuns and people praying with their beads or prayers wheels on their hands. Colorful prayers flags and beads were also being sold on many stalls along with other souvenirs along the alleys.
The next day, Sonam picked us up after breakfast and headed towards Potala Palace, the highest palace on earth. To my surprise, I didn’t see as many pilgrims as in Jokhang Temple, and later on were told that the government had limited the number of people for entry to the palace to preserve it (Sonam had purchased our ticket earlier). Potala Palace today is a museum which explained why I didn’t see many
monks there either.
Seeing and being at Potala Palace was surreal as it had been a childhood dream for me. It was simply magical, and climbing up the stairs to the palace was literally breath taking! At an altitude of 3,700 meter above the sea level, oxygen was thin, and we needed twice as much efforts to climb the stairs. I could not imagine how it was being built a few hundred years ago - how people lift all the heavy stones at thin air! No wonder it took 45 years to complete this palace.
We went for lunch at a local restaurant as I wanted to have yak beef served in a bowl with rice covered with cheese similar to the one I had in Ringha, China but could not find it. Afer lunch, we went to Ani Tsankhung Monastery near Barkhor, which is a nunnery and spent the rest of afternoon at Barkhor Square (there were too many shops that we could not ignore). I got myself a Tibetan painting at reasonable price from “Lhasa Tibetan Village Artistic Company while my cousin Dewi spent tons of money for an antique bowl decorated in gems! After dinner,
at Sera Monastery
we visited Potala Palace to have its picture in the evening (the palace was lighted up until about 9 pm).
On the last day of our trip, we visited Sera Monastery, one of the greatest Gelukpa university monasteries in Tibet. As the previous places visited, this monastery was equally charming as we got to see some of the purest souls on earth. We saw approximately 100 to 150 monks - young and older - debating on the “Debate Courtyard”. It was the best location to see ‘monks debate’ on the teaching of Buddha and its philosophy, held daily at around 4 pm for about an hour.
We ended our trip by having a spa, followed by yoga at the hotel. Our Tibetan yoga teacher wore a see-through white outfit which was too distracting that I had to avoid looking by closing my eyes and missed a few moves that made my cousin laughed.
We left for Singapore the next day ten times happier - now we know why people called this place “The land of happiness”, and perhaps we should learn from the TIbetan how to lead a stress free life.
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