From Holy City Lhasa To Top of the World, Tibet
Wednesday, 26 January 2011 13:09
DSC_0989It was still dark outside when I opened my eyes, we were the only ones in the 14. cabin of the 14. carrier of the train from Chengdu to Lhasa which we got on January 14, the other two passengers got off the train the day before. I got down from the bed and had a look at the time, it was 08:30. Tibet and rest of China has the same time zone and this was the reason of the dark mornings together with the altitude. The trains heading to Lhasa were different than the others in China. There were altitude meters as well as oxygen resources in the carriers. The basic specialities required for the carriers running on world's highest train line... I had a look at the empty corridor, the value on altitude meter was 4945 meters. My breathing was fine, whereas we confirmed that any health problem we may have after 3000 meters was our own issue. Ismail woke up in a few minutes, we watched the frozen rivers, lakes and yaks feeding around while having our breakfast. The group people in one of the cabins next to us were probably from Tibet depending on their clothes. They greeted us and got off the train in Naqu which was the last station before Lhasa. As a matter of fact, the decrease of the value in altitude meter meant that we are getting closer to Lhasa. We were looking outside through the windows curiously, the train was in its way through little villages, there were many people outside, some people were laying down on the roads frequently and then walking. Finally we arrived to Lhasa after 43,5 hours and 3360 kilometers. Our guide that will join us until Nepal border met us in the train station and took us to our hotel. When we opened the door of the room that we planned to stay, an old man with long white beard in his bed in the dark told us " Its very cold at nights, DSC_1097ask for extra blankets" Shouldn't old man with white beard exist in dreams ? We decided to find another place to stay, the hostel we found nearby looked like a cold one but we had seen worse before. We left our luggages and went out. The streets were really crowded. Many Tibetans with their local clothes were around. We were looking around in a surprised way, our steps took us to the square in front of the Jokhang Temple, one of the most holy places in Tibet. There were hundreds of people in front of the temple, women who tied their knittings to each other, man with their colorful headings, little kids with their wounded cheeks because of cold and dirt, monks and Chinese soldiers with their rifles. Some Tibetans were praying in front of the temple by laying down and standing up special to Tibetan Buddhism while some circumbulating around the temple. There were no foreigners except us, it was the coldest time to visit Lhasa. But this time of the year was special for Tibetans because it was the pilgrim time in holy city Lhasa...

DSC_0696We startled with a Turkish yelling while walking towards our train in Chengdu Train Station; "Are you Turkish ?" A tall, slim guy with a thin moustache was smiling at us. Ömer was studying in Chengdu amd yelled us after he noticed the Turkish flags on our backpacks. He was from East Turkestan and we could easily communicate since his Turkish was very fluent. After we told him that we were going to Tibet, he asked why we don't visit East Turkestan. We couldn't answer, because we didn't plan it before. In fact we didn't have any plans to go to Tibet as well before, because individual traveling to Tbet was forbidden, we had to be a part of a tour organized by a registered company and all the monastiries must had been visited with the guide, this was the only way to get travel permit confirmed by Chinese government. The mystery of Tibet and the positive comments by our friends who traveled to Tibet before convinced us too. We decided to conform a group with Fran and sandra which were in contact by the help of agency and have the tour together. This also decreased the overall cost. We were aware of the cold caused by the season and the altitude and already completed the preparations in Beijing and Shanghai. The weather would be cold, we would be heading to west starting from Lhasa, see Himalayas after climbing up to 5500 meters and then reach to Nepal border just in a week. Hard days were ahead of us.

DSC_1245Cold and dry weather met us when we arrived Lhasa. Our guide was also there. After wrapping the traditional white cover to our neck, he informed us about Tibet. We were allowed to roam and shop around Lhasa freely, but we were not allowed to get into monasteries without him. It was also forbidden to take photos of the armed forces around. There were several political problems several times after Tibet was involved in China and the tension caused by these problems were still active. That was the reason why we saw many soldiers around the night we were walking around the square. Whereas the square was very colorful and the soldiers around were completely condradictive. Winter was the pilgrim time for the villagers who work all summer long. Many of them arrived here after spending days, even weeks praying on the road; laying down and standing up in short periods all the way to Lhasa. They were first praying in and around Jokhang Monastery and then circumbulating around old Lhasa after their long trip With their colorful local clothes and headings on top, their little kids in the back and the pray wheels named manichorkor in which there are scripts about buddhism. After what we saw, we both agree that Lhasa is one of the cities where the religion concept is very strong.

DSC_0975We had of course yak meat in the evening... and yak yoghurd. The weather was very cold when we got back to the hostel. We had find a way to warm ourselves at night since there are no heatings around Tibet because of the economic conditions. This meant to wear many layers of clothes. It was hard but we managed to sleep. In Lhasa, the day time was surprising while the night time was cold. Next morning, we started to see the city with our guide. First morning we went to Norblingka which is known as the summer palace of successive DalaiLama's who are the spiritual and political leaders of Tibet. This palace is now a museum since 14. and last Dalailama fled to India after Chinese invasion and there is even a zoo inside now. Our guide whom we had to chance to have a talk in lunch also told about the difficulties and problems since 1959 till now. He told that it may take years for Tibetan people to own a Chinese passport and even it is impossible for them to have the passport without the help important people in important levels. It was time to visit Jokhang Monastery after the lunch. We were excited to see the inside of monastery which impressed us deeply the previous day. We got in passin among the people praying by laying down or circumbulating. There was a huge line DSC_1144of people to see the buddha sculptures and pray inside. They were spinning the pray wheels and staring at us curiously. The situation inside was completely different. There were tens of buddha sculptures inside and people were praying by touching to the platforms of the sculptures with their heads or feeding the candles with the butter bottles. Some of them were in tears while they keep praying loudly. Poverty was the most remarkable detail. It was not hard to understand that the little kids haven't had a shower for a long time and they have limited abilities. After leaving the monastery we decided to roam around the streets of old city. Every profile we saw was surprising us more but none of us expected to find a mosque and people with whilte headings in Lhasa, the hold city of Tibetan Buddhism. The people with white headings that are out of the mosque and people with pray wheels coming our of the Jokhang monastery were walking in the crowds all together.

DSC_1005After the cold night, we started the new day by visiting Tibet's most known place, Porala Palace. The palace was reachable by the long stairs and we were breathing very difficultly although we climbed the stairs so slowly since we still had problems about the altitude. This was our third day in Lhasa and we still had serious problems with breathing and that's why we were moving so slowly. But why didn't we have any problems in the train when we are around 5000 metres ? Fran answered this question; oxygen was pumped into the carriers through oxygen resources and we didn't even notice it. The Tibetans who are already used to the altitude were climbing fast while we were breathing difficultly although we were climbing very slowly.

DSC_1190Potala Palace was build in 7. century and hosted successive DalaiLama's until 14. DalaiLama left Tibet, the religious and political future of Tibet was formed here. Although it is really glorious it is now a museum like Norblingka and only some parts are allowed to visit. Many Tibetans come here since the palace is still very important to them although their holy leader is not here anymore. After the lunch we visited Sera Monastery, one of the important ones in Lhasa. This is a plae where you can see many kids with black traces on their noses. This is and old monastery where annoying or mostly crying kids brought to pray and a black trace from the ash of the holy fire is left to their noses. There are long lines of people like the other monasteries. Kids with black noses that are curious are following us again. We also witnessed an interesting ritual while visiting the monastery, a ritual where many monks get together in a garden and try to find the actual wisdom by asking questions to each other and slap their hands. We spent our last night in Lhasa around the streets of Jokhang Monastery which is also known as Barkhor. Our guide was informing us about buddhism for days but we were more concentrated on the people and what we like most in Lhasa was watching people.

DSC_1305It was time to hit on the road after spending 3 days in Lhasa and next stop was Gyantse. We first went to Kambala Pass which is around 4700 metres high through the Friendship Highway which connects Tibet and Nepal. This pass was a great place to see Yamdrok Tso Lake which is the biggest in Tibet. Then we headed to Gyantse after passing through Kharola Glacier which is around 5500 metres. Gyantse is a little town compared to Lhasa and it hosts the Palchor Code Monastery. We visited the monastery and then spent the day around streets. The dinner was again in a muslim restaurant. We didn't even know that there are so many muslims living in Tibet. The next stop next day was Shigatse and Tashilunpo Monastery. After visiting the monastery that was established in a large area, we spent the day resting because we would have a tiring trip to Everest next day. We woke up early in the morning and came to Tingri town. After the lunch a tough trip was ahead  of us. We were able to see Himalayas after our car went through unpaved roads with many bends and reached the altitude of 5500 metres. 5 peaks over 8000 metres were next to us. But we didn't reach the target yet. Our car kept going over unpaved roads and through little villages and we reached Ronghpu Monastert which was build in the slopes of Mount Everest. This was the best point to see Everest clearly. Monks were staring at us curiously while we were enjoying the view. We couldn't visit Everest Base Camp because of the icy roads but it was a great pleasure to get this close to Everest.

DSC_1551We went to Old Tingri town to spend the night. The only place to stay in town were formed of a few baracks and there was no heating inside. We spent the night clothed in layers again and tried to sleep. This must have been the way of saying goodbye of Tibet to us, cold nights again. It was again dark when we woke up and we hit on the road early in the morning. It was time to head to the border. We arrived to Nyalam first through snowy and icy mountain roads and then started to go down deep into the canyon. It was time to get down from the Roof of the World. After a while we were in the clouds where we watched them above after leaving Nyalam. The last Chinese city before the border was established in the slope of the mountains. We kept going to the base of the river in the canyon through the city. There were many colorful trucks around. Trucks that are trying to find their way in narrow streets. We had the last turn in the last bend and noticed the Nepalese flags at the next side of the river. It seems the river was the border. It was time to say goodbye to China which we ripped through for a long time. A brand new country, a brand new culture was ahead of us; the country on the other side of Himalayas, Nepal...
 
Özcan