Monday, July 1, 2013

A Lass in Lhasa

If Dorothy had been Korean, she could have said, "We're not in Bundang anymore, Toto."  That is what I want to say, sitting here in a Kathmandu internet cafe.  It is nowhere near as comfy as a PCbang in Korea, nor is their speed as fast, which is why I'm actually typing this into my hotmail account while blogger is uploading my photos.  Luckily my feet need a break from wandering - I walked from Patan's Durbar square to Kathmandu's Durbar square to the end of Thamel and back to my hostel yesterday, which is a lot of walking on damaged feet.  Totally worth it, even if I did feel like I was melting, but a nice, chillaxed day of blogging and (later this afternoon) a cooking class will make a nice change.
Anyways, more about Tibet.  I got to Lhasa on the second day of my trip.  I had been looking forward to it for.  ev.  er.  I could see Potala Palace before we even got close, and that was thrilling.  And then we got closer, and it looked like just another Chinese city.  That was disappointing, to say the least, realizing it was not the Shang-ri-La I'd been dreaming of, no matter how much I'd been expecting it.  Then we got to the area I stayed in, just outside the Barkhor Kora (pilgrim circuit), and the Chinese part of the city was blocked out.  The buildings are very traditional, and either white-washed, or yellow-washed, or red-washed, or some combination of the three.  It is some kind of wash.  I found this out when I brushed my hand along the edge of a temple and it turned my hand a bricky color.
 
The Barkhor circuit is built in a square around Jokhang temple, and with three hours to spare between being left at my hotel and meeting my guide, the Energizer Bunny (yes, that is the nickname I'm giving her - she keeps going, and going, and going), I decided to go exploring.  You'd think that between it being a square and my incredible sense of direction, that it would be impossible to get lost.  Well, I didn't get lost, but it was a near thing.  Mostly because my hostel wasn't actually ON the square, so I couldn't just keep going until I stumbled across it.  Also, something new I learned - you can save a map on a Galaxy note.  It remembers what you've panned over, anyways, but having a saved map of where you're going is actually really convenient if you don't want to look like a total noob dragging your guidebook with you everywhere.

As I mentioned in the last post, I think the Tibetans are the most pious people I've ever had the privilege to meet.  The first day with the Energizer Bunny, I was impressed, because not only did she KNOW all sorts of things about Buddhism (which makes sense as a guide), she actually practiced it, buying butter to add to the lamps and doing her prostrations before telling me about the chapels we were in.  When we got into Lhasa I got to see this on a greater scale.  Everywhere people were burning incense, rotating prayer wheels, even completing the Kora by prostrating themselves every few steps.  That means that they kneel down, stretch themselves out fully, press their head to the ground, drop their prayer beads, stand up, take a few steps to where their prayer beads are, and repeat until they have circled the temple.  And besides this outward manifestation of their faith, they really seemed to be a kind, patient, peaceful people, actually living what they believe, which is more than I can say for practitioners of some religions. 

As peaceful and kind as they are, they aren't total slaves to tradition.  I loved the colorful hairdos that they women (and some men) had - they braid colored thread into their hair and around their head like a coronet (I tried this myself, but my hair is not quite long enough yet).  Energizer Bunny explained that this was something married women do; that before they marry, most Tibetan girls wear jeans and t-shirts, only trading them in for more traditional clothes when they get hitched.  Everyone everywhere had cell phones, too, and most of the hotels had wifi, although it didn't always work.  Dhondup actually has his own facebook page and organizes things independently; it was part of the reason I decided to book my tour through him, rather than a Chinese agency - I wanted my time in Tibet to benefit the Tibetan people as much as possible.  Also, he had a lot of good feedback on Lonely Planet's Tibet forum.

Oh, and apparently the hairstyle isn't just for married women - I came across these little girls while I was exploring, with threads braided into their hair, too, and they were too dang cute!  Most of the Tibetans I met didn't mind me taking their photo, which was cool.


Visiting Potala Palace was probably the best part of my stay in Lhasa.  It just has so much history, and is stunning.  The colors inside it were unbelievable, and the view you get from up there, while not what it would have been sixty years ago, is still pretty spectacular.  However, this was the saddest part of my trip as well.  The Energizer showed me the different tombs of past Dalai Lamas, and you can't help but think about the fact that the current Dalai Lama, the man whose house this really is, is in exile, and when he dies, will probably not be laid to rest here.  I know it's just a house (okay, a palace, in fact, and in part a temple), but if I think about not being able to go home and see my family ever again, it breaks my heart.

One other thing I learned about Tibetans last week: they actually like cats.  As a general rule, Asians don't like cats.  Koreans don't, Chinese don't, Mongolians don't (yes, I know that's not all of Asia, but it's a significant chunk, right?)  Tibetans don't mind them, and that was nice to see.  The Energizer said that Tibetans keep cats in their homes and take their dogs with them on their pilgrim routes, and while the cats I saw weren't spoiled like their American counterparts, they didn't run off scared when you try to pet them.  And you've got to love a people that like cats.

6 comments:

  1. I love the picture of the cat chilling in the shade.

    I always think it is interesting to see technology that I use and take advantage of daily in other countries that are still true to their traditional roots.

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    1. I agree- it never fails to amaze me when I see monks playing with smartphones. Just goes to show that technology is not antithetical to tradition.

      Cats make great photo subjects - they're too lazy to move while you're lining up your shots!

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  2. Looks pretty amazing. I like the picture of the lady with the cellphone. It makes me wonder what people did to get in contact with each other before those became readily available.

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    1. That's funny - sometimes when I'm reading books from the pre-cell era, I forget people didn't have them, and I start wondering why they aren't using their phones ;-)

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  3. Somethings about Lhasa disappointed me as I had a certain idea in my mind of what it would be like, but I still get chills and teary when I see the Potala. Tibet is such a different world. I'm so jealous!

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    1. I feel the same way - I'm supposed to so with Lit after she's better and I don't even mind going back to Lhasa - not only to see the Potala again, but because I didnt get to see those damn debating monks you loved so much. I did, however, get to see them taking tea at the Tiger's Nest today, so I guess it's alright.

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