Friday, August 5, 2016

Tibet Adventures 2000

In 2000, after working for the Federal government for 35 years I retired from a Human Resources Manager position with the Federal Aviation Administration and within the month I was on my way to tour Asia--Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan.  It was a present from my wife, Tani.  She also gave me a Sony video camera to capture some of what I saw.  I traveled with the tour director Max Holland, a personal friend of Tani's college roommate, Donna Bender.  Although Max was a guide for Wilderness Travels, for this tour he had put together a small group of travelers he had met during his previous tours.  Donna vouched for me by saying I was not a whiner or complainer and was an easy traveler.

Tibet, “Roof of the World”, has remained isolated from the outside world, a land of fascination and mystery for travelers.  It was only in the mid-1980s that foreign tourists were officially allowed into Tibet by the new Chinese overlords.  Our first stop was Lhasa, which is the heart and soul of Tibet and is at an altitude of 12,000 feet. 


While in Lhasa, we visited some of the most sacred places for the Tibetans.  The Potala Palace, perched high above Lhasa is a place of spiritual pilgrimage and the cultural heart of Tibetan Buddhism.  was founded in the 7th Century and has been the home to all of Tibet’s Dalai Lamas (Oceans of Wisdom), and their remains contained in silver and gold chortens can still be seen in the Potala.  We saw some of the 1,000 rooms, and 
200,000 statues. I also saw and filmed some Potala workers who chanted out a song while crushing some red rock paving stones.   

The Jokhang is the most sacred religious location where you see pilgrims from all over Tibet with their yak butter lamps in hand to prostrate themselves before this sacred shrine.

The Drepung Monastery is about three miles from Lhasa.  Before the Chinese invasion in the 1950s, Drepung Monastery was a monastic university, which once housed 10,000 monks, with its colleges teaching different aspects of Buddhism.  Today, the Chinese allow just 600 monks to live there, and you can still see some of the foundations of the buildings that were destroyed by the Chinese.  

Our visit to Norbulinka, the Dalai Lama’s former Summer Palace, featured some traveling musicians.

While in Lhasa, we visited a nearby orphanage filled with mostly Tibetan kids who entertained us.  According to Max it was started by a group of flight attendants who encouraged other travelers like us to visit and donate.

Our old mountain washed out road to Gyantse, passed over Karo La Pass at 16,550 feet past the Yamdrok Yamtso Lake, where we encountered yaks, herders and nomads. 


We visited villagers in their adobe farmhouses with elaborately painted interiors as well as nomads with their sturdy and portable yurts (felt tents).  


At Gyantse we visited one of the best-preserved Tibetan market towns as well as visiting the Kumbum, which contains some of the most beautiful murals that is now unique in the Buddhist world.  


In Shigatse, we visited the Tashilhunpo Monastery, which was constructed in 1447 by the first Dalai Lama.  It is now the home of the Panchen Lama, who is the Dalai Lama that the Chinese replaced.  The Dalai Llama that fled to India and is now in exile is the one that Westerners are most familiar with.  While we were there the monks were holding a fall festival with Llama dances culminating in a purging of the evil spirits from the Monastery symbolized by the lighting of a fire just outside the Monastery gates.

The following day we drove along the Friendship Highway to Tsedang where we passed snow capped mountains, wild gorges cut by the Brahmaputra River.  All along the way villagers were in the middle of harvesting barley and millet by hand as their ancestors had done for centuries.  Tsedang is in the Yarlung Valley, which is considered by Tibetans to be the cradle of their culture.  It was here that the first Tibetan kings unified Tibet in the 7th century, and where Guru Rinpoche first introduced Buddhism into Tibet.  

We took a ferryboat ride to get to the 1,300 year old Samye Monastery, the most magical of Tibet’s great monasteries.  This is where I took video of a monk chanting and drumming sacred Tibetan prayers. Following that we climbed up to Yumbulagang Castle, supposedly the oldest remaining building in Tibet.

We passed over the Himalayas on our way back to Kathmandu which is our next destination.

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