Arriving at the airport in Lhasa, Tibet, our travel group (including my troll, Aurora) was welcomed by our guide with the traditional Tibetan greeting of “tashi delek”, which means good fortune. We were also “greeted” by Chinese security, who searched our bags for anything relating to the Dalai Lama and took my passport into a separate room for a while without explanation. You get no stamp on your passport indicating that you’ve been to Tibet. If you ask, they will — begrudgingly — give you a China stamp. Our experience at the airport set the tone for our six-day stay in Tibet: a surreal mix of the spirituality and warmth of the Tibetan people and culture, and the constant dark presence of Chinese security forces that have had a stranglehold on Tibet since the 1950s.
It wasn’t long before we saw our first yak, the official animal of Tibet. About 85 percent of the world’s yak population lives in Tibet. That’s about 10 million yaks. We ate yak burgers (not bad). Check out the brown circles stacked on top of the homes in the last photo below. They’re 8-inch circles of dried yak dung, which Tibetan villagers use to heat their homes.
The breathtaking Tibetan landscape is dominated by the Himalayas. Our drive through the countryside took us to altitudes in excess of 17,000 feet. (FYI: 5,248 meters = 17,217 feet.) Thank god for Diamox!
Tibetans string prayer flags and white scarves throughout the countryside and peaks in the Himalayas to bring blessings. Traditionally, prayer flags come in five colors, arranged from left to right in specific order: blue, white, red, green and yellow. Blue symbolizes the sky, white symbolizes water, red symbolizes fire, green symbolizes air, and yellow symbolizes earth.
The Tibetan people are gracious and beautiful, with their black hair, ready smiles and flushed cheeks. Our guide Dolma (with Aurora below) left Tibet at the age of 15, walking over the Himalayas and through Nepal to reach India, where she attended school. A death in her family 10 years ago made her return to Tibet, once again walking home. Maria von Trapp has nothing on Dolma!
Chinese security was enforcing the “no photographs” rule at the border crossing, but I managed to sneak a quick pic of one of the many Sherpas (most of whom were women). I will never again complain about carrying a few bags of groceries.
Next post: “Buddha Doesn’t Want To See Your Legs” (our tour of Buddhist monasteries in Tibet).