High Times in Lhasa

We have been looking forward to this portion of the trip with excitement and trepidation. Tibet was a closed region until maybe 20 years ago.  Even today access for non Tibetans can be problematic.  Tibet had a brief period of independence in the 20th century that ended with the “peaceful resolution” in 1951. Leading up to that period it was a part of territory governed by China.  I will not delve too deeply into the politics here as I want to be able to leave.

We landed Friday morning and crawled off the plane at about 12,000 feet. Upon reaching our hotel we realized that nothing and no place is heated.  It was a brisk 48 F or so both outdoors and in our hotel rooms.  After some messing around with undocumented controls we got the radiant heat in the floors turned on.  Do you have any idea how long it takes to warm a room from ambient to 72 F with a warm floor?  We went to lunch, slowly. Fortunately no one in the group has come down with serious altitude sickness.  All of us are operating on 50% of normal energy.  Climbing steps is a chore. Carol and I slept for 9 hours Friday night.

Today we visited a private home where we sampled local snacks.  We started with yak butter tea and went on to yak cheese.  I actually enjoyed the tea even though it was Bay and strong flavored.  I won’t go out of my way to have it again. The cheese is also known to tourists as month cheese because it takes that long to chew.  On from there to the Lhasa Museum, you knew that was coming.  Lots of steps to the main entrance and many more to get to the primary exhibit. It provides a good over view of Tibet history just a little colored.  We wrapped up with lunch and then five of us took an optional tour to Sera Monastery and PaPunga Monastery.

The former is huge with a history going back to 1410. It’s peak population of monks was 50,000. It was decimated in the Cultural Revolution and now houses about 500. We witnessed what they call debates where students are grilled on their morning learning in a very formalized way.  The questioner uses a series of motions and claps to tell the student how he is doing in the exchange.  The debate is conducted in an ancient Tibetan language that is not used outside the Monastery.  This entailed many steps.

The next Monastery is very small with a current population of 25. It dates back to 7th Century and is where the current Tibetan alphabet was developed.  It consists of 30 characters and 4 vowels written above the line.  Some characters may be stacked below the line.  The Monastery is on a small cave with bare standing room in the front room.  The back room was so low Carol could not stand.  The view back to Lhasa was grand and the Potala Palace stood out clearly although a storm had dimmed the view. The last thing we saw there was the sky burial site.  I choose not to go into all the details, suffice it to say that vultures play a role.

At Potala Palace we expect to face as many steps as on the Great Wall.  I will turn in soon to prepare. The delay in posting is caused by my inability to publish using Blogger.  I suspect the enhanced firewall implemented for Tibet may have scientific to do with it.

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