Monday, May 22, 2006

Lin-Lin in Lhasa

From here on in, I will be known as Lin-Lin.

Apparently my guide in Tibet had a hard time with the name Della and renamed me Rong-Lin (based on my last name). I am told that Lin means "beautiful Jade" and she gave me the nickname Lin-Lin. I wasn't so sure I liked this name. I believe that one of my university roommates' dogs was called Lin-Lin. Sadly, this name stuck and my travel companions in Tibet - Matthaius, Kep Kep and Leo - all liked it and insisted on using it.

The flight into Lhasa was incredible. With the window seat all I could see to the horizon were giant white mountains. Lhasa itself was beautiful. As we drove into town, the Potala palace - perched on a hill overlooking the town - came into our view and it struck me how strange it was to be in Tibet. Suddenly I felt the distance between myself and everyone at home in Canada.

Our first day in Lhasa was a quiet one because we needed to acclimatize to the nearly 4,000 meter altitude. I didn't feel the altitude, but Matthaius, Kep Kep and Leo all had terrible headaches and we were all exhausted after the early flight and the drive into the city.

On our second day in Lhasa we first toured the Potala palace. It was filled with hundreds of giant golden Buddhas and other Tibetan buddhist shrines. The best part was that the palace is a living monestary and temple. While walking around we were pushed aside by Tibetans who were making offerings to the various Buddhas and stupas. They prayed, lit candles and made offerings of money to the Buddhas they saw. Outside, groups of pilgrims pushed the prayer wheels and threw themselves on the ground in prayer.

We then visited the Jokhang Temple/Monestary. Located in the middle of town, large groups of monks dressed in heavy maroon robes sat around in groups. We were told that these monks had come from all over Lhasa to debate issues related to Buddhism and to sit exams. Inside the monestary, we were lucky to see the arrival of a high-ranking Lama. The monestary was shut to visitors, but since we were already inside they permitted us to stay. Monks were dressed in their full outfits, including their hats, and had decorated the courtyard with paintings of Buddhist symbols. As the Lama arrived, they played their horn and rushed over to greet the old man.

The rest of our time in Lhasa was spent wandering the Barkhor market that surrounds the monestary. Pilgrims circle the monestary in prayer and along the circuit there are vendors selling everything from clothes to stuffed yaks.

The next morning we set out for a long drive through mountains and past green rivers to Shigatse, the home of the Panchen Lama. We again toured beautiful, ornate monestaries and I learned a lot about the Tibetan Buddhist religion. Our next day was an epic drive, offroading in our 4X4 through dirt paths, across streams and rivers and through tiny Tibetan villages filled with identical whitewashed homes. Arriving in Tingri, just a short distance from Everst, we were surprised to see that it was just one road lined with shops and a handful of guesthouses.

The scenery of Tibet is gorgeous and the closer we got to Everest, the more exicited the group of us got, despite the fact that it was colder and the altitude higher, causing some of us to be sick.


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