Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Life at the Top of the World

After years of trying, we have finally reached Tibet, the rooftop of the world. The air in Lhasa is thin, and despite medication to prevent altitude sickness, many in our group were gasping for air as we moved from the plane to immigration control. The airport is about an hour from Lhasa proper, and the road to the city is banked by large complexes of vacant, newly built, mid-rise apartments. We could only guess they were the work of real estate speculators building in anticipation of an event that has yet to be announced. Lhasa, itself, is much as I imagined it to be. The streets are clean and colorful prayer flags fly from white washed buildings. Age seems to determine how people dress, with elders wearing traditional garments, while the younger people have adopted more western garb. While Tibet is a secular country, its citizens are profoundly devout and spinning prayer wheels and quiet chanting is the norm as folks move through the streets. The man who handled our luggage prayed as he moved suitcases from the coach to the hotel lobby. There are times of day when the incense that is burned is dense enough to make the eyes water. On a long term basis, I can only imagine what it would do to the lungs. The Dalai Lama is discussed only in historical perspective, although two of his palaces, actually monasteries, are as they were when he left the country. There are two principal palaces whose use was determined by the season. Winters at 12,000 feet can be bitterly cold, so the monks moved to lower climes as weather moved in. The Potala Palace, which is the seat of the Dalai Lama, is one of the most imposing structures I have ever seen. Guides take tourist up the 500 steps to the palace entrance. It sounds like a walk in the park, but believe me when I say it is not. The climb almost did me in and only determination got me to the monastery entrance. We also had the good fortune to spend time with nomadic farmers who opened their home, prayer room and kitchen to us. They lead simple spartan lives, but share what they have with their community and strangers who come their way. Until recently, the Tibetan diet was mainly meat based, but vegetables are slowly working their way to tables now under the influence of China and India. I must tell you that we had yak at all of our main meals. When it is well prepared, it tastes much like beef or buffalo. So, if you are looking for ways to cook yak, this blog is the place you want to be. We also had more than our fair share of butter tea. This is an acquired taste and while I find myself in situations where it is served, I haven't yet acquired that taste. The Tibetans are a gentle people who take no more from the earth than they need to survive. That principle of need is carried even into death. They refuse burial because they believe the land is for the living, not the dead. I could have spent several weeks here, but our schedule carries us on to Nepal. I will be posting more photos from Tibet on Facebook. Having been here for even a short time has been a blessing. Wish you were here...Mary


David said...

Mary, Interesting and exotic too! Yak meat and butter tea...a little outside our normal dining fare. Sounds like a great trip. Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

Thanks for sharing this with us Mary.

Deirdre Reid said...

What a fascinating journey. Thanks for sharing this experience.

Pondside said...

You have some interesting adventures! I'd be interested in a description of the taste of butter tea!

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