May 21 travel day Xi'an to Tibet

This process took all day and I'd like to report that my new suitcase is working out very well Knock On Wood. I can manage myself around all those stairs and checking this and checking that...
...however upon arrival in Lhasa elevation something like 12,000 feet I was most grateful that the pedi-cab driver carried the bag up the three flights of incredibly steep steps leading to the place where I will stay for four nights.
Wow, Tibet. Those are sand dunes down there.
The airport bus transfer to Lhasa took more than one and a half hours and during that time we drove through some very small settlements and mostly scenes like this one.

First we got hit by a sandstorm so powerful the bus was enveloped. These trees must be bred by generations to survive such harsh circumstances. See the little ones behind these - there are new plantings all along hoping probably for a windbreak for the new development no doubt planned for here.
It was so cool. After the vicious sandstorm came the pouring rain followed a few miles later by swirling snow but by the time we reached town it was all quiet and crisp and cold.
Out my back window, a Chinese tourist hotel.

I will be entirely silent regarding the political situation while I'm here.

(**I'm home now. While in Tibet there were signs on every computer advising that you be mindful of the rules and although the rules are not specified as KNOW. No Polities, No Dalai Lama, Do Not call attention to yourself.

There is so much to say on this including how to be a tourist, what the new high-speed train will do, why is it I so enjoyed being in China but the same Chinese people here are occuping oppressors. This is very much an occupied country and it is painfully obvious that the Tibetan people are expiencing great loss. I think the movie 'Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion' brings this into focus.

Send me an email if you have any specific questions.**)
May 22 Lhasa

All the signs in Lhasa are in this style, with first writing in the Tibetan language, and then with mathematical precision, just so much bigger in Chinese, and then English might follow especially if it is a tourist enterprise.
So when I saw this hand written sign it looked like maybe a cafe that is so small as to not have to meet the signage requirement. So I made a motion for food and pointed at the sign. The woman nodded, went inside and came out with a tray of cut-up sausages and offered me one.

So I ate it. It had to be yak something because it was plenty big different, chewy, dense and dark, made with bits of meat I suppose, in a vast array of browns. I thanked them heartily but did not go in!
I spent the rest of the day at what they call the spiritual heart of Tibet, the Jokhang Temple, one block away from my hostel (built in the mid-seventh century by Songzain Gambo for the Tang Princess Wen Cheng and Nepalese Princess Bhrikuti).

It is a fairly large complex of shrines and galleries filled with images, door carvings, and many treasures of Tibetan art.
And on many of the outside walls are these prayer drums that the faithful spin as they walk past.
The most astonishing part for me was 'the circuit' where the pilgrims walk in clockwise motion around the complex. They walk maybe 8 wide in a fast moving river that just doesn't let up.

There are also pilgrims who go the extra mile so to speak, by crawling and various other methods the more difficult, the more valuable.
From the river of pilgrims.

I'll find out more about the symbolisms today as I have a guide for a tour of the Potala, the onetime winter residence of the Dalai Lama.

It's so cool how when you happen to glance up you see the magnificent surrounding mountains.
Can't forget the Shopping!

And not just tourist shopping. Bus loads of Tibetans from the countryside came in to do the pilgrimage and then loaded the buses, every single inch inside and piled high on the roof with their purchases from town.
May 23 Lhasa

Three generations of beautiful. This shot is from the Potala, once the center of religious and political life in Tibet. I'll show a little of this place tomorrow.

What follows is one giant event that happened this afternoon. It turns out today was the last day of a major festival wherein every prayer you say counts double so as you can well suppose there was a lot of avid praying going on all around town.

Also it explains a lot of what went on yesterday, and tomorrow I'll have to include some of this too.
These are monks from more than just the local temple gathered because the highest ranking lama still in Tibet is here on that podium in a large courtyard.

The woman you see bowing has given money to the monks and they are passing it around to those seated. For several hours this went on and the whole time the monks, and there were at least ten ranks of them, were doing that amazing low throat rumbling chant where you wonder when do they ever get a chance to take a breath.
The main man.

Everything you see is symbolic of something. It is a very complicated religion! (But then as an outsider aren't they all. Let's just reflect a minute on what it takes to get a Pope...)

One thing though, all the great objects of devotion are displayed in fabulous indoor spaces and there are No Photos Allowed. Bummer for me, better for them to keep the crowds moving.
Once they finish the chanting they all come out here to another courtyard for a ritual of burning.
The crowd gathers and the monks take their seats.

Many white-folk-tourists and Chinese officials occupied the roofs and it was photophoto Snap City up there.
The apparently senior men wear some special decorations for the occasion.
Families from all over the country are gathered here and the city people are noticeably different in dress and demeanor from the villagers.
Devoted, reverent, and just plain thrilled to be here.
May 24 Lhasa

Another view looking up from the main square. It's so Tibet, top of the world and all.

Last night there was a storm that was so fierce I spent much of the time wondering how winter must be. The lightning was so bright I had to close the drape for the first time since I started this trip.

And the thunder was not that huge clapping booming thunder we've come to expect. Oh no. It was rather as if a 747 was landing on your next door neighbor's driveway and then at the last minute the pilot decides to pull out and roars over your house to come around and try the approach again.
Our main man is now handed all sorts of items which he tosses into the fire to the chants and chiming of the monk's bells.

Note the two large basins containing yellow liquid. This is yak butter and is used everywhere throughout the temples, to burn as a special offering. You can tell the most important places by how slippery the floor is with yak butter.

This temple contains the most revered image in Tibet and going through there with the throngs of avid devotees was - actually I haven't digested this experience yet.
The Potala from on top of the main temple. The building itself is a gigantic warren of amazing rooms, the sitting room of this Dalai Lama, the shrine to this manifestation of Buddha, a great scholar's library, and on and on.
This was from yesterday's big event and these are young monks not yet ready to participate with their elders. You see a section of the chanters on the floor below.
This is the Sera Monestary just a few miles outside town where more than 5,000 monks once lived and now there are around 500.
More from Sera.
This is a nunnery. You can tell because the buildings are painted colorfully and there are plants all around. (I just made that up...)

The nuns were doing daily prayers when I got there and the chanting was extraordinary to hear - so different from the men in tone but similar in outcome.
At another temple where parents bring their children to bless their heads. The kids must have all been quite used to the procedure because they ran up to the faucet and stuck their little heads right under the water.

Here comes another one. My turn!
A few words about the Pentoc Guesthouse where I've been staying in Lhasa. These are the community rooms where guests gather and is also a full service cafe. All the food was exceptionally delicious. I saw their hall of a kitchen and found it even more remarkable!

This was the place most like camping out in that the toilet was down one flight of stairs and the shower was down another. The room was perfectly nice and hey, it cost $10.

My room was on the third floor which was more like up five flights of very steep steps and I felt the altitude every time I made the direct assent. I'm toying with the idea of going for a hotel at the next place since my average cost per room night so far has been $15. We'll see!
May 25 Lhasa

Today was a travel day. Alllll day. Way more of the day than I intended, and tomorrow, when I show you where I am sitting right this minute, well, it's not what I expected!

All these photos are out windows - out the bus window to the airport and out the plane window to Chendu.

A yak. I ate that yak, yak sausage and yak curry. The sausage was weird, the curry was delicious.
Right down the middle of the main avenue in the capital of Tibet rolls miles of these and other military vehicles. Of course it was threatening.
The food was really universally good and this must be one of the reasons - all fresh.
Those are sheep down there, but what I Really wanted was a chance at a YAK.
Tibetan prayer flags.
Maybe he's a yak, but then maybe he's a water buffalo?

From Lhasa I flew off to Chendu in the certain knowledge that there are two flights with plenty of seats always available, direct to where I want to go - Lijiang. Upon arrival in Chendu come to find out all the flights to Lijiang are just now cancelled indefinately because there is some technical thing.. with accepting night landings and all the Chendu flights land at night.

So a reshuffle takes me to Kunming for a few hours sleep before connecting on to Lijiang.
Nothing that can't be solved with time (take a bus) or money (pay for the extra flight). I must be getting lazy since I chose to kick in the extra bucks.

This was the view out my window leaving Tibet to show how much luck has to do with getting a good shot. Maybe I should have pressed to change seats. Actually I'm kind of regreting not having done that.
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