Tuesday, July 14, 2009

This morning we leave Shigatse and continue our drive to Lhasa.  But before we depart this town, we visit the Tashilhunpo Monastery.  Located on a hill in the center of the city, the full name in Tibetan means “all fortune and happiness gathered here” or “heap of glory”.  This monastery is the traditional seat of the Panchen Lamas.  A bit of background – the highest authority in Tibet is, of course, the Dalai Lama.  The Panchen Lamas are the second highest ranking Lamas and referred to as the great scholars. The Panchen Lama bears part of the responsibility for finding the incarnation of the Dalai Lama and vice versa.

View of the monastery – walking towards the entrance.  The small white lines you see in the distance on the mountain are lines and lines of prayer flags stretched across the mountain face.

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Now that’s devotion…and a long walk up hill!

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The face of a monk…

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and a monk-in-training

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Inside the monastery walls are the rooms where the monks live

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Precious stone – covered Buddha with gorgeous cloth hangings on either side.

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Tything here is a little different than in a Christian church.  You can give to the gods by attaching your coins with yak butter to the walls of the monastery.  Our guide challenged us to lick the wall to confirm what he was saying…but we declined and assured him that we believed him.

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And we are back on the road toward Lhasa. The Himalayas are a spectacular backdrop for anything and everything…from the square mud houses resting against a dry and dusty mountain, painted with vibrant reds, blues, greens and yellows to the lush green valleys that appeared as we began to descend to a decent height above sea level.  Driving, instead of flying, gives you a different perspective on life.  We saw men working on roads, riding donkeys up through the hills, and guiding horse-drawn wagons full of women and children to unknown destinations.

Grazing yak. BTW…the female yak is called a dri.

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Every mile we travel rewards us with a new and stunning view of the mountains…or a plateau…or a green valley.

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Potty break…

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An earthen village built into the mountain.

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Now that’s a yak!  It’s a long-haired bovine (cow) and good eatin’ as I discovered in Lhasa!  And…you will notice that they eat far better than the cows do!

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Workers starting their day – off to work on the roads.

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Just one more way to get from point A to point B

Mount Everest showed its peak today and we all got out to ooh and aah as well as get a pof the legendary snow topped mountain in the clouds.

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I have to share some information I came across while researching Mount Qomolangma (pronounced – CHEW-muh-LONG-muh) better known as Mount Everest.  That’s right.  We are calling this mountain by the wrong name and to respect the wishes of the Tibetan people – I would request that you try to remember it’s true name.  And hey – you’ll really impress people if you call it by it’s original Tibetan name – they won’t know what you’re talking about but you can feel smug inside. Translated, it means Goddess of the Earth.

The mountain was named Mt Everest in 1865 after Sir George Everest, the surveyor-general of India who mapped the peak in 1852. But British mappers failed to fully research the local records when they assigned the name.  “Qomolangma” was actually recorded on maps as early as 1721.

Excerpts from an article in the Beijing Times, 2002

Though the Chinese marked the location of Mount Qomolangma, the world’s highest peak, on their map more than 280 years ago, Westerners today continue to refer to the peak as Mount Everest, rather than Tibetans’ Goddess Qomolangma, the peak’s original name.

 It is time, say scholars and Tibetans, for the world to rectify the error made by British colonialists over a century ago.

 Blindly believing themselves the first to discover the tallest mountain straddling the border of China’s Tibet and Nepal, British people named the peak…

 “The British colonists gave the name only because they thought it had no name,” Prof. Chen Qingying, an expert with the Tibetology Center, said. “It was very cocky and blind of the British to believe that they could make discoveries everywhere and pose themselves as discoverers.”

 “How could they name our goddess after a foreign man?” he said. “The sound is disharmonious with the legends about the holy peak we Tibetans have known from generation to generation. This is a disrespect and discrimination against our Tibetan culture.”

It’s their mountain.  So, everyone…say it with me…Qomolangma  ( CHEW-muh-LONG-muh).  Come on…this is great cocktail party stuff!  You’re bound to impress!

Incidentally, Everest himself was adamant that any geographical object should be named for “its true local or native appellation.”  In addition, Everest himself objected when his colleague proposed that Mt. Qomolangma be named for himself.  To that end, it would be fitting to honor, not spite, Everest by reverting the name from Everest to Qomolangma.

Mt. Qomolangma

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The towns we pulled into each night were similar and began to run together…the good news being that the hotels were improving along the way…

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Tonight we are staying in Gyantse and the girls are staying in a place that’s acceptable so I’m on my own tonight.

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Most of the vehicles in these small towns belong to tour operators.

Touch up the painting…

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I’ll take the opportunity to do some washing…which, by the way, lost it’s appeal quite some time ago.  But nice hotels charge an exorbitant rate for laundry so I told myself to buck up, stop whining and  just do the darn laundry!  Is it weird to have nighttime fantasies about a top of the line GE washer and dryer?

And this is my home for the night…Gyangtse Hotel.

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The lobby

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The Chinese are big on masks and this is a Chinese hotel not a Tibetan hotel.

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I will never understand their love of hard beds – a bounced quarter would scream and run.  My night here was uncomfortable for another reason though – with no one to blame but myself. I had accidentally turned on the heat instead of the AC.  All the remotes in Tibet have Chinese characters on them Chinese I don’t read Chinese – well you can see how I hit the heat button instead of the cool button.  Who knew?  TV programs were in Chinese so I didn’t care that I couldn’t read that remote.


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While I was doing laundry and updating my blog – the girls were out exploring.  Now, you might think that I missed something really special by staying in but the fact is that after hearing about their experiences – I was OK missing out on this excursion.  They were walking down a narrow alley and came upon some young children – one of whom invited them into his home to meet his mother.

And saying “No” was not an option…

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Inside their home…

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Mom is a weaver. He’s showing her his new balloon.

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It’s not as easy as it looks 🙂

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And THIS is why I was glad to not have been on this visit. They were served warm yak milk. Two cups each. They are better women than I.

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We visited our very second Tibetan monastery this afternoon.  You might think that once you’ve seen one monastery…you’ve seen them all.  In fact, they do begin to look alike.  But the importance of visiting them all is that by the time you’ve been through 10 of them…you will have finally picked up most of what your guides are telling you and you will hopefully have retained some of the information they’ve imparted.   This afternoon’s monastery is called Pelkhor Chode (that’s one of its names).  It was founded in 1418 and is most known for it’s Kumbum which has 108 chapels in it’s 4 floors. Within the monastery’s 6 floors are 77 chapels and 10,000 murals.

The monastery as seen from the Gyantse Fortress which we climbed to later that day. The gold-topped, white building is the Kumbum.

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The white dome of the Kumbum is on the left and the monastery is the red building in the center.

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The Kumbum has 108 chapels within its 4 floors.

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The prayer wheels along the walkway to the monastery.

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Remember that you must always turn the wheels clockwise…

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Dzong Fortress in the distance. It looked so cool with the storm darkened sky in the background.

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The Gyantse Fortress – and believe it or not – these two pictures were taken in the same afternoon. The weather is a little freaky this high in the mountains.

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Unlike visiting Christian churches throughout Europe where you already know most of the history of the religion and you’re just looking at the beautiful architecture — if you didn’t know much about Buddism before arriving (like me) then it can be a steep learning curve — interesting and challenging.  And let’s not forget that I only understand about 50% of what the guide says so having it repeated frequently has indeed helped.

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Their many gods represent aspects of enlightenment.  Each aspect of enlightenment is a specific response to some aspect of human personality, positive or negative it might represent love, compassion, or even hate.  They are considered to be beyond ordinary thought…beyond words.  They are to be experienced.

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Can Tibetan Buddhist gods change things in people’s lives and interfere with the happenings of the world like the gods in Christianity, Judaism and Islam?

Yes – they can and often do.  So, Buddhists spend a great deal of time and energy making offerings to their gods in the hope of creating a good harvest or good fortune.

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Beautiful cloth hangings

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We found ourselves in a room full of gold/bronze head statues and he was the very cutest of them all.  You cannot help but smile with him 🙂

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This is the library/documents room. Each of the boxes contains old scrolls and documents – floor to ceiling.

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This has to make ancient document preservationists cringe. We spend so much time, effort, and money to protect our historical documents yet these are just laying around in musty old rooms.

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This is the main room where all the monks gather each morning to begin their daily rituals and prayers.

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Ceremonial Drum

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Yak butter candles…the smell of burning yak butter fills the inside of every monastery.  It is very distinctive and it’s not always pleasant. Worshippers bring their own bag of solid butter that can be spooned into the vat or they bring thermos’s of melted butter that can be poured into multiple vats of burning butter.

It is said that one of the first struggles between the communist chinese and the tibetans was over the burning of yak’s butter.  The new Communist governor of the region found the stench offensive and the symbolism even worse – an affront to the party’s promise to uproot all forms of ‘feudal superstition’. The Abbot (at the Kumbum Monastery) stood his ground. If the Communist Party wanted to forbid yak’s butter, he said, it would have to do so itself. The party backed down. But that was the last time it would.

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That was the beginning. It would be another two years before Mao Tse-tung’s troops moved into Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, another decade before the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India, and two decades before Red Guards razed temples and sent thousands of monks to their deaths.

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Several monks coming down from the mountain after daily prayers.

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On our way home…we ran into more children and enjoyed another pleasant hour blowing up balloons and taking pictures of their little faces.

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This little girl was very worried that she would not get a balloon.

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Hello! Hello! I would like a balloon please!

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This little guy reminded me of a munchkin in The Wizard of Oz – one of the Lollypop Boys!

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Time to head home..

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Every house had a cow or two in front

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Baby cows are even more cute up close – Hellooooo there! 🙂

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“Watch where you’re putting that camera lady!”

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Cow dung today – wall insulation next week

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We stopped to chat (sort of) with this lady because her baby was so darn cute!  She explained to us that both the mom and dad were dead and that she (the grandmother) would raise the baby.  But that it would be very difficult for her.

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Cheeks! Look at those cheeks! These cheeks should be in the Guinness Book of Records!

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The four of us went out to dinner together that night at a local restaurant where we were welcomed with open arms!

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Tashi Delek can mean Good Luck – Cheers or Welcome!

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Tessa and I ordered some sizzling chicken dish and got bibs with the order – it was so hot it was spitting at us – the facial was a bonus! Leideke was the first of us to order Yak meat – she loved it.  I’ll try it when I get to Lhasa.

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When you talk with people from other countries, the world gets smaller.  Instead of saying something like “that happened when I was skiing in Colorado”, they’ll say “that happened when I was in Chamonix or Staad or Zurich” or “I took my holiday in the south of France last year” or “when was the last time you were on the west coast of Spain?” Whereas we travel to different states, Europeans travel to different countries.  None of them has actually been to the US and their impressions of us are based on movies, TV programs, the news and of course people like me. Yup – I represented.

And instead of gossiping about other people, .we gossiped about other countries.  Normally it’s all about bashing the good old US of A – so for me – it was fun to talk about someplace else for a change. The German’s have taken the biggest hit so far from the table.  They don’t like them at all – even Basil – who is from the German region of Switzerland.  In their opinion, they are a cold race.  I informed them that I was ¼ German – a fact for which they forgave me because I am also ¼ Swedish – this washed out the bad German blood.  The English part was boring to them and didn’t count for anything.  Huh.

The US airport security procedures took a hit as well.  Though since they haven’t actually been through US security – I can only assume this is again taken from movies, TV programs, the news and me.  I admit to not being very positive about our airports!  And now it’s even worst because I have multiple international comparisons.  We don’t do airport security well.  And we’re not friendly either.  And we don’t offer any niceties on board anymore.  Flying American is not a treat.  Now, flying Qatar Airlines – that was real nice.  It’s a 5-star airline.   The list of 5-star airlines does not include any from the US.  My guess is that the Arab airlines are doing very well.

None of us could really think of anything negative to say about Holland, though the girls swear that their traffic is horrible.  They love the Netherlands and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world.

All in all, it’s been a really great 4 days!   We’ve had some interesting moments and some not so interesting moments – joyous times and a few boring ones (long drives).  But together we made the best of some bad situations (hotels and altitude sickness) and the most of  the good ones.  I think that’s what traveling is all about – compromises, a sense of humor, the ability to “punt” and most importantly to enjoy yourself and the little blessings (the children) that come your way.

My next bog will be from the great city of Lhasa.  See you there!


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