Tibet tour top ten

Culture | by Stephan Larose
Posted: November 22nd, 2008 | Updated: July 22nd, 2010 | Comments
Tibetan prayer flags Newlyweds Greg and Haiying Han are on an epic honeymoon trip around China. Here, Greg shares his Tibetan top ten, from Potala to Everest .... After tying the knot, Greg and Haiying arrived in China from the US last June for a trip that has taken them from Hong Kong to Hainain with stops along the way in Beihai, Guilin, Yangshuo, Beijing, Chengdu, Macau, and Tibet, just to name a few. Find out more about our favorite honeymooning Hans on Greg's blog, G-Blog. And if you're looking for our feature on the Kitchen at Huaihai Lu, stay tuned... it'll be up next week! Although I had already visited many Tibetan areas of Qinghai and Sichuan provinces, this trip into Tibet itself had a different feel to it. First off, foreigners must join a tour group in order to visit Tibet. Second, Tibet itself seemed much more developed than the places we had just seen in Qinghai and Sichuan. For example, the hotels were much better and the roads were nicely paved and not pockmarked with potholes. Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet, seemed clean and orderly and caters to tourists with its many restaurants, sites and souvenir vendors. The scenery also seemed much larger: brighter sun, bigger mountains, more snow capped peaks and skies that are clear and blue. Temperatures can be warm during the day and then cold at night. The Tibetans that live here are different from the Kham Tibetans we encountered in Qinghai and Sichuan; the attire and language are very different. Here' my rundown of the top ten sites in Tibet. Potala Palace 1. Potala Palace Located in Lhasa, this was formerly the residence of the Dali Lama. It's the centerpiece of the city and Tibetans from all over come to do the walk around the outside of the palace in prayer. The tour brought us inside and we learned about its history. We were required to walk up many many flights of stairs along the outside wall to reach the main buildings at the top (not an easy task if not yet acclimated to Lhasa's elevation). The views from the top of the palace are also spectacular as you can see all of Lhasa below with the snow capped mountains in the background. 2. Qomolangma, aka Mount Everest Our tour took us to the Qomolangma base camp where we camped in a tent. The amenities were basically an outhouse, a stove that burns yak dung, beds with wool blankets and boiled water provided by the hosts. The first day we were there we couldn't even see the mountain due to cloud cover. Miraculously, as we were leaving the next day the clouds cleared just enough to get some great photos of Qomolangma. The visit had its tough moments however. The base camp sits at 6000m elevation, and we hiked two km to the Rongphu Monastery which resides in a small village. The monastery is known to be the highest monastery in terms of elevation. The hike was a little difficult for some of us due to the altitude. The night in the tent was also challenging because the strong gusts of wind and the cold temperatures. Our hosts had been diligently filling the stove with yak dung to keep the fire burning while we were awake. Unfortunately, nobody instructed us on how to keep the fire burning throughout the night, and it didn't take long for the stove to burn out, the temperature going way down. Jokhang Temple 3. Jokhang Temple Built in the fifth century AD, this temple in Lhasa houses Buddhist statues that were part of the dowries brought by the wives of Tibetan king Songsten Gampo. Although many artifacts were damaged or destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, some of the oldest statues were hidden and therefore preserved. Many Tibetans come to this temple to pray. People on the outside pray on the sidewalk. On the inside, Tibetans carry flasks of oil to help refill the burning oil candles. This temple is special to Tibetans and many come from very far to worship. 4. Barkhor Square Barkhor Square This is the centerpiece of the old city, and is adjacent to Jokham Temple. The square is full of vendors and shops selling traditional Tibetan clothes, jewelry and other goods. We found it to be a good place to walk around and browse the many different things for sale. If you want to buy anything you must negotiate hard however. The merchants can be aggressive and know how to get their price. We also ate at a Nepalese restaurant here and found the food to be tasty and similar to Indian food. 5. Shigatse Shigatse is Tibet's second largest city. Tashilhunpo Monastery is in Shigatse and houses many statues of Buddhas and spirit towers. Spirit towers act as shrines and tombs for past lamas. The monastery is traditionally the seat of the Panchen Lama who would rule over "back Tibet" or the western part of Tibet. While at the monastery, we were lucky to get a rare glimpse of monks practicing a traditional spiritual dance. The dance is done to music from several long bugle-like horns. Himalayan glaciers 6. Glaciers During our many long drives around Tibet, we were able to see some spectacular scenery. Because we traveled through many mountainous areas, we were able to see many glaciers. Some even spanned several mountain tops. One amazing glacier was at Milha mountain, where we stopped for a short break during one of our long rides. We were able to see the glacier up close. The place also must have been a very spiritual area given all the prayer flags. I was surprised that even in a remote location, like near a glacier in a mountain pass, there would be beggars asking for money. The area must be well known for tourists stopping to take photos of the glacier. In any case, it helped that I had been carrying a bag of candy. Whenever a child or elderly person approached, I simply handed out a piece of candy to each of them. Usually, they were happy to get something and went on their way. Always remember to hand out the pieces yourself. I made the mistake once of opening the bag and letting the kids pick a piece, only to have one boy nearly grab it all. 7. Gyantse Gyantse When we drove into Gyantse, something looked familiar. Along a mountain range that cuts through the city is a wall that slightly resembles the Great Wall. Then, at the top of the mountain is a palace that seemed like a smaller version of Potala Palace. We didn't get a chance to climb up to the palace, but instead visited the Pelkor Chode Monastery. Then we visited the Gyantse Kumbum Stupa, which is a six level tower with a golden dome on top. The tower contains many rooms with old paintings. The name Kumbum means "100,000 images." The view of the city from the very top floor is very impressive and above the doorway at the top is a painting of Buddha's eyes. These eyes are symbolic and represent wisdom of Buddha. 8. Baji Cypress Reserve One part of the tour took us to the southeast part of Tibet, known as the Nyingchi area. The landscape is much different from the rest of Tibet. This area is lower in elevation and therefore is very green and full of trees. The Baji Cypress Reserve is a park that houses many 2000-plus year old trees with the oldest one about 2600 years old. The trees are enormous, with trunks that are the size of houses. It reminded me of the giant sequoias in Yosemite except the trees here in Baji are cypress trees. Tibetans come to worship the trees, and there are many "hadas" (white silk sashes) that were hung in the tree branches. Apparently, the way to get them up there is to tie a rock to the hada and then toss it up into the branches. Baji Cypress Reserve 9. Lakes and Rivers Throughout the tour of Tibet, we've been amazed by the beauty and pureness of the lakes and rivers. We visited Basomtso Lake in the Nyingchi area which had a beautiful blue-green hue. The lake has an island that has a temple built on it. Two bridges connect the banks of the lake to the island. Another lake we visited was Yamdroktso Lake, which we passed after visiting Gyantse. The lake was equally beautiful, and some of the views of the lake from the hills made for great photos. The rivers of Tibet were also beautiful and many were rapidly flowing white water rivers such as Liyang river which we drove alongside on our way to the Nyingchi area. 10. People One of the amazing things about the Tibetan people is how spiritual they are. Every morning, hundreds of people will rise early to do the walk around Potala palace. An elderly Tibetan takes shade On the seven-hour drive back to Lhasa from the Nyingchi area we passed a family on a pilgrimage to Lhasa. It was a family of three, with one male pulling a cart with the family's camping supplies. The other two were performing the six-point prayer,where you start with hands together at your chest then move the hands to your head, back to the chest, kneel down, place hands on ground, extend body flat while lying face down, back to kneeling position and then stand up. One step is then taken and then prayer is repeated. Imagine how long it would take to reach Lhasa at that rate! We had a great time in Tibet and saw so many beautiful and interesting things. The trip, however, was not without hardship. Luckily we were prepared for the altitude sickness, the cold evenings and minor inconveniences in this wild frontier. Although we had experienced Tibetan culture from our travels through Qinhai and western Sichuan, I definitely believe that visiting Tibet was well worth it.
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