5 days in Lhasa:
Norbulingka – Summer Palace of Dalai Lama
Drepung Monastery – Annual Yoghurt Festival
We had intended Tibet to be the peak of our 10 months traveling, before we began our journey home. So far Lhasa has not disappointed. It’s stunning setting in the Himalayas, the familiarity of the culture, (compared to our 3 weeks in China), and the lovely Tibetan people have been everything we had hoped for. However, despite the resilience of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions, the Chinese presence cannot be ignored, and hangs like a malicious dark cloud. There are large numbers of Chinese soldiers, patrolling in small regiments on the streets, or ‘observing’ from rooftops in pairs armed with rifles and digital cameras. Their interference was most noticeable during our early morning visit to the Drepung Monastery on the opening day of the Yoghurt festival, when the 1000s of Tibetan pilgrims were unnecessarily held up and funnelled through a single narrow path resulting in a crushingly dangerous crowd of people invoking memories of the Hillsborough Tragedy of the 1980s. Most monks are not allowed to wear traditional robes, Mandarin- and NOT Tibetan Sanskrit must be taught in schools, the street traders must sell images of Mao along with those of the Buddha and Bollywood, and while the real Panchen Lama has been in a Chinese Prison since the age of 6, a Chinese appointed Panchen Lama sits in Beijing. Thankfully, many of the Chinese we have spoken to, have not ever heard of Mount Kailash or Lake Manasarovar, so as we proceed towards the climax of our trip, hopefully the Himalayas will be what shine strongest.