"Roof of the World" Tibet by jadedmuse
Tibet Travel Guide: 1,293 reviews and 3,665 photos
I can guarantee you that if you ever make it to Tibet, you'll pinch yourself that first day, trying to convince yourself that you really are on the roof of the world.
The essence of Tibet is still very present, despite the ever-increasing Chinese occupation...but there is no question that it is becoming eclipsed by the latter and this is truly one of our great global tragedies.
I didn't want to fly into Lhasa and have to waste precious time lying prone in a hotel room just to avoid succumbing to altitude sickness, so we opted to do a "land tour" (in a Toyota Land Cruiser) from Kathmandu all the way through to Lhasa. This proved to be a great idea because it provided for scenic appreciation while allowing for gradual altitude adjustment. We returned to Kathmandu via China Southwest Air, and I have to say that the Himalayas are impressive when you are on the ground looking up - but even more so when you are next to them, looking just a few thousand feet down at them.
We were joined at the beginning of our trip by Eric, a retired geologist from California, and Anita and Salina, two Indian girls from the U.K. The extra company made for a terrific 8 day trip over the stark and silent Tibetan Plateau. We had a fantastic driver and a wonderful guide...both Tibetan (something I insisted on when planning this trip).
I don't know to what extent Tibetan guides are available (vs. Chinese guides); our guide's name was Dawa and she was 25 years old with only the very basic of English language skills - for which she never stopped apologizing. I was in awe that she could speak English at all. I realized with some sadness that Dawa was born into a Tibet already bereft of its spiritual and political leader, and governed by an entirely different rubric - the Chinese lexicon. We couldn't believe that Dawa found herself ugly - she had a gorgeous smile, beautiful hair and fantastic bone structure. It took me a day or so to realize that she's only ever had Chinese television characters and print ads by which to measure her own physical attractiveness. I'm guessing that she found her more swarthy, wind-blown look to be somehow inferior to that of her Chinese contemporaries. I was likewise bemused to catch her on occasion, quietly singing along to the latest Chinese pop song on the radio. Still, Dawa was fiercely Tibetan and her spirit, humility and intelligence were a wonderfully unexpected bonus to this already amazing trip.
Dawa explained to us that she had only really ever received one other English speaking tour group - the majority of her groups are Chinese tourists, which for whatever reason, struck me as odd. I wondered how she felt about that. I suspect she was somewhat ambivalent - today's generation of Tibetans has grown up with an escalating infrastructure, cell phones, and internet (all in full force thanks to the Chinese presence) - and yet these very things rankled at me. I felt conflicted. Who am I to begrudge progress and technology to another people? And yet the Tibetans clearly chafe under an oppressive, foreign regime and the injustice of it was something I observed up close and personally. It was sad, unsettling, and ultimately heart-wrenching. Dawa confided to us that one day, she would leave Tibet for either India or Nepal, where she would live freely. I wondered how we could assist her, while at the same time, I felt bad encouraging her to flee her own home land. It was a strange place for me to be, both literally and figuratively.
The Chinese finished constructing (uh, "thanks" to Bombardier, a French-Canadian company supplying the logistics and opting to do so amidst great controversy) a railway system facilitating travel between Tibet's capital city of Lhasa and the People's Republic of China.
Lhasa which only recently was known as the seat of the Forbidden Kingdom, has more and more of a busy Chinese feel to it. Even the magificent Potala Palace is getting lost in the chaos.
If you've EVER thought of going to visit this mysterious country of Tibet, you must go NOW.
See it for yourself. It will be an overwhelming and deeply gratifying experience - but one that will leave you feeling conflicted and even helpless....wistful, sad perhaps...not unlike the feeling I got when I once visited a Navajo Reservation in Arizona.
Which in turn begs the question, what price are we prepared to pay for cultural enlightenment?
- Pros:Discovering the Tibetan culture, our Tibetan guide Dawa, the Monks, the striking, stark, scenic landscape
- Cons:Tibetan food, getting more of a "Chinese" feel instead of "Tibetan", Lhasa traffic, crappy communist hotels, random spitting
- In a nutshell:Tibet grabs your heart through its quiet mystery and dignified people
The Chinese are constructing a railway system that will make Lhasa an integral part of the People's Republic of China.... more travel advice
First of all, we did NOT have reservations for this hotel. Since I'd planned everything in advance from home (Florida),... more travel advice
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