I’m often just a bit overwhelmed when I return from a trip – over-stimulation or something – but this time, it seems even more so than usual. I hope to share a bunch of pics and thoughts about our trip in the coming days but, first, some general impressions.
It was startling to see the number of people living out their faith/religion throughout the day every day in Tibet. We’ve been to other countries where there are Buddhists and many Buddhist temples. When we visited Kyoto Japan, we saw many Buddhist and Shinto temples. The majority of people there were, like us, tourists. We observed some people apparently carrying out certain rituals of their faith, but only a few. When we visited Phuket, Thailand, the many Buddhist Temples we saw were surrounded by bustling markets. And everyone (except for tourists taking pictures) was in the markets, not the temple.
Not so in Tibet. The only place where one did not see someone carrying out rituals of their faith was in one’s own hotel room. Everywhere else, there was at least one person reciting a prayer while counting the prayer beads in their hand, spinning a prayer wheel while walking a kora, or prostrating themselves along one of the koras.
And I do mean everywhere. One comes to expect it at every Buddhist temple or monastery or nunnery visited, but we also saw it on the main streets of Lhasa (and in other cities visited). And, the day we drove from Lhasa to Ganden Monastery, we were about 20 miles outside Lhasa when we saw two young men making their way to Lhasa via prostration along the side of the road. This, we learned, is not at all uncommon. Thousands of Tibetans make a prostration pilgrimage to Lhasa each year. (See, e.g., this New York Times story from several years ago.).
Even when we were hiking with our guide out in the mountains, we could hear him reciting prayers or singing under his breath, and he always had his prayer beads in hand or around his wrist. While we were driving from one place to the other, we’d hear both our driver and guide reciting prayers, beads spinning in their hands.
We walked the kora around Jokhang Monastery (the most sacred temple in Tibet) several times. And, yes, there were other tourists like us there … but there were far more people who clearly were there to practice their faith. And, there was no single age group – we saw many older people … and many people our age … and many young people, and even children walking the koras, doing prostration, or chanting prayers as they walked down the street (or sat behind the store register … or restaurant counter). Especially in Lhasa, but really in every single place we visited.
This --- despite "everything," Tibet remains a place filled with devout Buddhists who live out their faith daily --- left the most enduring impression.
A woman practicing prostration at Traduk Temple (Tsedang, Tibet). The piles of stones are to keep track of completed prostrations - each time she completes one, she moves a stone from the left pile to the right pile.
The mountains in Tibet are just so … big. I grew up in the Allegheny Mountains in Western Pennsylvania. Our home was near Mt. Davis, the highest point in Pennsylvania (3,213 ft), which I thought was pretty cool. I remember the first time I saw mountains in the Rocky Mountains (1993!!). They seemed sooo huge, compared to where I grew up. I also remember the first time I hiked a mountain above the timberline – with Jeff. It was Humphreys Peak, the highest point in Arizona (12,637 ft). That was the first time I actually got “above the timberline.” I thought that was pretty cool too. As we hiked a couple other mountains (Mauna Kea, Hawaii (13,803), Wheeler Peak, New Mexico (13,167 ft) and Mt. Elbert, Colorado (14,440 ft)). And, I was always amazed when we got up above the trees. It just felt so ... high.
Then I went to Tibet ~ where the average elevation (14,800 ft) exceeds the highest point in Colorado. It's hard to describe just how ... BIG ... the mountains seem. We were at or above 12,000 most of the time,* yet could always see mountains towering ever higher on the horizon. And they just go on and on ... and on and on. It is a starkly beautiful -- and very BIG -- place.
*I must admit that I underestimated the whole "altitude" issue. During the first few days, it was really challenging though, thankfully it got significantly better after a while. But - on about the 5th day, I suggested to Jeff that the subtitle to this trip could well be "Fifty Shades of Headaches" -- because one of us (usually me) had some sort of headache for at least some part of nearly every day. Worth it though. Totally worth it!
Oh the color! Doors. Windows. Roof Eaves. (... Scarfs. Skirts. Hair pieces. necklaces. ...) Oh the Tibetans do love their bright colors. It was just wonderful! Homes might be otherwise somewhat drab, but one could always find a door, window, or roof eave that was brightly painted. I went just a tad overboard with the pictures (more than 100...) but can't resist sharing just a few...
... to be continued ...