Monday, October 23, 2006

Lhasa Impressions (9/18 - 9/22)

Fly into Tibet

It was about 3 hours fly from Guangzhou to Lhasa. The view of Himalayas from the air is breathtaking and magnificent! From this perspective, I don't miss the train really! (However, Joseph told me later that the views from the train was unblievable beautiful, especially at this time of the year (October) in Kekexili (可可西里). That really itches me. Oh well, I think I already getting too much luck from the god this time, I shouldn't ask for more...

Barkhor Square

The impression that Lhasa left me is far better than expected, maybe my original expectation is too low :P. My most favorite place is still the Barkhor (八廓) Square, a popular tourist destination that you can easily see how religion is deeply involved in Tibetan's daily life, a place it shows how Tibetan resists any invasion of modern world (of course, only when you ignore those countless stalls along the Barkhor Kora route). You may be shocked when seeing the prostrating pilgrim by Tibetan (what a deep religiosity inside their minds!)

There are all sort of people in the hustle and bustle Barkhor Sq.: prayers, worshippers, merchants (warning although most so-called antiques that those stalls selling are faked! :P and you can actually find better prices for some of the religious articles inside the Jokhang), tourists, beggers...

BTW, most of the stall keepers are Han Chinese, a strong sign that shows Tibetan is really not the kind of people who like doing commerce (that actually is one of the big problems to them in today's world, IMO).

A good time to visit Bakhor Sq. is in late afternoon and evening. The sun is low, the light is soft, and the temperture is pleasant. There is a special feeling occurred to me when I saw those pilgrims bathing in the golden light.

The Jokhang

Barhkor Sq. is interesting because it is where the most revered religious structure in Tibet, The Jokhang (大昭寺), locates. Most Tibetan show their devotion in Jokhang in early morning. In front of the entrance to the monastery is a frontcourt. In the morning here is generally crowded with prostrating pilgrims, but mostly disappear after noon.

There are some old Tibetan ladies sitting in front of the Jokhang. Many people can't resist the temptation to taking photos of them. Well, if you do, you fall into the trap of these "professional actors" -- after you took a photo, they start asking you for money! This old lady was very happy, because i did not have small bills, and I gave her 10 Yuan, hoping her return me 9. However, she claimed she did not have changes, so I only got 3 Yuans back! Bastard! So 没折, I have to take more photos of her... (but she wasn't a good model at all!)

There are signs on Jokhang Monastery saying that tourists are not welcome before 11am in order not to disturb local people doing their workship, although this seems applied to tourist groups only. I entered in the monastery in around 10am, no problem whatsoever. Get there in the early morning, go to the roof of the monastery, you will be rewarded by some stunning views of Potala Palace. I spent over an hour on the roof. Well worth spending time.

The first floor of monastery is the inner sanctum, which houses its most important statues and chapels. Many chapels have long lines of believers waiting for entering. The sanctum is very dark, lit by butter lamps only, and to a large extent, dirty as well -- you can somehow feel the stickiness on the floor due to the butter. Monks can be seen to shovel butter on the floor. You can also see the military members around the sanctum. They are there to monitor people's activities. Their presence in such a religious place is both irony and sickening.

Outside the inner sanctum is the famous Nangkhor Kora. The "mile" long prayer wheels (which encircles the sanctum) and the flow of believers is what make this kora fascinating.

The Potala Palace

The Potala was a complete disappointment to me. After spending half day of time,
visits the ticketing office twice, I got a piece of paper (funny thing is the folk who gave away the warranty did not know how to read my NY State driver license, so he saw a number "11228" (my zip code) on the ID card, thinking that must be my ID number, so he copied that on the warranty!) that guarantees me a ticket to visit the palace in next day.

So the next day, I finally visited this famous place. What I got from the tour is -- I did not enjoy the visit! We were led by a guide that explained the history and stories of each room and painting. However, the palace is lifeless, there are no people in it (though technical speaking, this is not correct). What makes Tibet interesting is its rich culture and the Tibetan's daily life. Without people activities, it is just a boring showcase (also, one has to agree that there are way many more palaces in the world (and china as well) that are much more beautiful than the Potala).

Regardless how boring inside palace is, however, it is a completely different story on the plaza outside. After daybreak, many Tibetan line up a row at the edge of the sildwalk outside the Potala, doing prostrating pilgrims to the palace. A very compelling scene. Some Tibetan, maybe they are a bit shy to show their religiosity before the clueless bystanders (read tourists, esp. those with cameras (include me!) and make loud noise (heh, not me this time!) at the same time), do their prostrating pilgrims to the Potala inside the much less crowded Potala plaza. They usually conclude their pray with a bow to southeast, the direction where the Jokhang is, a sign that indicates the weight of the Jokhang in ordinary Tibetan.


I can't help using some spaces to write about the beggers in Tibet, actually, in Lhasa, since I did not see the same kind of people in most of the other areas in Tibet. In short, the Lhasa beggers are nasty, in particular, those kids, they like flies! The most "lethal weapons" they have is, a kid holding your leg, saying "papa papa, I love you...", and some of them even tried to kiss you! Ouch! Nastier than Gypsy in Europe! On this occasion, the best you can do is run, even that may cause you out of breath due to the high altitute.

Joseph tried to escape from the siege by a begger family, after he "became" Papa of the boy.
Can you find "his son" in the picture? :*)


There are many people selling souvenirs on the street. It is a brave act to do business with them. See, this is me, who was under heavy siege by a bunch Xizang po-mos ("po-mo" -- young ladies in Tibetan), after I came out from the Potala. It was all my fault -- the po-mo who hardselling the (most likely fake) souvenirs was probably the best goodlooking tibetan girl I've seen in Lhasa, so I talked to her, and that was the result what I got...


To a large extent, in many parts of the Lhasa, it looks like many other cities elsewhere in China, esp. for those new buildings. It is a sad thing that the current generation of chinese people (actually, those in government) have no idea how to modernalize a city w/o sacrificing the rich culture and tradition that the old city origianlly has, especially place like Tibet. There is always a hope for the future, hopefully it won't be too late (after they figure out how to build a "harmonic society" :P)

This is a photo that shows the ugly chinalization in Lhasa -- a monument to the "peachful liberation of Tibet", in the south of the Potala plaza, opposite side to the palace. It is an extremely ugly piece of architecture in my eyes. Damn it!(Maybe they thought this is Tian-an-men Square)

The place I stayed

I stayed in the Xinhua Hotel, a guesshouse where is next to the Xinhua Bookstore on Yu-tuo Road. It is an awesome place to stay, not for the hotel itself (its rooms actually stink, due to the "beautiful" design of its toilet system), but for its view -- the 5th floor of the hotel has a viewing platform, where it delivers an awesome view of the eye-catcher of Lhasa -- the Potala. The room price in this hotel is also reasonable, 180 yuan for a stardard double-bed room, with in room shower. A highly recommended place to stay.

More photos of this holy city

Next post: Lake Nam-tso


ilia said...

thanks for the write up, quite interesting. also you managed to get some good pictures, i can tell you are probably proud of some of them :)

i also really like the picture of you attacked by the tibetan young ladies ;-)

Janette Choi said...

Must read!!!

Janette Choi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Justin Choi said...

I really want to go there one day when I grow up after I saw your splendid pictures.