Text and pictures © 2000-2023 Guillaume Dargaud
Last updated on 2021/11/05
"Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense." — Buddha.
OK, I'm not going to say much about Tibet. First because I don't know much about it and second because there are books (and websites) with much better things than what I could write. We were not in Tibet long enough to have the time to learn much about the country, just playing tourists around Lhasa for a few days before taking the road to the Cho-Oyu Drive Camp. Here are just a few pictures with minimal comments.
Left: A chinese biker in front of the Potala.
The Potala is the most famous monument in Tibet. As everybody know, the chinese invaded Tibet in 1950. Most temples were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and the Potala would have gone down the drain too if not for a more intelligent general who opposed its destruction. Normaly the residence of the now exiled Dalai-Lama and thousands of other monks, the chinese have now transformed it into a museum. The exterior is impressive, one of the most beautiful monument in the world, but the inside is a letdown: badly lit, dusty, very kitsch golden decorations. The tombs of the previous Dalai-Lama sit on top of each other with their tons of gold. If you want to take a picture, you have to bribe the guards, with as much as 20$... per room !
Right: A circuit goes around the base of the Potala and pilgrims follow it pushing the thousands of prayer drums.
Lhassa, Tibet. The sacred city. Or what should have been a scared city if the Chinese hadn't turned the remaining temples in museums where you have to pay 3$ to 20$ for the right to take a single picture. I keep asking myself if this place is dead or not. The temples are mostly empty, the center of town is crowded by Chinese shops and the difference between Chinese and Tibetan passersby is striking. The former are either militaries or dressed in some kind of variation of European hip fashion, up to the elevator shoes, walkman and shades; while the latter look like bums, their faces wrinkled and dark with dust, soot and old sweat. Are they the same people as before or have they been broken down? If it wasn't for the many smiles we get I'd think we are in the middle of a slave market. But maybe it's just that they don't care. They certainly don't care much about spitting, whether in the streets on in the stores. And probably in their homes too.
Left: On the top of a mountain above Lhasa we saw many votive tablets, most with written prayers carved onto the rock but others with drawings. Some of them have the picture of the owner underneath.
Right: On that same mountain there were thousands of prayer flags drawn from the summit to surrounding rocks.
Right: Pilgrims going around a temple with bags of yak/dree butter to refill the candles.
Left: Inside a temple, statues of 'enlightened' buddhas.
Right: The impressive kitchens of the Drepung monastery. Impressive by their size that could accommodate thousands of monks. You could easily take a swim in some of their pots ! Unfortunately it doesn't see much use nowadays with only a few monks left in the entire monastery. And the pay per picture applies here as well.
Left: Ghengis Michele in full battle dress on top of the Potala.
Right: One of the few monks remaining. In some temples you hardly see any. Most have fled the country to escape chinese persecutions.
Left: A school of monks at the Drepong monastery. The standing one ask the question, and when he claps his hands the sitting one(s) must answer. Noisy but seemingly efficient if they manage to learn by heart all those piles of holy books.
Right: One of the many little beggars of the streets of Lhasa (but it's just about the same in Kathmandu). Starts by singing or playing something on a tiny guitar; if that doesn't work, grabs your leg and won't let go...
Left: Don't expect to be able to figure out what you are eating, all the menus are in chinese. The only time one of them had some english on it, the 1st item on the menu was: 'Sheep intestine marinated in fresh goat blood' ! But it wasn't available when I tried to order it.
Right: A colored stone wall in one of the many monasteries.
Left: A temple wall of painted straw with golden inlays.
Right: A more common mudwall, worn out by the weather. The ruins of many monasteries can be seen all over Tibet, most of them destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. After the soft mud wall were exposed by the removal of the roofs (fires...), erosion took over very quickly and nowadays hardly anything remains but a few base foundations.
Left: A vulture circling overhead for a closer look. A curious tradition in parts of Tibet consists in dismembering the dead and giving them to feed vultures. If you think of it, most religions consider the four elements of creations: earth, water, fire and air. And the corresponding methods of disposing of the bodies: burial, burial at sea, cremation and vultures. It's certainly no worse than being eaten by worms...
Right: After this little touristic trip in Tibet, it took us 3 days to do only 400km to reach the Drive Camp of Cho-Oyu, our true destination. The road was very muddy thanks to the end of the monsoon and many rock slides had carried away parts of the road as this truck can testify. In those parts they seem to mark the side of the road with broken trucks...