Saturday, December 01, 2007

On the rooftop of the world...

Lhasa and Tibet were amazing, albeit quite cold... We spent our first four days in Tibet in the Lhasa, seeing the city and trying to figure out how we were going to get from Lhasa to the border of Nepal. The highlights of Lhasa for us were:

-Walking the 'kora' around the main temple with Tibetan pilgrims and the walking the inner kora (inside the temple) as the only non-Tibetans.

-Seeing monks debating Buddhist theology at a monastery near Lhasa.

-Walking around Potala Palace, the former residence of the Dalai Lama.

On our fifth day in Tibet, we went on a two day trip outside of Lhasa with a British/Brazilian couple. At the first monastery we got to witness (from afar) a Tibetan sky burial - where the dead are carried to the top of a mountain and cut into pieces to be eaten by animals. As Buddhists, Tibetans believe that this process completes the circle of life and fits with the teachings of reincarnation. Despite it being quite intense, the experience was quite spiritual - in some ways more logical and natural than burials in the West. The best experience was definitely staying at a nunnery. The nunnery itself lies in a river valley, in which thousands of lengths of prayer flags were blowing in the wind. It was an amazing sight. The nunnery has a natural hot springs, so we got to escape the cold and warm our blood with its heat...

After this two day excursion, we headed off to Nepal along the Friendship Highway with a British couple in a Landcruiser. Although the trip took 5 days, it left plenty of time for visiting sites and monasteries along the way. The first day's views were magnificent - turquoise lakes surrounded by mountains. On the first two nights we stopped in Gyantse and Shigatse, which were fairly close to one another so we got to spend the best part of each day visiting their monasteries. The third day we made it as far a Shigar - a town that had absolutely nothing going for it with the exception of a string of guesthouses and an office where you could buy entrance tickets to Everest base camp. On the fourth day we got to see Everest (or Qomolanga in Tibetan)! Despite the fact that we reached Everest (north) base camp (on the Tibetan side) we were still a good 10-20 km away, so Everest still looked as though it was quite small! That night we spent in an even smaller and more rustic Tibetan town called Old Tingri. The next day we spent all morning driving the last bit of the Friendship Highway, most of which was not graded, let alone asphalted. So the last bit of the trip was quite bumpy. Coming over the the last stretch of the highway, the landscape changed dramatically from rocky and dry to lush and green as we approached Nepal. You don't get too many borders which are so physically obvious and the differences between the neighbouring peoples so different.

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