Trek 2013 – Tsetang Tibet, Day 3

We woke up in the morning to another beautiful day in Tsetang.  However, before we finished breakfast, it had already started raining.  It was a fairly light drizzle, so aside from needing to wear our rain gear, it didn’t interfere with the day.

And an amazing day it was!

We started off at Traduk Temple, an 8th century temple and monastery.  It was finely decorated.  Having been destroyed and refurbished many times over the years, the wall mural is only about 20 years old.
Wall mural

While researching the temple, I found this wonderful video (click on the word “video”) of the restoration showing the traditional Tibetan way of working on such structures.  Tibetans have songs they sing for specific types of work and in this clip, you see them working almost as if they were a chorus line of singers and dancers in a show.  It is not a performance.  It is how they work!

Later we went on to Yumbulagang Palace. It is the first palace built in Tibet, according to legend, in the 2nd century BCE. Tibetan folklore holds that the first Tibetan king Nyatri Tsenpo was seen descending in this valley from a ladder from heaven. Herdsmen told the story and he became the first king. Over time, the palace retained its significance and it became the summer palace of the 33rd king Songtsen Gampo and his wife, the Chinese princess Wencheng.
The palace

Riding up to the palace

The palace was high on a hill and the local people took advantage of the opportunity to profit. There were horses that one could ride to the top, guided by the people who owned them. Sadly, never having sat upon a horse, I had no clue as to how to mount one, and so after I almost caused the poor animal to fall on his side, I decided to walk up the mountain. My faithful husband and a few of our travelers walked with me, but most went up by horse. You can probably see them in the distance in the picture above.

The palace

The rooms inside serve as places of religious rite and pilgrimage rather than as rooms in which people dwelled. However, we did see some monks having soup, noodles, and yak butter tea in some of the rooms.

Here we are on the mountain with the palace behind us. Our raincoats were bought for us by kind travelers on a former tour who wanted to be able to find us in a crowd.

From the top of the mountain we were able to see the first cultivated field in Tibet. It is called Zortang. It is considered to be a very special field and until this day, there are farmers who will sprinkle soil from Zortang on their own fields to ensure a good harvest.

Here is Zortang


and yes, it is small.

Later in the day we made our way to Lhasa. But that’s a story for another day.

Trek 2013 – Tsetang Tibet, Day 2

On our second day in the Tsetang area, we went to visit a Buddhist Temple, something we did quite a lot on this tour. Although one may think that they all look alike, we were amazed to see real differences among them. But we didn’t even have to get to the temple to begin enjoying our Tibetan adventure that day.

As we drove along the road, we saw a cow beauty pageant. Well, of course, not really, but we did see cows adorned in various manners. We thought it interesting and picture-worthy.

Cow fashion show IMGP0911 IMGP0912 IMGP0914 IMGP0917

Of course, it was only after we all had taken our photos that our local guide explained that many of those who owned the cattle were involved in other labor- whether farming or construction or any of a number of jobs, and that they hired people to tend their cattle while they were at work. The adornments on the cattle were to identify the ownership!

After a short ride, we arrived at the Samye Monastery. It was located in a small town. We saw people approaching the monastery and temple with offerings. Mostly they had either thermoses filled with yak butter or vegetable oil that would be burned in the temple or with grains that were burned outside of the temple.

Women walking toward the temple

At the time I photographed them, I didn’t even realize that the woman in the foreground had a parrot on her hand! Notice the aprons in the front of the skirts. This is the dress of the Tibetan women. The skirts all have attached striped aprons. These are for married women only.

Waiting by the entrance

Here are some people waiting by the entrance. Notice that one has a stick on which there is a circular attachment. This is a portable prayer wheel. Every time the wheel turns, it is as if the prayers on it have been said.

Inside the fence

The Samye Temple

Here are the offerings being burned… such an unpleasant odor in a place where the air is otherwise so very clear and clean.
Burning the grains

Here is a look at the wall surrounding the temple/monastery complex. At the top are miniature stupas! A stupa is a structure in which there are sacred relics, often the ashes of monks. I assume these were for decoration and did not contain any relics.

Wall with stupas
This is the town just outside Samye Monastery. Notice that although it is far from any large area of population, they took pains to make sure that it has the appearance of a traditional Tibetan town including intricate artwork and attention to detail.


a door

And a taste of home in Samye, Tibet

Holyland brother restaurant

Next time: the Teletubbies visit the first palace in Tibet. Don’t miss it!

Trek 2013 – Tsetang Tibet

We arrived in Tibet fairly early in the day. Unfortunately, seven suitcases- including all four of ours- didn’t. While we were trying to find the right office in the airport, we found our guide, Jim. Jim was our guide throughout or journey in Tibet and to say he was excellent would not even give you a hint as to how good he was.

Jim had never guided a kosher group before and so when my husband started explaining our requirements in terms of being in the kitchen at all times when food was being prepared, using our own utensils, cutting boards, pots, pans, etc. etc., he had a bemused expression. It turned out that his bemused expression was one that we saw a lot both in relation to us and in relation to the other Tibetans and Han Chinese people we encountered throughout the time in Tibet. His light and easy manner, his warmth and bemusement served all of us very well going through the numerous checkpoints, negotiating with the kitchen staff, and helping us deal with hotel reception desks. He was completely with us from very early in the morning until very late at night with never a word of complaint. He was willing to help us in any way we needed him. Having him with us was a wonderful gift.

The first thing he did was to deal with the airport bureaucracy. It finally turned out that our luggage had been put on the next flight which meant that we spent some unexpected time in the airport near Lhasa. That was not altogether unfortunate since we were coming from near sea level in Beijing to an altitude of 3,570 meters (11,710 ft). For us to have some time to just sit and relax as our bodies began to adjust to the altitude was a good thing.

Once we had our luggage, we headed toward Tsetang. On our way, we stopped at the Mindroling Monastery, the first of several monasteries we visited during our time in Tibet. Although there were similarities, each one was unique. One of the first things we saw was this
Rest rooms at Mindroling Monastery
Yes, a beautifully decorated restroom. Unfortunately, like all of the public restrooms in Tibet, the toilets are Asian toilets and unless one has been squatting from early childhood, one may find them, shall we say, challenging. They also were not always sweet-smelling. Our travelers tried to avoid them whenever possible.

Outside of the monastery, we saw a woman filling water from a communal tap.

Woman at well

The monastery itself was a complex of buildings, as they all are. This one was also undergoing major renovations.

Mindroling Monastery

The complex as seen from the roof of the main building

Atop the roof of the monastery
It was a beautiful sun-filled day with the skies so very blue after the smoggy skies of Beijing. Despite the relative lack of oxygen, the air felt very good to breathe!

We left the monastery and drove along a rural two lane road until we arrived in Tsetang, a lovely town with a surprisingly nice hotel.

Our hotel in Tsetang

Tune in to the next episode where we answer the question on everyone’s mind: “What does the well-dressed cow wear when she goes out for a walk?”

Potala Palace, Lhasa, Tibet

On our trip to western China and the province of Yunnan, we also visited Lhasa, Tibet. Lhasa, at that time (2006), was not a place that people visited so often because it is very far from other places in China, special visas are required, and the roads to Lhasa are less than perfect. [In a future post, I will talk about the roads in Yunnan Province.]

We arrived on a flight from Kunming. Lhasa is located at a very high altitude, 3650 meters or 11,975 feet above sea level. That makes it even higher than Cusco, Peru which is 3400 meters or 11,200 feet above sea level. People who visit often take close to a day to adjust to the altitude. Many people feel short of breath the whole time they are at altitudes they are not used to. We had been traveling from one place to another, each of which was at a higher altitude, so that by the time we came to Lhasa, we had very little difficulty adjusting to the altitude, although climbing steps was a lot harder because of the scarcity of oxygen in the air.

Now, for people who would like a real adventure traveling to Lhasa, there is a train that one can take from Qinghai to Lhasa. It is a very special train, built over frozen tundra at high altitude, in a way that enables the local wildlife to cross beneath its tracks and continue life as it was before the railroad.

Some of the facts about the railroad can be found here :

The train is equipped with 2 oxygen sources, 1) released throughout the cabins when reaching Golmund and heading into Tibet and 2) Personal Oxygen Canisters in case you feel light headed and only available from Tibet to Golmund or from Golmund to Tibet.

Between Xining and Golmud the tracks pass by Qinghai Lake – China’s largest. But it’s the Golmud-to-Lhasa sector which offers the most breath-taking scenery. That segment also offers the record-breakers: the world’s highest passenger railroad (at Tanggula Pass – elevation: 16,640 ft.; 5072m) and the world’s highest railroad tunnel (Fenghuoshan – elevation: 16,093 ft.; 4905m). Over 80% of the journey is at altitudes above 13,000 feet; fully half the track on this sector was laid atop permafrost.

The train ride from Beijing to Lhasa is 48 hours long. For a soft sleeper berth, the price one way is $158.

Since the railway was built, large numbers of Han Chinese have come to settle in Lhasa because now they are able to visit their families back in the center of the country more easily.

Although one may picture Lhasa as a primitive place or a place burning with tension, we found just the opposite. It was a modern, laid-back place with lots of charm and a lot of interesting places to discover.
Street in Lhasa
Business street in Lhasa
Shops in Lhasa
Shops in Lhasa

Hotel lobby
This was the lobby of the elegant hotel where we stayed

Interior of hotel
Here is some detail of the decoration
The alcove of the restrooms

Outside the hotel, although it was already June, the first day or two we were able to see the snow-capped mountains. By the time we left, a couple of days later, all of the snow had melted.
Outside the hotel

We took a ride to see a monastery on the side of a mountain and saw lovely scenery with lots of grazing yaks.

Yaks in Tibet

On our way back to Lhasa, we saw two carts.
They belonged to a family of pilgrims who had been traveling on foot for almost a year from their home in Chengdu, a distance of 2415 kilometers or 1500 miles. They were nearing Lhasa and the temple they were seeking to visit. They believe that as devout Buddhists they must make this journey at least once in their lives. The father of the family had already been to Lhasa, but now he was bringing the rest of the family. Here they are:

Pilgrims arriving in Lhasa will walk three steps, prostrate themselves on the ground and then get up and walk three more steps, until they reach the Jokhang temple. Then they circumambulate the temple and then finally enter.

Not far from the temple is the Potala Palace, the former residence of the Dalai Lamas. It served both as a spiritual headquarters and the seat of the government. Today no business is carried out there and it is visited by tourists who must make reservations in advance, come early to go through a rigorous security check, and then climb many flights of steps to see it. It is not for the faint of heart.
The Potala Palace

We were accompanied by someone who took pictures the way a tourist would and watched our group closely. Although the palace has no real artifacts and most of the rooms we saw were empty of furnishings, it is a sensitive location for the Chinese and so they are very vigilant about who the visitors are and what they are doing while they are there.
The palace up close
This is close-up picture of the palace windows.

This is a view from the palace of the city of Lhasa
View of Lhasa from Potala Palace
Potala Palace

We loved our trip to Tibet. In another post, I will show you some pictures from the museum and also the summer palace of the Dalai Lama.

Sera Monastery, Lhasa, Tibet

One of the most fascinating places I have traveled is Tibet. Having gone to cities with progressively higher altitudes in the days before arriving in Tibet, the group was prepared for the rarefied air of Lhasa whose elevation is 3650 meters (11,975 feet) above sea level. Normally visitors are unable to tour on the first day there and must rest, but we “hit the ground running” much to the consternation of the local guide who thought he would have the afternoon and evening off.

I had many adventures in Lhasa and took a large number of photos. One of the most interesting places we visited while there was the Sera monastery. It was founded in 1419, during the Ming Dynasty and the name means “wild rose” in Tibetan. It was named Sera because the hills behind it were filled with wild roses at the time it was being built.

It may be only a coincidence, but the young monks who now study there wear robes that are rose colored. A study session of theirs is fascinating to watch. They gather outside, under the trees in dyads or triads. They refine their knowledge of their faith by asking questions of one another. The questioners stand and the answerers sit. If the answer is deemed good and satisfying based on the traditional sources, the questioners indicate that through a hand gesture signifying approval. If not, they continue to question. Questions are punctuated with slaps on the questioner’s arm. To the observer, it is a somewhat disconcerting sight. Some are standing, some are sitting, there is lots of noise as all of the dyads and triads are constantly speaking, and there is an unpredictable cacophony of slaps.

It is, however, both fascinating and beautiful. Here are a couple of images:

Monks at Sera Monastery, Lhasa, Tibet

Monks at Sera Monastery, Lhasa, Tibet

Monks sharing a moment at Sera Monastery, Lhasa, Tibet

Monks sharing a moment at Sera Monastery, Lhasa, Tibet

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