Let me start with Dalai Lama… A tabu subject in Tibet! There are no photos of any Dalai Lama. There is one exception, a photo in a monastery with the 13th one. Now they have the 14th. The guide asks me whether I have ever seen him. I tell him I saw the Dalai Lama on TV, on the Internet and on the cover of some books. I ask him if I can show him a funny clip on YouTube with Dalai Lama taking a selfie with a young woman. He says with regret: “No, I am afraid !” L He saw Dalai Lama looong ago, that is many, many years ago. He has no idea how he looks like now or what he does. He found out something about an eye operation. And he prayed. The other Tibetans prayed too.
I leave the uncomfortable subject and I ask him why “Dalai Lama”, as I found out after a very long time that this is a title, not a name. What is strange is that the Dalai Lama title appeared from the third chosen one. The first too had a name followed by “master”. The third was a child from Mongolia. After years of instruction in Tibet, there was a meeting between him and the Mongol king. The king was impressed with the smartness of the young man and of the many things he knew. And so he told him he was an “ocean of wisdom”. That is… Dalai Lama. And that was his name from that moment on. His name and the names of all the others who followed…
(I will have to read more about this… As well as about the choosing of the Dalai Lama, as I have heard some things that made me curious)
In a very natural dialogue, I tell the guide about a book on Dalai Lama published in Romania, a book that I wanted to buy. I show him the book on Google, on my phone. You cannot imagine the happiness on his face when he saw the cover with the picture of Dalai Lama !!! My God ! He was fascinated, overwhelmed, a complete meltdown !
After many minutes of talking about other things, still emotional about it, he tells me that I have made him very happy !!! And he makes me happy too, taking me to visit the Dalai Lama Palace – Potala.
LET’S OPEN POTALA PALACE…
Mladin, gate opener J in one of the most important places in Tibet: Dalai Lama’s residence (during the time he was not in India, but here).
A spectacular place, that oversees the city, a place I have learned a lot of things about. But before anything else, I found out something funny: I was the first foreigner to enter the Palace after the opening of the gates this year. The people at the entrance were amazed seeing… the Blonde from Bucharest and they told the guide about this (all the other tourists were Chinese). So I can say I was the FIRST WHITE TOURIST to enter the Potala Palace. J
It is incredible, yet this is what happens… Although the first steps of the Palace are small and easy to take, I cannot go up more that 5-6 steps and then I have to stop and rest as if I had pulled God knows what burden. The lack of oxygen makes me have strange experiences and feelings. I feel a tingling in the fingers and toes, like a light electricity passing through… The lips are as if connected to 220. I am convinced that, if I touch my upper lip with my finger, it will be like playing a dulcimer…
Dalai Lama’s rooms are the ones on the upper side, covered with orange drapes. From the living room, he used to watch the events in the interior yard.
As a tourist, you can visit the rooms, but you are not allowed to take any pictures and all the steps up to them nearly killed me!
Dalai Lama used to get to the Palace on horse. All the small steps allowed this. The horse took him up to a certain place and from there he had to walk. So that Dalai Lama would get off the horse and nice and slow go up on foot the last bit towards the palace.
From up inside the Potala Palace, a part of Lhasa can be seen. It is a… normal city. With block of flats, roads, traffic lights, shops, pedestrians, factories and plants. Shocking for someone who expected to see some sort of a… traditional village, from a different time, with special people who pray and live differently. You can see these special people, especially in the old part of the city and around the temples. Otherwise, there are 7 Chinese people for every Tibetan. How about that ?
The agency that sold me the tour were sued some time ago by an angry tourist, displeased that they failed to tell him that Tibet was different from what he thought… First of all, Tibet greets you with an infernal traffic, with shops and high buildings, things he said he could find everywhere in China…
SHOPPING IN TIBET – LOOKING FOR TIBETAN SOUVENIRS
These are the first souvenirs I see. They are the first to catch your attention, because of the colors. They are handmade and meant to be hung inside the house, the car or in any other place where you want to be protected.
These are the only souvenirs that I could take in my luggage. In China it’s not like in Europe, where I would buy another suitcase, put inside all the presents and pay for extra-luggage No. Here all you are allowed to take with you are the standard 20 kilos and for any kilo over this you have to pay… 20 Euros, man ! That was so frustrating for me ! In order to be able to buy some small, very small, a few grams worth souvenirs, I had to leave behind, in the hotel room many of my personal things, some socks, a pajama, some T-shirts and some face and hands creams.
I will come back to the yak as soon as I get to know it better… I have not seen any until now, but I know it is like a small buffalo and it is a very important animal for the Tibetans. They literally use all of it, from the horns to the tail.
A Tibetan shopping, photographed sort of… on the run… However I could not miss him as I was fascinated with his outfit.
No, this is not underwear left to dry in the sun, but face masks that I saw in Beijing too, on everybody’s faces. But in Beijing you were wearing the masks to protect the others from your own viruses or to protect yourself from the pollution, in Tibet the masks have a very precise role – to protect the face from the Sun radiations that are very strong here. So, no sunburn, no red face, no rash or God knows what… The masks are different from the ones we have in our pharmacies. They are very big, they cover the entire face from under the eyes down to the chin or even the neck. With a mask like this and a hat or a scarf on your head you are protected.
The masks have been worn here for many years, so this is why the mask industry is so big that you can find hundreds of models. From the simple ones, to the colored, from the stripped ones to the ones with squares, animals, flowers or cartoon characters, male, female and children’s masks, masks made of cotton, linen or even lace – they are a lot all over the place. And the ones wearing them are women most of them, as far as I saw. A lot less men. The guide tells me he couldn’t care less about his complexion so he does not wear any mask.
I have drunk Everest water – Qomolangma is the Tibetan name of Everest. I drank water form a Greenland glacier and water from an Island glacier… Looks like an obsession to me… One I had no idea I had.
“Don’t buy what you want, buy what you need !” – this is a Tibetan saying.
Thank God I don’t need any beads… There are tons of beads in the local products markets. The Tibetans have a special talent to find one small bead in a huge sack and to make different things with beads. I have seen this myself.
Butter. Huge blocks of butter, everywhere.
Butter is extremely important in Tibet. Not just for “butter tea”… I have seen hundreds of pilgrims bringing vessels with butter to place close to the temples. It is like with candles in the church in our tradition. They have that too, only they use liquid butter. They say that is keeps the LIGHT always lit.
Similar to the icons we buy to put inside the home are these Buddha statues. That is why they have shops in which Buddha exists in all forms and dimensions, with or without clothes on.
I go inside a supermarket where all the Chinese look at me as if I were some strange creature. Children point to me… Some of them say “hi”. I smile, I answers and they are extremely happy. ET has spoken to them haha!
I go around the place. Tons of rice ! A lot of tea, their tea – butter tea. And what do you know, a lot of eggs, each in an individual wrapping. In a huge pile there.
God, how I wanted these to fit my luggage ! Maybe next time…
For now, only small Tibetan objects, various talismans, for me and for the dear ones at home.
The guide asks me to buy from the Tibetans, not from the Chinese merchants, because this way I help them maintain the handmade traditional trade. He leaves me alone in the bazaar. He tells me it is not correct for him to stand by me when I negotiate for a product because, on the one hand he cannot let me pay too much for something, on the other hand he cannot diminish the gains of his people. Fair enough !
We agree to meet the next day in a very famous place, full of Tibetan monks. I can hardly wait. I see the metallic talisman on this bag and I go to look for it around the bazaar, to get one for myself. (It is the first on the left). I feel protected now.