Highs, lows, food and reflection.
Return to Lhasa, and back on the road with of course a few things to see on the way. Firstly a trip to one of the sixth largest monasteries of the Gluga School of Tibetan Buddhism (Ta Shilhun Po) and we joined the locals as the doors to the first temple opened, and felt the wave of hands on us as everyone pushed to climb the stairs up to the double doors-apparently this is normal as everyone wants to be blessed/say prayer as close to first as possible! We fought our way up to the top and bundled our way inside to stand beneath the tallest statue of a Buddha at 23m high. Photos were allowed with payment and while I didn't really want to take photos inside there was the most beautiful shot of a monk lighting candles-I caved and I paid, typically he didn't see me pay and I got shouted at, everyone looked, I felt guilty and embarrassed even when the other monk explained I had donated. So I took one shot, it's not perfect….but maybe it's for the best.
The three other temples contained giant stupas and while walking round the monks stated blowing horns and hitting a drum while in the next temple they all chanted. I spoke before about overwhelming experiences in these monasteries and yet again we have seen and been apart of something special. It's a magnificent place. Alas as ever the ups have a down and during the "liberation" the Chinese destroyed two of the original stupas so these are now replicas.
In the "Summer Palace" back in Lhasa the influence of China is strong, our Tibetan tour guide clearly was uncomfortable, he loves the Palace but not what the Chinese Government have done to it, it felt Incredibly touristy, very manicured, part of it was built for the Chinese Lama and not the Tibetans. They had plonked a gift shop in the Lama's original residence and shops where you could dress up in Chinese dress and have a photo taken. There was security everywhere and unlike the other monasteries all the donations do not go to the upkeep of the or to the Monks it goes into Chinese Governments pockets. In the introduction I spoke about a place where guides aren't even allowed to point out/discuss the painting of the current Dali lama on the wall, this was here, we walked into the room and *mumble mumble, shifty look, cough on that wall* we saw it under the gaze of three security cameras. We skulked around the Palace in hushed silence, the guide quite visibly upset and had said that we were more than happy to not be here long. It also transpired this day that he had wanted to be a monk and had been declined by the Chinese to allow the path he felt he belonged on. It was all quite sad really.
Our new hotel was in the heart of Lhasa so later in the evening we wandered around bought a few gifts for those back home and later found a restaurant. Tucked down the back streets, through a curtain, up three flights of stairs, it was true Tibetan and we ate like kings (and a Queen). The House of Shambala Restaurant was a delight with friendly staff, great freshly cooked food and we had the place to ourselves. What better way to end the day, so we relaxed with some Lhasa beer for pretty much the whole evening and reflected on our trip, the beauty, the temple experiences and the reality.
We wondered how we would ever be able to explain to people the chants, the feeling of those temple statues as they look right at you as if they know you are there and what you are feeling, the sight of standing next to the bluest lake you will ever see in your life, the emotions of friendly proud people encouraging you to share in their place of worship. Can we put into words the feeling of seeing our Tibetan guide filled with laughter as we joke around with him and see him turn from cautious behaviour to "one of the gang" and see his eyes light up of curiosity as we show him photos of our home and London. The views, the mountains, the history and the bitter sweetness of the trip. Can we really describe it? The truth is, we can't. We just can't