Where Eagles Dare
Last day before we fly back to Chengdu (grumble) and our last two visits and little did we know how amazing our last visit in this wonderful country be, but first the Ganden Monastery.
Fun Facts: Ganden was built in 1409AD and covers an area of 150000 square meters and in 1961 became a national cultural relic. We were taken into several temples and walked the "streets" of this large place. As it seems this whole trip we got lucky, the remaining Monks (once home to 3000+ now only around 300) were reading from scripts and chanting in one of the temples and if that wasn't enough to bring a lump to the throat we were all blessed by a monk with a tap on the head with the very first Dali Lama's original hat.
Even with the emotion (again) in the temple at Ganden Monastery (picture above) this day was all about one place: Drak Yerpa.
Drak Yerpa, is built high high in the mountains and quite literally into it. It consists of a monastery and a number of ancient meditation caves, while high above is a mountain top covered with prayer flags, thousands and thousands of them and every day someone puts a bundle on their back hikes to the top and places more. There is so many that from afar they actually look like rock formations.
The walk to the top wasn't easy especially after all the altitude ups and downs over the last week and even our guide was struggling, 4246 meters above sea level will make even the fittest huff a little, but was it worth it. A plus point to Drak is a lot of tourists rarely go here and with not many people around except the odd wandering Monk we truly felt on top of the world. The meditating caves were all in tact, (the Chinese couldn't muster the energy to destroy this place it would seem) and the views are sensational, eye shatteringly sensational with deep valleys, winding roads, snow capped mountains and air so pure its like the first breathe you ever took. The meditation caves and temples are all connected by a sea of stairs it is a place of peace and calm and where eagles soar and donkeys stroll about. It is Magical.
On the way down we were passed by two men, all day we had been followed by Chinese Government officials, I'm pretty sure the hike to the top of Drak finished them off for I didn't see them again afterwards! But again, it just highlights what exactly is going on in Tibet and how important it is for tourists to be with guides.
Tired, mentally drained and emotionally done! The drive back to Lhasa was a quiet one and we were in for one last unexpected treat. The pass took us on a looping road and in the distance we could see a sea of prayer flags as the road dropped and swept round a corner the vision became clear. A bridge of prayer flags. Below is a video of this, our last stop on the road back home, it will do it far more justice than words will.
So then that is it. We had one more night in Lhasa and a meal back at that lovely restaurant, flew back to Chengdu the next day (very glad we didn't do the train all the way back!), stayed one night in Chengdu and then flew back to London the morning afterwards. I hope that you have enjoyed reading the above posts on this trip, as I have repeated time and time again my words and photos probably cannot do it justice but hopefully they have given you a snapshot into an amazing country which, as you have read is on the verge of being written out of history. I am glad we saw it when we did because I fear it won't last long and yes, anti-Chinese groups will tell you not to travel here but you should because: a/ the Dalai Lama encourages it for all the reasons in the above pages (good and bad) and b/ the more of the West that travel (with open eyes) the more we can report back and just maybe change will happen. Maybe.
It was the most incredible trip I have ever been on and I have been fortunate to be on a few of them now, but spiritually it touched us, aesthetically it was other worldly and on a human level it emotionally affected us. It has been two weeks now since returning and It still hasn't really sunk in, I think it will be a long time before it really does.