Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Rolling along the River

The Brahmaputra river starts in Tibet and winds along the country for a bit before descending through the Himalayas and emptying into the Bay of Bengal. We had the privilege of driving back along the river from Shigatse to Lhasa.


I love taking photos with reflections in the water.

There are always mountains on both sides. Sometimes they are close by and sometimes far away.

There are a lot of trees here. I believe these are recently planted by the government.

The color of the water changed from blue to green to turquoise and teal.

At times we were driving along flat valleys along the river and at other times we were high above it.

There is a rail line being built between Lhasa and Shigatse. This bridge is part of the rail line.

An interesting and annoying aspect of driving in Tibet are the numerous checkpoints. At some of them, you have to produce your passport and permit to visit Tibet. Apparently they make copies of these things at these checkpoints. In a couple of cases, our guide - who handled most of the checkpoint duties - came back to get copies of the documents from the car because their computer was down. If you didn't have copies, you got to wait till it was up. If you had copies, you handed them over and moved on. Armed with foresight, he had brought a lot of copies. We did exhaust them all by the time we returned to Lhasa.

Other checkpoints didn't involve us, just the driver of the car. Speed limits are maintained by time limits. The driver picks up a paper at the first checkpoint and it is stamped with the location and time. He has x number of minutes to get to the next checkpoint. If he gets there before that time expires, he pays a fine because he was driving too fast. An example is 55 mins to drive 40 km. This means that there are lots of places where cars and buses are pulled over and waiting for time to pass so they don't get to the next checkpoint too early.

These impromptu rest stops are usually furnished with a vendor or two selling food and drink and someone looking to make a buck off the inhabitants of the vehicles. It is maddening. In one case we got to a checkpoint 2 mins early and the driver was told to slow down. But he wasn't fined. At the last of the checkpoints before Lhasa, they collect the piece of paper with its stamps. Paper - it is what rules the world!

As for food, we found tasty vegetarian food everywhere. Sometimes it was just stir fried vegetables with rice. In the mountains we found yogurt. In the valley, not so much. We found Indian food in Lhasa with a Tibetan twist.

Finally, we get to our last day in Tibet. Just as we were getting comfortable with the place, the altitude and enjoying the ride.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Gyantse and Shigatse

Gyantse is a small town with a monastery. It also has some history. If you have some time, read about the British, Chinese and Russians and their battles over Tibet. Gyantse was one of the places where a battle was fought and many Tibetans were killed.


We stopped at the monastery briefly on the way to Shigatse. The stupa was closed for renovation. This reminds me: many of the sites we have visited have been reconstructed or renovated. Many monasteries were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and that is also true in other parts of China. Where relics and important documents and statues were saved, monasteries and temples have been rebuilt. The same is true in Korea where the palaces were rebuilt after the damage done during the Japanese rule over Korea and then the Korean War. Even where things did not get damaged, renovation goes on regularly to keep up with the damage done by the hundreds of thousands or millions of visitors each year.

The photo below is of Gyantse fort, which is where Francis Younghusband defeated the Tibetans.


At Shigatse, we ate in a very interesting restaurant. The decor was exuberant - very typical of Tibet.


The next morning we went to Tashilunpo monastery, which is the home of the Panchen Lama. The Panchen Lama is historically the teacher of the Dalai Lama. The current Panchen Lama was whisked away to Beijing and is being brought up there. He comes here once a year or so. His photo is everywhere. He is in his 20's now.


The yellow windows in the photo above are where the Panchen Lama lives when he is here.

There are thousands of Buddhas on this wall.

And here is the modern juxtaposed with the spiritual and historical. The parking lot for Tashilunpo monastery. By now, by the way, the alititude was getting a lot easier to deal with. Maybe because it was our fourth day in Tibet?

After visiting the monastery, we left Shigatse and headed back to Lhasa along the river. But, there was more to see. First, some bright decorations at an intersection in Shigatse.

A bridge out of town was under construction so we got to ride along a dirt road for a while. It gave me the opportunity to get a few more photos of daily life. There are lots of greenhouses all over Tibet. They are used to start seedlings and also to grow plants that need some shelter. We passed dozens of them on the way out of town. Here's one below from the road to Shigatse.

We also passed a number of homes, with their requisite dung piles. This is a particularly impressive one. See that brown, rectangular thing in the middle of the picture. That is dried fuel, neatly stacked.


And with that, we were on our way back along the Brahmaputra river. That trip will be the subject of the next post. Now on to fiber-y stuff.

The Tour de Fleece started last Saturday. I am trying to finish last year's project first. I spun a bit on Saturday and Sunday but then was unable to do more during the week. I am going to spin some more right after I finish this post. But this is what I accomplished last weekend.

I have also been knitting away. I tried two different lace shawl patterns for this yarn.

Finally, after frogging them both, I started Nuvem and am loving knitting it. I found it hard to knit on planes and airports trying to follow a chart - on paper and on my tablet. I am now up to the end of skein 4 (from right) which is about half way.

This photo was taken at the beginning of skein 4 which you can see in the middle of the shawl. I am going to knit 6 skeins and then start the ruffle. One is supposed to knit 80% of the yarn and then knit the ruffle but it will be easier to do 75% for me as I have 8 skeins. I can start the ruffle after I join in skein 6 and make the ruffle out of skeins 7 and 8.

Lastly, this is the weekend when Meg Swanson's Retreat 2.75 is happening in Wisconsin. I miss everyone there so much and am so happy that I may be able to attend next year.

The End (for now)


Sunday, July 6, 2014

The scenery post

Here it is.. Tibetan scenery from many different angles. After the Potala Palace we went to the Jokhang temple. This temple has a Buddha image that is revered all over Tibet and is very old. It is supposed to be from the time of the Buddha himself. It was brought to Tibet when Buddhism was introduced to Tibet. However, we don't have photos as photography is not allowed inside the temple.
There is a lovely large plaza in front of the temple which has 2 pillars flanking the entrance. The pillars are covered in prayer flags. You can see the temple tower in the left hand side of the photo.
The following day, we drove to Shigatse, which is the next largest city in Tibet. Shigatse is the home of the Panchen Lama. We drove there using a route over the mountains and returned by a route along the valley. You will see gorgeous views without much commentary from me.

One of the things I noticed was that every lamp post was decorated with the Chinese flag. Two on each post.

We started in the valley that Lhasa is in. We first cross the Lhasa river and then drive along the Brahmaputra, known to the Tibetans as Yarlung Tsampo. That is pronounced as if it is spelled Yellow Zambo, by the way.
Wild lavender colors the slopes blue. It was hard to capture the blue but this is really lavender blue.

We drove along the Yarlung Tsampo.

There are a lot of villages along the road. All of them look similar. This is classic Tibetan architecture with a lot of decorative elements in the houses. Then we turned away from the river and started climbing.
We've been climbing for a while. See the road. We are going to climb some more.

Do you see that small flat area in the center right of the photo? That is the level of the river. We started there. The red and white blocks are the guard rails.
Here you see how far we have come. I think this is around the first pass, not exactly the highest point but close. You can see now that we are at the same level as the mountains instead of looking up at them. This pass was around 5200 m high. We didn't spend more than 5-10 mins here so didn't feel too much worse than usual. I can't imagine hiking at this altitude without a lot more acclimatization.

And then we see Yamdrok Lake. This is one of the sacred lakes in the Tibetan religion. Tibetans do not eat fish or fowl. I've heard different reasons for this and I'll state all of them as I don't know which one is the real reason. Tibetans don't bury or burn their dead. They do something called sky burial. Sky burial means leaving the body out nature to take its course, including feeding birds of prey. So fowl and fish are part of how bodies are disposed and eating them is therefore forbidden. Sky burial makes sense in an area with few trees and frozen, rocky ground. The other reason I heard is that because Tibetans are Buddhists, they don't believe in taking life. However, to exist in this harsh climate, the body needs meat. Eating fish or fowl means taking a life to feed a person for one meal. Eating meat (yak or cattle or sheep) means that a life can feed many people for many meals. So it lessens the impact on other life.
Our guide also told us that Tibetans will buy the live fish that the Chinese sell for eating and release them into the nearest body of water. The Chinese then go and fish in that same body and put the fish back on the market. There is now a movement among the Tibetans to stop doing this buying and freeing as it is just putting money in the pockets of the Chinese.
Looking back at the road at the pass.
Now we go down...note the road

Yamdrok lake is l-o-n-g. We drove down to the lake level and then drove around it for a long time. The edge of the lake is rocky mud.
There are little rocky pyramids crowned with prayer flags on the shore. These are for good luck.
After a few minutes at the edge of the lake, we start driving along its perimeter.

One interesting feature of these village homes are piles of dried yak dung. Yak dung is the main fuel that is burned for heat in the winter. The dung is patted out onto the walls to dry and then the cakes are stacked on top of the wall or in free standing mounds. The more dried yak dung around a house, the richer its inhabitants. This is because they have more yaks from which to get dung. What you think is rocks in a rock wall are not rocks.
I finally was able to get a good shot of the sheep.

Our next stop was to see a glacier in the second pass.
There is a white stupa in front of the glacier and tons of prayer flags. Every part of the landscape is steeped in spirituality.
After driving more distance along the lake and crossing another pass, we finally roll into Gyantse. We stopped here for a visit to a monastery so I will also stop here as this is already a long and picture-heavy post.
My next post will have some fiber content - as the Tour de Fleece 2014 started yesterday.