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Travel: Of lamas and luscious landscapes…a trip to Tibet | brunch | feature

The majestic Potala Palace in Lhasa was once the winter palace of the Dalai Lamas

Most vacationers to China make a beeline for the Forbidden Metropolis in Beijing. However there’s one other a part of the nation that has largely been forbidden to overseas travellers until just a few many years in the past – Tibet, the Roof of the World.

This area with jaw-droppingly stunning mountains and lakes and hill-top monasteries had been on my bucket listing ever since I travelled to Ladakh some years in the past, and in July I discovered myself in Tibet together with seven different Indian journalists.

Oxygen for the soul

Tourism in Tibet, a area with deep non secular connections with India, stays extremely restricted for foreigners, who need to guide excursions in teams and acquire a allow from the Tibet Tourism Bureau (TTB) solely after buying a Chinese language visa. With out this allow, foreigners gained’t even have the ability to board a flight to the world also called Xizang Autonomous Area.

Tashi Lhunpo Monastery was founded by the first Dalai Lama, in Shigatse

Tashi Lhunpo Monastery was based by the primary Dalai Lama, in Shigatse
(
Rezaul H Laskar
)

As we drove from Lhasa airport to our lodge on an overcast afternoon, our guides handed out miniature bottles of a drink known as Rhodiola Rosea, a mixture of rhodiola sacra, Chinese language wolfberry, taurine and different substances they mentioned would assist us deal with doable hypoxia or lack of enough oxygen.

As with Ladakh, journey in Tibet, with a mean altitude of 4,000 metres or extra, isn’t for the faint-hearted. Lack of enough acclimatisation, together with loads of relaxation on the primary day, can have critical penalties as a few of our group have been to seek out out.

A small temple near Potala Palace makes for a calming stopover

A small temple close to Potala Palace makes for a relaxing stopover
(
Rezaul H Laskar
)

Excessive-altitude illness, a strong mixture of nausea, vomiting and splitting complications that may linger for hours and even days, is without doubt one of the worst circumstances that may afflict travellers in areas akin to Tibet. Our tour bus was geared up with an oxygen tank, the lodge in Lhasa had a 24-hour ‘oxygen lounge’ with an oxygen degree and barometric strain ratio 50 per cent greater than exterior, and each lodge room had small cans of oxygen to assist alleviate the signs.

Palace of the monks

Feeling just a little stressed on our first evening in Lhasa, I made a decision to go for a stroll at about 10pm, when the temperature exterior was about 11˚C. The pleasant lodge supervisor informed me it was secure to stroll to the Potala Palace, the winter residence of the Dalai Lamas until 1959, about 25 minutes away.

Waft of incense sticks being dried at the factory in Nyemo county welcome weary visitors

Waft of incense sticks being dried on the manufacturing unit in Nyemo county welcome weary guests
(
Rezaul H Laskar
)

By this time, solely a handful of bars, eating places and roadside meals kiosks have been open and the well-lit streets have been largely abandoned. The massive buildings alongside either side of the street obscured the palace from view, however as I lastly walked into an enormous sq., there it stood – a powerful purple and white construction sprawling over a craggy hill, fantastically lit up beneath a darkish sky.

Meet the locals at a village in Nyemo county

Meet the locals at a village in Nyemo county
(
Rezaul H Laskar
)

We might return as a bunch to the Potala Palace the subsequent morning, whose purple part was used for non secular ceremonies and comprises the burial stupas of previous Dalai Lamas, whereas the white part was used for political conferences. As we wandered via the maze-like corridors and wood staircases resulting in prayer halls and burial stupas, it was frequent to see Tibetans, younger and previous, stopping to hope earlier than the photographs of the Buddha and previous Dalai Lamas, stuffing foreign money notes into assortment bins and making choices of butter, whose aroma hung cloyingly all through the construction.

Bright murals on the wall of an incense stick-making factory in Nyemo county near Lhasa are a visual treat

Vibrant murals on the wall of an incense stick-making manufacturing unit in Nyemo county close to Lhasa are a visible deal with
(
Rezaul H Laskar
)

Sadly, images is strictly prohibited throughout the palace, a part of Unesco’s pointers for safeguarding the world heritage website by guaranteeing that the quite a few guests don’t linger greater than an hour inside.

Later, at a central corridor of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, many individuals, together with our group, stopped to make a want by writing it on a slip of paper and stuffing it right into a field.

Namaste India!

Our travels additionally took us to the historic and well-preserved Pala Manor in Gyantse county of Shigatse prefecture, about 260km from Lhasa, as soon as residence to an aristocratic household that reportedly had greater than 100 serfs or pressured labourers, and now become a museum by Chinese language authorities. It was right here in a dimly-lit room that I discovered the primary proof of the present Dalai Lama – two black and white pictures exhibiting him within the firm of Indians within the 1950s. Elsewhere in public areas, every part about him has been scrubbed away as if he didn’t even exist.

Bollywood rules everywhere including a shop in Gyantse county!

Bollywood guidelines in every single place together with a store in Gyantse county!
(
Rezaul H Laskar
)

Entering into a store close to the manor to purchase snacks, I noticed the curious sight of photographs of Chairman Mao Tse-Tung and a number of other lamas subsequent to a big poster of Rani Mukherjee and Abhishek Bachchan. The poster jogged my memory of India’s previous connection to the area – until 1954, when India and China signed the Panchsheel Settlement, the Indian Military had a battalion at Yatung with a detachment in Gyantse.

Make a wish by writing it on a slip of paper at the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Shigatse

Make a want by writing it on a slip of paper on the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Shigatse
(
Rezaul H Laskar
)

At a village in Nyemo county, some 140km from Lhasa, there are extra indicators of the pervasive affect of India’s smooth energy. Whereas touring the quaintly-named Granny Barley Wine Distillery, we have been welcomed with Tibetan people songs sung by a bunch of girls. As soon as they have been completed, they mentioned it was our flip to carry out. Sadly, nobody in our group may carry a tune. Who ought to come to our rescue however our Tibetan information, who belted out a Bollywood tune, mispronounced phrases and all!

Old houses in Gyantse county have doors with artistic patterns

Outdated homes in Gyantse county have doorways with creative patterns
(
Rezaul H Laskar
)

Wherefore artwork thou, biryani? 

The native delicacies, nonetheless, was exceedingly bland and the Chinese language dishes we sampled have been a poor variant of their counterparts in mainland China. For the primary time in my 20 years of travelling overseas, I started hankering for Indian meals. Due to our Chinese language guides, I obtained simply that on the presciently named Third Eye Restaurant in Shigatse metropolis. Most of our group skipped the yak biryani for a easy vegetarian thali whipped up by a Nepalese chef.

The sight of the spectacular Karola Glacier, perched at 5,020 metres on the highway between Gyantse county and Lhasa, is a breathtaking one

The sight of the spectacular Karola Glacier, perched at 5,020 metres on the freeway between Gyantse county and Lhasa, is a panoramic one
(
Rezaul H Laskar
)

A day after that splendid meal, we made our means again from Shigatse to Lhasa on one of many quite a few highways that now criss-cross Tibet, stopping on the banks of the Yamdrok Yumtso, one of many largest freshwater sacred lakes within the area. Taking within the breathtaking view of the expansive lake merging into mountains within the distance, I realised it was unlikely I might return to Tibet any time quickly, however the recollections of this journey could be indelibly burnt into my reminiscence.

Rezaul H Laskar heads the overseas affairs desk at Hindustan Occasions. He was in Tibet on the invitation of the Chinese language Authorities.

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From HT Brunch, October 13, 2019

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First Printed:
Oct 12, 2019 22:40 IST

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