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Monday, May 15, 2017

A trip Tibet, that's worth every effort.

Recently we did a trip to Tibet from April 23- May 8, 2017 for 14 days for ourselves and for people who left us. It was enchanting and gratifying in many ways. Not many Bhutanese visit the most culturally similar region of the world and had asked me for reviews. If there is one place outside Bhutan where we can speak Dzongkha and expect to be half understood and everyone knows a “Drukpa” it has to be Tibet. Many a times, I felt we found our long lost cousins of our culture or Architecture or Music!


The group on arrival in Lhasa

We were a group of 22 Bhutanese from all across Bhutan and of all ages. The most calm Ap Phub from Chapcha to the oldest 78 years old Aum Chencho of Paro, to the singer duo Nim Budha of Haa and Gyaltshen of Gasa and extremely religious Dema of Yangtse. The trip was organized by Adventure Trekking Club of Bhutan, a tourism agent in Bhutan specialized in both tourists coming into Bhutan and Bhutanese traveling aboard to places such as China and Sri Lanka. This is apparently Tashi Gyaltshen, the tour leader's, 23rd trip to the plateau. We chose Tashi and his team chiefly due to their experience and knowledge of the area and assurance that permits would be obtained. Believe me, permits to visit Tibet does not come easy and the required package through a government approved agent (just like we have in Bhutan) comes at a cost of US$ 3500 which is about Nu. 200,000 per person.
Our Ride in Tibet
We visited the most sacred temple in Tibet, the Jokhang in Barkor, Lhasa, which has “Lhasa Jowo”, offered prayers for the loved ones –living and dead. There are scores of people lined up to offer gold paintings and tons of money and food signifying the spiritual peace and content one accumulates. Hundreds of people doing the Barkor Kora chanting manis, and prostrating only adds another dimension to the culture and beliefs. This was followed by a leisurely walk to the Norbulingka Palace, a UNESCO world heritage site which was the summer residence of the Dalai Lamas. It is said that HH the Dalai Lama fled from the Norbulingka in 1959.
Barkor, by the Jokhang, Lhasa
A move in front in the Jokhang, Lhasa

The magnificent Potala Palace 
Another site was a hike upto the grand Potala Palace, on Marpo Ri – the palace named after Mount Potalaka, the abode of Chenregzig. Potala was the residence of the Dalai Lama and center of Tibet for many years and now a museum and another UNESCO world heritage site. Potala is at around 3700 m and an architectural wonder with magnificent views of the Lhasa valley. Potala can melt anyone’s heart and not just Captain Younghusband of the British Army. The Kushula/Lama at the main chapel “Jowo” of Buddha was happy to notice the Bhutanese group and our incense offerings. We were able to make room for ourselves and offer moenlams right in the main chapel among the crowd of tourists walking by.  It was such a pleasant moment. 

By the Potala Palace, Lhasa






Climbing up the Lhasa valley, we were on wide mountain roads ascending to 4770 m Gambala/Khambala pass to view the beautiful Yamdrok Yumtsho. The lake is not only surreal but also sacred and vital for water resource of Tibet with some 680 sq.km area. There were also posing with the giant Tibetan Mastiffs which is almost a meter tall and Yak riding the glorious way with full decorations at 4400m. 
Ralung
Ralung, the origin of Drukpa Kagyu School stands in between nowhere at some 4700m with a cluster of ruins and a temple in the center that is being renovated as well. Here too, the Kushula was delighted to have visitors from Bhutan and went all out to help us perform a meonlam, and a round of butter tea. If you have some money for donation, this is a good place to contribute. It was quite an experience to imagine what Ralung might have been before 1616 from where Zhandrung Rimpoche had come.
At Tra Druk Lhakhang, Tshethang
The group also visited the towns of Gyantse, Shigatse and Tshethang visiting places such as  Kubum Chorten with a Lakhs of Buddha paintings; Tashi Lhunpo, the seat of the Panchen Lamas; Yubumlagang; Tra Druk Lhakhang, and finally at Samye. Samye is the first Buddhist monastery built in Tibet by Guru Padmasambhava in the 8th Century. The origin of Ging Tsholing Chaam is from Samye where Guru had subjugated the demons on Hepori.
Samye Monastery, Samye
The Palace of King Thritshong Ditchen, Samye
We were also able to get blessings from numerous life like statues, hundreds of golden scripts and great cultural exposures. It was quite an amusement to see Tibetan dance troupes dancing to the tune of Kheng Sonam’s Bumo Tshering Tshomo. Apparently, Dzongkha music videos and songs are quite popular in Tibet.  

Shigatshe Hotel
My adivse for a packaged Tibet a trip is to pack less change of clothings, prepare for high altitude as much as you can. Take advises on drinking enough fluid seriously. I do not remember anyone in the group of 22 not falling sick! There are tons of great Wheat/Barley flours in the market and one do not take an extra effort to carry with you to Tibet. If you need a guidbook, make sure to hide it well or take PDFs or printouts as lonley planet is not appretiated in Tibet. Travel Insurance is recommended which is only done by RICB and do not wait for the last minute. Eldery patients need to do ECG, Blood and Urine tests. Accamalitization at Phojoding or Chelela are good ideas and maybe even starting the trips at Tshethang or Samye are possible options for slow asscend. Tourist vans and hotels does have Oxyen clyinders and first aids on call, but not everyone speaks english or even Tibetan at times.

By the Banks of Yarlung Tsangpo River
For offerings to temples, Bhutanese incense is a great idea, which was also recommended by a friend and appretiated. On the first few days, take note of what denominations you are changing your money to. We mistook the Jiao (1/10) for Yaun, while other people had it the other way round. If you want Sinkuees (religious bands that goes around the neck), make sure to take hundreds from Nepal or Bhutan and have them blessed from the Temples in Tibet. Remember that there are not many Lamas to bless the Sinkuees in Tibet. We werent quite successful in getting many Sinkuees from Tibet. Khadars are in adbundance both to purchase from outside or within the temples.

In recent times, we have heard of pilgrims to Nepal and India not being contented with their programs. Me and the group are highly pleased with our pilgirmage to Tibet and the services we have been offered by Adventure Trekking Club. We always had more than 3 Star hotel acccomodation, authentic Tibetan and Chinese meals and everything as promised in the itinerary. It is also to be noted that the group leader himself travels with the group and knows a lot about high atltitude sickness and how to take care of a large group. I cannot imagine myself trying to teach a 50 something year old Bhutanese farmer the concept of time, airport check-in, dining in a 3Star hotel or how to turn on the hote shower! But we do love these comforts at the end of the day! Tashi and the local tibetan guide Tenzinla were extremly knowledgeable of their duties and accomplished everything. I would highly recommend a trip to Tibet for any Bhutanese, if possible, and with Adventure Trekking Club would be complete if you want to feel safe and secure.

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