Lhasa, Tibet: Hidden Treasures, Monasteries & Monks...

Refreshed from my train journey from Lanzhou, I was ready to begin my Lhasa city tour. Being part of a group wasn't something that I had ever had to consider being a part of, it was a must for the trip to be possible. From Drepung Monastery to Sera Monastery, I was shown a myriad of beautiful and timeless sights. Although being above sea level was crazy! I was dreaming? No, no!

As side from the altitude, my first moments in Lhasa's old city had me feeling excited! With free time on my hands, I left my hotel in hot pursuit to know Lhasa during that first afternoon. Captured above features Beijing East Road, I loved the traditional style of the buildings whilst the street buzzed with the Tibetans everyday motions. Of course, city life existed in the city's oldest quarters! It was a blessing not to have to change any currency because everything was sold in Chinese Yuan, handy similarities nevertheless but Lhasa had its own identity for sure. A chattering of a language all around me didn't sound the like usual Mandarin Chinese like I would hear in Wuhan. Those conversation were in the Tibetan language, that along with the Sanskrit writing had its own tone and energy. I loved Lhasa, well the old city had something the new side couldn't compete with, that was character. Passing the Potala Palace on the corner, I was curious to see more! I saw Indian and Nepalese products been sold, it was a crossover moment for sure! 

During that first afternoon I was able to cover some good ground, no bad feelings or vibes crossed my Lhasa path. I had nothing but love for the adventure that stood ahead of me. The whole feeling I had was one of bewilderment, it was like an out of body experience to finally be in China's Tibet. I had heard those Lhasa teahouses served up the best yak butter milk tea? I had already been to one and breakfast would allow a few more cups! Standing before was the mighty yet very serene Potala Palace, the centre of Buddhism and a world renowned Tibetan icon that relates to the same as the Vatican does for Roman Catholics. The serene blue skies quickly clouded over, it wasn't meant to be for getting photos during that moment but I appreciated that time all the same. Aside from the sights I was part of a group of fourteen people who had come from around the world to visit Lhasa, mostly based in Mainland China people in the group hailed from Brazil, Ireland, Spain, U.S.A and Germany. It was a very international group! Yes!

Standing 3,700 ft above sea level, it did feel strange to ascend any higher than that but Lhasa's Drepung Monastery wasn't going to move its hilly location for yours truly! My first holy site during my once in a lifetime tour looked mighty fine, perched upon one of the thousand mountains that can be seen around Lhasa I gazed in amazement as the white washed stone walls stood so bright in the crystal clear sky, the detail of that 14th century sacred monastery was unbelievable! With snatched photo opportunities, I made the best to capture as many moments to seize Drepung's mystical look for myself. Going inside the many rooms and shrines showed me things that I never had previously seen before. Following the rules, it was forbidden to take any photos inside the many accessible buildings within the Drepung Monastery, you know I took head but some guests from a certain category disrespected those rules! When afforded the chance to visit such a sacred place, for me following the rules is always a must! I loved Drepung! 

How, the sheer detail of the shrines and figures within the Ganden Phodrang blew me away, taking careful notice of our tour guides direction it was easy to get carried away for the items on show were nothing like I'd ever seen in a temple-like place before. Prayer scrolls had been crafted with much thought and were displayed within a wooden cabinet, the religious text had been wrapped in an undeniably beautiful cloth to protect them. We were being schooled from then on about the dear Dalai's as they would be a recurring feature in the tours programme. The musky smell of incense filled the air, along with the dimmed reddened light it was truly immense to see the golden items and figures that were on display. If I could have taken photos it would have not captured the true beauty of realness of what was before my eyes. Leaving the rabbit warren-like rooms behind us we spent some time exploring inside the main hall, it welcomed the prayer of the monks who lived at Drepung. Undoubtedly, it was a definite wow moment for me! 

From Drepung Monastery it was a short drive to Sera Monastery, before seeing the monks debate it was time for a light lunch. It was a chance for some of the group to get to know each other, being an independent traveller most of the time it was nice to have people to talk to from different places but for that trip only. As 3 p.m neared it was time to see the monks debate at Sera Monastery. We were en-route to another of the three most important holy sites in Lhasa, what a treat of a day it was turning out to be! For some strange reason cameras were banned for photos but smartphones were allowed to take photos, now that was such a very bizarre rule. Perching in front of the questioning monks. It was such an intriguing sight, younger and less experienced monks answered questions asked by the older monks, if their answer wasn't correct they would literally get a clap back! The debate was quite interesting to see, the main language wasn't Mandarin but it was spoken in a Tibetan sounding language! Lhasa had me learning lots! 

The experience seeing the monks debate at Sera Monastery was amazing, it was something that I had never seen before! Serving up yet another once in a lifetime sight in Tibet for me to remember forever! Children seemed to be the main focus of the local people's visits to Sera Monastery as they would queue from morning till closing time to get a blessing for their children, children must still be highly prized in Tibet as well as they are in other parts of the country? The visits to Drepung and Sera Monasteries were out of this world, from the timeless collections and relics that were on display at Drepung to the insightful debate at Sera, it was giving me life for sure! Returning back to the hotel for a little rest it was nice to put my feet up and re-hydrate as the high altitudes and thin air had made me feel thirsty and tired. The evening ahead would bring us a welcome dinner including a questionable series of Tibetan acts, the food was good but it was amazing to rest before the next day of the tour. The altitude played games! 

Like A Prayer! 

Joseph Harrison


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