On Wednesday, October 11 and 18 from 6-8 PM, I will present a lecture on Cuba at Washtenaw Community College – Morris Lawrence Building #105.

This lecture will be a cocktail of country, people, politics, food, and the arts, mixed with travel tips.  It is intended for an audience that either has been to Cuba, wants to travel to Cuba some day, or is just interested in the current world.  Perhaps, you can come?  Please help me spread the word.

Registration Online:  https://washtenaw.augusoft.net/

Registration via Phone:  734.677.5060

Fee:  $30  Students, faculty, and seniors 65 and over are free.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Peddler with Morning Tea

SYNOPSIS:  Final thoughts on Nepal, China, Tibet, living goddesses, and women in particular.  A thanks to my readers! A thanks to my editor and my “linker”!

After nearly three months of travel (not counting the month in Cuba), I am about to go home.  If you are still here reading, you are the most amazing, loyal blog reader I could imagine, one I never could be!  Thank you for being here with me for the whole trip!  An extra special thanks goes to those among you who left comments.  Thanks to you, I never felt alone and I was motivated to keep writing.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



SYNOPSIS:  Status report and comparison between the three ancient capitals.  Daily life in Bhaktapur’s old town.  There are two sections of images; please scroll down.

Bhaktapur was my final stop.  It is the last of the ancient kingdoms in the valley and I am glad I visited these three UNESCO sites in that order.  I took a real dive in accommodations, but as I went down to the basics inside, the view from Shiva Guesthouse across Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square beat both the views I had in Kathmandu and Patan.  I was smack in the middle of it all.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Girl bored with the Ceremony…

SYNOPSIS:  About a Saturday morning at the Kumbeshwar Vishnu temple and an afternoon at the Changunarayan Vishnu temple; my last excursion with Birendra.  Two sets of images.  Keep scrolling.

Even though Patan is mainly a Buddhist community, two Hindu temples caught my attention.  One was the Kumbeshwar Temple in Patan, dedicated to Vishnu.  It was just around the corner from Cosy Nepal and I decided to visit it several times during a Saturday, the only day off work in Nepal.  The other was a mountain temple, a few miles away which Birendra and I visited the following day.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


ET at Palace Museum

SYNOPSIS:  About the residential communities in Patan, a community organizer, a few local traditions, and an internationally funded women’s project.  Keep scrolling down.  Lots of images are embedded.

Lalitpur, city of art, as contemporary Patan is known in the Newari language, won me over within minutes!  Of course, it is a city of art and artisans; how could I not love it?!  It is quieter here, cleaner, slower.  Or perhaps, it just feels like that to me because of the very noisy and dirty street I came from.  But I think there is more to it. 

Patan is the name of one of the ancient royal capitals of this valley and it is the third-largest city in Nepal.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Ganga and ET at the Farewell Ceremony

SYNOPSIS:  About a special farewell and a special welcome.  About Cosy Nepal, a unique housing and restoration project.

Never before have I been sent off with such love and kindness as today, when I left the World Heritage Hotel in Kathmandu.  When I was ready to part, Ganga, the beautiful and ever helpful receptionist of the hotel, told me to sit down.  She was going to perform a farewell ceremony Newari Style.  Newaris are the original inhabitants of this valley and rulers until the 18th Century.  Their culture has influenced if not shaped Nepal’s culture in every respect:  architecture, festivals, rituals, language, food.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Birendra and his Nephew

SYNOPSIS:  Back in Kathmandu.  About a neoclassical garden, a new friend searching for meaning in life, an excursion to a secret place, and a dinner invitation.

The report from Vladimir came in via What’s App.  What a world we live in!  The expected 6-hour bus ride from Lumbini to Kathmandu had taken an awful 11 hours on dusty, pot-hole riddled roads.  Not even the fact that he took the luxury bus, providing a bathroom and lunch along the way, did ease much of the pain.  I decided not to put myself through this agony and booked a 1/2 hour flight home with Buddha Air which, despite its bad reputation did not let me down.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Prized Possession – A TV

SYNOPSIS:  About village life inside and outside.  About pigeons and cows and different beliefs.  A photo essay.

As we were driving from Lumbini to Kapilavastu yesterday and from one archaeological site to the next, I passed several villages and fields, and took numerous pictures from the back seat of the motorbike.  That any of them turned out at all is a miracle, but please cut me some slack.

People’s homes and shops in the larger villages are typically placed alongside the main road and close to it.  That makes for constant traffic noise and dust, but it seems to be the preferred location, perhaps for access to public transport and perhaps, to attract business.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Gotihava – Closeup

SYNOPSIS:  Where the Buddha grew up, his clan was slaughtered, his parents honored, and his son made demands.   About a motorbike ride and two self-appointed guides.  This is a bit more of an art historical blog than usual. 

Rightly so, the Kapilavastuans (if there is such a thing) feel marginalized by all the attention, recognition, and funding showered on Lumbini.  Really, the Buddha was born there by pure accident; in the middle of absolutely nowhere, on the way to Maya’s parents’ palace.  As was customary, she had tried to go home to deliver her child, but was surprised by the Buddha’s premature birth.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Master Plan of Lumbini

SYNOPSIS:  A trip to the birthplace of the Buddha with Vladimir from the Hidden Paradise in nearly unbearable heat.

I will spare you the details of the bumpy 8-hour bus ride that should have taken 5 hours, taking us from Pokhara to Lumbini.  That’s Nepal and its roads that are in desperate need of repair. It will likely be that way for a few more years, or even decades?  Vladimir from Serbia, who lives in Canada, whom I met at the Hidden Paradise, had been tossing up a few possible places for his next destination.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Ann and Laxman above Lake Fewa

SYNOPSIS:  Ann’s birthday celebrated in style at the Hidden Paradise in Pokhara. About the joys and the miseries of paragliding; my experience in particular.  What happens when I try to have fun.

It was a glorious day.  And it was Ann’s 50th birthday!  She had envisioned a day she would never forget; different from all others.  And her wish got off to a very good start, especially given the spotty wind and weather conditions of the previous days. 

Laxman and his younger brother are paragliding pilots specializing in tandem flights.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Hum, the babbling Boat Captain

SYNOPSIS:  A visit of the Shanti Peace Stupa, a UNESCO site.  About an underground waterfall in a cave, a boat ride and a hike. 

Beautifully located atop the mountains, overlooking Fewa Lake, and on a clear day sporting a full panorama of the Annapurna glaciers, the Shanti Peace Stupa has an interesting history.  It was conceived in 1947, built in 1973, only to be torn down and destroyed by the Nepalese government shortly thereafter.  So much for a world-peace effort!  A second attempt at building in 1992 proved more successful.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


View across the Lake

SYNOPSIS:  About a three-day vacation in the mountains.  Keep scrolling down.  Photos are embedded.

Kathmandu needed a break; better, I needed a break from Kathmandu.  It’s just too dusty and hectic, and Nepal is full of wonderful things, many of which I have to miss.  Against the advice of all and any travel books, I chanced a flight with Buddha Air, a local airline.  Nepali airlines are notorious for flight cancellations and delays, but I figured that most likely, there are also a good number that fly as scheduled.  And who is in a hurry?VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Two Sadhus

SYNOPSIS:  About the Siva Temple Pashupatinath, a lively puja session of love and devotion, some religious “weirdos”, and the ghats, where Hindus cremate their dead.  A photo essay of the cremation ceremony (from start to finish) and the puja session (start to finish).  Keep scrolling down, images embedded.

The entrance fee to the Siva Temple Pashupatinath for foreigners was steep ($10; locals are free), and I had to think of Patam, who may not make as much as this in a whole day of work, but had to pay rent and feed his family nonetheless.  I was particularly disappointed, when I realized that despite this price, the two main temples on the grounds were off limit to foreigners!VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


ET with Patam’s Daughter

SYNOPSIS:  About visiting the Swayambunath and the Bodnath (Boudhanath) and Patam’s Family.

If you know the movie The Little Buddha with Keanu Reeves, then you know exactly where I am:  at the Swayambunath, better known locally as the Monkey Temple.  On two consecutive days, I visited it and its bigger, but younger brother, the Bodnath Stupa.  These big-bellied, white mounds with their “big brother watching you” eyes, represent the quintessential Nepalese stupa types and can be found in miniature versions around the big ones, as well as in many neighborhood courtyards.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


SYNOPSIS:  A visit to the Budhanilkantha Temple and a few scenes of daily life, cows, and dust from Kathmandu.

A bit off the beaten path on the northern outskirts of Kathmandu, there is a temple I learned about in graduate school called Budhanilkantha.  It has nothing to do with the Buddha but is rather the temple housing a large (16 feet) image of a reclining Vishnu.

Once again, I hired Bishwa.  He has his flaws but by now I have full confidence in his motorcycling skills.  Even on less frequented side roads, traffic in Nepal has its challenges.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Ringing the Bells

SYNOPSIS:  About a Saturday excursion – A day of blood-sacrifice to Kali. 

Everyone seemed to pray a lot today even if to different deities.  Road conditions were so treacherous that what should have taken us 40 minutes, took us an hour and a half.  Bishwa wiggled his way skillfully through a 5 km traffic backup and assured me that I was OK as we passed three accidents involving motorcycles…  I begged St. Christopher to hang in there! 

Everyone was heading to Dakshinkali, the local temple dedicated to the Hindu goddess Kali.  Saturdays and Tuesdays are her days.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Bungamati Home

SYNOPSIS:  Excursion to Khokana and Bungamati; the village of the rain god, of traditional wood carvers, and of the fourth living goddess.  About earthquake damage and attitudes.

If Kathmandu is bad, the villages around the earthquake zone are even worse off.

Bishwa with his motorbike is a great option for me to be on the move.  He is a safe driver with a comfortable motorbike, and he knows his surroundings.  Nepal’s travel season is over and business for him and other tourist-dependent industries is down.  He got lucky he met me, and vice versa. 

Today, he drove me to Khokana and Bungamati, the home village of the rain god whose festival I witnessed yesterday.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Festival Scene

SYNOPSIS:  How to bring about the monsoon season.  A festival in Patan.

One of the many guides who approached me when I rumbled across the rubble-filled temple square with my luggage yesterday was Bishwa.  What distinguished him from the other guides was his sense of humor and the fact that he owns a motorbike.  I got his number.  Today when I heard about the Rato Machindranath Jatra, an annual festival performed in Patan, another nearby ancient capital city in the Kathmandu Valley, that number came in handy.  I had a ride.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Vendor and Rubble

SYNOPSIS:  The devastating state of a square, a city, a country.  Coming too late.

In graduate school, for one of Professor Kane’s classes, I once wrote a paper on Newari Architecture.   I have no idea anymore what I wrote.  But I remember two things:  The town squares of Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur seemed like enchanted fairy tales from a distant past miraculously still standing, and I knew there and then that someday, I would be in those squares, looking at that very architecture.   And, I remember that Professor Kane gave me and A, and even put a comment on the paper that she liked my writing, particularly my conclusion.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



Rob and ET

SYNOPSIS:  About a chance encounter while transiting to Kathmandu.

The international section of the Lhasa airport is a bit sleepy to say the least.  Only one flight departs from Lhasa every day that qualifies as “international”: the flight to Kathmandu, the capital of neighboring Nepal.

In my panic to arrive on time, I had gotten “the boys” on the road by 6 AM.  We arrived in Lhasa at 8:30.  No sign of life anywhere.  Officially, the doors of the airport were to open at 9 AM.  By 9:15 somebody with a key appeared.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Tibetan Field Workers and Chinese Construction Crew

SYNOPSIS:  Reflections on Tibet, and on what the Chinese could possibly be up to?  Lots of thoughts and speculations based on nothing much, some hearsay, some observations, and some gut feelings.  About communism and road construction; about demographics, and about the future.

It’s not just millions, its billions and trillions the Chinese spend on “developing Tibet”. 

Once I paid attention, especially on my tour going east, I would estimate that the Chinese do more road construction, tunneling, and bridge-building in Tibet in a day, than the Cubans did in the last 60 years in their entire country!VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


ET on Horseback

SYNOPSIS:  About the last day of sightseeing in Tibet.  About royal tombs and a royal fortress-palace.  And about the final monastery; a real old one with a unique treasure. 

This was the last evening of our almost month-long trip together.  I invited both Pootse and Tenzin out for a goodbye dinner.  And we celebrated — over noodles with yak meat… I guess, they either did not want to, or really could not come up with any other idea.   I have seen a lot and yet, almost nothing.  The real Tibet is still hiding from me, behind the walls of houses of families that I am not allowed to visit,  in little villages that I am not allowed to roam, and inside the minds of people who will not speak openly, for fear of repercussions.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Nun polishing Bowl

SYNOPSIS:  About yet another monastery and about an outrageous Chinese policy of 2015 which almost drove my driver into bankruptcy.

The Chinese flag and a big poster with all the political figureheads from Mao Tse Tung until today were prominently displayed once you entered the gate to the oldest monastery of Tibet:  Samye; permanent reminder of who is in charge around here.

My guidebook (from 2001), talked about a ferry going across a river to get to Samye, and about a shuttle truck going from the ferry stop to the site across rough terrain.  How times have changed!VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Right outside the monastery…

SYNOPSIS:  About two days of sightseeing.  First, a Chinese “Resort Town”.  About village architecture and a legend that goes with it.  About superstitions and predigests.  About the oldest temple in Tibet, and a Nyingmapa monastery in which monks and nuns co-habit. 

Sometimes, I lose track of the itinerary.  I am at the mercy of the Great Tibet Tour travel agency and their idea of “culture”.  I had specified that I am interested in all aspects of Tibetan culture and I had listed a few “must see” monasteries.  But a few things appeared on my itinerary which seem to be standard offerings for the typical Chinese tourist who frequents the eastern part of Tibet a lot more than any Westerner. 

Today, we drove through lush scenery, wound our way up yet another pass (the Sikkim Pass of 4700+ meters), an occasion at which Pootse our driver, stops his recantation of mantras, rolls down his window, and shouts out something that sounded like this:   XXX

It means as much as: to all the good spirits that sit on every man’s shoulder!VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


The Rainbow from Heaven

SYNOPSIS:  About “my guys”, traffic rules, and about being denied access to a tourist site.  About the dramatic changes in scenery, and about a rainbow.

This was the second Holy Lake (after my disastrous tour to Lake Namtso), which would not let me near it.  Karma, would have been Sergej’s answer.  Damn those vodka drinking Russians! would be my reply. 

Today, my Eastern Tibet Tour started.  Now I am all alone with “the guys”.  That is hard-working Pootse in his late 30’s, the ever singing and mantra-mumbling, high-spirited driver, never short of advice to distribute to anyone who will listen — that includes anyone at our lunch restaurants, or any hitchhiker we pick up, or even Tenzin.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


300 year Manuscript with Bullet Hole

SYNOPSIS:  Blessed four times in a day!  About monks and monasteries in Tibet.  About the wounds of the cultural revolution and the effects of 60 years of Chinese liberation (that’s what the period since 1959 is called, officially).

You can always pay to receive a blessing from any of the monks at any of the monasteries.  You can also pay for having things blessed.  Somehow, that goes against my grain, especially since I do not see monasteries in Tibet taking on any of the charity functions that I am so used to associating with religious institutions, at least in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



SYNOPSIS:  About manifesting a hot bath.  About another horrible hotel, night intrusions, and a cute little monastery with yet another meditation cave.

For six days we hadn’t seen a shower or even as much as running water.  And two more days without decent accommodations were ahead of us.   When Tenzin took off his boots in the car, we all had to hold our noses…  Well, if anyone else had done that, it could hardly have been better; the difference was that neither Sergej nor I dared!

I longingly remembered the little shop in Darchen, one of the first sites you see after finishing Kora:  Shampooing, it had said, in bright red letters…  If there were not three guys waiting for me in town, I would have succumbed to the temptation. 

We had left Darchen soon after I (finally) made it to town.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Sergej and the Mountain

As always, when I have a travel companion, I ask them to write a guest blog.  Nicola has written some wonderful blogs, Celibeth wrote one in Cuba, and Sergej, after some hesitation, agreed, to write this one.

He is writing about his Kailash Kora.  Just like when you climb Mount Fuji, when you do Kailash Kora, there is no one single story, no one single experience.  Everyone comes with different goals, different physical abilities, different ideas, different religious inclinations.

Neither one of us knew what the other one was writing.   There are differences, but there are also similarities in our descriptions.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Getting our Supplies

SYNOPSIS:  Between life and death.  Circumambulation of Mount Kailash.  A three-day journey reaching the end of the physical rope.  Three days in one long blog. 

At some point on day two, near the top of the pass, everything had been drained out of me:  Every thought, every bit of desire, pride, or want.  There was no past, no future, no sense of self.  There was nothing left but to breathe and to step.  If I let go of that, it would be the end. I was at 5600 meters above sea level.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Our Driver Pootse

SYNOPSIS:  1200 KM.  From Lhasa to Gyantse to Shigatse, to Sera to Darchen.  Tales from the road.  Lots of images are embedded.  Keep scrolling down.

Shigatse felt like the last of everything:  the last warm shower, the last wonderful breakfast buffet, the last time I would put on clean clothes.  We were delayed by two hours because of the trouble with the permit office.  Every minute of delay felt a bit of a relief.  From here on out, it would be rough.  For eight days we would be on the road, covering the 2400 km between Lhasa and Mount Kailash and back.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



ET at Everest

SYNOPSIS: About Mount Everest, the Base Camp, a Fortune Teller, and Karma.

It’s all about Karma, Sergej believes. Some people have to wait for days before they see the famous North side of Everest, we don’t have the time to wait. Others get lucky. The first chance we had to see Everest was from a viewpoint along the road. We saw the lower mountain range, but Everest itself was shrouded in clouds. Did we drive all this way, to see nothing? Did we have enough Karma, or as I would say, luck?

We had gotten a 2-hour late start in the morning.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Architectural Detail

SYNOPSIS:   Transit Shigatse.  Shigatse Monastery and Fort — a new ball game invented by the Chinese government. 

Shigatse is a big town.  80,000 in this nick of the woods seems huge, compared to the small villages we passed along the way from Gyantse.

Some settlements can’t even be called towns.  They are no more than a cluster of homes, or even single small estates by themselves.  One of those was a water mill, in operation for generations.  Millet and barley are ground to flour, and bags of flour are sold right here, along the road side.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


School children with Sergej and ET

SYNOPSIS:  About a fortress and a monastery — yeah, another one, but a good one.  About traditional Tibetan houses.

Thousands of temples and cultural institutions fell victim to the fervor of the Red Guard during the infamous Cultural Revolution, not just in Tibet but in all over China.  But some sites, miraculously, and for different reasons, were spared.  The Buddhist Grottos at Binglingsi were one example.  They were too remote.  The Fortress of Gyantse is another — it had been appropriated by the Chinese Government as an example of heroic resistance against the British invasion of Tibet, and so no longer was seen as a symbol of the evil past, but a symbol of Chinese superiority. 

Three Tibetans had flung themselves from the heights of the fortress to their death and were declared martyrs.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Monks’ Debate

SYNOPSIS:  About a monastic kitchen, religious books, and a monastic debate. 

Two of the most important Gelugpa monasteries are just a stone’s-throw from Lhasa and can be reached in on a day’s trip:  Drepung and Sera Monastery.  They were on our program for today.

Drepung Monastery is perched up on a hill and follows in its structure the typical monastic layout with dormitories for the monks in residence, various temples dedicated to deities particularly worshipped at this monastery, and at least one if not more multi-pillered assembly halls.  Photography was, as usually, limited to the exterior of the buildings.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


ET and Sergej at Potala Palace

SYNOPSIS:  About the big two sights in town.  About my new travel partner.  About the pressures tour guides endure. 

First I had been given the impression that I would be traveling with a “group” from here on out.  I had pictured that to be 5-8 people from all over the world.  My first guide, Lobsang, told me that there would be only one more travel companion, a German woman.  Fine with me.  But when my new guide Tenzin came on board, he had been told there would be an American man traveling with me.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Master’s Work Station

SYNOPSIS:  About two people at my guesthouse, and about a famous tangkha school in Lhasa.

My guesthouse is owned by Peggy, a Chinese woman and Tsirin, a Tibetan man, in partnership. She is the boss, I was told by Pansang, one of the busboys.  I guess there are tax advantages to a business when it is Chinese owned, as well as advantages in terms of ownership, when one of the partners is local.  Pansang is a “live-in” young man who does everything that is needed, from carrying luggage to washing dishes, or fixing the broken pipes at any time of the day.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


14th DL’s Western Toilet

SYNOPSIS:  Visit to the Summer Palace in Lhasa.  About the Dalai Lama’s toilet.  About keeping face?  About a Tibetan, a traditional dance performance, and about catching a taxi.  About the Potala photo spot and about a meditation cave. 

My new guide Tenzin is nice.  But there are a few things I would like to understand.   I knew that today, he could only spend 1/2 day with me.  From 10 AM to 2 PM, I had been told first.  Last night, that turned into 10-1.  I texted him to suggest that we could do 9-1 to make up for the lost hour; no response.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



SYNOPSIS:  Off the beaten path with professor Deishe.  But really, who is he?!

I had some time and what better way to spend it but strolling around Lhasa?  I ended up in the Barkhor Shopping Mall and Supermarket.  The modern building in which it was housed, was one of those out-of-style misfits in town, but I had to check it out.  This mall transported me into a cross-breed between Meijer’s and Whole Foods.  There seemed to be everything the heart could desire.  This was obviously a place for wealthy Chinese who fancied imported goods and did not look at the price tag:  imported beers, wines, clothes, foods, were displayed among few local goods.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Gist plates with mantras and votive offerings

SYNOPSIS:  About walking the Lingkhor.  Why am I doing this Kora?

You can’t do this!, the host of my guesthouse, Penny, exclaimed.  It’s too much.  Granted, I had been quite sick two days ago, and yesterday, I only managed 3 hours of sightseeing.  But if I could not walk 12 km on even ground at 3300 m altitude, how would I manage 25 km on uneven terrain at 5600 meters in just a few days?  I had to do it.  It would be a good test.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Barber cutting boy’s hair

SYNOPSIS:  About altitude sickness, and about some women in town; nuns and hairdressers. 

All was well after dinner with Ben, two nights ago.  I even got some blogging done.  I went to bed the usual time, around midnight, but by 8 AM I knew all was not well.  Just the thought of getting up made my stomach turn; I felt dizzy, lightheaded, and as if I had been put through the wringer.  After I had mustered all my strength to get up just once, it got worse.  For 24 hours I was in hell.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Yak herd in the mountains

SYNOPSIS:  About traveling the world, about travels in Tibet, about “the agency”,  and about a disastrous excursion to Lake Namtso.

I was going to join a “tour” today to drive up North to visit the sacred Lake Namtso.   But only “scruffy Ben” from Denmark showed up.  I guess we are a group of two. 

Instead of Lobsang, the guide that had been promised to me for the whole trip, it was Tenzin who accompanied us.  What happened?  Information is never quite forthcoming around here.  And at this point, I am at the mercy of what is put in front of me by “the agency” as Great Tibet Tour is referred to by its employees.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



Pilgrim family with their luggage

SYNOPSIS:   About the heart of Lhasa, the Barkhor.  About people, dresses, smells, worship practices.  There is nothing, nowhere quite like it anywhere else!

Jokhang Plaza took my breath away!  Not only because of the thick white and black clouds of juniper smoke that wafted all across the open space before Jokhang Temple, and made everyone choke, but also because because of the unbelievable site that unfolded in front of me. 

Hundreds of people moved as if directed by an invisible hand clockwise along the Barkhor, one of the three most sacred circumambulatory paths of Lhasa.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


My sleeper compartment

SYNOPSIS:  22 hours in transit.  About a special train, a special ride, and a special welcome.

By now the increased police presence at train stations is part of what I expect, and after seeing the militarization of Urumqi and Xinjiang province, Xining felt outright benign.  Every travel book on Tibet written in the West, warns that its possession will cause problems.  Luggage checks on trains and at airports are common.  If a book on Tibet is found, it will be confiscated. 

But policies change as fast around here as the urban landscapes.  For nothing had I wrapped my beloved German Tibet Guide by Karl-Heinz Everding in cloth, stuffed it in a small purse, and then hidden it under my baggy clothes.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY





SYNOPSIS:  A few words about “Tibet”.  About a trip to the post office, the Tao Temple, some fortune tellers,  and nothing much else.

My time in China comes to an end.  I should clarify though:  I am not leaving China as far as the Chinese are concerned.  Tibet is China; at least since the invasion and annexation of 1953

We, the US, remained remarkably quiet when overnight, the Chinese invaded Tibet, destroyed about 5000 temples and drove the Dalai Lama into exile.  Actually, they probably would have arrested and perhaps tortured him, but he managed to flee with a few hundred followers, just in time to avoid that fate.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY




SYNOPSIS:  About one of the two reasons why I came here:  the place commemorating the birth of Tsongkapa.  About butter sculptures, copper kettles, and uniquely fried noodles.

At the rate I am going to tick off important Gelugpa (Yellow Hats) sites, you would think I am a Buddhist on a pilgrimage.  But it just so happened that I had to choose a place from where to board the train to Lhasa; and Xining was on the way. 

26 km south-west of Xining, at Kumbum Monastery (known locally also as Ta’er), the birthplace of the founder of the Yellow Hats, Tsongkapa, is commemorated in a golden stupa.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



SYNOPSIS:  About all the things that went wrong today.   And about a few people in between.  The “No Foreigner” policy.  Notice to the reader:  The four-letter s-word will be used in this blog.  Beware!

Shit happens.  But just in case you got any ideas based on the theme picture of today I want to make something clear up front:  I did not shit everywhere. Or should I make that:  I did not shit everywhere?  Well, you will find out.

I know that some of you enjoy the cultural entries, others the people stories, others the travel tips.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


SYNOPSIS:  About an excursion into the Grasslands, a visit at the Tseway Gompa Bön Monastery, and another Tibetan Buddhist monastery.  About a photographic treat,  a living Buddha, an ancient city, and a short hike into a gorgeous gorge. 

I did not see much of my driver since his face was mostly hidden behind a face mask, and he did not speak a word with me.  Only when he smoked a cigarette did that mask come off.  These masks are quite popular here.  I am not sure why.  You can buy them in all kinds of styles and fabrics to match your clothes.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



SYNOPSIS:  Labrang monastery.  The Kora of Labrang.  Climbing a goat path and meeting two nuns.  About religious practices of Tibetan Buddhists.

They come by foot from the surrounding villages, they travel hundreds of kilometers to Labrang prostrating the entire way!  Old and young, men and women.  Labrang, is considered one of the six most holy places of the Gelugpa Sect, located in the Amdo region; that is outside the TAR (Tibetan Autonomous Region), or what we in the West usually consider to be Tibet.  It’s more Tibetan here, than in Lhasa, a local told me.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


The circular Walk with Sister Rocks

SYNOPSIS:  About stone forests, stone Buddhas and sublime settings. 

I am not religious, but I don’t know how many times I mumbled Oh my God!  to myself, today; in utter awe of what I saw.  Gansu Province is known for its natural beauty.  That’s why people come here.  And Binglingsi is one of the six most important Buddhist Grotto sites that have sprung up along the Silk Road in China.  It is known not only for carvings that go back to the 4th century, but also for its spectacular setting; and spectacular it was beyond all my expectations.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY