Tibet? You bet!

October 10, 2006

Mother and Child in Lhasa, Tibet in front of the Jokang templeWe have been in Lhasa, Tibet for a few days and I am having trouble sleeping. Perhaps it is the altitude, but I think it is because I just don’t want to close my eyes. Lhasa is a visual feast and I am gorging. We are staying just off the Barkhor, the main prayer circuit surrounding the Jokang temple, and every time I leave the hotel or look out the window I am captivated. The city is filled with pilgrims and nomads coming to visit the Potala Palace and the Jokang Temple. I am captivated by them. There are fantastic faces, and the clothing colorful and the backgrounds of prayer flags and ceremonial fires warm my heart.

I feel lucky to have seen Tibet now, because Tibet is in a time of transition. There is a new railway that connects Beijing to Lhasa and travel restrictions are easing. As a result, there are an enormous number of Han Chinese coming to visit Tibet. From the looks of the long lenses and trendy dress, today it is primarily the very affluent Chinese, but the trend is clear. Potala Palace, a generation ago the object of attempted destruction, is now overflowing with Chinese tourists.

We have befriended a Chinese born Canadian named Tina, that speaks fluent English and Mandarin. When we were at dinner last night I asked why she spoke to the waiter in English rather than Chinese, and she explained that his English, while somewhat limited, was better than his Chinese. The local language is Tibetan and the city’s second language had been English, not Chinese. That too is changing. At the Drepung Monastery we visited this morning the old signs are in Tibetan and English, while the new ones have added Chinese before the English.

Tomorrow Soyan, Tina and I are all headed on a six day overland trip through Tibet to see the more rural side of the region. We arrive in Kathmandu, Nepal on Oct 16th. I’ll likely be out of touch until then, but I have left you with some photos of Lhasa, Tibet.

I hope you enjoy them. It think it is my best work to date.


  1. Those Tibet pictures are amazing! Hope to see that place as well in the future. The new railway can be a boon for upcoming travelers to the place but can also be a curse if not controlled. Waiting to see more of your entry on Tibet!

    Comment by Ferdz — October 11, 2006 @ 11:08 am

  2. Glad to see you guys got the chance to visit the Himalayan regions. Our visit to Lhasa was undoubtedly the most memorable part of our trip. I don’t know if it’s the land, the culture, or just the people (some of the most welcoming on the planet), but something about Tibet sticks with you long after you leave. And speaking of the people, those are some great portraits, Jonathan!

    As you mentioned, there’s a continuing threat to the future of the Tibetan people. The Chinese government has switched their emphasis from the tactics of violent military repression (dynamiting monasteries, raping nuns, etc.) to those of ethnic/cultural dilution. Han Chinese who are willing to relocate to Tibet benefit from a significant host of incentives–including exemption from the one-child policy. It’s hard to know what the future holds for the region, but one thing that history has shown is that the Tibetan people are resilient beyond imagination.

    Comment by Mike E. — October 13, 2006 @ 10:59 am

  3. What was your favorite place in Lhasa? Mine was Jokhang. Almost everywhere else in Lhasa, especially Potala and Norbulingka, I found really depressing. They were so empty, dilapidated and unused. It seems like such a waste.

    Comment by Jenn — December 26, 2006 @ 9:02 am

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