Adventures in Asia

by Greg & Francie

Never, ever eat a…

chocolate bar that has a pigeon on the wrapper! No ‘I’ve got a golden ticket’ after taking a bite of that thing. It had to be made with pigeon milk.

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We are off to trek tomorrow with Windhorse treks! Be back in a few days with more pictures.

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August 30, 2007 Posted by | China, Tibet, Travel | 2 Comments

Ganden Monastery

Francie and I just got back from Ganden Monastery where we had a blast. We initially went up there to acclimate to the 4600 meter (15,000 feet) altitude but the koras (pilgrimage trail) and Monastery were fun and impressive.

The first day we hiked the ‘high’ and ‘low’ koras to help acclimate and the second day I went through the monastery.

Ganden from atop the ‘high’ kora.
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View from that 15,000 foot mountain top.
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Here is Francie getting closer and closer to the yaks to take photos. One day they are going to hop up and bite her hand! Oh wait, that already happened with a dog in Burma. Actually, the yaks are pretty harmless…

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and closer…
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and closer!
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Here is the window of a building along the kora and a Buddha painting on one of the walls.
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Finally, I tired of Francie’s antics and put her to work!
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The Ganden Monastery is a working Monastery meaning that monks live and study there and do, you know, monk stuff. The Ganden Monastery hasn’t fared too well under Communist China. It housed a somewhat political order of Tibetian Buddhists and the Red Guard shelled the whole place during the Cultural Revolution. It appears to have also struggled after a riot/revolt that occurred when China banned the picture of the current Dalai Lama…

Here are some pictures of the outsides of the buildings.

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Most of the structures have large rooms where the monks use to…well, I guess sit and debate. Maybe they liked to sit down a lot because at 15,000 feet you can’t play frisbee for too long. The Monastery use to house 2000 monks-I bet they are around 250 now.

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Not all areas were lit…but I ain’t afraid of the dark.
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Here are some pictures of murals on the walls. These types of murals are everywhere in Tibet.

Scary mural in the dark!
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Happy mural in the light!
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The Monastery also has a kind of printing press that they use to stamp prayer flags. Here are one of the shelves of stamps and some stamped pages as well.

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This guy is restoring Buddha! Well, working on some of the statues anyway.

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Here are the ‘basic’ rooms we are staying at–note random donkey on the left.

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And some non-monks who worked there and made really, really terrible food.

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For all you travelers out there…I really recommend Ganden!

August 30, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Potala Palace

The Potala Palace is probably the most recognizable place in Tibet–outside of Mt. Everest anyway. The Potala Palace has been the residence of the Dalai Lamas since 1648. The current Dalai Lama fled Chinese forces in 1959 during China’s Cultural Revolution.

Somebody get me a wide angle lens!
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The structure is very magnificent and is one of the first things you see as you approach Lhasa. It is divided into the White Palace (built by the fifth Dalai Lama) and the Red Palace (built around 1690). The Potala Palace is at an altitude of about 12,000 feet.

Unlike the Jokhang, the Potala Palace is more like a museum than an active religious site. There are many, many rooms thoughout the mazelike palace with shelves of Tibetian books, Buddhist shrines, Gold tombs of previous Dalai Lamas etc. etc. Overall, its pretty rad.

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No pictures are allowed inside the Palace so here are more of the cool architecture.

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August 30, 2007 Posted by | China, Tibet, Travel | 1 Comment

The Jokhang

The Jokhang is the most famous religious site in Tibet. We have held off on posting about our experience there because you aren’t allowed to take pictures inside the temple and it is hard to describe–probably even with photos.

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The outside of the Jokhang looks relatively simple with lots of windows. Of course, there are also the people prostrating out front and clouds of incense in the air which help clue you into its importance. In addition, there is a small building that holds hundreds of tea lights that, we believe, are burning a kind of yak butter.

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The simple building creates a really deceptive experience because, in all honesty, The Jokhang is the most spiritual place I have ever been in before. It would be like if the Vatican was inside a large apartment complex. You just wouldn’t expect what you were about to encounter.

Inside it is crowded with lots of small chapels and hundreds of people waiting to get into each one. Of course, the Jowo Shakyamuni statue is there which is suppose to be a true image of the supreme Buddha and the reason why the Jokhang is so important to Tibetian Buddhists.

Yep…there just aren’t words to describe the chapel of Jowo Shakyamuni–monks chanting and praying in corners, people lined up to provide offerings of money and artifacts, incense everywhere, candles everywhere…it was really ‘off the hook’. Francie and I are planning to go back the day before we leave Tibet. I just have to figure out a way to really capture that room in my memory forever.

August 30, 2007 Posted by | China, Tibet, Travel | Leave a comment

Preparing for Our Next Adventure

Tomorrow we’re going to the Ganden Monastery for 2 nights, so there won’t be any new posts for a few days. We want to see this particular monastery but we are also going there so we can further acclimate to the altitude (Ganden is at 4500m) in preparation for the 5-day trek we’re doing starting August 31st!!! Our trek will start at Nam-tso lake and then head up into the mountains where we will circum-navigate a 7500m peak that I’ve forotten the name of. Exciting!

August 27, 2007 Posted by | China, Tibet, Travel | Leave a comment

Lhasa street vendors

There are all sorts of interesting things for sale in the alleyways of Lhasa (e.g. see the ‘Yak butter’ post). This spice vendor caught my eye today. I’m going to buy a little bit of each one (even though I don’t know what all of them are) and cook a big stew or something when I get back to Seattle! Some of the spices I did recognize were cumin seeds, star anise, saffron, and peppercorn.

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Here are some more common sales items; Yak cheeses. I’ve heard that it is hard as a rock till you suck on it for half an hour and then it tastes like “cheese flavored eraser”. MMMMM!

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August 27, 2007 Posted by | China, Tibet, Travel | Leave a comment

Prostrating Monks

As promised here are some pictures of monks prostrating themselves while traversing the Barkhor kora. A kora is a path that religious people follow around a holy site. Often it is considered a pilgrimage.

Obviously, prostrating yourself (1. laying full out, 2. standing back up, 3. raising your hands to your head and praying, 4. moving a step forward, 5. repeat) takes a lot longer than just simply walking the kora. There is one religious mountain in the west that takes Tibetians about 14 hours to hike around. It takes prostrators 3 weeks to complete the circuit.

Here is one serious guy we have seen around Barkhor and Potola Palace. Notice the smooth dirty spot on his forehead that comes from touching the stones each time he prostrates himself.

Barkhor Prostrator

About to raise his hands to his head in prayer
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Thats got to generate some respect, right?

The psychologist in me really wonders what they think about while doing it. I wonder if they ‘go to their happy place’. Or do they just look at the people around them who are just ‘walking’ the circuit and roll their eyes?

Then there are the people who do the kora by prostrating but they always face the religious site and only take sidesteps. This REALLY increases the time it takes to complete the kora (we guess about 10 hours for the Barkhor kora). I wonder if they look at the ‘normal’ prostrators and think the Buddhist equivalent of ‘you’re all going to hell’. Just kidding…Buddhists would never think something like that…

August 27, 2007 Posted by | China, Tibet, Travel | Leave a comment

Yak meat

The hostel Greg and I are staying at in Lhasa is down the street from a row of butcher shops, which we have to walk past in order to get to most places in town. After smelling so much raw yak meat and seeing the giant carcasses hanging from meat hooks (with patches of hair here and there where the yak skinner got lazy), I can say with certainty that I never desire to eat a mammal ever again. BTW, I am just speaking for myself here! I do not think there is anything wrong with eating meat. However, I do think that in places like the US, most people eat lots of meat but are psychologically separated from where it comes from, as in, they only ever see the shrink wrapped, portion sized cuts in the grocery store. If instead they went to the butcher shop and saw their steak being hacked off a whole, bloody, cow carcass hanging from a hook, perhaps they wouldn’t eat so many hamburgers. 😉

At night the new carcasses get delivered and the butchers unload them onto a tarp in front of their shops:

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August 27, 2007 Posted by | China, Tibet, Travel | Leave a comment

Mongolian Mafia Story

Lief told us this story while we were on the train from Chengdu that I thought was pretty funny–since it didn’t happen to us.

He said that about 15 years ago he decided to go from Beijing to Moscow on the Trans-Siberian Express. The trip went through Mongolia and he and a number of other people were told that there was a food shortage in Mongolia and that they all needed to bring food for a week with them.

So, they all stocked up on food and stored it under their chairs and above their seats. They arrive in Mongolia and a person tells them to put all the food on a truck and then get into the bus next to it. Everyone followed instructions.

Then the bus went one way and the truck went the other way and they never saw the food again. They ate mutton for that week.

I liked that trick a lot. 😉

August 27, 2007 Posted by | Travel | 2 Comments

Bruno the Tibetan Mastiff puppy

We had the pleasure of making a new friend yesterday… Bruno!!! He belongs to the folks at Windhorse Adventure and is a purebread Tibetan Mastiff. We took him for a walk around Barkhor square yesterday.

Because of his large size, Bruno looks like an older puppy, but in fact he is just over 8 weeks old… He is gonna be HUGE!

Greg holding Bruno

Bruno has one brown eye and one blue eye. As our friend Gary says, “One eye is looking at me, the other is looking into my soul”…

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Bruno is the sweetest puppy and incredibly well behaved, gentle, and mellow. The folks at Windhorse are working hard to train and socialize him well because during the winters (when their offices are closed) he will be living at the Lhasa school for the blind, keeping the kids there company. Good luck Bruno!

August 26, 2007 Posted by | China, Pets, Photography, Tibet, Travel | 3 Comments