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The Return to Tibet

For many Tibetans it remains a dream that maybe one day their great grandchildren are allowed to return to their home with the Dalai Lama. For us westeners, it's a privilege that we are able to visit the roof of the world, home of Buddhism, prayer wheels, yack butter tea and prayer flags. A controversial cloud hangs above this unique destination as the Chinese military is omnipresent. Locals try to keep their culture alive while Chinese influence changes the land and its sacred sights into a profit booster for the benefit of the state.

On the other hand, without China, we would probably not be able to visit Tibet the way we do today. Tourism is good for the Tibetans, it helps the awareness to their case around the world and as conscious travellers spend their money well, the local monasteries are able to sustain their operations.

Political and Religious Capital

I had the opportunity to visit Lhasa, the capital of Tibet as well as some other holy sights and lakes.

Lhasa is the heart of Tibet with the Potala Palace of the Dalai Lama right in the middle, on a hill spreading its powerful sight over the city with its white and red wings. The red quarters are where the (former) political activities of His Holiness took place, the white palaces are for religious ceremonies and prayers.

Life in Lhasa is mainly economic for the Tibetans as they try and sell their produce or local handicrafts on the market. It's also one of the main pilgrim destinations, you can see many praying while circling the stupas and the Lhasa square (clockwise) while bowing, kneeling and lying on the floor repeatedly for many circles, hours in a row.

High Altitude Desert

Due to the altitude of 5000m and above, the land of Tibet is so inhospitable that it makes for a real adventure trip. In this high altitude desert, there is no running water for clean toilets and there is not much fertile ground for growing a variety of food or cattle. The sun is so intense that it burns the eyes and the skin in no time. And most of all, the air is so thin that it's almost impossible to breathe.

The simple life of yack meat, tsampa dough dumplings and butter tea mixed with prayer and a strong belief in the Samsara (all is one) make the Tibetans such a humble people. They always smile with their red burned cheeks, they bow and live in service of the Buddha and their banished leader the Dalai Lama, who might one day return.

Life at the Monastery

Many parents hope their son will be accepted to become a monk from an early age onwards. In Tibetan Buddhism you cannot always choose to become a monk, the strict belief in the hereafter determines if somebody is the reincarnation of an ancient monk and therefore allowed to live the privileged life of meditation, prayer and study. Life at the monastery is very basic, but in their belief the most rewarding there is. Monks also learn through discussion and creative activities from the early hours onwards. There are male and female monks, they live in separate monasteries.

Tibetans are highly superstitious as well as religious. Their belief in ghosts and deities is intense. Traditionally you will see all temples and holy places "protected" with sculptures and images of deities to scare away bad energies. The temples and monasteries also typically have colourful images of "the wheel of life" and scenes from the Buddha's life and myths. Tibetans build small towers of stones and hang prayer flags at their holy sights and lakes and they leave money, butter, rice and insence at the altar of temples. These rituals all symbolise actions and rituals of the Buddha.

Visiting Tibet was another physically challenging as well as humbling experience. No place is more remote and different from my comfort zone. It's one of those destinations of which we don't know if they will still exist when our great grandchildren have the age to visit.

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