gyantse (the roof of the world)

I'm in Tibet!

Flying in from Kathmandu, I arrived in Lhasa to the warm greetings of the trip organizer, Amrouso from Budget Tibet Tours and our guide, KhamSa. Travelling in Tibet has a lot of massive restrictions put in place by the Chinese government, so foreigners aren't allowed to visit without having a fully planned trip, and a guide to accompany you at every stop. Things are highly monitored. 

My first days in the capital mostly involved wandering around the stone streets of the old city, which spawn out in a maze around Jokhang Temple, one of the oldest and holiest places in Tibet. It was built by a king in the seventh century, and is a destination for thousands of pilgrims every day. As you walk around the temple (always clockwise), you find yourself surrounded by chanting, kneeling and praying buddhists from all over the country. 

Just down the street from there is the infamous Potala Palace, built by the fifth Dalai Lama almost 400 years ago, and home to all of his successors, including the currently exiled 14th. It's surrounded by mountains, and built atop a hill itself, so that it can be seen from all over the city. It's a long climb up the stairs to the top, where the insides of the historic building have been converted to something of a museum. Where thousands of monks used to live, now are only a handful charged with upkeeping the building.

Today we left Lhasa and drove long, curving highways through enormous valleys carved by ancient glaciers. At over 4000m above sea level, the lakes up there have little atmosphere above them, and practically glow the blues and turquoises of the reflected sky. Yamdrok Lake was just one of such, where we had the chance to pull over and dip our hands in the holy lake. On the way out, we caught what the officials called a "sunbow" - a glowing cornea around the sun, which sat perfectly above us in the centre of the open sky.

From there we kept on the highway, and stopped at the Karola Glacier, which turned out to be a lot more rocky than icy. Still, it was a cool experience to walk through a herd of yaks and look up at the reflective peak, prayer flags flapping in the wind all around.

Our final stop was the ancient town of Gyantse, where we visited the Pelcho Monastery, and the Kumpa Stupa next door. The stupa is the biggest in Tibet, boasting ten-thousand images of Buddha within. The top levels are off-limits, out of fear that people posing for photos might fall off. From here we continue on our way through the Himalayas, to the Nepali border, set to arrive this weekend.

*edited May 9th to include hyperlink & photo