Tibet

A series of articles on my travels in Tibet.

Multimedia – Forgotten Tibet

The Tibetan provinces of Amdo and Kham are the subject of my first multimedia project in a long while.  Amdo and Kham are beautiful regions of the world that I’ve been lucky enough to visit twice recently…

Most westerners think of Tibet as being only what is today called the Tibet Autonomous Region (Xizang) in modern China.  But what they don’t know is that this is only one third of the historical Tibetan Kingdom.  Split off from modern day “Tibet” are the Tibetan Kham and Amdo provinces, now found in the Chinese Yunnan, Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu provinces.

What is surprising though, is that these areas have become much better places to see Tibetan culture than Lhasa or many other places in Xizang.  With both Chinese and Westerners’ attention focused on Lhasa, these areas are much less traveled and have far fewer travel restrictions than Xizang.  That gives the Tibetans found there an sense of ease in their day to day lives and makes it a great place to explore.

If you’re interested in learning more or even visiting the region, have a look at my more in depth series of blog posts on the Kham and Amdo Provinces.

Cheers,
-Neil

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Lhasa, Tibet – The Jokhang and Barkor

The Jokhang Monastery (ཇོ་ཁང་) is the most holy of Tibetan Buddhism’s holy places.  Unassuming from the outside, one needs to connect with the enthusiasm of the throngs of pilgrims walking around it to feel its allure.  As it probably will be for you, visiting the Jokhang is a once in a lifetime experience for many of the pilgrims.  Unlike you, many of these pilgrims walked to be there… and some of them even walked in a special way to show their devotion: They take three steps, say a prayer, and lie face-down on the ground.  Then they stand up, take three more steps and repeat the process.  The act of taking a prostrating pilgrimage can take the devotee years to reach the Jokhang from their home towns.  But many do it, as a sign of devotion and a way to help improve their karma in this life and the next.

Tibetan Buddhist Praying

Pilgrims and merchants walk and pray in the juniper smoke early in the morning on the Barkor at the Jokang Monastery, Lhasa, Tibet.

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Yushu, Tibet (China)

Yushu (aka Jyekundo (སྐྱེ་རྒུ་མདོ་) in Tibetan) is an Autonomous Prefecture in the Qinghai Provence of China. Located 800km south of the nearest city Xining, Yushu used to be a daunting 12-16 hour bus ride from Xining in the north or about 10 hours to Gantze in the south (where I came from).  Now, it appears that Yushu has it’s own airport and has become quite a hot spot for tourists.

I was only able to spend two days in Yushu due to visa restrictions, but it left a wonderful impression on me.  I also did something a little different while I was there.  I only spent one day site-seeing, and I spent the other in the market, shooting lots and lots of portraits.  Click “Read the rest of this entry” to see some of my favorites.

Tibetan Woman Smiles

I was in Yushu just after a huge annual horse festival. This is an exciting time for Tibetans and they will often dress to impress. This woman is wearing some very expensive (and very heavy) jewelry in her hair.

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Dege, Tibet (China)

Located in a deep gorge to the west of Chola Mountain, Dege (སྡེ་དགེ།) is one of Tibet’s most revered and remote places.  It’s found in the far northwestern Sichuan Provence very close to the boarder of Xizang Provence (modern “Tibet”).  Dege (aka Derge) is home to the most important printing press in all of Tibet, the Barkhang (Parkhang) Scripture Printing House.

Dege is a full day’s bus ride from the nearest town, Ganze.  Basically, you need to drive all the way around the formidable Chola Mountain and sometimes you’ll think the bus is driving straight over it.  A perilous dirt road winds up and over Tro La (Chola) Pass at nearly 6000m (19,6850ft) – a lot higher than Mt Everest Base Camp!  The views from the bus will leave you breathless in more ways than one.

A man prays in front of the famous Barkhang (Parkhang) Scripture Printing Press in Dege, China (Tibet).

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Ganze, Tibet (China)

Moving northwest from Dawu (Daofu), the next town you come to is a dusty, unremarkable one called Luhuo.  I stayed here for a night, but quickly regretted it as I couldn’t find any decent economy lodging and even the local gompa (Tibetan monastery) wasn’t very exciting.

SO ON TO GANZE!  (aka Gartze, Gantze, Ganzi, and a few other spellings)

Despite being yet another dusty town, Ganze has a certain charm to it.  It’s a major town for trade and Chinese trucks can be seen (and inhaled) barreling down the main street.  Ganze is also about a full day’s bus trip from Kangding so if you’re on a long haul bus to Yushu or Dege or any other town north of here, you’re going to have to overnight.  I would highly recommend staying in the affordable, but quite nice hotel above the bus station.

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Dawu and Tagong, Tibet (China)

Tagong

From Litang, I caught a bus (again, through some stunning scenery) to Xinduxiao where I had to transfer to a share cab going towards Tagong.

The Tibetan Monastery in Datong, Tibet (China).

The Tibetan Monastery in Datong, Tibet (China).

Tagong is known mostly for its beautiful grasslands.

It’s a town that has become very popular with both foreign and Chinese tourists because of it’s relative proximity to Kanding, a small city that’s a day’s drive to the southeast.  One can easily arrive in town and set up a tour and home-stay with some of the nomads that live in the nearby grasslands.

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Litang, Tibet (China)

Litang (ལི་ཐང།) is a small Tibetan town in western Sichuan Provence (四川), China.  Traditionally known as the Kham (ཁམས) Provence of the former Tibetan Kingdom, Litang is a dusty trade town in a high, grassy valley.

At an altitude of 4,014 meters (13,169 ft) it’s actually higher than Lhasa and one of the highest towns in the world.  Every summer, they hold one of Tibet’s biggest horse racing festivals, an event that draws Tibetans (and tourists) from all over.

Several famous Buddhists are from Litang including the 7th and the 10th Dalai Lama.  It has a beautiful, huge monastery (Litang Chöde) up on the mountain side overlooking the town.  This area has a long history of resistance to Chinese rule, from before the Chinese bombing of the monastery in 1956 to a recent riot at the horse racing festival in 2007.  During the PLA’s invasion of Tibet in 1950, Litang County was one of the strongest areas of resistance.

A Tibetan Cowboy waits for a friend on a remote mountain near Litang, Tibet (China).

A Tibetan Cowboy waits for a friend on a remote mountain near Litang, Tibet (China).

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Shangri-La (Zhongdian), Tibet (China)

Zhongdian is a small Tibetan town in the northeast corner of Yunnan Province, China.  It was the southeastern-most area of Tibet before the Chinese invasion of 1950.  After China took control, they split it from the what is today considered Tibet (actually now called Xijang, or the Tibet Autonomous Region**)  In 2001, the Chinese government officially changed the name from “Zhongdian” to “Shangri-la“, but the local population still refer to it by its Tibetan name Gyalthang (རྒྱལ་ཐང་རྫོང).

Traditionally Tibetan, the town has had a large immigration of Han Chinese for decades and most of the new town has a real Chinese feel to it..   Still, the surrounding countryside and the old town has held on to its Tibetan feel and many locals can be seen going about their daily business in traditional clothing customary to their local Tibetan tribes.

I visited Zhongdian in 2005 and in 2007 and the amount that it changed in those two years surprised me, but it is an interesting study in the growth of modern China, and the part that tourism is playing.

Every evening, people meet in the old towns center to dance and sing.

Every evening, people meet in the old town's center to dance and sing.

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