Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Dark Days in Tibet

      Phuntsholing Monastery, Tibet

After six weeks of trying, I finally managed to get a permit to get into Tibet this May. Made it all the way to Everest Base Camp and the Nepal border, with stopovers at the interesting monastery ruins at Phuntsholing (above). Apart from a few tour groups there were very few foreigners in Tibet, especially outside Lhasa. The permit situation in Tibet has been a mess for the last month and the province was finally closed to foreigners just after I left, after two Tibetans from Kham set themselves on fire beside the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa.

A wander around the Barkhor Square these days means passing underneath the video cameras and snipers on the rooftops and avoiding the riot squad teams walking provocatively anticlockwise around the circuit in the opposite direction to all the pilgrims. Metal detectors and SWAT teams guard the entrance to the Jokhang Square and fire extinguishers are strapped to the backs of all military teams. It's a dark, disturbing atmosphere and one that is unlikely to change significantly until the end of the summer.

I've been to all the places on this trip many times before but there's always something new to see, like this giant thangka that was being made at a warehouse outside Drongtse Monastery for a giant thankga unveiling festival in Gyangtse:

In Sakya Monastery you can now pay an extra Y10 and visit the formerly off-limits library behind the main chapel. The entire wall is made up of ancient sacred texts, printed on leaves of paper and wrapped in brocade;

As is common to most of of my research trips in Tibet, I almost got arrested at one point. It's amazing how sensitive the local PSB can be at certain sights in Tibet. After an hour of negotation, threats, anger and conciliatory slaps on the back we finally got away without major hassle, and more importantly without a fine for our excellent Tibetan guide. So if you are going to Lhatse Choede Monastery and fort, a few miles from Lhatse town on the road to Phuntsholing, make sure it is listed on your travel permit. And certainly don't post a picture of it on your blog...

My favourite monastery in Lhasa, always a delight:

I'm off to Zanskar next for a bit of trekking so I'll post some pics of that on my return.
Be well, Bradley

     Nam-tso lake at sunset


Classic Pamiri Scenery of Gorno Badakhshan

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