Worlds apart with a common bond: China/Tibet trip takes local to the highest region on earth


As in photographs, pandas look so very harmless, even playful, but we were sternly warned not to test this. Even the handlers made quite sure each panda was in her/his cage before replenishing the bamboo.

Special to The Sun
Published: Thursday, October 24, 2013 at 03:40 PM.

As mentioned in Part 2, my sister was my traveling companion with the 23 Big Noses who were venturing into mostly unknown territory. She and I told each other repeatedly that it was difficult to believe that two women who grew up on a farm in middle Georgia could be traveling in places so far removed from our culture. We were in awe of entering Tibet. After leaving Tibet, we were in awe of Tibet itself.

Tibetis said to be the highest region on earth, at 16,000 feet — thus the high altitude pills each of us took prior to entering the country. Most of us have seen pictured the very large Buddhist monastery (Potala Palace) perched high on a hill on the outskirts of Lhasa; imagine seeing it in reality. We were allowed to climb to this seat of the Dalai Lama, but by this time my knees had really failed me so I was relegated to walking around the base, taking photographs, and observing the people. Rather than feeling cheated, I felt so very fortunate to be this close to a shrine that is comparable to the Bethlehem Church to Christians, the Wailing Wall to Jews, and the Dome of the Rock to Muslims.

The Tibetans have their own language but of course they have been expected to learn Chinese since becoming part of that “autonomous region.” Wu, our guide throughout the trip, would converse with our local guide and when they had difficulty in understanding each other, they reverted to English. Most of the Tibetans could not converse with us, but when we walked along the outdoor vending streets (Bokhor Bazaar), they knew to say, “One dollar; one dollar.” But of course nothing was! Yet, the exchange rate was quite reasonable so bargains were to be had.

Outside the city of Lhasa, our group was taken into the nomadic grasslands to visit with pastoral families living in small villages on the mountainsides. Yak milk, yak butter, yak butter beer — all were served. Most of us agreed we would stick to our own varieties, but this was not relayed to the locals.

It was cold in Tibet — quite a shocking change to our bodies from the extreme heat of China. Of course we had been prepared, but we had not been expecting an unheated hotel. It seems “it was not yet the season.” We just asked for more blankets.

We were able to attend a lecture by a Tibetan physician who was trained in both Eastern and Western medicine. Most of us felt we would be in good hands if we had needed medical care there.

When leaving Tibet, it was as though we were departing an ancient world, headed back into something a bit more like our own, if not quite: China.

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