Monday, 10/22: Left Shanghai and headed to Xining
Tuesday, 10/23: Visited a mosque and monastery in Xining and then got on the train to Tibet
We left on Monday and took a plane to Xi'an, which took about 2.5 hours and then another flight to Xining. We spent one night in Xining and then visited a mosque and a monastery the next day before getting on a train for 21 hours heading toward Tibet. Yes. That was not a typo - 21 hours! My number one praise is that we have all acclimated to the altitude well. There are complaints of headaches and nausea but nothing major. We are at about 11,450 feet, and the highest point during our train ride was over 16,000 feet! I can feel my lungs working hard.
Tuesday, 10/23 - Wednesday, 10/24: Journey on the Train, Arriving in Lhasa
On the train, the staff reserved hard sleeper cars for us, which means that we all had a bed! This was wonderful. It was tight quarters with 6 beds to a room, but we made it work.
Once in Lhasa, we were super spoiled staying at the St. Regis. We were supposed to start our first night with a simple dinner at the hotel but about 15 plates came out! After dinner we went straight to bed to rest before a full day of sightseeing the next day.
Thursday, 10/25: Norbulingka Palace and Sera Monastery
Two comfortable buses along with English-speaking tour guides came to pick us up this morning. The staff have done an amazing job organizing the hotels, meals, and tours. Today we visited Norbulingka Palace, which was the summer palace for the 7th-14th Dalai Lamas. We also visited the Sera Monastery, one of the 3 famous Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Tibet. Over 90% of the people here are Tibetan Buddhists.
For dinner this evening, we had a traditional Tibetan meal, which consisted of a lot of yak dishes, and we enjoyed a show by some musicians and singers at the restaurant after dinner. For the last song, the performers invited us up and we all enjoyed dancing together.
Friday, 10/26: Potala Palace
Today we visited the Potala Palace which is where the 14th Dalai Lama resides before being exiled to India. The palace is at 13,000 feet so the altitude gain is challenging. Some websites say that it has 300-400 steps to climb to the top. The palace has over 1,000 rooms and we only saw 18% of them. Over 90% of the Tibetan people practice Tibetan Buddhism. The palace is filled with so many Buddha statues as well as lots of strong smells from incense burning and yak butter candles. Yes. That’s right. Yak butter. The city is filled with so many people all chanting and spinning prayer wheels and smoking or spitting 🙊
After the visit to the palace, we had another Tibetan meal at a local restaurant and then headed to an art school where underprivileged people come to learn a trade. They make Buddha sculptures from copper or other metals and also carve wooden art and paint tankas. The students drew a Buddha and stamped a Buddhist mantra. I learned that only 9 years of school are compulsory for young people in Tibet but only 60% of them attend because their families can not afford supplies. Before 1989, our tour guide said that school was all free but now families have to provide certain supplies.
I didn’t feel very well after all of our activities this afternoon so I came back to the hotel around 4pm while the others went to the marketplace to bargain for souvenirs. I think that the day and all the smells just wore on me and I needed rest. And my stomach is not happy for some reason - I think it’s from all the travel and eating out. Tibet is interesting but also challenging in many ways. I know that this is an unforgettable trip that many will never be able to experience. We are all grateful for the opportunity.
Saturday, 10/27: Yamdrok Lake Day
This was my favorite day in Tibet. Although the bus ride was long and windy, the destination was spectacular. It was so wonderful to be outdoors in the fresh air! It was also a treat to meet Tibetan mastiffs, hold a baby goat, and to sit on a Tibetan yak at stops along the way. When in Tibet...
At one point along the drive up to the mountain, the tour guide said that we should consider going to the bathroom outdoors since the bathrooms would not be as nice at our next stop. Wow! I did not take her up on that, but that gives you an idea of what the restrooms are like here. Most of them are squatties, and we need to bring our own toilet paper and antibacterial sanitizer or wipes. But this is just a small sacrifice that is quickly forgotten after seeing the beauty of Tibet and learning from its culture and people.
Sunday, 10/28: Long Day of Travel Back to Shanghai
We left the hotel in Lhasa by noon and returned back home to Shanghai at about 1am. It was a long journey home, and there is much to unpack from our suitcases and our hearts and minds. How blessed we were to be one of the few in this world who can say that they have visited Tibet! Thank you, Pepperdine!