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The remnants of the Tibetan civilization
By Pierre with Franzi

Dashidele! Our journey in China ended by a week in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet. Every foreigner has to arrange a trip with an official tourist agency. We therefore chose a tour of the monasteries of Lhasa and a visit of the Drak Yerpa hermitage outside of the city. Here are our adventure of what we call the remains of the Tibet.

2



Small summary of the situation

In 1912, the Britishmen urged Tibetans to rebel against their Chinese occupants. The Tibet became independent and a relatively united nation. China was so divided that they couldn't annexe again Tibet until1949. The Chinese tried at first to cajole the last Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Head of State, born in 1935. However he became more and more hostile and critical to the condition of his people, and had to run away in India in 1959. Since the situation is stretched out, Tibetans are very pacifist but, as the region is particularly difficult to hold and to control, the Chinese government is repressing strongly any pro-independence movement.

3



Reaching the Tibetan plateau

We arrived by train from Xining to Lhasa. That is the best way to acclimatize and to discover the Tibetan plateau during the twenty hours of the route. At the train station of Lhasa desert of crowd, our permits were inspected and our visit registered. Security is not a funny thing here.

4



Lhasa, capital of the Tibet

Our licence authorized us to stay in the capital, the Mecca of pilgrimage of the Tibetans. Lhasa is organized around the Jokhang temple in the middle of the Barkhor street. On the West, the impressive palace of Potala and the monasteries of Norbulinka and Drepung. In the North, the monastery of Sera perched on mountains.

5



The city center: the Barkhor street

Imagine a circle of one kilometer where pedestrians are walking and turning only clockwise. Stones on the ground of the road had been polished by hand. On the circumferences, hundreds of shop windows of Tibetan traditional shops sell religious objects of all kinds. The colors of the Tibet (blue, white, red, green, yellow) mixed in the typical colors of the Tibetan house: white combed by a thickness of red flat roof in the big windows of six tiles.

The fervour there is incomparable: for their pilgrimage in the holy capital, they kneel down then ask their defenders by kissing the ground. They get up, move forward of a meter on the street of Barkhor and begin again the rite. Their tours lasts several days! Others pray in chorus all day long and collect the offerings of the pilgrims. For some, these offerings are necessary for their journey of return.

Speechless, I got trapped into the crowd, became engaged into the stream of the believers, turning with them along the Barkhor street.

6



The Jokhang temple

The Barkhor street ends west side by the Barkhor square and in its center there is the Jokhang temple. It was built in VII century by the 33rd king (and especially the first emperor) of the Tibet Songtsen Gampo to accommodate his two wives: princess Wencheng of China and princess Bhrikuti of Nepal. They offered in dowry count luxurious Buddhist statues.

The temple rises on four floors and on the golden roof , two deers are resting surrounding the Dharma wheel (the laws of the universe). Inside, there is an outfit of chapels dedicated to the Buddhist divinities.

7



The Potala palace

It is the symbol of Lhasa but it was especially the political and spiritual siege of the Tibet. Potala was originally a palace set up on the red hill in the VII century. The impressive current palace (white) is the fruit of the ambition of the fifth Dalai Lama, desiring an impressive winter palace.

Nowadays its accesses are very regulated. We had to pass by our agency to obtain tickets at the precise time and had to follow the tour in one hour stopwatch.
Only about fifty monks are authorized to live there to maintain these places where thousands of members of a religious order and powerful people lived.

Around the palace, hundreds of Tibetans recite loudly "Om Ma Ni Pad Mé Hum" by turning the prayer mills. Here is a meaning of these mantras, subject to the prayers of Tibetans:
Om - The Paradise of the Gods
Ma - Antique Gods (Titans)
Ni - Human beings and the universe
Pad - Starved Spirits and Animals
Mé - Old Spirits
Hum - Hell

To whom we sometimes add
She - May this soul go to heaven

8



Norbulinka

Norbulinka is the summer palace of the Dalai Lama. Dating of XVIII, it is a big park including a zoo and the residence of the Dalai Lama. Partially destroyed by the Chinese in 1950, they began to make some small repairs since 2003.

9



Drak Yerpa

It is a popular monastery of a set of meditation caves. The legend says that Padmasambhava, the founding master of the Tibetan Buddhism, lived there for seven months. Gompas and statues were destroyed in the 1950s, but were since reconstructed.

10



The Drepung monastery

Built in XV century, it is one of the biggest monasteries that accommodated more than 7500 monks. People's Republic of China destroys near half of the monastic city. More than 5000 monks ran away in India and nowadays there are no more than 350 monks.

Drepung, Sera and Ganden are the most impressive monasteries in the Tibet and all of them follow the Gelugpa school. This school of the yellow hats studies particularly the sutra (the papers of Buddha's life) and the Tantrism (make one with the energies of the world). The school introduced the system of reincarnation of the Lamas (Panchen Lamas and Dalai Lama).

11



The monastery of Sera

Perched on the sides of mountains dominating the North of Lhasa, Sera was one of the main monasteries including an immense and famous hall of assembly. There was at the time of the construction neighborhood six thousand monks; today they are limited to 300 by the authorities since the Tibetan agitations of 2008.

Sera is known for the debates of monks. According to a well defined rite, a professor questions a pupil about Buddha's teachings and philosophy of the Buddhism. To see in video:
https://youtu.be/w5yVptvBp9c

12



The hermitage of PaBongKha

Around this meditation place, an area is used for the sky burials of Tibetans. Due to the complexity of burials in the stony soil in Tibet, the dead bodies are left at the top of mountains at the mercy of vultures. This excomplexion allows the liberation of the soul faster with the aim of a faster reincarnation. The access was strictly forbidden to us.

13



The Parasol mount

We got lost on the Parasol mount. The name fits it well: it is filled with Tibetan prayer flags, a labyrinth of colors protecting us from the sun!

14



The hermitage of the nun...

We climbed up to the high houses and meet Jin Ba. Our stammerings of Chinese were not comprensible by this Tibetan nun. In this case, we try the sign/body language and it worked.

She proposed us some water and some soup. As we had not eaten, we accepted with pleasure to share her meal, but she did not eat. The Buddhist monastic rules are strict: they must fast from 2pm to the dawn.

She showed us her house: small kitchen, Buddhist chapel, small bedroom. We discovered her magnificent thangkas. A thangka is a Tibetan very colored painting representing a decoration around a divinity.

We learned with her some words of the Tibetan vocabulary: she wore the red Anila, the toga of the Buddhist monks. I had bought one "Tieng du", a cordon bringing happiness when hanging on on the internal mirror of vehicles and one "Tching ha", a necklace of orange pearls. She indicated us the direction and we thanked her: "To tieng na".

15



The Tibetan museum

First sentence which people read by entering the rooms of the museum: "China is a united multi-ethnic country. Tibet has been an inalienable part of China since ancient times." Are you kidding me?

So then Chinese government is satisfied, the museum introduces three essential Buddha here: the Past Buddha - at the origin of the worship, the Present Buddha named Sakyamuni and the Buddha of Future: Maitreya.

16



The Tibetan Buddhism

In spite of the efforts of the communist regime to eliminate any religious worship, the fervour of the Tibetan population is total. The Tibetan Buddhism is very different from the Chinese Buddhism. Here are some elements to understand it: the name of the divinities is preceded by a rank. There are:
- buddhas, people having been "enlightened", as Medicine Buddha;
- bodhisattvas, buddhas capable of reaching the nirvana but they postpone it to help others. The most worshipped is Bodhisattva of compassion and wisdom Avalokiteshvara, recognizable with his hundred arms.
- Gods and goddesses, as Tara, god of pity, represented with seven eyes (two on hands, two on feet, three on the head of which one on the front.)
- Lamas, Dalai from one to fourteen and Panchen until the eleventh so polemical.
- Former kings and queens of the Tibet
- the founders of schools Tibetan as Padmasambhava, founder of the school Nyingma, the old school appeared to VIII century.
- Protectors, such Mahakala and Nekhong Tchüge the protectors of the Tibet
- Four kings guardians of the Tibet, the kind are recognizable by their accessories and protected one direction each: Virupaksa on the West (snake, stupa), Virudhaka in the South (sword), Vaisravana in the North (rat, stick), Dhrtarastra in the East (lute)

A whole panel, a kind of equivalent in the Christian religion to the messiah, the saints, the god, the popes, the regents, the reformers...

17



The Tibetan cuisine

In mountains, the cuisine has a composition different from plains of China. Based on the yak, the cereal and the potato, the Tibetan cuisine seemed tastier. We enjoyed:
- Tsampa: barley crushed in balls by hand.
- PatsaMarku: balls of wheat in the butter of yak and sugar (Franzi is crazy of this dessert).
- Tchurü: a milky soup of greyish color with pieces of yak, whom we eat with some Wohowohoto (spelt here as pronounced), in a way the Tibetan bread (in photo). A good meal to take back strengths.

18



The future of the Tibet

We climbed on the monastery PaBongKha and pedalled forty five kilometers until Drak Yerpa and...

Our impression is unambiguous: the Chinese are making a zoo of the remains of the Tibetan civilization. They build ugly buildings in Lhasa and in the periphery, to accommodate half of the population which settled down there. They build roads and lines of train of course, to exploit better the resources on the Tibetan ground.
The Chinese tourism shows these temples, these left rooms, evoking the faiths of a former civilization, a civilization that they are suppressing for their economic interests. What a pity!

1


The remnants of the Tibetan civilization
By Pierre with Franzi

Dashidele! Our journey in China ended by a week in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet. Every foreigner has to arrange a trip with an official tourist agency. We therefore chose a tour of the monasteries of Lhasa and a visit of the Drak Yerpa hermitage outside of the city. Here are our adventure of what we call the remains of the Tibet.



Small summary of the situation

In 1912, the Britishmen urged Tibetans to rebel against their Chinese occupants. The Tibet became independent and a relatively united nation. China was so divided that they couldn't annexe again Tibet until1949. The Chinese tried at first to cajole the last Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Head of State, born in 1935. However he became more and more hostile and critical to the condition of his people, and had to run away in India in 1959. Since the situation is stretched out, Tibetans are very pacifist but, as the region is particularly difficult to hold and to control, the Chinese government is repressing strongly any pro-independence movement.



Reaching the Tibetan plateau

We arrived by train from Xining to Lhasa. That is the best way to acclimatize and to discover the Tibetan plateau during the twenty hours of the route. At the train station of Lhasa desert of crowd, our permits were inspected and our visit registered. Security is not a funny thing here.



Lhasa, capital of the Tibet

Our licence authorized us to stay in the capital, the Mecca of pilgrimage of the Tibetans. Lhasa is organized around the Jokhang temple in the middle of the Barkhor street. On the West, the impressive palace of Potala and the monasteries of Norbulinka and Drepung. In the North, the monastery of Sera perched on mountains.



The city center: the Barkhor street

Imagine a circle of one kilometer where pedestrians are walking and turning only clockwise. Stones on the ground of the road had been polished by hand. On the circumferences, hundreds of shop windows of Tibetan traditional shops sell religious objects of all kinds. The colors of the Tibet (blue, white, red, green, yellow) mixed in the typical colors of the Tibetan house: white combed by a thickness of red flat roof in the big windows of six tiles.

The fervour there is incomparable: for their pilgrimage in the holy capital, they kneel down then ask their defenders by kissing the ground. They get up, move forward of a meter on the street of Barkhor and begin again the rite. Their tours lasts several days! Others pray in chorus all day long and collect the offerings of the pilgrims. For some, these offerings are necessary for their journey of return.

Speechless, I got trapped into the crowd, became engaged into the stream of the believers, turning with them along the Barkhor street.



The Jokhang temple

The Barkhor street ends west side by the Barkhor square and in its center there is the Jokhang temple. It was built in VII century by the 33rd king (and especially the first emperor) of the Tibet Songtsen Gampo to accommodate his two wives: princess Wencheng of China and princess Bhrikuti of Nepal. They offered in dowry count luxurious Buddhist statues.

The temple rises on four floors and on the golden roof , two deers are resting surrounding the Dharma wheel (the laws of the universe). Inside, there is an outfit of chapels dedicated to the Buddhist divinities.



The Potala palace

It is the symbol of Lhasa but it was especially the political and spiritual siege of the Tibet. Potala was originally a palace set up on the red hill in the VII century. The impressive current palace (white) is the fruit of the ambition of the fifth Dalai Lama, desiring an impressive winter palace.

Nowadays its accesses are very regulated. We had to pass by our agency to obtain tickets at the precise time and had to follow the tour in one hour stopwatch.
Only about fifty monks are authorized to live there to maintain these places where thousands of members of a religious order and powerful people lived.

Around the palace, hundreds of Tibetans recite loudly "Om Ma Ni Pad Mé Hum" by turning the prayer mills. Here is a meaning of these mantras, subject to the prayers of Tibetans:
Om - The Paradise of the Gods
Ma - Antique Gods (Titans)
Ni - Human beings and the universe
Pad - Starved Spirits and Animals
Mé - Old Spirits
Hum - Hell

To whom we sometimes add
She - May this soul go to heaven



Norbulinka

Norbulinka is the summer palace of the Dalai Lama. Dating of XVIII, it is a big park including a zoo and the residence of the Dalai Lama. Partially destroyed by the Chinese in 1950, they began to make some small repairs since 2003.



Drak Yerpa

It is a popular monastery of a set of meditation caves. The legend says that Padmasambhava, the founding master of the Tibetan Buddhism, lived there for seven months. Gompas and statues were destroyed in the 1950s, but were since reconstructed.



The Drepung monastery

Built in XV century, it is one of the biggest monasteries that accommodated more than 7500 monks. People's Republic of China destroys near half of the monastic city. More than 5000 monks ran away in India and nowadays there are no more than 350 monks.

Drepung, Sera and Ganden are the most impressive monasteries in the Tibet and all of them follow the Gelugpa school. This school of the yellow hats studies particularly the sutra (the papers of Buddha's life) and the Tantrism (make one with the energies of the world). The school introduced the system of reincarnation of the Lamas (Panchen Lamas and Dalai Lama).



The monastery of Sera

Perched on the sides of mountains dominating the North of Lhasa, Sera was one of the main monasteries including an immense and famous hall of assembly. There was at the time of the construction neighborhood six thousand monks; today they are limited to 300 by the authorities since the Tibetan agitations of 2008.

Sera is known for the debates of monks. According to a well defined rite, a professor questions a pupil about Buddha's teachings and philosophy of the Buddhism. To see in video:
https://youtu.be/w5yVptvBp9c



The hermitage of PaBongKha

Around this meditation place, an area is used for the sky burials of Tibetans. Due to the complexity of burials in the stony soil in Tibet, the dead bodies are left at the top of mountains at the mercy of vultures. This excomplexion allows the liberation of the soul faster with the aim of a faster reincarnation. The access was strictly forbidden to us.



The Parasol mount

We got lost on the Parasol mount. The name fits it well: it is filled with Tibetan prayer flags, a labyrinth of colors protecting us from the sun!



The hermitage of the nun...

We climbed up to the high houses and meet Jin Ba. Our stammerings of Chinese were not comprensible by this Tibetan nun. In this case, we try the sign/body language and it worked.

She proposed us some water and some soup. As we had not eaten, we accepted with pleasure to share her meal, but she did not eat. The Buddhist monastic rules are strict: they must fast from 2pm to the dawn.

She showed us her house: small kitchen, Buddhist chapel, small bedroom. We discovered her magnificent thangkas. A thangka is a Tibetan very colored painting representing a decoration around a divinity.

We learned with her some words of the Tibetan vocabulary: she wore the red Anila, the toga of the Buddhist monks. I had bought one "Tieng du", a cordon bringing happiness when hanging on on the internal mirror of vehicles and one "Tching ha", a necklace of orange pearls. She indicated us the direction and we thanked her: "To tieng na".



The Tibetan museum

First sentence which people read by entering the rooms of the museum: "China is a united multi-ethnic country. Tibet has been an inalienable part of China since ancient times." Are you kidding me?

So then Chinese government is satisfied, the museum introduces three essential Buddha here: the Past Buddha - at the origin of the worship, the Present Buddha named Sakyamuni and the Buddha of Future: Maitreya.



The Tibetan Buddhism

In spite of the efforts of the communist regime to eliminate any religious worship, the fervour of the Tibetan population is total. The Tibetan Buddhism is very different from the Chinese Buddhism. Here are some elements to understand it: the name of the divinities is preceded by a rank. There are:
- buddhas, people having been "enlightened", as Medicine Buddha;
- bodhisattvas, buddhas capable of reaching the nirvana but they postpone it to help others. The most worshipped is Bodhisattva of compassion and wisdom Avalokiteshvara, recognizable with his hundred arms.
- Gods and goddesses, as Tara, god of pity, represented with seven eyes (two on hands, two on feet, three on the head of which one on the front.)
- Lamas, Dalai from one to fourteen and Panchen until the eleventh so polemical.
- Former kings and queens of the Tibet
- the founders of schools Tibetan as Padmasambhava, founder of the school Nyingma, the old school appeared to VIII century.
- Protectors, such Mahakala and Nekhong Tchüge the protectors of the Tibet
- Four kings guardians of the Tibet, the kind are recognizable by their accessories and protected one direction each: Virupaksa on the West (snake, stupa), Virudhaka in the South (sword), Vaisravana in the North (rat, stick), Dhrtarastra in the East (lute)

A whole panel, a kind of equivalent in the Christian religion to the messiah, the saints, the god, the popes, the regents, the reformers...



The Tibetan cuisine

In mountains, the cuisine has a composition different from plains of China. Based on the yak, the cereal and the potato, the Tibetan cuisine seemed tastier. We enjoyed:
- Tsampa: barley crushed in balls by hand.
- PatsaMarku: balls of wheat in the butter of yak and sugar (Franzi is crazy of this dessert).
- Tchurü: a milky soup of greyish color with pieces of yak, whom we eat with some Wohowohoto (spelt here as pronounced), in a way the Tibetan bread (in photo). A good meal to take back strengths.



The future of the Tibet

We climbed on the monastery PaBongKha and pedalled forty five kilometers until Drak Yerpa and...

Our impression is unambiguous: the Chinese are making a zoo of the remains of the Tibetan civilization. They build ugly buildings in Lhasa and in the periphery, to accommodate half of the population which settled down there. They build roads and lines of train of course, to exploit better the resources on the Tibetan ground.
The Chinese tourism shows these temples, these left rooms, evoking the faiths of a former civilization, a civilization that they are suppressing for their economic interests. What a pity!

.